It’s funny how a picture can take you right back to a particular moment, reminding you of the exact emotions you were feeling at that time. This picture popped up on my Facebook memories from 5 years ago and instantly took me back to the 'limbo' stage, the confusing and emotionally exhausting time between stopping IVF using my own eggs and embarking on the path of donor egg IVF. I see the pain and longing behind my eyes, despite the smile I wore.
On the face of it, I look happy. I was; I was amongst amazing people, with my incredible husband, celebrating the wedding of friends in Holland in a beautiful castle on a beautiful summer's day. This was a date we'd known about for a while and one I'd longed to be cradling a precious bump for. In a weird, twisted kind of way I actually loathed the fact that I could drink at this wedding, when I'd wished for a special reason not to. Although, in the end, the drinks were a comfort!
Deep inside I remember the mix of conflicting emotions and, even though we had already made the momentous decision that would make building our family much more possible, I still couldn’t shake the underlying, suffocating sadness that infertility brings with it. I was well adjusted to these feelings by now, having five failed IVF cycles and a miscarriage under my belt; although, one thing that was different this time was that our next attempt was going to be using donor eggs.
I was about to synchronize my cycle with our donor, with treatment scheduled for less than six weeks’ time. Now, with a 50% chance of success ahead of us (compared to the measly 5% we’d been used to) it was something I felt excited and hopeful about one minute, but then sadness the next, as I remembered that I no longer had the chance for a genetic child. Although we’d made peace with our situation and the decision to proceed with donor eggs, the sadness and pain of infertility was still there, along with still so many unknowns. What if this didn’t work? Would I ever get to experience pregnancy? Would I ever be a mother? We had no next steps planned after this.
The best way to describe this limbo stage was like riding waves—one minute I felt great, I felt strong, things finally felt possible, whereas the next moment an unexpected wave would come crashing down on me and completely knock me off of my feet. Even though we'd made the decision to move forward with donor eggs, grief was never far from the surface, with so many fears ready to take over my thoughts. Just seeing a family resemblance, hearing an off-the-cuff comment about likenesses and genetics, and the usual triggers of pregnancy announcements still cut incredibly deep.
I felt inspired to write this blog as I looked at the face of myself from five years ago and remembered just how difficult that phase was. Many people who are making the decision to use a donor have told me that they worry they're not ready when they feel wobbles like this, with no one to talk to who truly understands. I wanted to share that making the decision isn't simply the end to the grief; it's the start of a pathway of hope, while there are still many feelings to work through.
I suppose my personal realization that it was the right time for us was feeling that the hope and excitement had finally started to outweigh the grief, which is when I felt I was finally ready to take the leap. And today. I’m so happy today that I did. As a mom to three beautiful girls I couldn’t love any more, I can honestly say that my fears were unfounded, and have now transformed into overwhelming feelings of gratitude for this chance to be their mom. It’s not to say that the grief of my infertility has completely disappeared—it will always be a part of me—but it has allowed me to consciously feel immense gratitude and privilege for everything I am so lucky to experience today.
If you're feeling like I did, my advice would always be to talk to someone. The complexity and depth of emotion involved in accepting the loss of your genetics and choosing a path to parenthood using a donor shouldn’t be underestimated, and it’s a journey that shouldn’t be taken without support. The decision is a journey in itself and one that isn’t just a one-time choice, but something that will be the foundation for building your family.
Five years ago when I faced this, I didn’t have this access to what is now an incredible Instagram ‘Trying To Conceive Community.’ Instead, my comfort was found in messaging someone who became my confidant & friend, someone who had been there and was now a mother, offering a ray of light on the other side. We found each other about a year before I moved to donor eggs, as I desperately visited forums in the hope of finding someone who understood and could help me make sense of my feelings.
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Looking back now, I'm not quite sure how I would have got through it without her and the hope that she gave me in allowing me to openly talk through my fears and witness the possibilities ahead of me. Through seeing her amazing reality of being a mom I saw the love that she shared with her son and realized that genetics really weren’t a requirement for love, something I can attest to myself from my own experience today.
Through my Instagram platform @DefiningMum and DefiningMum blog, I share reflections and stories with the aim of validating these feelings that are rarely spoken about and helping others feel less alone. I’m now taking this one step further, with the recent launch of an online donor conception platform, something that has been a vision of mine for a while now, as a way to bridge the gaps in emotional support. Whether you are at the very beginning of your journey, or now parenting via donor conception, soon you will be able to join a private space to find support, information, friendship, and a sense of community within the Paths To Parenthub.
Becky Kearns is a 34 year old mom to three daughters, all thanks to egg donation. After a long fertility journey following a diagnosis of early menopause, Becky is now a patient advocate, fertility blogger, and founder of both 'DefiningMum' and 'Paths To Parenthub'. As an HR professional prior to having her children, Becky is also using her experience to educate employers and workplaces on the realities of fertility treatment and how they can better support people on the journey to build their family, through a joint "Fertility Matters At Work" initiative. She is proud to be a patient voice, eager to end the stigma and break the silence that surrounds these topics, and wants to use her experience to support others who are also facing a difficult path to parenthood.