The Gift of Life

When my friends announce their pregnancies I often find myself thinking how strange it must be to get pregnant from having sex. I cannot fathom what conception without needles and penis shaped wands must be like. How very unscientific it must be. How utterly painless and stress free. Does pregnancy feel the same when it happens so effortlessly?

As I sunk yet another needle into my black, blue and yellow stomach I knew one thing for sure. I was done trying. I had subjected my body to three rounds of IVF and it wasn’t working. I was no longer envisioning the end result. Instead I was cursing and vowing this was it. I was done. I could see all of the perks of having an only child and I tried to forget about the negatives.

When that final attempt failed my RE suggested trying another round with a different protocol. She reminded me it would be covered by my health insurance. It would not however be covered by my mental health.

I could not have said NO any quicker.

So I went about my life resigned to be the parent of an only child.

Then we went to our dibling reunion. We had an amazing time.

On the last day the mother with whom I am closest brought up my recent struggles. She offered to donate me her remaining embryos.

If anyone has done IVF and found themselves with leftover embryos then I’m sure you can relate to how hard it is to know what to do with them. It is hard not to imagine the little people they could become. To compare them to your existing child and wonder how alike they might have been. But we don’t all have the resources to keep on having children until we empty the freezer so what to do?

You have a few options.

  • You can pay to keep them frozen in time forever.
  • You can destroy them
  • You can donate them to science
  • You can donate them anonymously
  • You can donate them to someone you know

Of course this isn’t something one enters into without a lot of thought. This wasn’t the first time she had mentioned it although prior to this it had been half in jest. We talked at length about the ramifications, about how this would make us feel long-term. So we both went to therapists. She talked to her family/friends and the people who knew her best. Once they gave her the encouragement that she needed her heart was set and her mind was made up.

I am beyond lucky that this amazing woman decided that she would like to donate to me. What a gift. There are no words to convey it.

We spoke to lawyers and drafted up an agreement. She went for extra testing (at the request of my clinic!) We did a ton of paperwork and finally, after a month or two we shipped two PGD tested embryos across the country to my clinic.

Once again, I cannot fully put into words what it means to me. It feels belittling to call it a gift. It feels surreal and other worldly. I sometimes feel guilty that I didn’t struggle enough for this child. I know this is irrational but it’s a feeling that, at times is hard to shake.

On the other hand I felt an enormous sense of peace. I was scared of my own genetics. I was scared of my age, of my family history of strife between siblings and of what treatments were doing to my body. This option was perfect. Tested embryos from a woman I know, admire and trust. A woman who will be happy to connect with my child and answer any questions she has about her heritage when she becomes curious about such things. I love that we will see her Maternal donor at least once a year. Most of all I love that we had a pre-existing friendship which has only become stronger since embarking on this unusual, but beautiful journey.

At the end of August I transferred an embryo. I was full of optimism and excited about a May baby. I was on vacation with a group of SMC’s on the day I knew I would get a Positive Home Pregnancy Test if it were to be so. I thought it was the perfect crowd to be surrounded by and celebrate with.

The test was negative.

I was surprised by how crestfallen I was. I had let my hopes rise. I was so sure that I finally had a foolproof plan. I also felt as though I had let my friend down. Maybe I had done something wrong and that’s why it hadn’t worked. I didn’t want to waste all of her hard work!!

I took off a couple of months. I went to see my amazing Mayan Abdominal Massage therapist. I took a 2 week vacation to Mexico and drank Michelada’s whilst popping estrace pills twice daily. I got back into a good headspace.

Upon my return I transferred my last perfect embryo. I didn’t tell anyone, except for my Mother that it was transfer day. It was an uneventful transfer (unlike my sons which had been pretty traumatic!)

5 days later I woke up feeling as though I’d been hit by a bus. I felt so sick! I could barely function. I awoke the next day feeling much the same. I peed on a stick and this time I was 99% sure of the outcome.

A few minutes later a little pink line appeared.

PREGNANT

21 weeks. So amazing!

I sent a picture of the test to the Maternal donor… and then, for the first time in a long time I felt true excitement.

In future posts I will talk about giving up on your own DNA and what that felt like for me. I have a lot of posts up my sleeve -they’ll emerge slowly but surely over the coming weeks and months. Until then, thank you so much for following our story.

Our Dibling Reunion

I know I have spoken about “Diblings” before but I’m going to give you a little recap.  My son, as you know, is donor conceived.  He is however not the only child from this donor.  In fact the family limit at the sperm bank I used is 25 families.  His donor has reached the family limit and we know who 15 of the families are for sure…  we have suspicions on 2 or 3 more but they have chosen not to be a part of our group and we obviously respect their decision.

I was initially unsure whether or not I wanted involvement with other donor siblings but the more I thought about it the more convinced I became that it was a good idea for him to grow up knowing who his half siblings are.  I feel that because he is growing up without a father, he will benefit from the connection he shares with his half siblings.  Furthermore, if he always knows who they are, it will always be normal to him.   

Little Beans in the big Bean

Suffice to say our donor sibling (dibling) group is, on the whole very close.  A small group of us met up in Boston last year – four families.  It was wonderful.  Our meetup broke the ice and this year when we started planning we were lucky enough to have 10 children from 8 families attend. 

This past June my son and I headed first to Chicago where we met with the donor family to whom we are closest.  We had shared a room in Boston the year before and found that we had an easy friendship and similar parenting styles.  We are both equally unfazed by the uglier moments of raising toddlers as our kids take turns to have meltdowns.  

Chicago. OMG.  So Much Fun!!  

What an amazing town for adults and toddlers alike.  The mere fact that the trains can be seen and heard above the streets made the City more appealing than Disneyworld to my son.  The yells of “Look Mama!! Choochoo!” were pretty much constant.  And the mirrored bean and the parks with the statues for the kids to walk and climb upon.  It really couldn’t have been any easier to keep them entertained.

appreciating art

After a couple of days in Chicago we headed to the Wisconsin Dells to meet the rest of the ‘family’ at Great Wolf Lodge.  The Dells is a strange place and the venue would not have been my first choice but we still had fun.

You would think that a vacation with ten children under 4 would be a sh*tshow but it was surprisingly calm.  Four of us had rented a condo so that we could have a central place to congregate and that worked out pretty well.  During the day we chased our small people around and managed to get some quality time together in the pools and around the cabanas.  Some kids napped in our arms, others went back to the room.  We had pizza night, ate at the restaurant and some of us even managed to go out for dinner one evening. 

It’s fascinating to see all the kids interact with each other.  They have an easy affinity with one another.  They share mannerisms.  When one of them cries or laughs, multiple mothers look up thinking that it’s their child.  Yet at the same time, with all their similarities – they all look so much like their Mothers!  We have every shade of hair, eyes, skin.  It’s a beautiful sight to behold and touches us in ways that is hard to explain.

We have already planned our get together for next year.  We have rented a giant house on the Outerbanks.  There are even more families than last year with more renting Airbnb’s nearby.  We figured that we would get so much more out of the vacations if we were all in one central place where we could eat together and congregate in a home.  It’s going to be memorable and I, for one cannot wait!

Our Donor Family.

One of the things that most of us don’t think about when we are selecting a sperm donor is the other women who have chosen that same donor before us.   We tend to focus on health history, appearance, CMV status and often we will look for a donor who has had successful pregnancies.  When you are searching through profiles, these attributes are often just a check box or one word answer.  The only face you look at is that of the donor.

I was one of the people who gave zero thought to the fact that my future child already had half siblings.  Once I was pregnant it hit me in a flash – my son had donor siblings (or diblings as some call them.)  I had this wonderful opportunity to see other children who were half of what my son would be.  Perhaps he would look similar to them?  It was too irresistible to not want to have a peek.

At 9 weeks pregnant I connected with other families who had used the same donor and found myself in a secret Facebook group with a bunch of women who had adorable little people – my sons half siblings.  It was pretty surreal and incredibly cool!

stock-photo-decisions-neon-sign-words-signage-motto-motivation-neon-light-quotes-and-sayings-wild-words-9d80fb9c-9a22-4f13-ac34-e74de28The decision on whether to connect with your donor group is, like everything else in this process very personal.

Some parentss feel that their families are enough and are very uncomfortable with the idea of connecting with their children’s half siblings.  They never look for them  and they never connect with them – they leave the decision 100% up to their child.

Some parents connect with the group but stay very much in the background.  Their main reason for being there is so that they can be aware of any health issues that might come up.  Maybe they also want to make it easier for their children to connect if they should want to in the future.

Then there are the male infertility recipients (heterosexual couples) and I’ve found that they are much less likely to connect and have a higher chance of not telling their children that they used a donor.  Some do tell their offspring but they stay away from the donor groups for the most part.  I know we have at least one couple that used our donor but they have not reached out to us.

choice-2692575_1920When I first connected it was mainly out of curiosity.  I wasn’t sure how much involvement that I wanted.  It was interesting but overwhelming.  We have some strong characters and I wondered whether or not I really needed this many new people in our lives.

Time went on and my son was born.  This group of women had become a cheerleading team of sorts – genuinely excited to welcome a new child into the group.  They were among the first to know that I had given birth and it was so fun to compare my baby’s picture to all of the other newborns!

I gave it some genuine thought.  I considered what I would want and what my future son might want.  I came to the same conclusion for us both:  Honesty and love.

I felt that hiding the donor family from my son could backfire.  He would feel lied to and could even resent me for the missed opportunity of getting to know others who were not only donor conceived – but by the same man who had helped gift life to him.  If I left my child out of gatherings and meet ups, other kids would form bonds and it would be much harder for my son to connect and form the kind of relationships that occur when you have been friends through all the awkward stages of life.

I decided that I would embrace the donor families and I can honestly say that it has been the best decision for us.  We have met multiple families and it has always been a very positive experience.  Some of these women have become very good friends – to the point that I now cannot imagine my life without them!  I am excited for our children to know one another and so glad that I have opened this door for my son so young.  I feel like he will never feel that it’s weird or uncomfortable – it will just be his life and another part of his amazing story.

footstepsAnd if my son decides that he doesn’t want to pursue friendships with these children when he is older, that’s fine.  It will still be his choice.  It will also be my choice to stay connected to the Mothers who have become friends.

We are going on vacation later this month.  It’s our second donor sibling meet up and this time we will have 10 children (7 families total.)  I’ve no doubt it will be absolute chaos but of the sweetest variety.

sea-1337565_1920We plan on doing a meetup for those who want to every year until the kids are old enough to do it on their own and then – who knows, maybe us Mums will just do it on our own.  We’ll pick somewhere exotic and enjoy our cocktails, kid free and full of stories.