A woman who suffered seven miscarriages and spent thousands of euros on IVF treatments before finally having her second child has called for a one-stop fertility advice shop in Ireland after ‘getting the runaround’ from experts.
Sarah (not her real name), 43, now has her hands full with a nine-month-old daughter and nine-year-old son.
But she has revealed the heartbreaking journey she and her husband Niall (not his real name), 45, endured in their attempts to have a second child that finally ended when they went abroad to have IVF using a donor egg.
The couple says they were given different advice at every step and it was only when one consultant bluntly told Sarah, “You have no chance with your own eggs” that they made the right decision.
She said: “We went to various places and they all have different things to tell you, so you don’t know what’s right or wrong.”
The ‘lightbulb moment’ came when, after tests gave her husband’s sperm the all-clear, one consultant pointed them in the direction of using a donor egg.
“It felt like the last chance saloon,” said Sarah. “We went to discuss the findings at a clinic in Dublin and we spoke to a woman who was very blunt – which we loved.
“She turned to me and said, ‘You will have no chance of conceiving with your own eggs’.
“It was hard to hear and I did get upset. It was the first time I broke down in a consultation.
“But we are the kind of people who need a truthful approach. It made us think about our chances and realise that we were at the end of the road with my own eggs.”
Sarah and Niall were recommended the IVF Cube clinic in Prague and were soon filling in forms to find a suitable egg donor.
But looking back she is still frustrated by the process that led up to that point.
“I just wish in Ireland, and maybe in every country, that there was a one-stop shop that people in my situation could go to,” she said.
“They can have tests and then speak to somebody who says, “Okay, these are your options. You’re not going to get pregnant yourself – your best route is to go donor egg. This is where you go, this is what you have to do’.
“If a clinic we’d been at previously had told us that three four years before we may not have gone down the donor route at that stage. But we might have done and I could be sitting here with four kids because we would have had more time.”
She added: “We felt you do get the runaround, especially in Ireland, with the different places you go to.
“You’re getting mixed communications, different things told to you, so you’re going on different paths all the time.
“When a consultant tells you something, you firmly believe that’s the way to go so you’re all in.
“If that doesn’t work you get turned onto a different route and then you’re 100 per cent on that one. It’s mind-boggling.”
Sarah suffered a miscarriage the first time she got pregnant, but soon after conceived a son naturally who was born without complications.
However, when they attempted to add to their family another five miscarriages followed, including one after a successful IVF cycle.
Two more rounds of the fertility treatment failed to provide the joyous news they had hoped for and the cost was rising.
“Friends would say to me, ‘There’s going to come a time when you’re going to have to stop – you can’t just keep doing this to yourself’,” Sarah explained.
“I kept saying, ‘I’m not ready yet, I’m going to keep going’.
“But in the back of your mind you do wonder, ‘When is it going to be the end? We have one healthy, happy boy and we’re very lucky – why do I keep putting myself through this?’.”
She insists using donor eggs remains a controversial subject, but feels the process offers women struggling to conceive a ‘brilliant’ option.
Sarah said: “I definitely think there is a stigma. I wouldn’t broadcast the fact that I went down the donor route.
“That’s because I wouldn’t want people looking at our daughter and having their opinion put on her.
“We have no issues whatsoever. She’s our daughter 100 per cent.
“But you just don’t know what people could be thinking and there’s definitely a narrow-mindedness with certain people.
“Having said that, I think it’s getting better because it’s getting more and more common that people are going down the donor route.
“And it’s absolutely brilliant to have the option of using donor eggs. I believe 100 per cent that we would not have our daughter without a donor egg.”
Once the decision was made to use IVF Cube Sarah says the process was ‘seamless’.
A frozen batch of Niall’s sperm was sent over – ‘to cover all angles’ – and he flew out to the Czech Republic to provide a fresh sample.
She explained: “I went over the night before, the transfer happened the next morning and I have to say IVF Cube is fantastic.
“You could see on a screen when they were implanting the egg into the lining of the womb. I would have never seen any of that here in Dublin. When I had IVF once before it wasn’t like that.
“It just gave you that confidence, I definitely came out feeling confident.”
The cost was also a factor. One cycle of IVF in Ireland costs around €4,500, while the bill rises to around €7,500 if using a donor egg.
At IVF Cube the figures are €2,900 and €5,900 respectively.
Sarah had one of the five fertilized eggs/embryos transferred and implanted and two weeks later a pregnancy test showed a positive result.
The couple then had the agonising wait before a scan at six weeks showed everything was in order.
“It was still very scary because we’d been there before so many times before,” she said. “It was always between six and nine weeks that I miscarried.
“The only good thing was that it was a younger, stronger egg.
“But we had really good care at a hospital in Dublin, seeing the consultant every two weeks, and we now have a little girl. She’s nine months and she’s absolutely brilliant.”
Sarah and Niall’s journey was not over yet, however.
Despite having two more frozen embryos available in Prague, they had made the decision to stop at two children.
But at the start of this year she fell pregnant again, this time naturally.
“We never thought we would conceive naturally, it was such a small chance of it happening,” she said.
“Whilst we had previously made the decision not to have another baby, when this came along it made us think maybe we would.
“I went to see a consultant for an early scan and there was no heartbeat. The foetus was there but I was miscarrying.
“That was my seventh miscarriage.
“When that happened I just said, ‘No, let’s just leave well enough alone’.
“There’s nothing to say, if we go down the IVF road again, I wouldn’t miscarry and I just can’t go through another one.
“It’s too much on my body, too much emotionally, too much for the family.
“So our job is done now.”
The trend for women to have babies later in life is nothing new.
Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed the number of 45-plus females bearing children in Ireland doubled in the last decade
In 2007 there were 118 cases – in 2016 it was 295.
Donor eggs are used in many IVF treatments for older women, with those 20s often the providers.
The use of donor eggs in Prague is strictly controlled by European Union legislation. Donors remain anonymous throughout the process and are pre-screened for genetic and health issues.
Hana Visnova, medical director of IVF Cube and a specialist in assisted reproduction, said: “The supply of donor eggs we have access to means that, especially for older women, we offer a much better chance of a successful fertility journey.
“We pride ourselves on our facility being modern and state of the art, and it is great to hear that Sarah’s experience was an extremely positive one.”
Since opening seven years ago, IVF Cube has treated hundreds of women every year from the UK and Ireland.
The average age of women using donor eggs at the clinic is 42.