We don’t have fertility issues, we just don’t have any sperm!
Lisa Parkins (United Kingdom)
We don’t have fertility issues, we just don’t have any sperm!
That was our mantra for about a year leading up to our first IUI. All of my wife’s fertility tests came back with positive results and going into our first round in November last year we were super confident and incredibly relaxed.
Lynsey’s first round was medicated, but as it turns out the Clomid was a little too helpful and left her borderline over stimulated. Three dominate follicles - triplets we thought, naively. ‘Unless the eggs split and you end up with six’, the doctor responded. And with the idea of sextuplets ringing in our ears, we were out.
In many ways the abandoned cycle bolstered our confidence, Lynsey didn’t need the drugs, we really don’t have any fertility issues!
We got Christmas out of the way, our last without a baby I mused. This time next year we’ll be planning how to get around to see all of our family for Baby Parkins’ first holiday season!
Three IUIs later and reality has slapped us around the face and brought us crashing back down to earth. It turns out our fertility journey is a little more complicated that having two wombs and no sperm. And there is no longer any chance of two becoming three in time for December 25th.
Now is probably a good moment to come clean and admit we’re not 27 anymore and we have been forced to be a little more realistic about our age-related fertility issues. Lynsey’s biological clock at 41 is going off like police siren. And while that has been a rather sobering process there are plenty of positives to be gleaned.
The fact that we are not pregnant yet is not because we are in a same sex couple. And as we celebrate Pride month, now is the perfect time to stop and take a minute to be incredibly grateful to be living my life in 2018. We have faced not a single issue on our fertility journey because of our relationship status; services are available to us, doctors are helpful, and our lives have never been called into question in relation to becoming parents.
Sure we moaned a little about the ‘cookie cutter’ type treatment we thought we were getting in the beginning, yes we wish there was more funding available, but I know I can’t claim those arguments as exclusively ours.
We are just a married couple trying to start a family and we are thankful to all those who came before us to fight for a world where that was accepted.
As we move slowly through our fertility journey I realise that each story is unique and I have found common ground with so many women - those in same sex couples, straight women, ladies doing it by themselves (all power to you girls). The emotional roller coaster is the same whichever theme park you got on at.
And it’s just as crazy for those mothers-to-be among us who aren’t being poked and prodded every month. I have found myself in a strange space where I don’t really fit in to either of the traditional parenting roles we are typically used to. I am a woman who understands the desire to become a mother, but I’m also having to figure out how to support my wife navigate that journey physically, which of course I am completely committed to but hadn’t really considered would be that difficult.
I’ll be honest, in the beginning I’m not sure I really nailed it. Who am I kidding? I was terrible.
Our first two-week wait was CRAZY! I was crazy. I sent Lynsey crazy. But as many of you will know, there is a steep learning curve on this TTC journey, and with each cycle I feel more confident in my abilities to support her.
I don’t mind admitting, infertility has really tested us as a couple, but as in most other challenges we face, Lynsey and I make an amazing team and we’ve settled into our roles. Lynsey is dedicated to getting herself into the best physical shape and focusing on her stress levels, which she’ll openly admit was a struggle at the beginning of the year. I take care of the admin, I’m in touch with the fertility clinic and across the finances!
The money and the amount of cash required for fertility treatment is something I feel very passionate about. It is so damn expensive! And while we are fortunate that we can afford it (so far anyway!), there is a growing trend in the UK for same-sex couples and single women to find sperm donors online. Some charge a small fee, travel expenses for their ‘services’, others will donate for free but it is the unregulated nature of this growing industry that leaves me deeply uneasy.
Infertility however you slice it, whether you’re struggling to conceive naturally, single, or you’re in a same-sex relationship, often leaves women feeling vulnerable and desperate and there are men online who prey on that. There are Facebook groups full of donors who want to help you get pregnant but insist on NI or AI+ rather than Artificial Insemination, NI being good old-fashioned sex, and AI+ is where the penis is inserted just before ejaculation. Neither being the way I want my wife to get pregnant, thank you very much.
There are plenty of donors who insist on AI only, but while regulated sperm donors are limited to 10 families only in the UK, these guys have completed hundreds of donations and have tons of donor kids all over the country. I’m sure they’re decent enough blokes, but I have to question their motives. And then there are the potential risks for the future of half-siblings meeting and not knowing they are related, which doesn’t even bare thinking about.
In fact, a friend of ours was approached by the same donor as we were. Imagine, our children would have been half-siblings and we might never have known!
I was introduced to the groups by and old friend who has three beautiful children with a donor she met online and is incredibly happy with their set-up. Meeting a donor like that just wasn’t for me, I couldn’t face wading through the sleazy NI only messages.
Government funding only becomes available to us once we have self-funded six IUIs, then we are offered one free round of IVF. We probably won’t get that far as we have decided to move onto IVF ourselves after just four IUIs, and due to Lynsey’s age won’t get the free IVF once we fork out for one ourselves. It’s complicated and financially crippling – I can see why some women are forced onto Facebook in search of another way.
Shopping for sperm is another funny one. I was surprised at how quickly what we wanted out of our donor changed. Initially I was interested in a donor who most reflected me. ‘They must have brown eyes, dark hair, olive skin’, I declared. But over time I realized that personality and creativity was a much bigger consideration, and I truly believe any child raised in my home will be like me anyway. I always thought I was so much like my grandad, but we weren’t biologically related. Plus, my niece has blond curly hair and my sister looks like me, so go figure!
Even though fertility treatment was inevitable for us given we don’t have all the necessary tools to make a baby, what has been fascinating is how family and friends have reacted. I found myself one afternoon in the most bizarre conversation with my mum as she struggled to find the words to articulate how she felt about the process and the amount of money we were spending. She has no experience of fertility treatment, at all. In fact, I don’t know if she even knows anyone who has had to undergo IUI or IVF. Once you strip away the reason behind your infertility, the struggle and journey are much the same and I imagine other couples can also find it difficult sometimes to help their families understand.
The, ‘it will happen when you stop thinking about it and just enjoy yourself’ line doesn’t quite work for us though!
The visibility of same-sex parents and the services and care available to us is something I imagine those leading the gay liberation movement, which began nearly 50 years ago, would never have dreamt possible. I will celebrate it and them this Pride month, and when we finally get our longed-for baby, we will celebrate together.