Page URL:

My children don't have to be a reflection of me: Julia's story

This case study forms part of the Progress Educational Trust (PET) project 'When It Takes More Than Two', supported by the Wellcome Trust.
It incorporates links to terms in an accompanying Glossary.

I was diagnosed with premature menopause as a teenager. But it wasn't until I was about 30 years old, in 1992 or 1993, that I first started considering donor IVF as a possibility.
Before that, my husband and I had started the process to adopt a child, but it didn't work out. We used to move around a lot (including overseas) because of my husband's work, and that made continuous engagement with the process difficult. The agency didn't really follow up our enquiries. In retrospect, perhaps they were testing us, but it seemed very difficult to go down that path so as a result we quietly abandoned it.
But we really were looking to have a family. The lack of a genetic link in adoption did not worry us at all, on either the emotive or the intellectual level. We'd been together for a long time; we were used to the fact that I couldn't have children. There'd not been any hope of that. Also, we felt it was right to try and give a home to a child who didn't have one.
But it wasn't to be. I put myself forward as a recipient for egg donation, partly thanks to the encouragement of the consultants who were looking after me for my existing medical condition. I was put on a waiting list, and within 18 months I was able to have my first attempt.
It was early days for IVF and egg donation, but any trepidation I felt was countered by my excitement at being told by doctors that I would be able to carry a child. The previous understanding of my condition was that pregnancy wouldn't be possible, and dealing with infertility was very challenging for me for a few years after the diagnosis. So after a decade of this, the thought of being able to put it right in some way was tremendously exciting.
I felt that what I was being given was a chance of pregnancy, rather than a baby. Somehow, the baby at the end of the process was an abstract possibility, and one that we barely dared consider. We were just exceptionally grateful to be given even the ghost of a chance.
The egg-sharing scheme I was on was a fairly pioneering one for the time, and one donor would potentially be used for two recipients. I remember during one of the consultations when I was on the waiting list, being asked about things like my hair colour. I mean, who asks any woman after 25 their hair colour? It was slightly surreal.
Basically, they were trying to match me to a fair- haired, hazel-eyed donor. There were a couple of false starts after I'd already started the treatment with the hormone injections. After the second donation fell through, I was going to abandon the treatment, but the clinic told me of a new donor. She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and didn't look anything like me. Did I mind?
Of course I didn't mind! So I was kept on the treatment for a little longer than normal, and I received, but without any hope that the egg transfer would work. Then three weeks later, I was pregnant.
I was about as elated as anyone can be, completely in disbelief. Although I'd been diagnosed with premature menopause aged 18, I'd known for a very long time before that I couldn't have any children. Since I was 13 or 14, I just knew, really. So to get to the age of 31 or 32 and be expecting a baby was just incredible.
The result - if I may call him that! - is my son, who is now 17. My daughter, born through another attempt at a different clinic, is 13.
We had three eggs left over from the treatment, which were frozen, and two years after my son was born we had another attempt. It didn't work, and that really precluded any chances of my son having a 'full' genetic sibling. But we were so lucky to have a second healthy baby after that - another dark-haired baby, who looks very much like people on my husband's side of the family.
We discussed our children's origins with them pretty much as soon as they were able to sit up in a cot and listen to a story. We started off using a little booklet - the only one that was available - from the Donor Conception Network. We've always talked about it openly.
My daughter does now ask me questions about the egg donor. I have no information whatsoever for her, other than this person was obviously kind and generous enough to help us out, so she must be a fairly wonderful person. It involves so much invasive treatment, and at the end of it the donor may never see, never know, the person resulting from their generosity.
There might come a time when my daughter wants to know much more, and I would understand that feeling completely. I would have to deal with my own emotions at that point, because ultimately I'm the one who made the choices in the first place. I can't be defensive or angry about it - it is my responsibility. Of course, if I hadn't made those choices, then neither my daughter nor my son would have been born.
One thing to mention is that there are an awful lot of people out there who don't know who their parents really are. Non-paternity, for example - people not born of the father they always thought. I'm not hanging onto that particularly, but I do think it's worth taking into account when we say that children have got to know who both their parents are.
As for my children, they do know who their parents are, and I'm their mother. I don't worry about whether mannerisms or likes and dislikes come from me. My children are individuals - they don't have to be a reflection of me.
One thing that's helped is that we were part of a support network for people going through the IVF process using donated gametes. Thanks to this, we know parents who have been born through the same process, as well as their children. If there were any hint of my children feeling marginalised or alienated because of this, they would have people to talk to who would have dealt with very similar issues.
Overall, I think that transparency is very important. We know people with donor-conceived children who have chosen not to tell their children, and not to tell their immediate family. Everyone deals with things as best they can, but I do disagree very strongly with that approach. That kind of secrecy would imply that there is something to hide, some source of shame.
Maybe the people who do that are trying to hide their own unresolved issues about infertility. Yes, infertility is so very hard to deal with, but perhaps we make it harder for ourselves if we do things like that. At the same time, maybe that's easy for me to say, now that I have two wonderful children.