After two miscarriages, Sarah’s relationship broke down. She still wanted a baby . . .
After my first round of IVF, my consultant said ‘you’ll never get pregnant with those eggs’
*Sarah’s fourth positive pregnancy result held and the pregnancy progressed, though it was fraught with problems. She had multiple bleeds during the first 24 weeks, and it was a very anxious time. Photograph: iStockphoto
When *Sarah’s three-year-old daughter, Lily, came home from creche one day asking if she could have a daddy, Sarah gently explained that she had looked for a daddy for a long time, but couldn’t find one. So, she told her daughter that a very kind doctor had helped her have Lily without a daddy, and had put Lily in her tummy when she was very tiny.
Like most women, Sarah always thought she would meet her Mr Right, get married and start a family of her own. She never imagined that she would find herself, in her late 30s, heading down the road of conceiving the baby she so desperately wanted, alone, using donor sperm.
Sarah had been told in her early 30s that her fertility would likely be affected by her long history of endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue similar to the uterus lining is found outside the uterus and causes extreme pain, inflammation, scar tissue, organ damage and infertility.
She was in a relationship when she started trying for a baby at the age of 34, but after two miscarriages, the relationship broke down. She tried dating again, and it was at that point that she began to think about going it alone using a sperm donor. She started a thread on Rollercoaster.ie (which is still going) to make contact with other single women pursuing parenthood alone, which has since developed into the private Facebook group Single Mums by Choice (SMBC Ireland).
Sarah then made contact with a Dublin fertility clinic where she did her first round of IVF using her own eggs, but the cycle failed.
“The post-cycle review with my consultant was heart-breaking. He threw his pen onto his desk and said, ‘You’ll never get pregnant with those eggs.’ Even though I had an inkling this was the case, it was upsetting to hear it stated so matter of factly. I was 38, single, and my ovaries had been completely destroyed by endometriosis. This was not what I had imagined for myself.”
Sarah then began to look at the possibility of trying for a baby through double donation of egg and sperm. She would have to go abroad to do it as this option was not available in Ireland to a single person.
After extensively researching her options, Sarah, who has an MSc and Phd, decided to proceed with double donation IVF at a clinic in Spain six months later. The first cycle was cancelled at the last minute due to her poor response to the preparatory medications, and the second cycle was scheduled for two months later, when Sarah flew to Barcelona for an embryo transfer. Following an initial positive pregnancy test, her hopes were shattered a few weeks later when she miscarried for the third time.
“At that stage, I was burnt out. I had lost three pregnancies and spent close to €20,000. I started to question everything. My head and my body was telling me that maybe I was not meant to be a mother but my heart was telling me otherwise. I didn’t have the emotional or financial wherewithal to go through another cycle so I parked it for six months and really tried to let go of the dream of being a mum,” she says.
In the course of her research, Sarah had heard about the Serum-IVF in Athens, one of the most progressive clinics in the world in advanced reproductive immunology, a key factor in treating recurrent miscarriage. She decided to try one final cycle with them. After more surgery and an intense 12-week preparatory protocol, she flew to Athens for an embryo transfer. This time, her positive pregnancy result held and the pregnancy progressed, though it was fraught with problems. She had multiple bleeds during the first 24 weeks, and it was a very anxious time.
At 28 weeks she developed pre-eclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy, and was admitted to hospital. Her condition severely declined one night when she went into seizure, and she was rushed to intensive care where it took hours to stabilise her. Her kidneys began to fail and an emergency Caesarean section was scheduled.
Baby Lily was delivered at 33 weeks weighing four pounds, two ounces and was whisked away to Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU). After the birth, Sarah remained unstable and, in a rare complication, was diagnosed with postpartum pre-eclampsia. After 36 hours, she was brought to the NICU in a wheelchair and finally got to meet the baby she had waited so long for.
Amid the joy surrounding Lily’s arrival came great sadness when Sarah’s father died suddenly when his granddaughter was only 10 weeks old. Losing a parent when you’ve just become a parent yourself is heartbreaking, says Sarah, but she will always be grateful for the 10 weeks Lily and her grandad had together.
Then shortly after her father’s death, Sarah became unwell, and was subsequently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, followed by Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia, in addition to her endometriosis.
Parenting alone in chronic pain while working full-time is a huge challenge, not to mention the many other difficulties her health problems bring including mobility problems, loss of function in her hands and debilitating fatigue.
However, Sarah counts herself as very lucky to have a supportive family and a good network of friends. She is awaiting surgery and trialling a variety of medications while her doctors try to find the right combination to manage her symptoms. The past few years have been incredibly hard, but also filled with great joy and happiness and, despite everything, Sarah says she would do it all again to have Lily in her life.
“The world is a better place because Lily is in it. She is a beautiful little person. She’s strong and happy, independent, fiery, fun and so caring and affectionate. Every morning I wake to her smiling face and “Good morning Mom.” I am so blessed to have her as my daughter. I couldn’t imagine life without her.”
For information and support relating to endometriosis, go to endometriosis.ie
* Names have been changed in this article.