Fertility treatment

We are lucky to live in a country where we have access to fantastic fertility treatment, however, it never ceases to amaze me how many people still make assumptions about how lesbians have children. Some people assume that I must have slept with a man to fall pregnant …that was never an option for me for so many reasons! Others assume that I must have used the aged old turkey baster method either through someone I knew or a donor…again, this for me was something I didn’t consider.

After lots of research, looking at all the options, I opted for fertility treatment. I have to admit that I had moments where I felt angry that about this, I remember thinking, why should I have to go through fertility treatment to do something as natural as fall pregnant just because I’m a lesbian?

Despite doing what I thought was plenty of research, the whole journey of fertility treatment was so much more than I was expecting. It was like going on a roller coaster ride. It was emotionally, physically and financially draining even though it was 100% worth it, and I don’t regret it one bit! The fertility clinic I used (CARE) was absolutely amazing, from day 1 up until both my daughters were born. I cannot fault them.

Once I’d decided that I wanted to try to get pregnant I threw myself into it and dedicated myself to giving myself the best chance possible, especially given that IUI (in a nutshell medically enhanced artificial insemination) has lower success rates than IVF, somewhere in the region of 15% on a good cycle, and the cost involved. (And no, it isn’t funded by the NHS or wasn’t when I went through it nearly 5 years ago).

So, this meant, coming off antidepressants, no more alcohol (not that I drank much), healthy eating and exercise.

The first stage with CARE (https://www.carefertility.com) was to have a counselling session to let you know what you were letting yourself in for and everything to do with the donor in terms of their anonymity and how that works when or if any children want to find out about the donor. Another common misconception is that donors are paid to donate, can donate as much as they want and that they just turn up, do their thing and off they pop. Well, its certainly nothing like that, I was surprised how much they must go through. The donor has to have counselling, they have to be thoroughly medically screened and provide a detailed medical history including that of their family, they can only enable the birth of 10 children through donation, they aren’t paid, and they aren’t allowed any sort of relationship with any of the children. This is all regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA). They are however informed of every successful birth. So, for someone to donate their sperm this way takes someone who must genuinely want to help people to have babies as its not an easy thing to go through. I am incredibly grateful to the donor. All I know about him is his height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, skin colour and ethnicity. Nothing else. When a donor was found, I couldn’t reserve further donations for the future so knew it was very unlikely that both children would have the same donor, however, miraculously I got the very last donation for my youngest daughter and was successful. Meaning that my daughters are 100% biological sisters – not that it would have mattered if not, but I feel very lucky that they are.

After having counselling and a consultation the process began and although I had no reason to believe I couldn’t have children naturally I had to undergo various tests including to check that my fallopian tubes were in full working order – not the most pleasant procedure but interesting as I got to see them!!

Then you have to start monitoring your cycle and start taking fertility drugs (even though there was nothing wrong with my eggs!) which meant daily injections that I had to give myself at the same time every night. On top of that I had to go to the clinic 3 times a week for blood tests and ultrasound scans to check how many follicles were developing and how big they were. I found it all very interesting to see them and to watch them grow over the space of a few days. Eagerly anticipating and hoping that at least one would grow big enough for them to try insemination.

Many women have several cycles of IUI before they have a successful pregnancy so I wasn’t expecting much from the first attempt, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was excited at the thought that it could work.

Everyday in between scans I would visualise the follicle growing bigger (I know it might sound weird but hey, when you really want something, you’ll try anything!). I remember feeling so excited when I had my scan and was told that I had a follicle big enough to attempt insemination, particularly as this was my first attempt. This meant going away and waiting to give myself one final hormone injection to release the egg before going into clinic for the procedure. When the day came for the procedure, I was nervous as I’d never been through it before and I so wanted it to work but also knew that the chances were slim, but it didn’t stop me being hopeful. The staff were amazing as always and even told me that they play the sperm music!!

The procedure itself was painless and only took a few minutes. Again, I found it fascinating as they faced the screen to me so I could see what was happening. I remember the moment it happened and the technology is so detailed that I could actually see the sperm swimming (I know, I know..too much information, but it was fascinating!) and it looked like a firework going off!!

The hardest part of it all was the wait until I could take a pregnancy test (2 weeks – the longest 2 weeks of my life!). The temptation to take it earlier was surreal, but I knew that if I took it early it could provide a false result. So again, I was doing everything possible to try and help it work…taking it easy, visualising what should be happening each day and watching videos on YouTube about it. Feel free to think that’s bonkers but if nothing else it was interesting and kept me focused and I felt as though I was giving it the best shot. I remember the day I could take the pregnancy test – it just so happened that I woke up at 4am needing to go to the bathroom so at 4am I took the test. Within less than 3 minutes there it was…a positive test result after just one round of IUI, I couldn’t believe it! I was pregnant! Of course, I had been analysing every possible symptom for the 2 weeks before…I’d been tired, my boobs were sensitive, and I hadn’t had a period but couldn’t let myself believe I could be pregnant until I took a test. I then had to ring the clinic to let them know (you had to ring whatever the result, which must be hard if you’ve had a negative result) and I was then booked in for a scan a couple of weeks later at which point I’d be 6 weeks pregnant. When I had the scan, I was excited even though I was also a little anxious as you don’t want to believe it until you see it. Again, technology is amazing…so the foetus which was the size of a grain of rice could clearly be seen on the ultrasound scan as could the heartbeat! I’ll never forget that moment!

I was incredibly lucky to fall pregnant first time round. On top of that, 8 months after I gave birth to my first daughter, I fell pregnant again after just one other attempt at IUI. This time I had to wait an extra month as the first month none of my follicles grew big enough and I remember feeling disappointed. I can’t begin to imagine how women must feel who go through months or years of fertility treatment, each time hoping and praying that it works. It does take over your life, the scans, the injections, the appointments etc. The second month looked to be the same as they didn’t seem to be growing and when I went for the final scan, they measured the one that had been the biggest, but it hadn’t grown. I remember laying there with a tear running down my cheek as the nurse said she’d measure the ones on the other side just in case but neither myself nor her were expecting to see anything as 2 days previously they had been tiny but there it was, one massive follicle had appeared which 38 weeks later turned into my youngest daughter!

Of course, I had to do everything the same when going through fertility treatment the second time round because it had worked the first time and I didn’t want to jinx it by doing anything differently. So, I did the same visualisations, watched the same YouTube videos and ate the same things. This time round I was worse at wating 2 weeks and by day 11 I gave in to temptation where upon I had a positive pregnancy test! I couldn’t believe it…having said that, I had a gut feeling I was pregnant because of the symptoms I’d been having.

So, despite what you may think, I believe the positive thinking played a part in it working. Yes, the fertility clinic does everything they can to help but once they’ve done their part the rest is down to nature. The sperm still  has to swim and find the egg etc. Isn’t nature brilliant?!

I could talk a lot more about my experience of fertility treatment and pregnancy but for now I hope I have enlightened you about the process of IUI.

Finally a word of warning for anyone thinking of sourcing their own sperm donor, particularly on social media where some people are offering to donate for free….I can’t warn you enough against the dangers. They haven’t been screened for STI’s and genetic diseases, not to mention the potential risk of meeting unknown donors in person for insemination purposes. So, I urge you to think twice before considering such an option.

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