They went ahead with the first embryo transfer.

"How do you feel?" asked my friend, because I seem to have managed to pull together a small group of people who, without mutual knowledge or communication, have gone and made it their function to keep asking me how I feel. It's reminiscent of blogging, but in meat space. It's weird.

I said, "Surprised," when our recipients let us know that all six of the two-day-old embryos had survived the thaw. "Didn't know they all had it in them."

It was later I realised with a slight chill that we'd passed the point of no return. Those embryos were only ours til they thawed.

A single, "beautiful" blast was transferred on the Monday, and a second one put back in the freezer for another time. Our recipient explained all the things she was planning to help its chances (acupuncture, meditation, diet, clearly-defined periods of baby-holding and not-baby-holding) and gave us the date for the blood test. She said she was trying to keep her hopes in perspective. And me? I was telling my friend I felt fine. From this distance, without the artificial hormones, the whole process is less intense.

She got pregnant. I'm telling you like that so we can cut to the chase: at 3am last night I found myself sobbing in my living room, shuffling through my contact lists to see who in which time zone might be up and willing to talk. When I found someone, I wondered "aloud" if I was the worst mother in the world, but ultimately I had to explain that I had known it would be like this, at least a little bit, perhaps a lot. We knew and we did it anyway. That was our choice.

So I went out with my phone for a walk in the darkness. "Do you think this feeling will pass?" my friend asked me, and I said, "I know it will. Feelings always do," but then a second friend chimed in and said, "I'm guessing you'll always feel something there," and suddenly my heart was lighter, like it just then realised it didn't have to go through it all that night, because it would in any case be going through it piece by piece each day.

This morning, a third friend asked, "Do you regret your decision?" and I said, "It's too early to say yet. In my books, she's not really pregnant til they see a heartbeat, and that scan won't happen til next year." But I keep coming back to the moment I got the news, and I know it sounds dramatic and perhaps a little cliche, but my hands actually shook and I felt a light head spin, so I lowered myself onto my knees and pressed my forehead to the floor as if praying, and I focussed on my breath while I waited for it all to sink in. It took sixty whole seconds to realise I was whispering, over and over, subconsciously.

And what I was whispering were two simple words. And the words were: "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."


You mostly hear from embryo donors through glossy testimonials on agency websites. And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it means there's little to say, that donating couples are, by and large, secure and comfortable with their decision, that they signed the paperwork one morning between the school drop-off and the office coffee run and never felt the need to question their choice, let alone bawl about it online.

Maybe our numbers are so low that a strong community of voices is yet to emerge - and in the meantime, difficult to find.

Or maybe it's that few people are interested in listening, or that we don't know how to talk.

Jen put me in touch with a friend who's been through it, and a circle of people opened up to me. I've spoken to several, discussed their experiences, and drawn from the wisdom they've gained. We can tell you that embryo donation is harder than you think. And not always the right decision. And other times, despite the difficulties, it is.

Think carefully about your support network.
Find a professional who has worked with donating families - or (failing that) who has worked with relinquishing families in the more traditional adoption community.
Be clear and frank about your wants and expectations, right from the very beginning.
Expect a rollercoaster, especially if the donation works, and especially over the first few years.
Focus on the kids.
Most importantly: don't hurry forward.

I cried for every page of paperwork I scanned and emailed to the clinic, and there were pages upon pages upon pages upon pages. Then I was seized by a sudden urge to phone the scientists one last time, but I didn't, because I wasn't sure how that conversation would go. "Hi, our embryos are being transported out today, and I just wanted to ring to... um... um...?"

In the end, when the email came through to say our embryos had arrived safely at the recipients' clinic, I felt fine. Not fine like I had nothing left to say, but fine, like I could make out the shape of things to come.

--
If you're here because you're thinking about donating your embryos, feel free to get in touch. Or check out VARTA, the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, which provides this decision-making tool for those with unused embryos, amongst other resources.



...we've just touched down back at home.

I'll spare you the details and give you the summary: screening tests are super-expensive and insured only within certain geographic regions. Flights are (so much) cheaper.

What's priceless? Face to face time with key friends and family. (Those video calls will never match up.)

As a bonus, it makes me feel like I know how to do this. Makes me feel like I've survived it all before.

Eight days then home...


At first, when people said we're "doing a beautiful thing" by donating our embryos, I squirmed. This is despite a widely-used script which everywhere reinforces the idea that it's the proper motivation. Donor testimonies read:

"We wanted to pay it forward-" should that be backwards? "-and help another couple with their infertility."

"We were so excited to be able to share this gift to make another family's dreams come true."

Some time ago a friend I don't know very well visited Singapore and we caught up for a coffee, and I did that thing to her where I accidentally ended up saying a lot more about what was troubling me than she was probably expecting or indeed comfortable with. Amongst these were my thoughts on working and motherhood.

"I've applied for a full time job," I said, innocuously. "PB has asked me to enrol him in extra-curricular classes every day after school so I guess I'm not needed there so much now and... I just think it might be time." 

But she's perceptive, and there must have been something in my eyes, because she paused on the other side of the table and looked at me closely. 

"He's a great kid," I added. "What other child do you know of who's demanded more school?" I gave a small chuckle, but then I found I had to break eye contact to look out at the trees. "I mean, sure, he can be a handful... By the end of the day... sometimes we just... I don't know. But his sports coach is wonderful with him."

We sat in silence for a few seconds, then she leaned forward and put her cup on the table. "You know, it takes a fucking village," she said. 

And I nodded, because I believe her. But to do so I fight the myth that it has to be all me, all the time. I fight the myth that I should be most of his world. I fight the myth that if someone else is guiding my child - God forbid if they do it more often or more successfully - it means I'm less than; I've failed; I'm unfit. And I fight this myth not as a parent, but as a mother - even in this place and time.

At first, people said we're doing a beautiful thing for this couple by donating our embryos and I squirmed, and it's because I've been told that this is the correct reason, and also that this reason isn't good enough.

But as I talk things over I realise, with relief, that it's not actually our reason. For us, it's not about helping them. It's about accepting where we're tapped out; about working to prioritise the kids we already have; about wanting to move forward but in a way which honours our past. We're here because we have this thing to do but we've learned we can't do it all on our own. We're ready to see ourselves as part of the world's village and to let the village take on this role.

And the more I think about it, the more I come to this conclusion: it's because we don't want to do a beautiful thing that this whole plan might work out ok.


I get the forms through on Thursday, and I look at them. Legalese and a few spaces for signatures, or in other words, all our parental rights. I mean yes, we can withdraw our consent any time til the embryos thaw, but this is the part where we have to actively give them over.

So I look at the forms and I contact a couple of friends. "Can I ask you a favour?" I say. "Can you try to talk me out of it?"

I get various reactions. The first friend asks if I'm sure I'm being wise. "Does your husband want me to do this?" she says.

The second can see the sense in it and nods slowly. "That's a hard one, though," she admits. "Let me have a think and get back to you."

The third jumps on the suggestion with an enthusiasm bordering on glee, but immediately starts prefacing sentences with, "Now, I'm just trying to do the job you gave me here..." When he hits the first tough point he looks positively apprehensive.

But through the conversation with this third friend, I realise something: I'm not very worried about how I'll feel later. Will I experience grief watching this potential child reach milestones? Interact with my own children? Weather hardships? I don't know, but I don't care - I know why we've made this decision, and I'll get through the rest, either way.

The questions that still play on my mind come this weekend involve the feelings of other people: Will our children resent our choice? How will our parents feel? And to a certain extent they involve boundaries: How much should we give? In the best case/in the worst case? It could be a fine line, and there'll always be someone who disagrees with us on where to draw it.

I'm still waiting on my first two friends, and in the meantime, you know this merry-go-round better than either of them. And I'm ready, at this point, to hear the worst of whatever anyone has to say. So I wonder, if it's not too much trouble, can I ask you a favour? Can you try to talk me out of it?

Go.


After we announced our engagement, my mother said, "I'm de-mothering. I'm de-mothering." She repeated this mantra whenever she was overcome with the instinct to fuss and interfere. "It's up to you two to work things out together now," she said. "But you're sensible, and he's a nice boy."

The formal discussion process for our embryo donation started nearly two weeks ago, and so far we have progress and answers and new questions and outpourings - a healthy amount of each of those.

We all ask: How many people would we tell?

And we all say: The children, of course - yours and ours. They should know from fairly early on, and we should update their understanding of it as they mature. Then the bigness of the deal of it - that's up to them.

Then we all ask: What about the rest of the family?

And we all say: It wouldn't be a secret. Two sets of grandparents are already waiting to know what'll become of the extra embryos.

And she adds: If it were me, I'd be talking through it with my mum already. But could you tell her not to say anything to the people who should hear it from us, until after they've heard it from us? Not that it would be the end of the world, but ideally...

Then we all breathe our sighs of relief. It's good to be on the same page. It's one of the reasons we've chosen to go with known recipients, rather than leaving the choice to the clinic. Relinquishing responsibility is easier when you're ceding it to someone you have faith in.

Then the psychologist says: How would you feel if these two decided to terminate the baby?

And we pause a while because it's a difficult thing to imagine.

At last we answer: It would have to be their choice. From this standpoint, we all have similar ideas, but if push comes to shove it'll be their baby, and it won't be our place to say.

And the psychologist agrees that the "gift" needs to be complete and unconditional, right from the very beginning.

I'm de-mothering. I'm de-mothering.



I want you to see me standing, serene, on a cliff top. I'm upright, with my shoulders back and my chin out and my hands folded neatly in front of me. If you like, you can add long hair, flapping gently in a light breeze, or lips, loosely gathered in a soft smile. You can peer at my toes, planted barefoot in the mud, spaced wide and firm, with the earth oozing between them. My hips are square and strong. My chest expands with unhurried breaths. In all this, what you must see is my stillness, my confidence, my calm.

That is how I see myself most days. On the other days, I dance. I become whirling motion, moved by the music, thrown around by a rhythm I don't control. On those days, I choose to close my eyes, to feel the world tilt up in my living room as I surrender my powers of vision and give in to a cacophony I bring upon myself, swayed but not falling, bent but responding, leaping, and shuffling, and turning around.

Rarely, I weep. I curl into myself, squeezing up like a sponge to wring out the sadness. I do this not because I am uncertain, but because I am becoming certain, and I know (after all I've been through) that these tears will help me buy my passage home.

And I know (after all we've been through) that I want to tell you how to see me. I stand. I dance. I weep. All of these are who I am.


What can I tell you about a vision I can't quite yet see?

If you click to Infertility Journey you'll find it ends with two blasts and six two-day embryos on ice. Except it can't actually end there, can it? It was always the plan (at least vaguely the plan) to wait til the two children we're now parenting gave us the breathing room we'd need to take another chance, and then take that chance. These days I know if we wait any longer I'll suffocate.  

My hands are full in ways I won't go into, and though I move continuously into the future, the future defies my attention when I haven't yet sorted out my present. Faintly, though, I hear myself yearning for other things. Then with regret, I remember how I loved pregnancy - I loved pregnancy - whilst admitting I don't think I can handle more parenting. We (the both of us) feel responsible for our embryos, but we no longer think the best home for them's here. 

Last month, the way forward seemed obvious, and at the same time, unexpectedly difficult. In the end I picked up the phone anyway, and offered our embryos to friends who were heading into their "one last IVF cycle", and they said if this try fails, they'd love to give our embryos a chance with them. 

Sometimes the truth reveals itself best in the moment of action. Before the call, I cried solid tears. As we hung up, I breathed in peace. 

Wish me luck with the two week wait, and I'll let you know how things turn out.


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