I am so proud to call Natasza my friend; she is an inspirational and strong woman. Here she tells her story of planned single parenthood and recurrent miscarriage. I am so very pleased for her to say it has a happy ending (spoiler alert: the slide show includes photos I took of her at 8 months pregnant and with her new baby boy). Read her story below...
What made you decide to start the journey of Planned Single Parenthood (I hope I've used the right term?)?
Planned single parenthood is the term I prefer to use to explain my situation, it’s often called single motherhood by choice but that makes it seem like I had a choice whether to be single or not. I didn’t choose to be single but I did choose to pursue parenthood regardless of my single status.
Coming from a large, close family I always knew I wanted a big, loud and loving family of my own. I had a few long term relationships when I was in my teens and twenties but I wasn’t thinking about having children then, I thought I had plenty of time.
I found myself single in my 30s and despite internet dating, speed dating and getting friends to set me up on blind dates I remained single. I did enjoy being part of a couple, I always thought I worked better as part of a team, but I had a great job and fantastic friends and social life and for a while I was quite happy with it just being me.
A few years down the line and I began to think about wanting to start a family but I still wasn’t meeting the right men and I started to jokingly talk about freezing my eggs!
One of my best friends then discovered she was going through premature ovarian failure, diagnosed after suffering a devastating miscarriage. Faced with the real possibility that my fertility was not guaranteed I started to worry about my own fertility and thought I’d seriously look into egg freezing. My research quickly highlighted the poor success rates when defrosting eggs and that frozen embryos fared much better.
At a similar time I discovered a colleague had just become pregnant as a single women using donor sperm. This was a lightbulb moment for me, I’d only heard of this being done in Hollywood films and didn’t think it was something ‘real’ women did. I met with her and found out all about the process and suddenly it seemed a real possibility.
I would have liked to have met a man to share the experience with but the thought of leaving it too late and missing my chance to have children was unbearable. I knew I could live without a partner but I couldn’t live my life without children. A partner could wait but my body clock might not.
I was 33 when I made the decision to pursue motherhood alone and I knew there and then this was the route for me.
Can you tell me a little about your journey and the challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I’d met with my work colleague around Christmas-time and decided that I would spend the year thinking about it to make sure this was the right decision for me. But the more I thought about it the less I wanted to waste time and after discussing it with my close family and friends, and feeling their love and support behind me, I booked an appointment at the local fertility clinic for that Spring, I was 34.
After a few simple tests and a consultation to determine my baseline fertility I agreed to try IUI (intrauterine insemination) with donor sperm and I decided to begin treatment that Winter.
I picked out a sperm donor from a sperm bank in Denmark, assessing each candidate available with a group of girlfriends as if I was picking a potential life partner. This was a big decision for me, this would have a major impact on any child I conceived. Not only did I want the best genes for my child but I wanted to make sure that I’d be proud to show the details to any future children. It was important to me that the my child would know as much as possible about where they came from.
Having treatment in the UK meant I had to use an open donor. This means that although the donor is anonymous at the time of treatment once a child turns 18 they can request further details of their donor and contact them if they wish. This was important to me as I wanted my child to have as much information about where they came from as they wanted to know.
Th IUI process is fairly simple, I’d have a number of internal scans in the first half of my cycle to determine the best time to undertake the insemination. When my follicles were at the right size and ready to release an egg the nurses would insert a catheter through my cervix and inject the donor sperm straight into my uterus in a process similar to having a smear test.
I would then be able to carry on as normal (well as normally as is possible when a new life might be growing inside me and my whole life could be determined over the next few weeks). Two weeks after the IUI I’m advised to take a pregnancy test.
I had my first cycle in December 2013, 6 weeks before my 35th birthday. (
For women aged under 35, about 14% of IUI cycles result in a pregnancy
Women aged 35 to 37 get pregnant in around 12% of cycles. The success rate for women aged 38-39 is 10%. Source: HEFA website).
I couldn’t wait the full two weeks and took a test just 11 days later and was incredibly lucky to find that the first cycle had worked. I was pregnant and spent the next 3 weeks in utter bliss, imagining how my belly would grow, thinking about baby names and what they might be like, would they look more like me or the donor?
I went anxiously and excitedly to the clinic for my 7 week scan only to be told the most devastating words I’d ever heard, "sorry there’s no heartbeat". My baby had died just days before the scan but my body hadn’t realised. I waited a week, over my birthday, for a repeat scan to confirm and then had medical management as my body didn’t want to miscarry. I gave birth at home on the 3rd February. (It is thought that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage).
After some time off to grieve I tried again, the next two cycles resulted in positive pregnancy tests on the same day as I started bleeding, most people wouldn’t even realise they were pregnant this early but having treatment I knew (these are often call chemical pregnancies as they are only detected by the chemical changes on a pregnancy test and would’ve too small to be visible on a scan).
I had another 9 IUI cycles over the next 3 years and suffered another 3 miscarriages. One of them I got to see the beauty of their beating heart at the 7 week scan only to be devastated again when the 9 week scan showed their heart had stopped.
I had extra tests undertaken by my GP, my fertility clinic, the local hospital's recurrent miscarriage clinic and even the Tommy’s Recurrent Miscarriage Research Centre. Every test came back as normal, there was no explanation for my heartbreaking losses. (It is thought 1 in 100 women suffer recurrent miscarriages).
Telling friends and family who were very supportive and speaking to others who’d experienced similar losses really helped me manage my own grief. Channeling my feelings into creative ways of expressing myself such as writing and drawing also helped me process my feelings (you can see some of Natasza's writing and art in the slide show above).
It was hard to continue but even harder to stop. Knowing and loving those babies, even though I’d held them in my body for such a short time fuelled me to continue, but it was taking its toll. I’d spent most of the previous 4 years pregnant or preparing to be pregnant and had lost myself in the process. I took some time out and planned a holiday on my own to recharge.
I’m a very shy person until I feel comfortable with people and going abroad alone scared me but I knew if I’d survived what I had so far I could manage traveling alone! I went to Iceland and San Francisco before going to see family in LA. I came back refreshed and ready. I decided to try 3 more IUIs and then I’d reevaluate my options.
On the second go (IUI number 14) I saw the familiar two lines emerge on the pregnancy test, I held my breath through early scans and sobbed when I saw a heartbeat. The days went by slowly as I panicked over every twinge and panicked when I didn’t get any twinges! I got through the 7, 9, and 11 week early scans and could now see baby wriggling their little limbs. The 13 week official nhs scan came and I could make out a profile, a 16 week scan showed I was having a little boy and the 20 week scan showed all his vital organs were as they should be.
The weeks went by and I started to believe I might actually get to hold this little baby in my arms. I started to get a bump and feel the flutters of his movement inside me!
On a cold and wintery day in January, two weeks earlier than his due date (and just two weeks before I turned 39) baby boy was born and safely delivered into my arms.
He’s now 10 weeks old and every day I am filled with love and wonderment.
I still feel sad for the babies I didn’t get to hold but I feel lucky to have held them within me for the short time they were here and I feel privileged that I get to love them forever.
Ive bought baby boy many books but importantly I have 3 books written for little children that talk about fertility treatment and donor sperm in a way that’s easy for them to understand. I believe that if you talk to donor children about their beginnings from before they can even understand what you’re saying it’ll be normal for them and they’ll ask questions as they become ready rather than it be a sudden and new concept for them when they’re older.
Baby boy is surrounded by wonderful women but I’m also aware that baby boy doesn’t have a father and I don’t want him growing up without strong male role models, luckily he is surrounded by wonderful uncles and many of my male friends as well as an amazing grandfather.
Do you have any advice for anyone in the same position?
If you're thinking about your fertility (whether single or in a relationship), get to know your body. I had been on the contraceptive pill all my adult life, I had no idea what my cycle was actually like. I stopped the pill as soon as I had made the decision to begin IUI treatment and began to pay attention to my body, learning how long my cycles were and when I ovulated. This helped me realise I actually ovulate very late in my cycle.
Next make an appointment with a fertility clinic to undertake a fertility MOT. It might be worth discussing this with your GP first as they may be able to undertake some of the tests for you depending on your situation and medical history.
If you're hinking about becoming a single parent, talk to someone who has been through similar, if you can. There is a forum - Fertility Friends - that discusses all things fertility; this has a section for single parenthood and I found talking to others on here in similar situations invaluable in the beginning of my journey.
You’ll need a good support network, talk to your family and friends about your plans, you’ll need them whether your treatment is successful or not.
I also talked to friends who were single parents not through choice. Despite them describing how hard it could be they all said it was totally worth it.
If you're suffering the loss of a baby, talk to people (friends, family, local support groups or online forums). Take time to grieve, don’t rush it.
You’ll probably feel unpleasant and unwanted emotions such as jealousy and guilt; it’s ok, just accept those feelings as being part of the grieving process, they’re totally normal.
Understand that it’s OK to not be OK.
Be creative, this can be as simple as doing a jigsaw or an adult colouring book to painting or writing poetry. Go for a walk in nature (don’t underestimate how healing this is).
Engage with local support networks. I have begun working with an amazing local charity called Oscar’s Wish Foundation. They support families who have experienced the loss of a baby before, during or shortly after birth. Together we are improving local resources. I am channelling my love for my babies into something positive and this is helping me to honour their little lives.
Where can people go for support?
The Fertility Network UK has many great resources for anyone thinking about or experiencing fertility problems.
The Miscarriage Association is a fantastic organisation that helps those who’ve sadly lost a baby. Their private Facebook group was a life line during my many miscarriages.
Tommy’s funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and provides pregnancy health information to parents.
Is there anything you’d change given what you’ve learned along the way?
If I’d done anything differently my baby boy wouldn’t be here now so I don’t have any regrets. But I have learned that it’s good to understand your own fertility, get to know your cycle and notice if things change.
How do you feel now your baby boy has arrived?
I feel incredibly lucky. There was no guarantee that I’d eventually have a healthy baby and I know many people who do keep trying and don’t ever get to hold their own baby in their arms. I am grateful every day and hug him just a little tighter every night.
I am currently working with Oscars Wish Foundation to improve the early pregnancy support that is available locally for those that sadly experience the loss of a baby. If you’ve found this article interesting, helpful or moving please consider donating to this project. Every penny counts and will make a difference to a local family.