Emma and Jane thought they would have a smooth sailing reciprocal IVF journey, they had even only saved money for one round. However, during initial tests, they came across some obstacles that slowed down the process.
They’re now expecting their miracle baby.
We met in July 2014, originally online and started dating. We moved in together in 2015 and got married in November 2017. We’ve been all over the world together since we met. Highlights include the two months we traveled around Africa for our honeymoon and our trip to the Galapagos in 2018.
We are very different from each other – which, I think, is why we work.
Jane is relaxed and patient. I’m more highly strung. We make each other laugh pretty much every day, and that’s the most important thing.
What were the first steps in planning a pregnancy together?
The first steps are always to talk about it – what we both want, when we want it, and what is important to us in how we approach it. Jane is a little older than me and works with kids. I think she knew she definitely wanted children before I did. For me, a couple of my close friends had children and I think that cemented in my mind that having children wasn’t something I wanted to live without.
Figuring out the “how” was actually probably the easiest bit.
You’re pregnant via reciprocal IVF. Can you describe what that means, and why you chose to take that road?
So, it means that my egg was fertilized with donor sperm in vitro. Then, implanted into Jane so that she carries the baby. The process is exactly the same as “regular” IVF until the point they put the embryo back. The reason that we chose this option was that we would both have some kind of connection to our child, be it biologically or by being the birth mother.
This was really important to us.
How did you make the decision about who would carry the baby?
This was easy – I wanted a biological connection to my child and Jane really wanted to be pregnant. I am also slightly younger which meant, in theory, it would be better to use my eggs.
Emotionally, how has the process been?
For context, we got married in November 2017, and were planning 2 months in Africa as a honeymoon in Jan/Feb 2018. We decided to check whether we were actually able to do R-IVF before we went. We wanted time to think about our options while overseas; without the stresses of ‘day to day’ life.
We went to a fertility clinic which tested my fertility by measuring my AMH (hormone levels which is one method of giving an indication of my ovarian reserve) and actually counted the number of follicles I have. These tests showed I was very fertile. They checked Jane’s womb to ensure there was nothing indicating she wouldn’t be able to carry a pregnancy.
During this test, they found a (huge) benign tumor on one of her ovaries, which we first had to get tested and removed. With the risk of rupture, this was pretty stressful. By the time Jane had had her tumor removed, it was August 2018. We decided to push back starting the IVF process a little longer because I was busy at work and I wanted to focus 100% on the process.
We started then in November 2018.
I basically took daily injections to grow my follicles, and during this process, they measured the size of the follicles regularly to make sure they weren’t over-stimulated. My first check-up was pretty stressful. I only had a few follicles compared to the 20+ from a year ago.
After some blood tests, and other tests, our consultant concluded that there was a strong indication (you can never be sure) that I had premature ovarian aging, and suddenly out of nowhere, I wasn’t really very fertile anymore. This could be genetic or random, the doctors aren’t sure.
The implications were that our first (and what we had planned as being our only cycle) suddenly had a much lower chance of success. Our consultant discussed with us the possibility that we may now have to have multiple cycles. We took this news pretty badly. I think we assumed that we had to have IVF because of the way we wanted to get pregnant, not because either of us had a fertility problem. I’ve always felt really sorry for others looking red-eyed and upset when we scanned around the waiting room, and so quickly we had become the same as them.
Personally, I wanted to abandon the cycle and explore other options. But, Jane said she wanted to give it a go. She wanted to feel like we had at least tried.
So I continued with the cycle.
The cycle itself I found really stressful because I had convinced myself it wasn’t going to work. I felt like we were going through something invasive and stressful for no reason. On egg collection day they collected only four eggs. It was fewer than expected, and of these only three fertilized, and by day three there was only one embryo left. Doctors warned us, that embryo didn’t look like it was growing very well.
Two days later they called and said that our only embryo had had a turnaround and was a really good quality, day five blastocyst which they had frozen.
We waited until after Christmas to do the implantation back into Jane.
Again I was very skeptical and Jane was optimistic; this is pretty much how we both react to everything! I was concerned about Jane falling hard when it didn’t work. They put the embryo back on a Wednesday and we had to wait until the following Friday for a blood test. We had agreed to not take pregnancy tests beforehand but by the Sunday we were doing one.
It was faintly positive!
I can’t really describe how lucky we have both felt every day since that day. I’ve watched Jane with utter disbelief as she’s got bigger and bigger. At the weekend we bought a pram and a crib, and over the next few weeks we’re decorating a nursery. The whole process is amazing. Every now and again she’ll just look at me and say “can you believe your baby is in my tummy”? I can’t.
Can you talk a little about the financial side of reciprocal IVF and the personal impact it has had for you?
In the UK the accessibility of IVF on the national health service (i.e for free) is a postcode lottery. Some councils and cities are more generous, whilst others use their healthcare budget in other areas.
Where we live, you need to have had three failed IUIs as a lesbian couple before being eligible for one free round of IVF on the NHS. The economics of this doesn’t really make sense because IUI is also very expensive. In any case, we didn’t even look into whether we were eligible for free treatment.
We are in the fortunate position of being able to afford IVF without government support. It’s our personal belief that it wouldn’t have been fair for us to have it for free on the state and we think that if IVF were means tested, it would enable the people who really could not afford to access it to be able to access it for free irrespective of their postcode.
We hadn’t actually saved for more than one round though, and had it come to needing more rounds it would have been a bit of a financial concern, so we were lucky not to need any more.
What’s something you wish that you’d known about reciprocal IVF before you started the process?
That we shouldn’t have taken anything for granted.
We were told we had great fertility, and that can change. I wish we had known that. Or even if it doesn’t change, IVF might not work right away. I wish we had been more prepared for the IVF “journey” and entered into it with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing.
In the end, we were very lucky in that our one miracle embryo took. I think we would have been more relaxed and open to the prospect of failure of our first round if we had have entered into it in that mind-set; that it is a marathon, not a sprint, and in some cases it’s actually quite a slow stroll.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
In the immediate sense, we are looking forward to spending the last couple of months together by ourselves. Looking forward, we are looking forward to the challenges of being parents, to meeting our child for the first time, and being a team of three, instead of a team of two.
Photography by Wes Webster Photography