Trigger warning: this story featured as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2021, and contains references to baby loss and miscarriage.
As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2021 (9-15th October), The Evewell is sharing different experiences of loss – because our journeys are as unique as we are as women. One incredible story we’re proud to share is that of new mum Leonie, who has overcome challenging circumstances, made lifelong friends, and found deep personal strength. Read on and walk with her on a journey through IVF, surrogacy and baby loss to eventual joy.
“I’d like to start by saying that I’m one of the lucky ones. Yes, this is a story with a happy ending – though we have lived through baby loss and deep grief – we have also found friendship, community, grit we didn’t know we had, and, eventually, we’ve been blessed with baby Eliana’s safe arrival. So if you have experienced a tough IVF journey, or are spending sleepless nights supporting a surrogate mum as she carries your baby, take heart. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s hard to believe right now.
Hopefully, our story will help you a little, and make you feel less alone. That’s why we wanted to participate in Baby Loss Awareness Week: so other parents-to-be on a surrogacy and IVF journey know there are others who understand their experiences, that it’s normal, and that eventually, it’s so worth the pain along the way.
Our journey started in 2005 – before we were even an us! – when I discovered that my painful, difficult periods were down to fibroids. I moved to the UK from Cyprus in 2010 to have a surgery on the fibroids, and was happily living the single life when I met my husband Mark. Our romance was a whirlwind, and soon we were married.
We spoke about children from the start – and knew we wanted to be parents – but given my medical status, we also knew it might not be easy. So soon after the wedding, we started trying. And nothing happened. Then came the questions, the hints, and the friends’ announcements…
I knew that fibroids can cause fertility issues, and in the intervening years, my symptoms had got worse. Every surgery would cause scarring, which would affect my fertility – and my general wellbeing. By the time I was 34, we had to make a decision. Opinions varied, and in the end, we decided to pursue IVF, where a surrogate mum would carry an embryo created with my eggs and my husband’s sperm.
I was advised that I could have an egg collection, bank embryos, then have a major surgery called a myomectomy – and try to carry my own child. Another option was surrogacy, because my uterus was so compromised by the fibroids. I wasn’t sure which way to go but began research.
This wasn’t an easy decision. Egg collection can be challenging when you have fibroids, and we had to weigh up my worsening symptoms with our desire to become parents. For the best chance of success, surgery that would have improved my quality of life had to be postponed.
Something that made a real difference to my well-being was my fantastic employer. They were so, so good. They gave me support to take time out for all my appointments, and were just so good.
But we knew it would be worth it, so we went ahead, choosing a Harvard-sponsored fertility clinic in Boston for the procedure. We felt really comfortable in the US, where surrogacy is more culturally normalised. With a local surrogacy agency’s help, we started our search for a surrogate mum who would carry our precious little one, and things started to get real.
We flew out in 2017, and the procedure was a great success. The clinic was delighted to report that we had successfully created a number of embryos, with three screened to be of the highest quality – all biopsied, all genetically normal.
Fast-forward six months, and we found our perfect surrogate. She was already a mum of three and wanted to help another family experience the joys of parenthood.
We met, clicked, and knew it was right. All the assessments came back great… and embryo transfer was booked for May 2018.
That was when we experienced our first baby loss.
Our first precious embryo hasn’t survived the process. It hit home hard that even when everything’s looking good on paper, things can still go wrong. We had such hopes for that little spark of life and hadn’t expected to start with a loss. To be honest, we’d anticipated that it was all going to be OK – so there were many tears. But the transfer went ahead with our second embryo… and we all waited.
Initial signs looked positive, hCG levels rose – but then were borderline. Then the levels went down, and it was classed as a chemical pregnancy.
But we were still hopeful – we had one perfect embryo left. Come September, we decided to go ahead and implant the final embryo. However, things had changed for me. My fibroids had gone downhill, and we were told not to pursue more IVF, so we were feeling very emotional.
This time, everything started off really well. Time slowed down as we waited for our surrogate’s six-week scan – the heartbeat check. This scan would hopefully spot a heartbeat, and give us all some peace of mind.
But all wasn’t well. Though there was a heartbeat, the speed wasn’t good, and we were told that it could be a bad sign.
That’s when the downsides of surrogacy really hit home – the wait after a worrying scan is terrible for all parents-to-be – but not to know how she was feeling, being desperate for updates but not wanting to be pushy and cause her more stress. Time had never passed so slowly. The hardest part is the ambiguity… the uncertainty… the waiting. What might it mean? Was there still a chance?
I worried so much… and the wait was pure torture.
Then the phone call we were dreading came. Our surrogate mum was in pain. Our little one wasn’t going to make it, and I felt truly terrible. We’d lost another baby. On top of that, we’d caused another woman pain and suffering.
It was all so hard and felt so unfair. Our biological baby loss paired with her feelings and physical experience. You build such a strong bond that it’s a joint journey – you feel it all together.
Coming to terms with the loss of our baby wasn’t easy – but we managed. My background is psychology, so I knew how important it was to talk, get support, and use coping strategies.
My friends and family were wonderfully caring, though not everyone knew what to say. Knowing they cared and were there for us meant so much though. We’d been very open about our challenges so far with our network in the UK, so we weren’t alone. And I found solace in what I call Anxiolytics – we travelled to Prague for a complete change of scene and to spend time just being us, got the kitten I’ve always longed for, and did lots of running, things to focus on outside of our loss and our hopes for the future.
We dug deep, prepared ourselves mentally, and got ready to try again… just as our lovely surrogate experienced personal issues which meant she couldn’t carry on. It was a terrible blow. We’d really connected, but we totally understood and were so grateful for everything she’d done for us. But it wasn’t the end of our story – far from it.”
To read the second half of Leonie’s story, click here.
At The Evewell, we care deeply about all of our patients and their loved ones. If you are worried about your fertility or considering treatment, please get in touch with us to see how we can help. We can arrange a consultation with one of our specialist doctors to guide you through any options or refer you to our fertility counsellor for support. Whatever your needs, we are here. Find out more about IVF at The Evewell here.