Hide me!

Esther

I’ve always wanted to be a mum. I didn’t think about it seriously until I was about 26 and now I’m 31 and 17 weeks pregnant.

 

Bev and I met four years ago. Within a few months we both knew we wanted children, though we didn’t know at that stage that we wanted them together.

 

In my last relationship it was clear that children weren’t an option. With Bev I was glad it was. Friends of mine have split up because one wanted children and the other not, or because they were worried about bringing children up in a same sex relationship.

 

We got married – a civil partnership – last summer. We did talk about having children beforehand and at one point we thought we should start before the wedding, at the beginning of the year, as we’d heard all the stories about it taking forever. It felt urgent. Now I’m glad we decided to stop reading the stuff that was making us panic and focus on the wedding. It meant we could enjoy our honeymoon in Italy and just be together.

 

At one point, when Bev and I had been together for about two years, before I proposed and a wedding was on the cards, we decided I should talk to my doctor about waiting lists and what was involved on the NHS.

 

The first thing they did was a urine test on day 21 of my cycle. At the time I was grateful they were taking me seriously but in hindsight, the test wasn’t very reliable. The GP had to do it to refer us. Later, our private clinic said they never use those tests as they don’t really tell you much.

 

The NHS clinic said that as we didn’t have any donor sperm to give and Edinburgh didn’t have an active sperm donation programme, we would be put on a holding list for up to four years.

 

If there was no sperm and we weren’t offered treatment in that time, that was it.

 

Bev was disappointed, I was half expecting it. One of the frustrations for me is that fertility treatment is different in different NHS areas. We were never told about or given an option to buy in sperm from a foreign sperm bank – at the time I didn’t know that could be a choice. But I do know a couple who are using internationally sourced sperm via the NHS.

 

After the honeymoon, Bev and I talked openly about wanting children. When we spoke to friends about it, one male couple in particular said, “Why haven’t you asked us?”

 

We did explore this option as they are great friends and would be fantastic extended family – but they were interested in being fathers rather than donors and it just seemed too difficult.

 

Who would be the grandparents? Would there be four sets? What would happen at Christmas?

 

In the end, Bev and I had a serious conversation about what we wanted. It was important for us to be really honest with each other. I felt guilty saying no to friends that wanted to have a child, especially as those friends didn’t have the biological make-up to have children themselves. I felt selfish but we decided we just wanted the two of us as the main parents.

 

There was only one way for us and that was donation through a private clinic.

 

Then suddenly my twin sister got pregnant. I had lots of different feelings. It took her six months of trying and she had free access to sperm! What if I couldn’t do it?

 

Once you’ve made the decision to have a child by insemination, you are at the mercy of other people’s opening hours and timetables, so we looked at local clinics. The nearest were IVF Scotland in Edinburgh and the Nuffield in Glasgow.

 

Prices were similar so we decided to go for the Edinburgh one because it was closer, though it was less well known.

 

When we looked the pricing was complicated – £600 for intra-uterine insertion (IUI) plus lots of add-ons eg. £200 per consultation then nurse’s fees, blood tests etc and you had to see a counsellor – so we estimated it would cost £1,400-£1,600 per treatment cycle. So we looked at our savings and we waited until we had enough for three treatments. I’d done lots of research and that’s what it said you needed.

 

I was obsessed by success rates as they seemed so low. It was confusing as different research would say different things but generally it seemed that 10-15% was a normal success rate for IUI, which is what we thought we would have.

 

My background research included looking at clinic websites and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, HFEA. The London Women’s clinic had lots of information.

 

There’s also a book, ‘The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy & Birth’, by Stephanie Brill, which covers every way a lesbian, bi or trans man could get pregnant. It is very American so not everything is relevant in the UK but it does make the point that clinic success rates don’t reflect lesbian success rates. For most lesbians lack of pregnancy is about lack of sperm not fertility whereas most heterosexual couples have been trying for at least a year and have known fertility problems.

 

There’s a really good research paper about lesbian and straight women getting pregnant that’s worth reading, ‘Intrauterine donor insemination in single women and lesbian couples: a comparative study of pregnancy rates.’

 

The Edinburgh clinic offered a free 15 minute tour with a nurse which I’d recommend. I don’t know if other clinics do it. It gave us the chance to ask lots of questions. Our nurse was really nice. We’d heard there was only a 10% chance the treatment would be a success but she told us to forget the numbers. She made us feel it was more of an individual process than a game of statistics.

 

Once we’d had the walk-through, things happened very quickly. At that stage you’re not obliged to go forward, you’re free to never go back but we had a really good feeling and within 24 hours we’d booked a consultation. We had an appointment within two weeks.

 

The consultation itself was quite clinical. The consultant just threw a lot of practical questions at us – what my cycle was like, how much I drank. We came out thinking: have we just spent £200 just to have a 40 minute meeting? But we had to see him to go forward.

 

There was also an internal examination that I wasn’t really prepared for – no one mentioned this would happen during the consultation. I think that the consultant wasn’t really thinking through some of the issues that could have come up for me – like, ‘Maybe an internal exam with a male consultant might make her feel nervous.’ I felt it was all quite rushed and a bit rough.

 

I did ask during the free meeting with the nurses if we could have a female consultant but we were told that as the procedures rely on your cycle, it just depends who is available on those days.

 

They wouldn’t do in vitro fertilisation (IVF), although we did ask. The success rates are higher but it is a lot more expensive. We thought, ‘Why not just go straight for that if it’s going to be more successful?’ The consultant said it wasn’t an option until we’d tried IUI at least twice because it’s invasive – you need an operation to take eggs – it involves hormone injections and, as a young healthy woman, I probably wouldn’t need it anyway.

 

After the consultation I was weighed, had my blood pressure taken and gave a urine sample. This was all carried out by nurses.

 

Everything came down to the timing of my periods after that. I’d been using my iPhone app to track my cycle for the last six months so I could tell him exactly.

It was so exciting. We hadn’t told anyone except one of our best friends yet. I didn’t want to detract from my sister’s news and it made it feel special: this was just our secret.

 

Around this point that we found out the clinic was simplifying their prices. The IUI package was less than we’d thought – £960 plus £200 in consultant’s fees which covered the first meeting and a review session.

 

After the consultation, you also have to have a counselling session and a session with a nurse as part of the procedure. We managed to get both on the same day.

We saw the nurse and the counsellor within 10 days of our consultation, which was ideal as my cycle was due to begin soon after that.

 

The counsellor asks a list of questions, some they have to because the sperm is donated, some about child protection, others to check you’re emotionally prepared. Like: “Why have you decided to do this? Have you ever harmed a child? Have you discussed this as a couple?”

 

I felt she had a list which she used for straight couples that she changed for us, eg. “How do your families feel about you having a child together? How does your mum feel about you having donated sperm? Have you ever encountered homophobia?”

 

I felt a bit patronised by some of the questions which I didn’t think they’d ask a straight couple but maybe that’s because I work in equality. Bev enjoyed having the chance to talk about it and we did discuss some things that we hadn’t discussed already so that was useful.

 

The nurse explains the medical procedure you’re going to have in detail, from the blood tests to how the procedure takes place and where it takes place. They also give you advice on healthy eating etc. And you have to choose your donor profile for your donated sperm. Height, eye colour, blood type, job, ethnicity.

 

The donor has the option to write a ‘pen sketch.’ That’s what swung it for us. Some wrote things like, ‘I love playing golf and going to the pub with my friends.’ The one we chose wrote to the child, saying they were open to meeting and interested in family history. I liked that.

 

Of course, if you have money to get sperm from a big European agency you can choose donor characteristics to the ultimate level – education etc but sperm from overseas sperm clinics is about £600 a go (I don’t think that includes storage at your private clinic). Some of the sperm banks we looked at were the European Sperm Bank and Cryos. But in the end we just wanted a healthy baby.

 

You have to go in on Day 1 of your next period, the first proper day of bleeding. You phone and say you need to come in tomorrow for a Day 1 exam and they give you a time; at Edinburgh the appointment and later blood tests were almost always between 7-9am.

 

One thing I’d say is, if you’re thinking of doing this it’s worth thinking about the fact that you’re likely to need quite a lot of time off work. My clinic was in Midlothian so I had to get up at 5am sometimes just to get there on time.

 

During the Day 1 exam, they do a blood test for Luteinising Hormone (LH), check you can take a catheter in your womb (for the sperm) and do a transvaginal scan.

 

The scan is like the one they put on your tummy but it’s an internal one. They have a look at your womb and follicles in each ovary and measure them. They don’t tell you much. The consultant would say things to the nurse like, “Only six on one side, which is lower than average” and “The blood test had a lower score than expected” without saying if it meant there was something wrong.

 

The consultant also seemed to have a problem – or be nervous – about the fact that we were two women eg. he held up the probe and said, ‘Now you can’t take this home ladies,” which I’m sure he wouldn’t have said to a female/ male couple.

 

We didn’t complain at the time but I did complain later about how impersonal it was and the times we were left waiting at 7am or moved from room to room. Bev was quite worried about complaining as they have all the power – maybe they wouldn’t do the treatment properly and use water instead of sperm! – but I thought, ‘We’ve just spent £1,000!” It felt quite good as the results of complaining were almost immediate. Both the nurse and the consultant apologised and we got better service from then on.

 

After the scan, you’re not due in ’til Day 10 but then you have to go in every day for blood tests. They’re looking for a surge in your LH hormone which usually happens between Day 10 and Day 18 (middle of your cycle). They phoned me every afternoon to tell me the results of the blood work.

 

At first Bev was determined to come to everything with me but when it means getting up at 5am to go all that way for a five minute blood test, there’s no point. When it comes down to it, you can’t both be in it all the way. Things like that can cause a bit of resentment – I was a bit jealous of her cosy bed while I trekked about in the snow – but as long as you talk about it, it’s OK.

 

Your LH level will gradually rise until, 36-48 hours before ovulation, it will suddenly jump dramatically. Until they see the jump, you need to go back in the next day and the next day etc. Eventually comes the magical day when they say they’ve seen the surge and they tell you to come in tomorrow for treatment.

 

Basically you turn up and they put a catheter through your cervix into your womb. Your cervix is open anyway because you’re fertile.

 

We got shown to a private room. I got a fluffy gown to wear and tea and coffee – it was like a five star hotel: very nice. You wait until they’re ready for you because there’s a queue of women ahead of you and because the technician has to defrost your sperm and wash it. They can’t do that in advance. We were waiting around for an hour. The nurses were great though. They checked in with us and made sure we knew what was happening.

 

You don’t need to be in the operating theatre for the procedure but you may be, if the consultant’s working in there anyway. I did and Bev got to put on scrubs so it was very exciting!

 

A nurse gets you ready on a medical bed with stirrups. You wear a medical gown and your partner sits next to you. They show you the vial of sperm with the details on so you know you’ve got the right lot. They constantly check your name too, so there’s no mistake.

 

The consultant uses a speculum to open up the vagina and puts the catheter in your womb. Then they inject the sperm into the catheter and that’s it. The consultant leaves. It takes less than three minutes. The sperm looks like water.

 

The nurse covers you in blankets and you can lie there for up to 10 minutes with your partner beside you, before going back to your room. They stress that once the sperm’s inside you it can’t fall out when you stand up but it was quite nice, lying there.

 

You can stay in your private room or the lounge as long as you want. We stayed for about an hour because I just felt better lying in a horizontal position. Then we got the bus home.

 

Within two hours of the treatment I had cramps like period pains. You obsess about symptoms and I was convinced I was pregnant by Day 4. Bev bought 27 cheap pregnancy tests and two Clearblue Digitals. I was doing two a day.

 

Waiting is a scary time. Bev in particular was very upset at the prospect of it not working, more so than you think you’ll be when you’re prepared for it.

 

When I was obsessing about symptoms, I spent a lot of time on the LGBT forum at Fertility Friends. They have a page, the 2-week-wait (2ww), for people waiting for the results. It’s good because you have lots of crazy thoughts after insemination. You analyse everything, from waking up a bit early to a slight tenderness in your boobs or a funny taste in your mouth. Am I pregnant or is it just my period?

 

It worked first time! We found out I was pregnant on Boxing Day. I did a test and there was just one line and I chucked it in the bin. Then I woke up at 6am thinking, ‘I didn’t leave it long enough, not three minutes.’ So I fished it out of the bin and it was positive! Of course I did another few after that just to be sure!

 

You have to go back to the clinic for a blood test 14 days after insemination. They measure for a hormone – I think it’s the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). It was exciting. We’d known for three days but because part of you is thinking, ‘This can’t be real, it can’t have happened already,’ it’s really reassuring to hear them say, “The hormone level is high, it’s definitely a pregnancy.”

 

Once that’s done you only have to go back and see them five weeks after insemination, when they do another transvaginal scan to look at the baby. In pregnancy terms you are already seven weeks pregnant as they count from the first day of your last period. At this stage the baby is only like a butter bean but they check its heartbeat and that it’s not an ectopic pregnancy.

 

There’s lots of form filling at that stage eg. status of civil partnership for the birth certificate. The consultant shook our hands and said congratulations, which was a nice way to end.

 

That said, a nurse – she was being nice but she did keep saying, “I’m so glad you are able to do this,” which made us feel a bit uncomfortable. You do wish they wouldn’t make you feel different but you’ll take anything after they give you a positive result – but again, maybe I’m being over sensitive because I work in equality.

 

There’s no pregnancy care from the clinic after your seven weeks. Until then you can call them anytime if you’re anxious. They give you forms to show your doctor to show you’re pregnant but they’re not in contact with your GP, it’s your responsibility to give your blood test results to the GP.

 

I’m now 17 weeks along and I’ve seen the scans and heard the heartbeat but it still doesn’t feel totally real. I’m still in shock a bit, especially as it happened first time.

I told Mum and Dad after seven weeks. It was our big secret until then. I remember thinking, ‘How the hell are we going to tell them now, when they have had no warm up that we are trying?’

 

I just blurted it out after dinner one night. My dad’s jaw hit the floor and my mum was happy hysterical. Then they started reminiscing about having twins! This will practically be the same thing, as my sister and I have due dates exactly 11 weeks apart.

 

We don’t want to know the sex of the baby. Having known so much about the process, it’s nice to not know and have a sense of anticipation.

 

I’m due 4 September. We’re just excited to be having a baby. We don’t care what comes out.

 

 

 

 

Read Bev’s story

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