Saturday, July 18, 2009

Out in Perth – “Winding Road To Motherhood” by Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne

Kelly and Sam’s journey to building a family has been a long, hard fought road for them both. Throughout the process they have remained committed to their goals, to each other and to supporting others in their own journeys.

We are nothing if not persistent. My partner Sam and I have a beautiful 21-month-old daughter named Charlotte, but motherhood didn’t come easily for us and it was only after 4 years of assisted reproductive technologies and some fairly major changes of direction that she was finally conceived and born.

We have now been together for 17 ½ years, although quite early into our relationship and when we were still in our twenties, we both knew we wanted children, however it wasn’t until the beginning of 2002 that we were legally able to access a Perth fertility clinic for assistance (following ground-breaking law reform in WA). At the beginning of the journey, we had decided on an unknown donor because the law wasn’t clear at that stage whether or not we would be protected as the child’s parents. So, after registering with Concept Fertility Clinic and putting our names down for an unknown donor, we waited 18 months before one became available. In the early days after the law reform which allowed lesbians to access fertility treatment not many donors granted permission for their donations to be directed to a lesbian couple, hence the long wait.

We finally received the phone call from the clinic when I was 34 and Sam was 35 and we began the process of donor insemination in September 2003. We had decided that I would carry our child because I had a stronger desire to be pregnant and had closer links to my family for support.

Month after month we fronted up to the clinic before work for ultrasounds, blood tests and IUI inseminations. In fact, we kept trying this method for a year until late 2004 when we faced the reality that I probably had fertility issues and we would need to consider invasive and expensive IVF treatment. A few months before this, we had a change of heart in terms of our selection of donor. I particularly had been giving thought to our future child and wondering if they would be disappointed to not be able to trace their biological heritage (at this stage, donor release was not available). We thought long and hard and decided that we couldn’t possibly make that decision for a person who did not yet exist and so we felt we should change to a known donor so that if the resultant child wanted a relationship with their donor dad, they had the option of doing so.

We rang a friend of ours to ask if he would consider being our known donor and he went away to give it serious consideration. In due course he came back to us and agreed to our request. The difficulty was that he was based in Tasmania and he had to fly to WA so that he could donate for us. We feel privileged to have him as Charlotte’s donor dad and now that Charlotte is here, we travel to Tasmania once a year to spend time with him and his extended family.

So, with new donor sperm, in October 2004 I started my first IVF cycle and whilst Sam learned to give me injections, I did my best to learn how to manage my hormone-induced emotion overload and rapid weight gain, caused by oestrogen and progesterone drug regimes.

To add to the stress of IVF, a looming state election saw the Opposition publicly declare that they would wind back law reform and again deny access to IVF for lesbians. We were devastated and chose to appear in the West Australian in an attempt to shine the spotlight on the Opposition’s plans. The public backlash to the Liberal Party plans was considerable and in the end they did not pursue their very cruel agenda. We have since appeared in The West a further two times, the last time being December 2007 when Charlotte was 3 months old. We believe firmly in the positive effects real stories can have on social change. That said, we declined a request to appear again when Charlotte turned a year old – we’re not aiming for our very own series of gay 7-Up!

Between October 2004 and late 2006, I underwent 6 fresh IVF cycles and although I managed to achieve pregnancy 6 times, each time the pregnancy did not progress past 6 weeks. Assumptions were made that severe endometriosis and advancing age were the causes. The final time this happened, I had made the decision that emotionally and physically I couldn’t take any more and so we changed tack and Sam began the IVF process around October 2006. We ultimately decided that what was truly important to us was to create our family and after 3 years of trying neither of us any longer cared how this happened.

To our great delight after Sam’s first fresh IVF egg pickup, we discovered that the quality of Sam’s eggs, although she was older than me, was excellent. We did one fresh transfer which was unsuccessful and the following month did a frozen embryo transfer which was also unsuccessful. By this point, we started to worry that she too had fertility problems, so when we received the joyous news that she was indeed pregnant after the second frozen embryo transfer in January 2007, there were tears aplenty!

At the 18-week scan, they found that there was a problem with low fluid in the uterus and the specialist signed Sam off work for the remainder of the pregnancy and by the end of the pregnancy, the fluid had returned to a normal level.

Our daughter was born in September 2009 and our lives changed in the most extraordinary ways. She was and is everything and more than we had ever hoped for and now, nearly 2 years on, we can’t imagine a life without her. She has changed our hearts forever and she is a truly special little girl.

Despite having to remortgage our house twice to pay the $50,000+ it took to create her, we have decided to do it all again and since October last year I have done 3 fresh IVF cycles. The plan was for me to try one last time and see if Sam could carry my eggs. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to produce any eggs in these three cycles, so it may be that my reproductive days have come to an end. We will try one more time next month and if not successful, we will use Sam’s frozen eggs that we have in storage and hope that she is pregnant sooner rather than later.

I am more concerned about us being older parents (we’re 40 and 41 respectively) than I am being same-sex parents. We have received nothing but positive comments from people and we are 100% open about our family to everyone.

We have a blog that we’ve been keeping since well before Charlotte was conceived. If anyone reading this would like more information or just to connect with lesbians who have been through IVF, our email address can be found here:

[Link: Original Article]

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