I’ve been in a committed relationship for nearly 10 years and throughout all of that – even before that, since I was a teenager – children have been at the forefront of my mind. Coming out as a lesbian didn’t affect my thinking, it just added the practical question of ‘How?’
I have a physical, biological urge to have children but my partner doesn’t so it was easy to decide who would be the tummy mummy.
We approached a gay friend as a donor. It was over a few glasses of wine. He nearly fell off the sofa! He’d never considered it and understandably he needed some time. So over the course of a year we spent time together, thinking how it might be.
But things changed for him. He was promoted at work and he began to realise that he wasn’t ready – but my biological clock was ticking.
Once he decided, it helped in a way. It had felt like it was so out of our control, waiting for him to decide, that we realised we just wanted it to be us, me and my partner, in our family. It was about me and her and our joint future. So in October 2009 we approached our NHS nurse practitioner. She knew us and she’s really LGBT friendly.
I’m lucky because the work I do means I know what’s going on. I knew there had been a recent case (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7913082.stm) in which Glasgow Health Board had been taken to tribunal for not providing assisted conception to a same-sex couple, so I felt confident that I could challenge a decision if we were refused.
It’s still the case that some local health boards don’t give fertility treatment to same sex couples – their policies just don’t acknowledge them and/or they say there’s a shortage of donor sperm. (There was a change in legislation – the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act – which meant donors couldn’t remain anonymous as a child needs to be able to trace its parents if it wants, once it’s 18).
The nurse practitioner was great. We saw her at our local GP practice and she referred us to a consultant in Dumfries Royal Infirmary. We had our first appointment with her in December 2009. She told us that although Dumfries & Galloway Health Board’s policy still didn’t include same-sex couples, there was a real willingness to change… but it wouldn’t happen overnight.
We were placed on a holding list until West of Scotland NHS boards met to discuss changing their policies. However, it didn’t feel as if nothing was happening. The consultant checked my fertility, did blood tests, took our medical histories (both myself and my partner) and in January 2010 she referred me for an HSG test (a hysterosalpingogram) to see if my fallopian tubes were OK.
We were then in limbo for a bit until the policy was changed but in August 2010 we were referred to Greater Glasgow for treatment. Dumfries & Galloway can’t do it in-house as they don’t have the facilities to store donor sperm.
There was then another six month wait to get an appointment in Glasgow.
By then it was January 2011. They explained the treatment options to us. Through Greater Glasgow, Dumfries & Galloway would fund three cycles of IUI (intrauterine insemination) and, if that was unsuccessful, two cycles of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) – but they wouldn’t fund the supply of donor sperm. I argued back and forth about that, as there’s no point them funding IUI if there isn’t any donor sperm but I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere.
I don’t know if that’s what happens in all local health boards. Women living in Greater Glasgow get sperm free but they say they don’t have enough to supply women from outside.
So we had to get a loan to get donor sperm. My mum re-mortgaged her house. It costs about £3,000 to use the European Sperm Bank as they ask you to buy all the sperm you might need for all the IUI and IVF cycles, to make sure you have enough.
You get lots of information about the donor via the sperm bank. A photo of him as a child, a Myers Briggs personality profile, his medical history including his family.
It was another nine months before we get to the top of the waiting list. It’s worse in some places, people have to wait longer but there aren’t so many women in Dumfries & Galloway.
Even so, I was ready to have a baby when I first asked my friend in 2007 and I still don’t have one. Your biological clock doesn’t stop. I’m 39.
Eventually we reached the top of the waiting list and I began treatment. It was really bizarre. When we realised the ball was finally starting to roll it was such a high, we weren’t ready for the emotional roller coaster. In the space of about two weeks I turned from a normal rational person into mayhem.
I think some clinics have different approaches and not all of them opt for drug therapy straight away as it is quite invasive – but my menstrual cycle wasn’t totally predictable and as I was a bit older when I started treatment, they decided to start me on a series of fertility drugs.
The treatment for IUI began with a nasal spray, four times a day, which stops your natural cycle and gives them control. It basically makes you peri-menopausal, complete with all the symptoms. I was a mess.
You carry the nasal spray around with you all day and set alarms to take it. It’s really demanding.
I was on that non-stop from the beginning of November to the end of February. Then I went to Glasgow for a scan and blood tests to see if the spray had done what it was meant to have done.
If it has, you start a daily, self-administered injection to stimulate your follicles.
Every two days while I was taking injections I had to go to Glasgow for blood tests or a scan and blood tests. It was a 5 hour journey door to door, so it was a real commitment.
It really helps to have a sympathetic employer. I didn’t intend to but I ended up being signed off sick. I get menstrual migraines anyway and with all the hormones I was injecting, I had migraines, hot flushes, mood swings, acute anxiety – just feeling really out of control and emotional. That coupled with the demands of getting to
Glasgow for 9am every two days made work untenable.
The clinic didn’t want more than one follicle to ripen due to the risk of multiple births. When the scans show one leader follicle is just about right, they give you a booster injection which is designed to make you ovulate. Exactly 42 hours later you’re inseminated.
You have the insemination and you think, ‘Yay!’ and you start analysing everything that’s going on in your body and manically watch fertility forums where people are posting all kinds of symptoms. You’re also desperately trying not to test early as you’re advised not to – but everyone is and getting negative results and getting depressed.
You become one of a desperate community of women, desperately wanting children.
It’s a lot of pressure. If I’m honest, because I had been waiting so long, when it all started I wasn’t prepared for a negative result – and when I got it I was devastated.
You start to think: how many shots do I have left now? What was a possibility becomes a diminishing possibility.
Peer support has been critical to me, straight and lesbian friends who are going through the same process. And the staff at Glasgow have been great. Happy for you to call them up and ask your questions. A really positive thing.
So, I’ve now been through all my IUI processes with negative results, and the next stage is IVF. More form filling and again, we had to wait to reach the top of the list.
I’ve been on a break for two months which is good as I’ve been taken off the drugs and I feel like a normal human being again. But time is still ticking on.
The first baseline appointment for IVF is in the middle of May and I guess the next treatment will start in July. I expect it will be similar to the last time but with greater dosages of hormones to get as many eggs as possible. I think they do the egg retrieval under local anaesthetic, hopefully transferring two embryos when they are fertilised – touch wood.
It’s been full on and it’s equally hard for my other half. She’s not just had the waiting and the disappointment, she’s had to cope with a dysfunctional partner. It can be too easy to turn on each other. Luckily we have a strong relationship.
I’m trying to remain quietly optimistic but there are no guarantees. IVF has a higher chance of success because sperm will meet the egg – with IUI you don’t even know if fertilisation has taken place.
I’ll have two rounds of egg retrieval, hopefully with more than one fertilised embryo to work on.
If it doesn’t work… I can’t really think about that yet but we’ll probably think of fostering and adoption. I desperately want to have my own child, I always have done, so I’ll want to exhaust all avenues.
I had IVF in August, and they managed to retrieve eight eggs, four of which were successfully fertilised via intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). I had a rough trot on egg retrieval, and ended up admitted to hospital with morphine for pain relief. I think they perforated something and I struggled for a week or two after to manage the pain.
I got an early pregnancy positive a couple of days before my official test date (ecstatic as you might imagine) and got another positive after a blood test at the hospital. They weren’t overly happy with the levels however, so decided to test again four days later and by that time I had lost the pregnancy.
It was the weirdest feeling – so much loss for something that barely even lived, but I suppose all our hopes and dreams of many years were tied up in those two faint lines, only to have them dashed a few days later.
With a bit of time for physical and emotional recovery, I am about to have frozen embryo transfer, and so am on a regimen of enforced menopause followed by HRT yet again.
I’m struggling a bit with it to be fair, and am about to be signed off for two weeks to ensure I am fully rested, particularly because I miscarried last time. All we can do is hope…