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Surrogacy part 2: The bumpy road to transfer

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E: So Soph and Jack have said they’re up for trying surrogacy. I know they’re protecting themselves by saying ‘trying’, but I’m also fully aware this may be their last chance to have a genetic baby of their own. I’m excited but also sad that it has got to this stage, for them. But the excitement and visualising them STILL having a chance to have their genetic baby overtakes any sadness for them really really quickly. I’m so happy that they’re taking us up on our offer- now the fun begins!

S: I never thought I’d get to the point of giving up trying to get pregnant myself but we just couldn’t keep suffering the way we had and I trusted Em implicitly. Having been best friends with her for 20 years I felt if anyone could carry our baby then it would be her. Like a really extreme form of babysitting! It wasn’t easy to come to this decision but ultimately we came to accept we had a better chance of having a baby if we tried this way.

E: First appointment at the clinic and I feel like I’ve been let into a secret and sacred world. I’ve taught hypnobirthing to parents who have conceived through IVF but having the chance to experience what happens without the angst that S&J and most parents will feel in this building almost makes me feel like a bit of an imposter! Again I quickly remind myself that isn’t the case- but that really was my first feeling. I also felt quite emotional to be in the place where S&J had gone through so much in the past few years. It was now a new chapter for them and I felt super privileged to be a part of it.

S: The first appointment at our clinic (our 3rd clinic in London over the 5 year period!) with Em consisted of the doctor explaining the whole process to all 3 of us and going over the legalities. First step was going to be individual and group counselling followed by making sure we had wills in place and various blood tests for Em.

E: The counselling sessions included one for just James and I which I thought was great. We were asked quite a few times if we were completely sure we wanted to do this and if we were clear on the implications for our family- which we were!

I’ve never been one to take medicine unless absolutely necessary- and so when the consultant explained there was an option to do a natural cycle vs a medicated cycle, I instantly knew that was going to make this whole process much more comfortable for me- especially when the chances of success were exactly the same. Initially I had been happy to take the medicated route as that’s the only option we thought we had, but the natural cycle made so much more sense as I didn’t have to take any of the long term daily injections. The downside of the natural cycle is the amount of monitoring that has to be done. But we’ll come onto that! 

S: It was always important that Em felt comfortable with the protocol as ultimately it was her who would need to be taking medication/injections etc. It’s easy for me to obviously say ‘give me all the drugs’ in the hope that they help, but when it’s someone else doing it for you it has to ultimately be their decision. Em was very good at making sure we were all ok with the decision that was made of trying a natural cycle to avoid any excess medication and leaving things up to Mother Nature (as much as we could!). 

E: I was still breastfeeding my 10 month old son Theo when we began our first cycle, and I wasn’t sure when we were going to be stopping. We understood that the main thing was that my cycles had returned a couple of months earlier. We were all set for our first try in December but the down regulation tablets (which we were under the impression were obligatory to take to give a more specific start date) didn’t work and my period didn’t arrive that month. 

S: I remember feeling excited that we’d decided to start before Christmas. I personally find Christmas one of the hardest times of the year as it’s another one down without a baby, but I focused on the possibility of Em being pregnant before the year ended. I remember being surprised Ems period didn’t arrive but not worrying over it until the clinic called to say we absolutely could not transfer until Em had fully stopped breast feeding. I got this email when we were away in Prague and found it really hard as they hadn’t mentioned this would be a problem before. But obviously we needed to do this at the right time so needed to wait. But even a month in the fertility world feels like a lifetime. 

E: My cycle began again in January and we decided to give it another shot as I had reduced feeding dramatically. We started the cycle monitoring which meant going up to the clinic on day 3 for an internal scan, then scanning everyday from day 9 until ovulation was confirmed which therefore means an embryo can be transferred at the optimal time. The clinic had said there could be up to 10 days of scans but this cycle carried on and I didn’t ovulate until day 17! We’d been hoping there would only be up to 7 or 8 scans, but nope, my body held out on ovulation!! Luckily the clinic is only by Euston station so I was able to be there and back home in a couple of hours if they were running on time. James was and has always been brilliant with seeing that our children were always happy and fine whilst I’d head out normally at breakfast time. Some days were harder than others though when there had been a sleepless night! But we always reminded ourselves what the end goal was.

S: We were happy to try again in January with Em reducing her feed as I’d done a lot of research and also we knew that women can get pregnant whilst still breast feeding so we weren’t too worried. I attended all the daily scans with Em and the only stressful moment was when Em was up north and the clinic needed her in and she got really sick whilst she was up there. She still managed to get the train from the midlands for a 5 minute appointment! They confirmed ovulation and we had transfer booked in 5 days later. 

E: The day before transfer I had a feeling something wasn’t right so we went up to the clinic. The doctor came in after a scan and confirmed the transfer needed to be cancelled. I was feeling a bit shocked that there was even an option for it not to work. But I also trust that my body maybe wasn’t quite ready and it wasn’t our one and only try. We’d agreed that we would only ever transfer once, but we’d try as many times as needed to get to that transfer. 

S: I remember Em calling me the day before we were due to transfer. I was off work and out running and just knew something wasn’t right. We went up to the clinic and after a 15 minute scan, which felt like hours, the doctor came in and told us he didn’t recommend we go ahead with transfer. He said ultimately it was up to me and Jack if we decided against his advice, but how could we. We couldn’t risk it with only one try so that was a big set back. 

E: I had quite a few commitments in Feb/March so I knew I couldn’t commit to trying again until the diary was clearer in case the same number of scans was needed again.

We were also conscious that feeding Theo could be a factor in my hormone levels. I personally didn’t think it was, but we all had to be 100% comfortable with what was happening so we agreed not to try again until Theo had finished breastfeeding completely, and I was very clear that I was going to be taking his lead on this. S&J were so very supportive but inevitably would ask as the months went by if Theo was still feeding as so much was resting on him stopping.

S: I really tried not to ask Em how the breastfeeding was going. I knew It was out of my control. Although we felt like our lives were on hold waiting, we just had to keep as busy as possible to survive this time. 

E: By the end of May Theo had stopped feeding and it felt like completely the right time for us. This was so important for the emotional side of surrogacy for both myself and Theo- not feeling rushed into anything. We were now ready to try again.

S: Em and James FaceTimed us both to confirm we could start again in June. We were going on holiday a week later but I was happy to be on the phone for every appointment scan. 

E: It felt so good to say that we were ready again to S&J, the odds were back in our favour and I think we all just wanted to get on with it now- in the nicest possible way! 

S: We all felt really positive and by the time I got back from our holiday the clinic said ovulation was imminent. Little did we know we had another hurdle to overcome! Ems period started a week early without her ovulating so the doctor called and said there was no way we would be going ahead. By this point I just thought is it a sign - are we not meant to be trying this? 

E: When my period came back early I kind of wanted to hit my head against the wall- we were so close and the thought of going through all of the appointments again was frustrating. I knew that this didn’t mean it wasn’t ever going to happen- but I could immediately see Sophie’s disappointment and instant questioning of the whole situation. As always, we tried to remain positive and cling to hope that we could start again quickly. We were planning on going away for the whole of August, so if this was going to happen before then, we’d have to move quickly. 

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S: 4 days later we went back in for a follow up and luckily the doctor said he was happy to start monitoring again straight away and this time Em would have an injection to trigger ovulation which would avoid the same thing happening again. We only had to go up another 4 times until they felt Em was ready for the injection. Once she had taken it they confirmed ovulation the next day. It felt a much simpler process! Transfer was booked in 5 days later on 19th July. 

E: Yes! We finally got to transfer day! I feel like the earlier cancelled cycles had made us all treasure this moment so much more. It was so surreal- the clinic set up was that you go upstairs for scans, downstairs for transfers. Finally, I was getting to go downstairs!