In today’s fertility blog, we hear Anna Buxton’s trying to conceive journey, from miscarriages, IVF and being diagnosed with Asherman’s Syndrome, to having three children via surrogacy. Here is where Anna has found vocation. Hear Anna’s personal fertility story, from process, gaining fertility answers, family decisions, to what she wished she had known at the start.
Words by Anna Buxton
We have three children, six-year old Isla, who was born in India, and our two-year old twins, Olive and Art, who were born in California. We got our three children in the end, however I often look back on the fertility process and wonder how on earth! When we found out that surrogacy was going to be our only route to parenthood, I threw myself into research online, talking to various charities and organisations and trying to find other people who had children through surrogacy. What became clear very quickly is that surrogacy is a complicated process – legally, financially, medically and emotionally. There was no one place where we could go for all the information, but more challenging than that was that it all felt like something that could only be discussed in hushed voices. It was a very lonely experience.
After our three children were born, I couldn’t shake the feeling of gratitude for the two women who carried and gave birth to our children. Thankfully we live in a time and place where we could have our children through surrogacy and Ed and I are proud of what we have achieved together. Following our own personal fertility journey, I knew I wanted to help other people build their families through surrogacy, and I was sure there must be a better way. When I met Michael and Wes from Two Dads U.K, I realised that we were going to make that happen. My Surrogacy Journey was founded by Michael and Wes, with Francesca Steyn, one of the UK’s leading fertility nurse specialists, with a special interest in surrogacy and gamete donation. We support and guide people on a surrogacy journey in the UK, US and Canada, offering clinical expertise, counselling, practical support and benefits.
After Ed and I got married, we started trying to conceive right away and three months later, I was pregnant. We were thrilled, but at eight weeks I had a ‘missed miscarriage’. The pregnancy was over, but my body hadn’t got rid of it, so I had to have a ‘dilation and curettage’ (D&C) to remove tissue from the uterus. The D&C didn’t work, so they had to do it again. We were told we could try again as soon as we felt ready and within the next month I was pregnant again.
We couldn’t believe how lucky we were, but I had another miscarriage at eight weeks, followed by the same two operations. A few months after the baby loss and D&Cs, I knew something was not right, because my periods never returned and I was in a lot of pain. I was desperate for fertility answers. I was then diagnosed with Asherman’s Syndrome – adhesions or scarring in the womb (uterus) – which was caused by the scraping process of the D&Cs. I had five operations, but after 18 months and many fertility blood tests, the fertility specialists told me they had done everything they could.
I would never carry a pregnancy. Surrogacy would be the next step for us…
Why International Surrogacy and How The Process Worked
After researching all the surrogacy options in the UK, we started looking at surrogacy abroad, because of the uncertainty around how long it would take to find a surrogate in the UK (we were told a minimum of 12 months, but possibly much longer). I was 34 at the time, so the fertility specialists were telling me, ‘You’re getting older.’ After the years of infertility we’d already been through, it felt like a holding pattern and, after everything, both Ed and I didn’t know if we were strong enough to live with that uncertainty.
We then started to consider whether surrogacy abroad would be right for us. Again, after a lot of online research and through speaking to lawyers, we decided that there were only two places where the process was well established: the USA and India. At the time, the USA was out of the question due to costs being so high, so we researched India. Whilst I was incredibly comfortable with the idea of surrogacy, I had read both positive and negative press about surrogacy in India and I knew that my desire to have children could never come at the expense of another woman’s well-being.
We decided to go to India ourselves. We visited ten fertility clinics in three cities and spoke to charities, before finding a doctor and charity in Delhi that were doing amazing work in terms of empowering women to make the decision about surrogacy themselves and supporting those women.
How the process worked was this: we were matched with a surrogate and introduced via Skype, using a translator. We started the IVF stimulation process in the UK, then flew out to India, where my eggs were collected, the embryos created and transferred to our surrogate. Before the transfer, we met our surrogate, Chaphala, in person. I remember how nervous we both were, but we started chatting and it felt right. We talked about her two children and Ed’s and my desire to build our own family. Two embryos were transferred, and one took. Communication about the actual pregnancy was through the fertility specialist, but we received videos and pictures along the way from Chaphala.
The pregnancy was uncomplicated and, at 37 weeks, we went to Delhi to be there for Chaphala’s final scans and appointments, and then of course to be there for the birth. Isla was born and we were waiting in a room next door. She was brought through and placed in our arms. We couldn’t believe it – it was magical. After Isla was born, we had to stay in Delhi for six months, waiting for a UK passport to bring her home. Delhi is not an easy place to live, let alone with your first baby, but we were finally a family.
Given how hard it was to have Isla, I always thought that we might stop at one child but, very soon after she was born, both Ed and I agreed that we wanted siblings for her. By then, India had closed surrogacy to foreigners and the matching time in the UK was longer than ever. It was then that we decided the US was the right option for us and so pulled together everything we had. In the US, you need a fertility clinic with fertility specialists, a surrogacy agency and an attorney (fertility lawyer). We were recommended a wonderful fertility clinic in San Diego and so we also looked at surrogacy agencies in that area as well.
Through our agency, I spoke to a number of women but, when I first met Holly, I knew she was the one. You can’t tell from one phone call if someone is perfect, but I knew I liked her. Her husband joined th
e call and was supportive, and her children knew – for them it was a family affair. Holly is an intelligent woman who is passionate about family. She loves being pregnant and told me that she could never shake the feeling of needing to help other people build their families, when it is so easy for her to carry a pregnancy. She had a large support network of friends and family. Given how far apart we were, that support network was really important to me; thankfully she felt the same about us and, six months after our first meeting (and completing all the necessary legal steps), our embryos were transferred to Holly.
People often talk about the two week IVF wait (2WW), from transfer to the blood test to find out if you are pregnant. It is very hard, and with surrogacy you have two couples waiting on that result, as well as your friends and family who are also waiting. Day of the test result (Beta) and the email came through to me and Holly – “Congratulations we are pregnant!” A few more pregnancy blood tests (all of which were looking very positive), and then at eight weeks we had our first scan – two babies and two heartbeats!
My pregnancy with the twins was very different from that with Isla. Having Isla had taught me that motherhood is not whether you carry your child or not. It is about being there every day for your child, doing the best you can every day and the love and devotion. With the twins, I didn’t carry any guilt that I couldn’t carry them, I didn’t feel conspicuous without a bump.
Communications meant that Holly and I would WhatsApp most days, just a short message to tell me how she was feeling and how the babies were kicking. For scans and doctors’ appointments, I would join via video so that we could talk to the doctor together and I could hear the heartbeats.
Holly and I came up with the birth plan: it was going to be me and Holly together with Ed and Isla waiting in one room, and her husband and children waiting in another. Then, at 34 weeks, Holly went into labour. I got a call at 10pm from a doctor saying, ‘I don’t want to alarm you but we’re doing a C-section in 20 minutes.’ I managed to get a flight and got to the babies about 18 hours after they were born. It wasn’t the birth plan we wanted, but both the babies and Holly were healthy, and for that we are forever grateful. As a family of five, we stayed in San Diego for two months. Although surrogacy is a well-trodden path in California, the paperwork is still complicated; from agreeing the medical insurance to applying for American passports. This time also gave us the opportunity to spend time with Holly and her family. We all felt it was important for her children to see us with the babies, the family they created, and to appreciate the magnitude of what their mother had done.
We have talked to the children about their birth stories since before they could even understand, and will continue to do so proudly, consistently and repeatedly. They all know that my tummy is broken, so two other mummies helped us by growing them in their tummies. The most important thing they know, it that it took a lot of love to bring them into the world.
So, what do I wish I’d known before surrogacy? Well, if you go down the surrogacy route, there are and must be so many different parties involved – fertility specialists and doctors, counsellors, agencies, lawyers, insurance companies. But, there is nowhere to go for everything, like an infertility support group.
I wish there had been more transparency and that I’d had someone to talk to. We did find people – the most helpful were people who had done it before – but, we had to put a lot of work into finding them at a time when I was going through so much physically and emotionally. As anyone who has been through IVF knows, it can be a brutal and expensive process. The stress and cost of surrogacy on top of that can make it feel like an insurmountable prospect.