IVF with donor eggs. It’s a topic close to our hearts, and one we get thousands of questions about each month.
Often, the best people to ask are those who’ve been through it. And with IVF, donor egg concerns and just about any area of fertility, this is absolutely the case. So we caught up with Becky Kearns – @definingmum – who had five IVF cycles before using donor eggs.
The result? UK-based Becky is now a mum of three, and shares her donor egg IVF story to help raise awareness and boost access to information. From IVF using donor eggs to the Paths to Parenthub membership community, You can find everything you need at DefiningMum.
Once you’ve heard from Becky, listen to our podcast episode Navigating Donor Conception, for a reassuring, practical guide to using donor eggs or sperm, and what to expect.
Over to Becky Kearns –
Could you tell us a little more about you?
I’m Becky, 33, mum to three girls (three year old Mila, and my twins, Eska and Lena, who are 18 months old), all conceived using IVF with donor eggs.
Having taken a break from my HR career to raise my girls, I’m now a stay-at-home mum and fertility blogger @definingmum. I’m committed to raising awareness around donor egg conception, and supporting people experiencing fertility struggles.
How long did you try with your own eggs?
It was around 18 months in total, with five IVF cycles in that time period. I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure (POF)/early menopause at the age of 28, around six months after we started TTC (trying to conceive).
My first IVF cycle with my own eggs resulted in a positive pregnancy test, but sadly a missed miscarriage at eight weeks. And we had either negative results, or no embryos transfer, for a further four cycles.
How did you feel about moving to donor egg IVF?
IVF with donor eggs had always been an option for me – I wanted to be a mum so badly.
My husband was more hesitant and took longer to warm to the idea. The decision-making was gradual – each time we had a failed cycle, it would become more real in my mind. I struggled mentally in-between cycles and needed to have a plan in place, so I started researching donor egg IVF around six months before making the decision.
For me, the biggest turning point came with a simple question to myself – what does it mean to be a mum? I realised that conception with donor eggs could give me all of it, and allow me to fulfil my dream.
Were you open with your friends and family?
I’d always been open with my family about my diagnosis, and they were incredibly supportive with our treatment, and open to learning about the donor conception option.
I found great comfort in being able to speak openly with those closest to me, without feeling the need to ‘put on a brave face’ and act like everything was okay. Because I did find the process all-consuming, and exhausting, as so many people do.
What was important to you, when choosing a clinic?
There were a number of factors. We ended up choosing a clinic in Prague (Czech Republic), and by that time I’d already been on UK donor egg waiting lists for 10 months (we joined these early in our decision-making, as the wait times can be so long).
It was also at this point that we made the decision to stop trying with my eggs and use donor egg IVF instead. After 10 months of waiting we were no closer to the top of the UK lists, and may have been hanging on another year to find a match. We were desperate to be parents and time was definitely a factor.
I researched clinics abroad (on our honeymoon, of all times!) and after many Skype interviews we felt most comfortable with a clinic in Prague – the communication was fantastic and the doctor filled me with confidence about our chances of success.
Why did you go outside the UK, for donor egg IVF?
Donor egg IVF cost is a big factor for many people. In Prague at the time, costs were about half of what they were in the UK.
There’s also is also a difference with anonymity outside of the UK – most clinics abroad use anonymous donors, whereas in the UK clinics are now only fully anonymous until the child turns 18, at which point they can make contact. At the time, we preferred anonymity for many reasons – it was something we felt more comfortable with.
The one last thing I’d mention, after all the heartache we’d experienced in the UK, we really needed to try something different. Going abroad was like a breath of fresh air, and being away from daily life felt like being on holiday. I’m sure I was more relaxed.
The whole process was much easier than squeezing in appointments between work meetings, especially when you’re feeling so emotional and the stakes are so high.
Now I know more about donor egg IVF, and am probably more open to hearing different perspectives, I’m more aware of some of the risks attached to anonymous donation.
The biggest risk is that our future children won’t have the option to connect with or know more about their genetic roots, if they want to. It’s a huge topic, filled with diverse and strong opinions, but one I’m working on to help me best support our girls in the future.
How much does donor egg IVF cost? Are there any guarantees around success rates?
To be honest, I’m struggling to remember as it was four years ago! There was definitely a guarantee of the number of eggs and embryos though. I remember the chances of success going from 5% with my own eggs, to 50% with donor eggs!
Have you decided whether you’ll tell your children, and when?
Absolutely – we believe openness is incredibly important.
It’s our family story and they should know how they came to be, as it will become their story too. I already speak to them about it, although at age three and 18 months, they don’t exactly understand the finer points of donor egg IVF!
They’ll never know anything different, and they’ll always know how wanted and loved they are. We’ll answer any questions they have.
I plan to create a scrapbook of ‘their story’ with pictures of us in Prague and blog posts that I’ve written since, as my way of talking to them about it.
What information did you get about your egg donor?
This was limited at our clinic. We were matched with basic criteria – hair colour, eye colour, height, weight, education level and age – that’s all we knew about her. She pretty much matched me on paper, but that’s all we are able to know.
And although I never met this our egg donor, I’d like to think that she’s very kind and generous. It isn’t easy to donate eggs, it’s a painful, long process and not something you enter into easily.
Do you ever think about your kids’ genes now?
DefiningMum definitely makes me think about genes more, especially when I hear people’s opinions on IVF using donor eggs which counters my own.
But, as difficult as it can be, I think not sharing my childrens’ genes makes me a better and more prepared parent. On a day-to-day basis, genetics don’t cross my mind – I know I couldn’t love my children any more, even if they did share my DNA. I’ve learned there’s so much more to being a mum than conception – the bonds you form from time spent together and memories you make are far more important.
I like to think I’m nurturing their unique nature, with comfort in epigenetics also playing a part in the creation of these beautiful individuals that are now my daughters. The more I see of my eldest daughter developing, the more I see how important nurture is in shaping them – I see myself in her all the time!
What’s your must-do for anyone considering IVF with donor eggs?
Allow yourself to grieve. It’s something I didn’t even realise I needed to do at the time. Grieving is so important when trying to deal with the many emotions, and understand how you’re feeling. You’re grieving the passing on of your own genes, something that’s harder for some than others.
It’s so important to be aware of your emotions. Because the decisions you make aren’t just for now – they’ll impact your parenting in the future. And finally, I always recommend reading Three Makes Baby by Jana Rupnow – a fantastic resource for anyone considering donor egg IVF.