Being diagnosed with POF was a life changing moment. You know those moments that you will remember forever – you know exactly where you were, what you were wearing, who you were talking to, and even what the weather was like. In my mind, I can relive it now as if it were yesterday, the memory is just so vivid. For me, when I was told about POF I was at the start of fertility investigations and so when the news was delivered all I heard was that, with very low ovarian reserve, I may not be able to have children. That was my lifelong dream to be a Mum potentially shattered in an instant. I didn’t even register the fact that I was entering early menopause at the age of 28, and all the delightful symptoms and feelings that come along with that. It sounds dramatic putting in this way, but for me it really was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me.
This was 5 years ago now, and I’m delighted to say that a lot has changed since then. I share my story to help others who are in the position that I once was and to show them that they are not alone. I also want to provide hope, that you can still be happy and be the Mum you have always wanted to be, it just might not happen in the way you had always imagined. So, here…in a nutshell…is our story…
2014. When we first started to try for a baby 6 months earlier, I figured we’d fall pregnant in the obvious way just like everyone else did – we’d have sex at the right time and BAM, a baby! Easy, right?! Who imagines that something that seems so natural, so ‘normal’ might not happen? Unless you’ve been close to someone experiencing infertility I don’t think you give it a second thought; after all, no-one seems to talk about it even if they are having problems. I never expected 5 years on to be sat writing a blog about failing miserably in making that baby!
Something had started to niggle away at me, something just wasn’t quite right. My periods were irregular whilst at the same time greeting me all too often every 12-20 days. Every time I was thinking I had just ovulated I would then experience some suspicious spotting. Always the optimist, I would think, ‘maybe it’s early implantation bleeding?’ but every single time I would be proved wrong. I decided to get help. My first consultation with a female GP resulted in my leaving in tears as she patronisingly told me that I was only 27 and to “stop being silly”. I persevered and a few months later got a second opinion. A text message update from my GP told me that my day 3 FSH hormone results came back as normal. Phew, I was fine. However, being the curious person that I am, I was interested in understanding exactly how fine I was. I asked for my results and was devastated to discover that the GP had actually got it wrong. With an FSH of 17.9 I enlisted the help of a private consultant and with repeated tests Premature Ovarian Failure was diagnosed. My AMH was just 0.74, indicating with much more certainty a low ovarian reserve and little chance of conceiving.
We were lucky to have a proactive, caring consultant and so quite quickly we were fast-tracked to IVF, as we were told we didn’t have time to waste with my eggs. 6 weeks later we started our first round of IVF. Amazingly on our first attempt, with our one precious embryo, I saw my first ever positive pregnancy test. We were over the moon and truly believed that the hard part was over. Sadly, this wasn’t to be and I was diagnosed with a missed miscarriage at 7 weeks. Over the next 18 months we tested FSH at the start of every cycle, not wanting to miss an opportunity, and tried 4 more rounds of IVF (2 natural cycles and 2 stimulated) – all were negative. I was all-consumed by my infertility and devastated with my dream of having a genetic child slipping away.
It was at that point we made a momentous decision – we looked at the odds, our emotions, our finances, whilst I thought deeply about what it meant to me to be a Mum. It was then, 18 months from diagnosis, we decided to take a leap of faith and try donor eggs abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. I realised that genetics weren’t everything, what was important was having a healthy child and being a family. We were incredibly fortunate to fall pregnant on our first attempt using an egg donor – with 5 great quality embryos in total, one was transferred to me and 37 weeks later our beautiful girl, Mila, came into the world in July 2016. The following year we returned to try for a sibling and (with two embryos being transferred this time) we found out I was pregnant with twins – Mila is now big sister to Eska and Lena, who arrived in February 2018. Today, I’m an incredibly grateful Mum to three gorgeous girls under the age of three and I wouldn’t change them, or how I came to have them, for the world.
It sounds relatively straight forward when I condense our story down into a few paragraphs, doesn’t it? It really wasn’t! I can honestly say that infertility, as well as the prospect of early menopause, has been the most difficult, lonely, life-altering experience. It’s because of this I now want to help others who are facing the same questions, doubts and fears that I once did…and that’s where DefiningMum began…
I began sharing our story in November 2018, initially to raise awareness of infertility, IVF and donor conception through my blog ‘DefiningMum’. Through the power of social media, I have been astounded by the overwhelmingly positive response from those who have found comfort in seeing the reality of life as a mum after making such a huge decision. I’ve also started to open up about another huge taboo – early menopause and POI, by sharing my journey as I navigate my way through this ‘change’. Many of you reading this may be feeling like I once did – scared, confused and not knowing which way to turn. Not only does this diagnosis bring with it a loss of fertility and potential to pass on our genetics, we also have to come to terms with our prematurely aging reproductive system – something that made me feel ‘old before my time’ and still affects me on a day to day basis. I’m still navigating my way through early menopause but what I hope to do is make others feel less alone by speaking out. I also want to give hope to those that are struggling to come to terms with the grief that is common when having to consider using an egg donor to have a baby.
My main aim behind DefiningMum was to show that being a parent is not solely defined by genetics – over the past few years I’ve learnt there’s so much more to being a mum than DNA. By speaking openly, my hope is that both IVF and donor conception will become much more open and accepted ways of starting a family and, as my girls reach their teenage years, I hope they are able to feel that their conception isn’t in any way a ‘taboo’ or something to be hidden.
I’ve found that sharing through social media is a great way to help change perceptions, encourage understanding and give hope to others who are embarking on this journey. I’m most active on Instagram, a platform where people can be as open or private as they like (with the option of anonymous accounts) whilst following and connecting with others who can help and support them. The community is truly inspirational, providing an opportunity to share and learn whilst being able to retain a level of privacy about fertility struggles within your usual social media network.
It’s through these connections I’ve discovered that, not only do people want to hear about the success stories, they also want to hear about what to expect when it comes to the emotions and fears that are inevitably part of this huge decision-making process. Accepting the loss of not being able to have a genetic child involves grief, which needs to be acknowledged and understood as a perfectly normal feeling when faced with this decision. It was only when I started my DefiningMum account and connected with Jana Rupnow (@janarupnowlpc) that I realised what I had experienced was compounded grief. After this, I suddenly felt my feelings were validated and I began to understand that the grief was real and that it was okay to struggle emotionally.
I first listened to Jana speak on The Fertility Podcast, after which I reached out to her through Instagram. Jana is a fertility counsellor in the US with both personal and professional experience of infertility, donor conception and adoption. She is the author of an incredibly useful book – ‘Three Makes Baby’ – which I would encourage anyone considering donation to read. Jana and I recently collaborated to record a series of ‘InstaLive’ videos where, using my personal experience and Jana’s professional skills, we discussed different topics such as ‘grief and making the decision’ and ‘parental attachment and bonding’ as part of a live conversation led by questions our followers had posed. These conversations can still be found on my IGTV channel through my Instagram account.
I’m learning that even beyond becoming a mum through donation there are still challenging emotions and fears to face. As I gratefully face the typical challenges of parenthood I am learning that some of these will inevitably be more complex than a ‘conventional’ family. It’s been a journey in itself just sharing my story on a wider scale, personally I’ve faced many questions that I had previously pushed to the back of my mind, mainly about what the girls’ reactions might be when they learn of their conception. It’s by sharing my thoughts and feelings that I’ve started to become more confident in how I am going to handle these challenges in the future.
As part of DefiningMum, I’m keen to not only discuss the perspective of the donor parent but also explore different perspectives of donor conception, an incredibly important viewpoint being that of the donor conceived child. Ally recently shared her story on the Donor Conception Network website after launching her ‘Half Of Me’ podcast, where she shares her journey after discovering as an adult that she was conceived via sperm donation. Ally and I are collaborating with Jana very soon to create a podcast episode that explores the parent and child perspectives, which can seem poles apart but in many ways are actually a real mirror of emotions. My hope is that by opening up these conversations I can prepare myself and others for supporting and understanding their children in the future when they come to learn about their story.
I’d love for you to come and follow me in my journey of discovery, understanding and personal learning as I reflect on my past experiences and navigate my way through parenthood and the menopause. You can find my blog at www.definingmum.com and follow me on Instagram @definingmum. I also have a Facebook page ‘Defining Mum’ and will be launching on Twitter soon. I am a huge supporter of what The Daisy Network are doing to support those who are on this difficult journey and look forward to collaborating with them soon.