Brilliana (Australia): Whatever the future holds
I know what it is to find yourself somewhere that you never expected to be. By the time I turned 35 I had spent 11 of the most fertile years of my life with a man who had promised to make me a mother. Instead, I found myself trying to process how I could’ve been so stupid, so blind to the reality of my situation. In hindsight, I should have cut him out of my life the moment that I found out about the affair, the moment it became apparent that someone else’s wife was more important to him than his own. Instead, I made endless excuses for him. At the time I truly believed that I was fighting for the love of my life, for the most amazing man I’d ever had the opportunity to know, and for the wonderful future we had planned together. I was hopelessly naïve. In truth, I fought too hard and too long for a man who simply no longer existed, a man who perhaps never did. Within a month of it finally ending I was severely depressed. Within two, I was suicidal. I owe my life to a dedicated psychologist, a supportive GP, an amazing network of family, friends, and colleagues, and two years of daily antidepressants.
As my marriage dissolved before my eyes I watched everything that I had worked for over those 11 years slowly slip away. I lost my love and my best friend, the person I had wanted to grow old with. I lost my family-in-law, our mutual friends, my vocation, my savings, my car, and (almost) my house. I lost my mental wellbeing and my fertility. At the point my life imploded we had been trying for a baby for six months and, not wanting to wait too long because of my age, I was seeking the support of a fertility specialist. In the aftermath I watched as my ovarian reserve steadily declined, knowing all the while that I was in no emotional or financial shape to do a damn thing about it. I was heartbroken. I was betrayed. I was hurting. I resented all the waiting I had done. Waiting for him to be ‘ready’. Waiting for a house and a wedding ring. Waiting to be financially secure. Waiting for his career to be where he had wanted it. Waiting for a day that deep down inside he had known was never going to come. I had always wanted to be a mother. I hated him for taking that dream from me. I hated myself for letting him.
Then, in 2016, I met a woman who had been conceived through the use of a sperm donor. She was thirty, had two young children of her own, and was desperate to find her donor. She knew she was one of seven donor siblings (one, it turned out, had even been at school with her) but as they had been conceived back when the law promised anonymity to sperm donors, no one knew his identity. The psychological distress this woman experienced from not being able to know about her donor was tangible. She talked about the emptiness she felt not knowing where she came from or the full story to why she existed. Through tears she spoke of the intense feelings of guilt she felt for having a loving father but wanting so desperately to know of her donor. I knew after that conversation that if I was ever going to conceive with donor sperm, I wanted the donor to be known to my child from the beginning. In Australia, donors must be identifiable by law as this is considered to be in the best interests of the child. Any child who is donor-conceived can access identifying information about their donor once they turn 16. Many donors are happy for families to have this information sooner. However, investigating options with local fertility clinics that offered donor sperm promptly identified a fairly significant issue for me.
I left those fertility clinics with blank sheets listing all the details that donors were able to provide – hair colour, eye colour, height, education, interests etc. but I found myself asking the same question over and over.
Did he really go to university there?
Does he really play tennis?
Does he really enjoy cooking Asian fusion?
Really? Really? Really?
I was so broken from the endless lies that had been revealed at the end of my marriage that there was simply no way I was going to be able to put my faith in someone I had never met. I did not have the emotional reserve left to trust a complete stranger. I just didn’t have it in me.
It is an intensely nerve-wracking experience asking someone if they would consider being your sperm donor. I did it twice with two men I greatly admire and respect. I almost threw up both times. Both of the men I approached are married. Will is an old university friend with a gorgeous smile and a killer sense of humour but his husband Blake had reservations about how the dynamics of our ‘unique’ family arrangements would actually work. Co-parenting is a very different arrangement to simply being a donor and as we went back and forth about our options and the associated expectations and legalities, the reality of our situation became harder and harder. I decided, with Will and Blake’s blessing, to take another path.
Tom’s wife, Rose, is a close friend of my younger sister and I had known them as a couple for years through her. Both Tom and Rose were supportive of my situation right from the beginning and ended up being willing to bend over backwards for me. We underwent mandatory counselling with the obligatory six-month ‘cooling off’ period. As Tom had already had a vasectomy (following his five children with Rose) he underwent surgical sperm aspiration so that I could attempt to conceive via ICSI. The process of becoming a solo mother is ultimately a lonely one, but Tom and Rose have been a wonderful support team, constantly cheering me on from the sidelines. They want me to be able to experience parenthood as much as I do. I also love the idea that my child would have five amazing half-siblings and a donor family willing to answer any questions he or she might have. I constantly think about the donor-conceived woman I met in 2016 and wonder if she has made any progress in discovering the identity of her donor.
I recently made my first attempt at ICSI, which resulted in a single embryo suitable for transfer and a heartbreaking chemical pregnancy. However, I now know that I can produce viable eggs and that Tom’s sperm can successfully fertilise them. I know that my zygotes can develop into embryos and that my embryo can implant. I am counting each of these as positives as I move towards my second attempt in about 6 weeks time. But I also know that if motherhood isn’t the direction that my story ultimately takes, I will (eventually) be okay. Don’t get me wrong, I hope more than anything that I will have the opportunity to experience a healthy pregnancy and to meet my baby, but I also know that my worth as a human being is not defined by my ability to produce a child. For a time I lost sight of that fact in the obsessional fog that tends to emerge while trying to manage blood tests, ultrasounds, specialist appointments, injections, counselling sessions, and waiting, waiting, waiting. This infertility journey is only part of my story. I cannot change it. But I have always been, and will continue to be, so much more than this one thing. So here’s to the future, whatever it may hold.
To follow Brilliana, please head on over to her insta @bforbokeh