Seeing celebrities like Julianne Moore and Halle Berry getting pregnant in their 40s, it’s easy to imagine it’s not that difficult. But, as Cindy Lever discovered, the reality can be very different. Here, she shares her story.
I am about to board a plane from Athens home to Australia carrying very precious cargo. I have travelled across the world to use another woman’s eggs, hoping to fulfil my dream of having a second child. Thanks to the generosity of this anonymous donor I now have two tiny embryos nuzzling into my uterus.
My journey began several years earlier when I was 40 and my new partner and I visited my fertility specialist after failing to become pregnant. I knew my chances of conceiving at this age were slim but when my doctor spelled out that I had less than a 15 per cent chance and I would probably need to consider using donor eggs, I fell apart.
Once I recovered from the shock my stubbornness kicked in and I refused to believe that, despite my age, I didn’t still have a chance with my own eggs. I would walk around saying to my partner, “Look at such and such a celebrity, she’s in her 40s and pregnant”. I have always been extremely health-conscious – a vegetarian since my teenage years, a yoga teacher, never smoked and rarely drank – so I thought even if I had a dwindling egg supply those that were left were still likely to be good.
The IVF rollercoaster
I was determined that I was not going to be a statistic and we embarked on IVF.We had three cycles which resulted in the collection of a meagre six eggs and only two little day-three embryos. One was transferred, but didn’t implant. Each day I prayed our last embryo would continue to multiply in the petrie dish, but it didn’t.
The pain was overwhelming. I had to let go of the dream that we would one day have a baby that was made from the fabric of us. Fortunately,my partner is pragmatic and was accepting of the idea of using a donor. He reminded me thatmy body would nourish the child and give birth to it, and that our arms would hold it.
First steps to egg donation
I researched donor eggs. My specialist recommended The World Egg Bank, used by an Australian IVF organisation, which sources eggs from American donors. However, at a cost of about $30,000, with long waiting times, and as there’s no certainty with these things, this wasn’t a viable option for us.
I got onto Google and found Egg Donation Australia (EDA), which had a forum and Facebook page. I chatted with many women here who were in similar desperate positions to me. Recipients are forbidden from directly approaching the donors. Instead you put up an advertisement on the forum along with all the other couples pleading for a donor and then wait and hope that a donor will contact you and agree to donate their eggs.
EDA donors often wonder what sort of ongoing relationship the recipients may want to have with the donor. Many of the donors and recipients formclose bonds and become dear friends. My partner was adamant he did not want to have an ongoing relationship with a donor. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with this idea either. It felt complicated and I worried about pressure to maintain ties with the donor throughout our lives.
Finding a donor in Australia was also time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. If and when a donor approached us, it meant first building a relationship and hoping that we all ‘clicked’.
Casting the net wider
I began to look at overseas options where donation is anonymous and there are far more donors. It can potentially work out to be a cheaper, quicker and easier option than receiving eggs from an Australian donor.
After many evenings spent on forums, Facebook pages and Google, I discovered Embryoland in Greece. I sent off an email and the following Sunday I was talking to Dr Nikos Kanakas on Skype. He put me in touch with two Australian women who had been to the clinic – one was about to deliver twins, the other had already had her twins. They both spoke highly of him.
The decision was made and a couple of months later my partner and I headed off to Greece, feeling incredibly nervous and excited.
Finally, off to Greece
Prior to leaving we had sent the clinic photos of ourselves as well as my son from my first marriage so that we could be matched with a suitable donor. The trip was incredible – like a honeymoon. Greece is fun, romantic and so relaxed, and everything went smoothly.
After the donor’s eggs were fertilised with my partner’s sperm we had six blastocyst embryos on day five. We were thrilled with this result. Five days after fertilisation I watched a monitor showing two tiny blastocysts being delicately transferred through a fine tube into my uterus. I was so overwhelmed I was crying and any doubts I had about whether this child would be mine vanished.
Devastatingly, it didn’t result in a pregnancy. A couple of months later I returned to Greece to try again. Another two embryos were transferred, this time exactly five days after I had ovulated. Again I was incredibly unlucky. All but one of the women I had been communicating with had managed to get pregnant on their first trip. Knowing this only intensified my distress.
I felt different this time
With the last two precious blastocysts waiting frozen in Greece I headed off again, but this time I felt different. I had an inner calmness. I have no idea what shifted for me or why. The pressure and stakes remained and yet none of this was at the forefront.
As I watched the last two embryos being transferred I lay clutching a little good luck card my son had written me. This time, once the transfer had taken place, I watched them move down deep into my uterus.
I was moved to a small room where I fell into a blissful sleep for two hours. Everything felt right and the following day I boarded the plane home with a feeling of quiet confidence. Ten days later and already suffering morning sickness, I was on Skype crying tears of joy as I shared my wonderful news with Dr Kanakas. The blood test revealed my levels of HCG [a hormone produced by pregnant women] were soaring.
My happy ending
As I write this, at six months pregnant, I feel blessed to have had this opportunity, to have had the support I have had, and so grateful that there are women generous enough to donate their eggs.
Egg donation: The facts
* A donor egg cycle at Embryoland costs about €6000, including all medication. Embryo donation can cost up to €7000. Freezing costs an extra €500.
* It is illegal in Australia to pay for donor eggs.
* Donors in Australia can be found by placing ads in the community, asking friends or relatives, or through groups such as Egg Donor Angels or Egg Donation Australia.
* Egg donation in Australia cannot be anonymous.
* In some states there is a cooling-off period for donors and all parties must undergo counselling sessions before proceeding.