So, in volume 1 of this story, I shared the build-up to my decision to go ahead with having a baby on my own. In this post, we’re going to get down to the nitty-gritty of what I’ve had to do in advance of making my first attempt – and don’t worry, because of the nature of this clinical process, it’s not going to get too personal (well, maybe only a little bit).
Of course, the initial decision to go ahead with something as significant as this is the biggest manoeuvre – but in terms of options and reasonably weighty choices, it’s just the tip of the fertility iceberg.
First stop. So how am I going to make this baby then?
When most people hear the words fertility treatment they think IVF. This is the process where a woman takes drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible, those eggs get taken out to be mixed with the sperm in a laboratory, hopefully some fertilise and then one or two of the healthiest embryos get put back inside the woman’s uterus, where everyone hopes they implant and a normal healthy pregnancy ensues.
But for a healthy single female who has never tried to get pregnant, there may be other options (note this is my expert interpretation of the options based on nothing more than an intimate night with Google).
Home insemination with a known donor – getting someone you know to give you their sperm, usually via doing a Tommy Tank in your downstairs toilet and transference via a turkey baster (you can buy proper kits for it too). This is cheap, with little intervention but has a low rate of success (unless they’re kind enough to ‘donate’ four days on the trot) and in the eyes of the law the donor is the legal father which could cause problems down the line.
Home insemination with an unknown donor – there are websites you can go on to find willing donors. This seems rather high risk to me as you’d know very little about them or their medical history and apparently some of the potential donors will spin you a line that ‘it’s better for the baby’ if conception happens naturally!! Again the donor would still be the legal father.
Co-parenting – there are also websites on which you can find people who want to donate the sperm and with whom you would then have an arrangement to share parenting (in a similar way to a divorced couple but hopefully more amicable). I did actually consider this for about a week because I thought the additional support would be great, but then came to my senses and realised that, if I’m not going to be in a relationship, then I’ll definitely want to parent my way!
IUI – intrauterine insemination – this is what I’m doing and differs from IVF because it involves far less intervention, fewer drugs and your eggs stay inside your own body. This is a good option for women who have no major known fertility issues (apart from lack of sperm in my case). You can do a stimulated or unstimulated cycle, with the former offering a bit of hormonal encouragement for your ovaries. And you can also opt whether to do a trigger injection which makes you ovulate at a known time or just track your natural cycle and time insemination accordingly.
Having never tried to get pregnant before and having never had any gynae issues, I initially thought I wanted to go completely au naturelle – no drugs, just insemination. But after a conversation with a new fertility friend (yes, I have a few of these now) I decided that I might as well give my dear 39-year-old ovaries a bit of a kick up the front bum and avoid any risk of error by doing the trigger injection too.
Who gets my money?
Next stop. Choosing a clinic…
Unless you’re in a position to go ahead with the NHS (apparently, not being able to nail down a boyfriend doesn’t meet their clinical criteria), you’ve got come to terms with the fact that you might be starting a very expensive journey here. Every step of the way someone will be asking to rinse your credit card.
If you’re lucky it might cost you £5k, if you’re unlucky then the sky really is the limit on this one. (Yes, those of you who get to make babies by bonking for fun might want to pause for a little moment of gratitude here.)
But I was up for that – well the first £6k of starter investment anyway – and I’m grateful to be in the fortunate position where I can deal with my lack of sperm provider by throwing money at the situation.
I quite like spending money. But often only when I feel in control and informed about my spend and when I feel like the recipient is worthy and appreciative of my business. If I’m given no choice or I feel like I’m being diddled, oooh that makes me cross (and often quite emotional actually).
So one of my top criteria was actually finding a clinic that I liked, where I liked the people, where it felt like my money would be spent on the quality of care rather than the quality of the art in the waiting room, who I thought were (in some way) honoured to have my business and to be involved in the monumental process of helping me make a baby.
I started doing some research, spoke to a few people, called the clinics to check out the vibe and pulled together a little short list of open days to go along to.
And then a friend (in fact, none other than my partner in The LikeMinded Mums Club) asked if she could recommend the clinic that she’d used and told me that it was small, no-frills AND…….based in Wandsworth.
My heart leapt at that moment as I already had a gut feel that Concept was going to be the clinic for me.
Their open day was only a week away (another sign of course) and they even said I could pop in any time to say hello, have a look around and have a chat (other clinics had said this wasn’t something they’d allow – bah humbub (see what I’ve done there)).
And, at that open day, they won my business with their honest and amusing opening gambit….
”We’d love to start by telling you that we have the best success rates of all the London clinics. But we don’t. They’re all the same and we’re not going to pretend otherwise.”.
I’d signed up for my first appointment within 2 minutes of the talk finishing.
When I tell people that I’m trying to have a baby on my own, one of the things they’re most fascinated by is where and how I’ve procured the sperm.
“Do you get to choose?”
“Do you know anything about him?”
“Have you met him?”
“How much sperm do you actually get?”
I’ve happily answered these questions many times over in the last few months.
The short answer is that it’s just like online dating.
But without the endless banal messaging and the inevitable disappointment and frustration of having to endure a shit date. Oh, and you get sperm at the end of it which, in my experience, doesn’t happen very often with online dating.
So each clinic tends to have a relationship with several sperm banks and each bank is quite different in the level of information they give you about the donor.
They all give ethnicity, nationality, height, eye/hair colour, something about their education, what they do for work and a bit of blurb written by someone at the clinic who has met them saying random nice things (how you determine that someone is very spiritual from a chat over the reception desk I’m not quite sure).
These were my initial criteria:
- Not short
- Some evidence of intelligence
- An interest in sport
(You see? I’m very easy to please. Why I’ve not been able to find a suitable boyfriend just baffles me.)
But, of course, you think these are your criteria. Until you start looking. Then all of these other preferences and hunches and biases pop up out of nowhere.
I’d heard there were some sites that showed you a photo of the donor as a baby, and a few banks that give adult pics too (I mean pics of them as an adult, not the other type of ‘adult pics’).
I wasn’t bothered by seeing any pictures.
UNTIL I WENT ON A SITE THAT GAVE THEM!
And then I turned into this judgmental monster. Sticky-outie ears, dodgy nose, small chin, big chin, short arms (no good for a tennis player), too skinny, too fat.
But, I was still able to be ruthless. I knew my priority was to choose some sperm and do it relatively quickly. (I have heard a story about a woman spending most of her 40’s procrastinating about which donor to choose, just slightly missing the ticking body clock there methinks.)
So, on the website of a US bank called Xytex, I found a very nice wrestling engineer called ‘Tim’ (they said he likes to be known as Tim but I’m not sure if that means it’s actually his name or not) and they were kind enough to reserve me 3 vials of his very best while I waited for final confirmation of a blood test.
Here is a preview of the basic info I got about ‘likes-to-be-known-as-Tim’:
(Yes, 1992, you read that right!)
Hoping you’ve got a virus
It’s not very often that you hope you’ve got a virus. But on this occasion that was exactly the position I found myself in.
CMV is a virus that the majority of people carry but if a pregnant woman contracts the virus, which could happen if a negative woman uses a positive donor, there is around a 4% chance of complications or abnormalities for the baby. (Note, again, all information and statistics procured from the reputable source that is Google.)
The weird thing is that some clinics care about this and some clinics don’t so I was a tad confused about whether it actually mattered or not.
The even weirder thing is that most people have never heard of CMV and have no idea if they have it. So all of those couples out there having fun making their babies ‘the conventional way’ have no idea if they might be taking this risk.
So dear old ‘likes-to-be-known-as-Tim’ is positive and, since most people are positive, I assumed I would be too.
Nope. Turns out my super immunity has either batted this one away or I just didn’t lick enough toilet seats as a child.
So ‘likes-to-be-known-as-Tim’ and I could be no more. I was a bit sad, I’d become quite fond of him. I could have fought my clinic and signed some kind of waiver but it just didn’t seem worth the hassle and, more importantly, the risk.
So back to donor dating I went and decided to have another look at the London Sperm Bank to see if I might actually be able to find myself a Brit.
This is tricky because, a few years ago, the rules in the UK changed to say that you have to agree to be found by your donor child when they turn 18 (if that’s what they want) and my assumption is that us risk-averse Brits weren’t too keen on that idea. So British donors are few and far between. And on top of that, I had to find one of the minority that was CMV negative. (Note, British donors only get paid up to £35 expenses for each visit to the clinic so this is a pretty selfless act.) (Also note that a donor (regardless of their origin) can only supply a maximum of 10 families in the UK – so if they’ve got really effective spunk then they can max out pretty quickly.)
By this point, after a long wait for my blood test results, I was rather under the cosh to choose in order that the sperm could be in place for the start of my next cycle which was only about a week away!
It may sound weird but I ended up following the advice that I give many of my clients….good enough is good enough. So I picked one that was neither short nor tall, dark hair, green/grey eyes, is apparently quite spiritual and states his profession as actor/managing director (!?).
My only known fertility problem is lack of sperm so the time for messing was over. Donor 1193 was good enough, went in my shopping basket and was purchased that day (£950 a ‘pop’ just so you know and so the men reading this can feel really good about themselves).
1 cycle or 3
Many clinics (and some sperm banks) offer a discount if you buy a package of 3 cycles (or 3 vials of sperm) and I found this a right conundrum. It’s such an expensive process that any way of making it cheaper is very attractive.
But if you buy 3 and get pregnant on cycle 1 then you lose what’s left. You can’t even save the remaining two to try for a sibling in the future. (I argued with my clinic about this and they actually gave a reasonable response in the end.)
My doctor had said that based on my lack of issues that she would expect that if I tried 3 cycles of IUI that I would be pregnant.
It’s a total gamble whichever way you go so I decided to play Mr Sod of Sod’s Law at his own game. If I bought 3 then his law says that I’m bound to get pregnant on cycle 1 or 2 and if that happened I’d just be delighted and wouldn’t care that I’d paid over the odds.
You don’t know what you don’t know
I’ve concluded that the process of getting pregnant is a total and utter mystery. Not if you do it the fun way and it happens easily. But in every other scenario, it’s a mystery. And not even the docs seem to understand it fully. Seemingly, the only person who does is Mother Nature herself.
And when you decide to do treatment for the first time you are essentially a naive and, possibly, desperate person in the hands of your clinic. Whatever they say, whatever they suggest, you will listen and you will follow. Because you’ve got to this point and you want it so badly.
But, for whatever reason, they don’t always tell you everything and you just don’t know what you don’t know.
So for me getting connected to the fertility community, specifically, the solo-mums-by-choice community has been a total godsend. There is a real sense of solidarity across the whole spectrum of women – those still trying to make their decision, those like me who are starting treatment, those who are on their fifth cycle, those who’ve been successful and those who are back to it again in order to try to have a sibling.
And the information that I’ve learned from this group has been invaluable and much of it would never have been shared with me by my clinic because they either assume you know (how?) or it’s not in their interest to do so.
- To buy cheap ovulation strips off amazon, a fraction of the price of the ones in the supermarket/chemist
- Brazil nuts to help with implantation
- To still do an ovulation test in the lead up to insemination in case the clinic miss it
- And, hands down my absolute favourite, that you can get your fertility drugs much more cheaply from……Asda (saved me £50, for IVF would save you around £500)
Turns out they got the strapline wrong. Mum’s gone to Asda.
My final thoughts
There are quite a few decisions to make. Way more than if you just turn to your partner and say “Shall we have a go this month and see what happens?”.
But, as with everything in life, I believe you get to choose whether you make these decisions easy or hard, efficiently or laboriously, with clarity or with doubt, with calm or with fretful anxiety.
And this is the just the preparatory phase. I know things get even tougher once you’re into treatment, the infamous two-week wait to find out if you’re pregnant, the two month wait for the 12-week scan, the trauma of labour and then the maelstrom of looking after a new baby.
This is just the end of the beginning.
I’m Hana. I’m a recovering overthinker and depression survivor. I work as a Life & Mindset Coach to help women improve their experience of life. I love talking to women whose lives look great on the outside but that’s not how they feel on the inside.
I have a fantastic online group programme launching on 1st June called Minty Fresh Thinking which is for women who are interested in exploring and understanding more about the way that they think and feel. You’ll leave this one month programme with more calm, feeling more content and with more confidence – and who doesn’t want all that good stuff! Find out more and book your tickets here.