I am typing this one handed while our beautiful three week old daughter sleeps on my other arm, from time to time glancing down at her perfect face in wonder. It’s a simple scene, one that most people take for granted. But for us, maybe like you if you are reading this, for a long time it seemed an impossible dream. It has become a life-changing reality because of the dedication and excellence of the team at IVI Barcelona.
I was already 40 when my husband and I met, so we knew we should not delay too long starting a family. After a few months of trying I was referred to a consultant here in the UK who carried out an operation to check there were no structural problems. She declared I had a “classic” uterus, and sent us on our fertility journey.
After two unsuccessful rounds of IVF with my own eggs, it looked like the end of the road for us. Several doctors had mentioned using donor eggs, and we were very against the idea. I particularly felt i didn’t want an “alien” growing inside me. That was, until the day the thunderbolt struck. I had left my husband with a cappucino while I went to collect my grandfather’s pen, which had been repaired after I had inherited it. Checking it worked, i was very moved to be writing with a pen that he, a clergyman, had used to compose his sermons. The short walk back to the cafe seemed strangely crowded with children, and suddenly the realisation dawned about the profound importance of family, of blood. I burst back into the cafe and told my husband I wanted us to consider egg donation. I really wanted a family, and wanted his blood to run through our child’s veins. Suddenly, oddly, mine didn’t seem so important.
Given my age and the length of waiting lists in the UK it was clear we should seek treatment abroad. Spain, with its strong regulatory structure, seemed an obvious choice. To help decide if it was indeed what we both wanted, we made a shortlist of three clinics – two in Barcelona and one in Andalucia – and armed with a long list of questions about donor selection, waiting lists, success rates, treatment protocols etc, travelled to Spain to visit them. Both the Barcelona clinics impressed us, but a deciding factor was that IVI has its own research programme. We felt that not only would the clinic be likely to be making use of the latest technology and research, but that the cost of our treatment might partly be used to help other couples in the future.
Another factor which was very helpful in making our decision to go for egg donation was contact with other people who had trodden the same road. The UK website www.fertilityfriends.co.uk was really useful, but the very best thing we did was to go to a meeting of the Donor Conception Network, a self-help network of families. The discussions and small group sessions addressing everything from treatment abroad to how to tell your child his history were illuminating, and it was inspiring to see many capable and loving parents who had had their children in their forties or even later. But the single most important thing was a really simple one: just walking into a large hall of perfectly normal-looking families, with parents or would-be parents who were far from the obsessive seekers of designer babies I had secretly feared.
Another discovery was that there’s much more of IVF and even donor conception around than you might imagine. We live in a small village in a rural part of the UK, perhaps an unlikely place to find a local support network. Imagine our surprise when our very understanding surgery put us in touch with a woman who had recently had a baby after treatment at IVI, and my husband’s boss and two mums at the toddler group where I volunteered had also had donor egg IVF in Barcelona. Their experience and support has been really valuable, but even in a village where everyone knows everyone, our private business has stayed private.
Even with the expertise of IVI, it took four years and seven transfers before our little miracle arrived. I had three miscarriages. Unlike in the UK, where we were repeatedly being told by doctors that it was just bad luck, IVI took these seriously, and after the second one recommended another operation as Dr Ballesteros suspected I had a structural problem in my uterus. Pre -implantation genetic diagnosis of the embryos was also suggested before my next cycle. Greatly to our regret, we refused the second operation before the PGD, on the basis of my apparently “classic uterus”. Again I became pregnant, and again I miscarried. Dr Ballesteros then said he was unwilling to do another cycle without the operation. We reluctantly and not very graciously agreed, and the operation revealed and removed a large benign growth which the UK doctor had missed, but which was probably the reason behind all those losses. And so it was that on what was definitely going to be our very last cycle, and thanks to the persistence of Dr Ballesteros and his team, that I finally became and stayed pregnant, and ten months later am holding the beloved daughter we thought we would never have in my arms.
We cannot thank IVI enough. Our co-ordination Lidia has been very patient with all our questions, and we marvel at the skills of the medical team and the embryologists. We also have to thank the culture of donation in Spain and the very special donor who has also given us this incredible gift of family life. When I look at our baby I think of all those people who brought her to us. But I also see her father’s ears and his nephew’s mouth. I see a child we will give thanks for every day of our lives. Most simply, and most importantly, I see our daughter. Not an alien at all.