Last week Sarah had her hormone profiling bloods taken. This can be considered stage one in the IVF journey (after the GP referral and the initial consultation). The consultant asked for us to both have our hormone levels tested; that is, FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), LH (luteinising hormone), and estradiol. In order to get a baseline of how your body behaves during a menstrual cycle, the blood needs to be taken between day 2 and 5 of a period. Honestly we have never been so happy for a period to arrive! A quick call to my best friend (who is also a midwife and had agreed to take both our blood tests), and it was all set for Thursday.
On Sunday we got the results back. To our great shock we found that Sarah's hormone levels are high. Higher than we need them to be in order to proceed with our plans to egg share. In the moment that I read her results I felt as though my heart had stopped. I can't say it was devastation I felt, more just pure and utter shock. You never consider that either of you might actually have some kind of fertility problem, we both just naively assumed we were both healthy, fertile women, the only thing missing was the sperm! I was sat at work, staring at the computer screen and not quite believing what I was seeing. And suddenly forgetting how to breathe.
I walked back out to my car as quickly as possible and sat down to ring Sarah and let her know. Ever my optimistic and realistic other half, "it doesn't matter" she said calmly, "we'll just use your eggs". Well this is where being a lesbian couple comes in very handy - we can indeed just use my eggs. But that wasn't our plan, that was never our plan. Use Sarah's eggs with me carrying, THAT was our plan. It has been for at least the last seven years. How can that be taken away from us? Just like that?
After completing my days work, Sarah and I decided we needed to get out of the house together, somewhere that we could have space to talk about what happens next. We opted for a place in Birmingham that has just started serving food from the deep south. Soul Food sounded exactly like the kind of food we needed! And we talked about what the results meant. We couldn't egg share, and Dr Google was telling us that using Sarah's eggs at all wasn't looking likely. (High levels of this hormone are likely indicators of polycystic ovary syndrome, or low numbers of/no eggs.) So we had to process the thoughts of using mine. Neither of us could quite work out why we were feeling so terrible about the news. A part of me, I suppose, felt grief for the baby I could have carried. I wanted to grow inside of me an embryo created from the person I adore most in the entire world. It felt odd to me that I would now have to think about growing an embryo created from me, as for a long time I have not felt any connection to the eggs that sit patiently in my body, perhaps one day to be donated for us by someone else, someone anonymous, for them to make their babies with. For a long time I have seen myself as just a womb, just a place to grow our babies, thinking that my eggs would never create a mini-us, that was not their purpose. And now I had to remove the thoughts that had been present in my head for so long, and think of it another way. To be honest it felt an alien concept, I still can't quite get my head around it.
Making a baby, for us, has always been very much a partnership, in terms of our physical contributions as well as emotional and spiritual. Sarah would do it all, up to egg collection, and then hand the baton over to me, for me to grow the little bundle of cells and let it grow into our baby. Feeling that she no longer could contribute to the process was the part that was most hard hitting for her. The genetics and biology have absolutely no relevance for my wife, it was more that she wanted to do her part in making the baby, and now it feels a little like she is redundant, or in her words, that she has failed in doing her part.
It is funny, when talking to other couples who have procreated, and are a mixture of the biological and non-biological mummies, how much people want to reassure us that when the child is here we will both love and adore that child equally, regardless of who carried.
We are friends with two lesbian couples who have children, and see both mums as biologically linked to their children, as well as the same going for many more lesbian mums we know of online. One of Sarah's best friends pointed out that an egg doesn't make you a mother - changing nappies, dealing with headlice and planning your child's wedding are some things that do! Sarah was nervous that her mum would be disappointed with the news we might not be able to use Sarah's eggs, being as she isn't going to carry a baby either, but was relieved when her mum assured her it completely didn't matter, and even if we adopted a child she wouldn't see it as any less her grandchild. The comments from the few friends that know about our IVF, and my mum, have been a much appreciated comfort to us.
As nice as all these things confirming biology doesn't matter are to hear , we have never ever been under the illusion about it being otherwise. We have always known I would carry, and give birth, and breastfeed the child. Our roles have been defined from pretty much the beginning of our relationship.
The news we had related to how we felt about the conception, and is not at all related to how we perceive we will feel about the pregnancy or the baby.
So what happens next? Well Monday was a bank holiday, meaning we had to wait until Tuesday to be able to speak to the Consultant about the results. She confirmed what we already knew - the results mean we are out of the running for egg sharing, and above what they would like to see to proceed with IVF. However, she said they have treated people with these results, and higher still, and the next step would be for us to pay for a private blood test, which gives a more accurate idea about the ovarian function, and will give us a definite yes or no answer as to whether we can proceed with Sarah's egg. The high results Sarah got mean we definitely cannot egg share to an anonymous couple (in return for reduced costs, so our IVF will now cost around £1400 more) but may be able to egg share from Sarah to me. So today we went back to the fertility clinic to have the test done. We now have to wait for those results, and in the meantime await my period and I can have mine tested. We both also have ultrasound scans booked next week, so are hopeful that that might also provide us with a few answers.
We aren't naive enough to think that fertility treatment would be a smooth ride. We know that each and every stage in the process is hurdle we have to conquer, we were just thrown by having one to conquer so soon. We know that the waiting lists are long, we know that they might not collect enough eggs, that those eggs might not fertilise, that we might not get pregnant, or I might, and then I might miscarry early. We know what we are taking on with opting to have IVF, but we didn't even consider for a second that we might not get off the starting blocks in the first place! But who knows, maybe this is just the start of the journey taking us in a slightly different direction. But once we arrive at our goal, I know this will all be worth it.