In February 2017, after a long and arduous 12-year journey, Tania Orr and her husband Russell became the proud parents of daughter Billie. Tania shares her experiences as the recipient of a donor embryo.
After we married in 2005, Russell (who had children to a previous marriage) underwent a vasectomy reversal. Although the reversal was relatively successful, motility was low. So we started the process with Fertility Associates. We tried three rounds of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), which were all unsuccessful, then one round of IVF using donor sperm, which was also unsuccessful. IVF is a tough road. You go in expecting big things and with each negative result the reality that IVF is not always successful hits home. Each time an embryo is implanted, you walk away technically pregnant, so each phone call (received 11 days later)advising the embryo did not survive is kind of like suffering a miscarriage. Each time your heart breaks just a little more.
We initially found our embryo donors through an IVF Facebook support group. I sent them a profile of who we are and our journey to that point. They then asked to meet us in person, so we all met in Taupo one weekend. We obviously made a reasonable impression as they decided they would like to go ahead and donate their remaining embryos to us. Our donors had two boys using IVF and were comfortable that their family was complete.
Once the decision was made, and Fertility Associates notified, both parties attended counselling, and one joint counselling session was required. Both parties needed to consult lawyers, and once all that was done, an application was made to the Ethics Committee. We were given the green light from the Ethics Committee and the remaining embryos were transferred from Wellington to Auckland. With three embryos we were feeling positive. Unfortunately, the first two did not result in a pregnancy, so it was down to the lucky last!
When we were given the embryos, it was a ray of hope. Technically there was never a reason I couldn’t fall pregnant. Plus the donor had two boys from two embryos – it was looking good. When the first embryo failed, we lost a little hope but thought hey, we still have two! When the second embryo failed, I lost all hope. I hit rock bottom and it was the hardest hit of all. In my eyes, it was evident I obviously couldn’t give these precious embryos the environment they needed to survive.
It took me two years to use the third and final embryo. I had told Russell I was emotionally spent and did not believe I could take another disappointment. During that time I came to accept that I was not destined to be a mother of a child of my own. Russell and my mother finally convinced me that I could not leave the last embryo as I would always wonder ‘what if’, so I made the phone call to Fertility Associates and got the ball rolling. This time, however, I decided I would do things a little differently. I wanted to do a natural cycle, with no drugs to get my body ready. I would do the daily blood tests required and let my body tell me when it was ready to receive this baby.
The day I got the call from Fertility Associates I was full of trepidation. When they confirmed I was actually pregnant, I really was not expecting that result. I think my first response was to ask the nurse if she was kidding, and then I laughed. The tears of joy flowed once I hung up and looked at Russell.
While I was pregnant, I worried a little if I would truly love this child as I would if he/she was my biological child, and I worried if Russell would love him/her as much as his own children. I also worried about how people would perceive the process – some people are quite opinionated about interfering with nature, and some do not realise a donor embryo is even an option. People who have never struggled with infertility often do not understand how, or why, you would take this path.
Once Billie was born, that all changed. Billie is, in our heart, ours through and through. She IS my stepchildren’s sister, she IS 100% part of our family in the same way as if she was biologically ours. We could not love her any more. The other morning I heard Russell telling Billie how much he loved her, and I thought how silly I was to doubt his ability to love another child. As for opinions of others, I’ve learnt to let them go. We look forward to seeing Billie grow and develop, and to witnessing nature versus nurture.
Being parents to Billie is the most wonderful feeling. Adjusting to life with a baby just came naturally, and every day we look at this amazing child and have to remind ourselves that she really is here, and she really is ours. I will admit it is a lot harder having a newborn than I would have ever believed, but also so rewarding. It’s a battle to hold back tears every time she does something for the first time.
Russell and I agreed we’d have an open relationship with our donors. Our donors placed no demands on us in this area, but it was important to us that Billie knows where she comes from. I myself came from a blended family, and had taken three stepchildren into my heart. The only way this had worked was to have a positive and inclusive relationship with all parents and children, so the same will apply to Billie’s family. The reality is Billie has two biological brothers that she needs to know, and another set of parents. How lucky is she!
Our donors were among the first to know we were pregnant and when she was born. Since Billie was born, the Pierce family have visited us in Whangamata, and Billie and I have visited them in Wellington. I send photos and little updates to them frequently, and the boys just love seeing her. Our donors are respectful of our life with Billie and have never interfered. This family has given us such a precious gift and we will be forever grateful!
My advice to those going through any form of IVF is to communicate with your partner all the way. Sometimes you know they don’t get it (but nobody really does as each journey and person are different) but they listen, and venting is important. I also, personally, wouldn’t allow IVF to become us. I had three wonderful stepchildren that were a huge part of my life, so I reminded myself that, if this was to be my lot, then I was very happy with that.
For couples looking to receive an embryo, keep your options open. Keep in touch with Fertility Associates, and keep in touch with people through IVF support groups and forums. Somebody may hear of your journey and make the decision. The process needs to go through the right channels, but sometimes they have not talked to Fertility Associates yet. Trust me, when that little one is born, you’ll never doubt that they’re yours.
The decision to dispose of or donate an embryo cannot be an easy one. However, most couples know the heartache involved in the IVF process, and those facing this decision will also be lucky enough to have experienced the joy of having a child. So I believe they’ll understand the true value of giving someone else that opportunity. Not all couples can make the decision to donate, but I implore you to talk with a counsellor before making the decision to dispose, then whichever way you choose to go, you know you have explored all options and have made the right decision for you.
Read more about Embryo Donation here