Baby loss awareness week stories: How Leonie and Mark become parents after baby loss – Part 2
October 14, 2021
Trigger warning: this story contains references to baby loss and miscarriage.
As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15th October), The Evewell is sharing different experiences of losing a baby – and eventually finding joy in parenthood. Today, we continue to follow Leonie and Mark’s journey. In the first instalment, they discover that Leoni’s fibroids mean that IVF and surrogacy are their best hopes for starting a family. Sadly, they experience baby loss three times at different stages of the process. Now we pick up their story and find out what happened next…
“After the loss of a precious embryo before the transfer, a chemical pregnancy, a miscarriage, and a surrogate who couldn’t continue the process, 2018 had been a terrible year. We weren’t ready to give up though, so rushed to Boston in December for another round of IVF. Thankfully, I was able to produce a lot of eggs in my one accessible ovary – and we created four new embryos, two perfect, two ‘out of protocol’.
Around this time, we also connected with Richard Westoby – a lovely man and a real surrogacy guru who runs seminars about the legal ins and outs of the process – and met a number of amazing people on the same journey.
Creating our own little community was a real game-changer for me. Unlike friends and family, our network of other parents-to-be pinning their hopes on IVF through surrogacy really understood how we felt. And they had the experience to talk, share, grieve and dream with us too.
We felt we had a mountain to climb… and we were back at the bottom once again. But this time, we had an even better support system. It was time to find new reserves of strength, and start again, this time on the West Coast – with a new surrogacy agency following recommendations made through our surrogacy community.
After a long search, we found another wonderful woman who was ready to help make our dreams happen. Finally, in November 2019, we were ready to try again.
Everyone hoped and waited. We counted the minutes, the hours, the days, and our new surrogate was full of hope and positivity.
The transfer and pregnancy started well, but sadly, at 8 and a half weeks, we said goodbye to our fourth baby. And with him or her, our hope died a little. We had only three precious embryos left, with just one that was ‘good’– two were ‘C-grade’, so what’s called ‘out of protocol’. So as you might imagine, this baby loss hit us hard.
Meanwhile, my fibroids were making life almost unbearable and my body was collapsing – I was facing up to surgery to remove my uterus, which could lead to early menopause.
Then unfortunately our surrogate decided that she had to step back. It was our darkest time.
The COVID pandemic was hitting hard, my health wasn’t good, travel was impossible, and we were stuck at home facing a future that might not lead to a family.
That’s when I started talking to The Evewell team about my options… to find out if we had any. And finally, there was some good news.
My ovaries would hopefully still produce viable eggs – so we could try again once I’d recovered. I needed to be healthy and feel normal, so went ahead with the surgery to remove my uterus, and with it the fibroids that had caused all our problems and so much pain.
It felt like a loss in its own right. But the surgery went well, I healed physically and mentally, and we moved forwards.
Meanwhile, our surrogacy agency connected us with an amazing woman who, with teenage children of her own, really wanted to give another mum and dad a chance to be parents. It felt so strange to be going through this process together – but not to have ever met in the flesh given the COVID travel restrictions.
It was tough to start the process again – we’d lost five little sparks of life by this point – but the support of friends, family and the team at The Evewell kept us going. The thought of losing a baby again weighed heavy, but we knew that we had to carry on, and the sense of community really helped.
We stepped up for our third round of IVF – and a successful egg collection later – we were ready to go.
I was so happy to have the opportunity to do it after my surgery, and feeling more hopeful now as everything went so well.
Though this time, our embryos had to be content with travelling to the USA through COVID. The team made miracles happen, the embryos landed, and we were good to go. But on the day of the transfer, we got a surprising phonecall.
There’d been a mix-up in the facility where the transfer was taking place in the US, and one of our ‘out of protocol’ embryos from the second cycle had been introduced to our surrogate’s womb by mistake.
I really didn’t know what to say – maybe this was what was meant to be? All we could do was wait and see.
The weeks passed, and our little embryo nestled safely into our lovely surrogate’s womb. She felt good, and all the signs were great. There was a heartbeat, great hCG levels, all was good…
Maybe, just maybe, we could start to hope. Had the team made the best error ever?
We desperately wanted to be with our surrogate in California for her scans, but we weren’t allowed under the travel ban. Come December, it was time for the first trimester checks – then our surrogate tested positive for COVID, and so did her family.
Thankfully no one was seriously ill, but everyone had to isolate and no checks could be made – and our worries about the baby were growing. The weeks turned into months – and eventually, we got the reassuring results of a full NIPT profile at 5 months – and thankfully everything was totally fine.
This little one had been transferred by mistake, survived COVID and was fighting to come home with us. She wasn’t giving up!
In May, we flew out to the States to meet our surrogate and prepare together for the birth. Friends and family couldn’t believe we had been allowed to enter the States – the country was on lockdown – but we managed it. After overcoming so many hurdles and losses, we weren’t missing our baby’s arrival for anything.
It was so surreal and so beautiful. Meeting our baby’s surrogate mother was an unforgettable experience. Touching her belly, feeling my baby kick for the first time after so many years. The connection was instant and like no other. This wonderful woman had given us the most precious gift imaginable, and we felt like family. We’ll be bonded for life, and there really are no words to describe the connection.
The days flew as we waited together for labour to begin, and soon enough, our beautiful daughter Eliana – blessed one in Hebrew – emerged into the light.
The birth was truly magical. My baby was looking into my eyes. I looked into the surrogate’s and she looked back at us. It was worth every heartache. I never thought it would happen for me – there were moments when I was counting my losses and accepting that motherhood might not be for me. But here we are finally, a family, together. Right now, we’re in bliss.”
What next? We have four more embryos… so watch this space!”
The first half of Leonie’s story can be found here.
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