Motherhood doesn’t always happen in the way you’d imagine. An important life lesson I’ve learned from my own unexpected experience.
At the beginning it all seemed so simple, natural and uncomplicated. If I was certain about anything in my life, it was that I wanted to be a mum. I still remember my excitement as Matt and I decided to actually start trying for a baby, something I’d dreamed about right from playing with my dolls as a little girl. In many ways it felt like our baby was ‘conceived’ in that very moment, with the conception of all of our hopes, dreams and expectations for our future, not even thinking that it might not work out in the way that we’d planned.
Less than a year later, after many irregular cycles, strange symptoms and an insane amount of irrational googling, tests finally revealed why I hadn’t yet become pregnant. I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure, which meant that my “tiny” ovaries held the egg reserve of someone in their late 40’s, two decades older than my actual age of 27.
I still remember the moment where I had to consider that everything I’d expected and always imagined, simply wasn’t going to happen. I was told that it was unlikely I’d ever conceive naturally, something that in itself is very hard to hear, but also that I may never be a mum at all, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to hear.
We were encouraged to start IVF straight away to have any chance of retrieving eggs which, due to my young age, we hoped would still be of a decent enough quality to give us a chance. After our first round was a success with my first pregnancy from our one and only embryo, I truly thought the hard part was over.
We were then faced with an even bigger grief than before. We learned at 8 weeks that we’d suffered a missed miscarriage, news which came alongside intended words of comfort from a nurse who said “At least you’re still young”. Knowing that I was heading for a very early menopause, I didn’t feel young in the slightest and the thought of starting all over again filled me with dread. IVF cycles 2, 3, 4 and 5 followed in relatively quick succession, with the practical element of ongoing fertility treatment seeming to be the only thing keeping me from falling apart. All of these cycles ended in either a negative result or failed embryo development just before transfer. It was during this time that we were forced to ask ourselves some previously unthinkable questions, with the option of using donated eggs given to us as a way of increasing our chances of success tenfold.
Being told that I could possibly carry a child, but they wouldn’t be genetically related to me was hugely complex news to process. Initially the idea of Matt’s sperm being mixed with an unknown woman’s eggs, for me to carry, seemed such an alien concept to even consider.
Would I feel like I’m not the real mum?
Would my baby have some sixth sense that I wasn’t genetically related to them?
Would I ever get over the sadness of not being able to see myself in my child?
Would they look completely different to me?
How would we explain it to others?
How would my child feel?
So many questions, with so little information and support available for the emotional processing of the grief involved in losing the ability to pass on my genetics.
What is ‘mothering’ anyway?
A question which led to a turning point as I considered what it really meant to me to be a ‘mum’, challenging and redefining the assumed vision I’d always had. I started to think about mothering as a verb rather than simply a noun, beginning to understand that mothering is an act, an intention, something you do, not simply defined by a genetic link or a title. Instead of focusing on what I would be losing in not sharing my DNA, I found myself getting excited about the possibilities and all of the things we would be gaining as a family. I would have the chance to ‘mother’ every single day and I realised that there were many different ways to pass on my legacy and love through nurture.
I would have the opportunity to carry a pregnancy, to give birth, to feed, grow, care for, nurture and love a child that was ours. A child that may not be conceived with my own eggs, but had already been conceived within my heart.
I’m grateful to say that we were incredibly fortunate to conceive on our first attempt with donated eggs. Nine months later we welcomed our eldest daughter Mila into the world, with almost all of my fears disappearing the moment I met her, when I completely fell in love. A year later, we tried for a sibling and were lucky twice over when the two embryos we had transferred resulted in Mila’s twin sisters – Eska and Lena.
Our girls will always know how they came to be and how, although it’s not the path we ever imagined we would take, we wouldn’t change it for the world because it led to them. I know now that no matter how you get there, parenthood starts with everything you do for them, every feeling you have and every decision you make, even before they are born.
Sitting here five years on, as I reflect on our story whilst listening to the sounds of them playing outside in the garden, I realise the sheer enormity of the emotional journey we’ve been on and remember just how alone I felt, which is why I now share my story. I’m delighted to say that my emotions today centre very much around joy and gratitude, with the odd small (and perfectly natural) anxiety still creeping in from time to time. I see myself in our girls in more ways that I could have ever imagined, but I’ve also realised that what I love about them is their complete individuality and unique nature. I still pinch myself on a daily basis to make sure that what is happening is actually real and, as I kiss them in bed every night, I feel so very privileged to have been given the opportunity to be, not just a mum, but their mum.