Age at interview: 43
Infertility diagnosis: Yes
Contributing factors to fertility problems: Age, needed donor sperm (not in a relationship)
Age at diagnosis: 41
Fertility treatments: egg freezing and ICSI with sperm from a known donor
Background: Kim works full-time as a lawyer. She is separated and lives on her own in a metropolitan city. Kim has English and Chinese heritage and was born overseas.
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Exploring options for having a child as a single person
So I suppose I first started looking into this about three years ago when my marriage broke down. So I was married for quite a long time, never actually tried to have kids during that time but always wanted them. And so the event of the marriage breaking down kind of forced me to think about my age and what I was going to do and it was quite a catalyst I suppose for getting on with it and going to see a GP and trying to find out more about fertility and IVF because I thought that was my only option at the time.
Actually, no – actually I looked into adoption and fostering as well as well as IVF at the same time so I went along to a couple of information sessions on both of those. But kind of felt that the process was going to be too difficult or not exactly what I wanted going down those routes so then I came back to IVF. So I booked a consult with my GP, went along to my GP and said, “I'm this age, I still want to have kids, what do I do?” so she referred me to a specialist just to have an initial meeting, do some initial tests.
Being referred to a fertility specialist
I guess at that stage I didn't really know much about anything. My first meeting with the specialist I was just like a deer in headlights, had nothing to say, didn't know what questions to ask. She was lovely but could see that I didn't really know what I was doing. So, yes, it was all a bit strange and I guess I was still quite emotional from having to deal with my marriage breaking down as well so it was all a bit confronting. I guess that I'd never really paid too much attention to my fertility or I've never had any checks or anything, any tests done before that stage, so it was all quite new and a lot to do process and a lot of decisions to make.
So, yes, I had a first initial meeting with my specialist. She sent me away to do some tests like blood tests and then ultrasound just to check hormone levels and physically that there was nothing immediately wrong. That seemed to all come back fine. It was just mainly my age really because I was 41/42 at that stage so obviously getting on a bit already. So I went back to her after my test results came back and she basically said, "If you're thinking about this you should start straight away because of your age and go straight to IVF. There's no point doing IUI."
So, yes, then I enrolled with the clinic, started going through that process, doing all the counselling sessions and everything to get onboard and that process takes quite a long time anyway. So I think that was at the beginning of 2019 that I started that and it was quite a slow process just sort of working my way through it.
Attending a single mothers by choice information session
I also started to research I suppose, do my own research. I think at one of the counselling sessions they told me about VARTA [Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority] so I made contact with them and went along to one of their single mums' groups at the end of the year. That was quite intense I think because there were a lot of people there, a lot of people at different stages of their journeys and it was quite an emotional session, my first session, because I was still deciding what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it and whether I was completely out of my mind to even think about doing it on my own [laughter]. But I got talking to a couple of the women there who'd gone through it obviously and had a child on their own so that was quite good to just hear people's real life stories and just to see that it can be done and there is a chance even though you're not partnered. That you can do it. It is possible to do it on your own.
So, yes, that was kind of the process to be doing all the medical side of things as well as trying to I suppose a) still grieve my marriage breakdown, but also try and get myself in the right headspace to be able to make decisions and decide which way to do it.
Taking a break then starting over with a new fertility specialist
Then I had a bit of a break because my mum was sick and I had to go back to the UK last year. Then when I got back I kind of wanted to get on with it really quickly. I suppose I had quite a bit of time to think about things and do some more research and decide which way I wanted to go. I think during that time I kind of came to the conclusion that I wanted to change specialists because I didn't necessarily gel very well with the one that I'd been referred to. You didn't get a choice of people to be referred to. I suppose if I had done some research beforehand I could have said, "I want to go to this person," but I kind of just got allocated to whoever my GP thought was the best person. So, yes, I suppose that thought that I wanted to make informed decisions I suppose all the way along made me really start researching properly.
So, my main resource was podcasts actually. I started finding a lot of podcasts on fertility and trying to get pregnant and started listening to a lot of those and did a lot of I suppose research on Facebook groups for single mums and people trying to conceive. Also just - yes. Probably those two places, not so much Google in general because there's a lot of - I suppose there's a lot of good information but a lot of bad information on there as well so I was kind of conscious of that and tried to seek information in the right places.
So I ended up just reading a lot on forums and listening to podcasts and basically decided that because I wasn't 100 per cent with the specialist I'd been sent to and because of my age I basically have sort of one shot to get this right. I don't have the luxury of time. So I decided to pick a specialist with the CREI [Certificate of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility] specialty and one of the major clinics because I also knew that I would have to use donor sperm. So not all clinics have a sperm donor bank or have many options to choose from so that kind of narrowed down my choices anyway.
So I kind of started the whole process again with a different specialist. I had to go through testing again like blood tests and I pretty much had to do most of the counselling sessions again because of the lapse of time I guess between when I first did it. So, I felt pretty good that - I felt much more empowered that I was making my own choices about where I wanted to go and who I wanted to see and all the decisions that I was making.
Deciding to do PGT and egg freezing using a clinic donor
In terms of a treatment plan I probably decided that I had more money than time and because of age I was also quite worried about the risks of miscarriage and genetic abnormalities as well. So I kind of decided to go through with genetic screening as part of the process so I got myself fully screened and in my first round of ICSI I also got the embryo screened as well.
So I – during the counselling session about using donor sperm I hadn't really decided at that stage what I was going to do because I had a friend who'd offered to become a donor and so I was weighing up whether to use a known donor or a clinic donor. So having the counselling session that raised a couple of questions that I had to think about, and I suppose I also considered the legal side of things with using a known donor.
I decided at that stage that it was probably a cleaner option just to use a clinic donor so I started down that route. My first cycle was in August this year and I decided to use a clinic donor, got through all the counselling sessions and then got access to the database and the first time I got in there I think I was extremely disappointed about the calibre of donors I suppose. I think maybe my expectations were kind of high so that was a bit confronting. I think I cried for about an hour after I read through all the profiles which was an interesting reaction because I thought I'd sort of prepared myself for this person to be anonymous and that I wouldn't have a picture of them or anything like that.
But I think that that whole process was probably one of the hardest parts. So, yes, that made me question whether I could actually go through with it but I decided that I was just going to pick somebody anyway. So I picked somebody. I just picked I think the youngest guy to try and offset my age who didn't have any sort of red flags in terms of too many medical issues. Then I went through my first cycle with ICSI and used his sperm to make embryos. I ended up with three embryos I think and then got those genetically tested and two of them were abnormal and one was normal.
So I kind of looked at that as my diagnostic round as a bit of a tester. Even though I wasn't happy with the donor I wanted to - well my specialist said, "We don't actually know how good the quality of your eggs are unless we actually go through and fertilise them and try to make embryos and test them genetically." So I decided to go through with that anyway for the first round just as a bit of a diagnostic check on my egg quality. So that embryo is sitting there frozen in the freezer. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with it at the moment.
Changing from a clinic donor to a known donor
Then pretty much after that round I went back to my friend and said, "Actually I think I'd rather go with you," and I also started researching - I started looking into more about the donor process from the donor conceived child's point of view and how they deal with things like growing up not knowing one of their parents and identity issues and things like that. Because that was really important to me to try and think about it from their point of view. So, yes, I watched quite a few videos on YouTube about donor kids growing up and at what stage they find out that they are donor conceived and whether they want to know about their donor father or not and whether it's been kept a secret from them or whether they've been told the whole time since they were really little.
So, yes, I guess looking at all that stuff also helped to make that decision to use a known donor because I think even if I'd used a clinic donor I would have tried to make contact with them early on and tried to have some sort of contact with them or have the child have some sort of contact with them so that they've at least got something when they're old enough to know what it's all about or start asking questions or whatever. So that was a worry as well I think that that person might not want that or might have their own family and it might be a secret or something.
I think it was just too unknown for me and it was too uncertain in terms of what my child might want in the future. So I've completely switched and decided to use my friend as a donor as he's quite happy to be around and to play some part in the child's life as more of an uncle figure or something like that.
Preparing to start IVF
So that's why at the moment I've put him through the clinic process so he's done all his tests. I also got him genetically screened and he came back with nothing, which is pretty unbelievable [laughter]. So at the moment he's just doing his last donations before it gets puts into quarantine and then in the meantime I've been doing some rounds of egg freezing just so I'm not wasting that time.
So, I will probably do maybe one or two more rounds of egg freezing during the quarantine period and then probably from April next year I'll start actually using his sperm to try and make embryos and see how that goes. Then hopefully do some transfers after that.
Find out more about Kim’s experiences in the following short films:
Trying to Conceive and First Seeking Help
Contributing Factors to Fertility Problems
Pre-implantation Genetic Testing and Fertility Preservation
Donor Conception and Surrogacy
Solo Parenthood by Choice
Experiences of Health Practitioners and Health Services
Other Paths to Parenthood: Adoption and Foster Care