I wasted thousands trying to have a baby I didn't want
Single and in her 40s, Claudia Connell decided to have a baby. But, during her third IVF attempt, she began to regret the whole idea
Most of us have made extravagant purchases that we have regretted wasting money on. Things that seemed a good idea at the time but, down the line, left you wondering what on earth you were thinking about.
My highly regretted buy set me back the best part of €36,000 and now, some 18 months on, I still feel sick when I think about it. In my case, though, I'm not talking about a flash sports car or a wardrobe full of designer clothes. Neither is it something I can sell and try to claim some money back on. I am talking about fertility treatment. Three cycles of IVF to try to conceive a child that I now know with absolute certainty I do not want.
As many women do when they approach their late 30s, I began to ponder the baby issue.
I'd just read Baby Hunger by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in which she made a strong case for the fact that today's "have-it-all" woman was facing the prospect of a very lonely and unfulfilled middle age. She hammered home the point with some alarming statistics: nearly half of high-achieving women were childless in America at the age of 40, most of them bitterly regretting leaving it so late.
To make matters even more complicated, I am single, so any journey into motherhood would be a lone venture. But, after much thought, I decided that I needed to give it a shot. I had a nice home, a bit of money put by, a steady if not entirely dependable career as a journalist and, besides, I liked children, didn't I? I have four nieces, three nephews and several godchildren.
Even though my own eggs were becoming distinctly hard-boiled, and an interactive online IVF tool calculated my chances of success at 2.9pc (or to look it another way: a 97.1pc chance of failure), I wanted to use them.
I opted to go abroad -- to Athens. The clinic had a ready supply of sperm donors -- I selected a 6ft 2in, 28-year-old doctor -- but the consultant told me that the fibroids from which I suffered greatly impeded my chance of success and would have to be removed.
I ended up spending €10,000 having the operation done privately.
After healing from the surgery and forking out another €2,500 or so on drugs and endless blood tests, I was ready to undergo my €5,000 cycle. I had two "perfect" embryos transferred. I underwent the whole thing without confiding in a soul -- not my family, not my closest friends.
I now believe my reason was that I still wasn't convinced I was doing the right thing and was faintly embarrassed about it all. Instead, I joined an internet forum for single women having IVF.
Two weeks after the embryo transfer, a negative pregnancy test proved what I knew from the beginning -- my body wasn't going to beat those impossible odds. While the women on the forum were devastated by a negative cycle, I felt oddly indifferent. The clinic in Athens booked a conference call with me to discuss my case and any future protocol treatment, but when they rang I didn't take the call.
A year went by. Two of my closest friends had babies the good, old-fashioned way (with a husband) and, once again, the noise of a loudly ticking biological clock became the soundtrack to my life. Some of the older women on the forum were having success with the eggs of much younger donors, mostly from eastern Europe.
Following a brief hiatus where I looked into -- and ruled out -- adoption, I again travelled to Athens, to another clinic, for a second cycle of IVF. This time I used the eggs of a 26-year-old Polish teacher and the sperm of a 19-year-old Danish student. That last part still makes me feel a bit icky. I wouldn't dream of having sex with a 19-year-old, so to take sperm from one felt somehow very weird.
Drug protocol is different when using donor eggs and, on the second attempt, I had to switch off my own natural cycle to avoid ovulating, sending my body crashing head first into a very brief but intense menopause. My bones ached, the hot flushes were unreal and the huge doses of progesterone I was taking made me constantly dizzy.
But with the eggs and sperm of two such young and fertile donors, my chances of success were put at around 60pc -- none of your 2pc nonsense. Even so, it didn't work and another €10,000, secured via a loan on my house, was down the pan.
After two cycles I decided I'd had a fair crack at it and would move on. Far from feeling sad and unfulfilled, I felt happy, content and at peace with my life as a childless singleton.
I wish I could tell you why, aged 44, I decided to have one last roll of the dice and attempt another cycle of IVF. Was it because I had secured a good job and was earning a lot of money? Was it because I had always regarded 45 as the cut-off and I was nudging dangerously close to it? Perhaps it's because I read somewhere that the majority of women having IVF will be successful after three cycles.
Whatever the reason, I chose to return to the same clinic and attempt one final cycle with frozen embryos. Once again I took the down-regulating drugs. This time a few steroids were thrown into the mix to suppress my overactive immune system, causing me to balloon by a stone.
The egg donor was Russian, 20 years old and a student, while the sperm donor was a 26-year-old architect. Other than that, all I knew was their hair and eye colours, and height.
On the day of the embryo transfer I had a massive panic attack and told one of the nurses that I didn't want to go through with it. Puzzled and with poor English skills, she just said: "You still pay."
By the time the consultant entered the room, he was buzzing with excitement. My defrosted embryos were among the best he'd ever seen. Grade one. He felt certain it was going to work.
As ridiculous as it sounds, telling him that I no longer wanted them felt somehow rude. So I went ahead with the transfer. In the middle of the procedure, flat on my back, legs in stirrups, my phone rang. It was my elderly neighbour, Patricia, back at home. Her burglar alarm was going off and she couldn't remember how to deactivate it. And so it was that I found myself in the absurd situation of being impregnated with strangers' embryos as I talked an old lady through the complicated procedure of turning off her alarm.
During the two-week wait before I found out whether the cycle had been successful, I ignored advice about drinking and taking baths. Unlike during the first two cycles, I felt nauseous and began to suspect that this one might have worked -- and the idea was freaking me out. Instead of thinking lovely thoughts about newborn babies, I obsessed over how a child with whom I had no biological link would turn out.
What if it were really ugly? What if one or both of its biological parents were dull and humourless? None of the Russian women I'd met was exactly happy-go-lucky. These were shallow and trivial things that really shouldn't be troubling the mind of any woman with deep maternal instincts.
At night I couldn't sleep, and when I did I had horrible nightmares in which I gave birth to deformed half-human, half-beast babies. I decided that if this cycle worked, I would have to terminate the pregnancy. I didn't want a baby after all.
When the pregnancy test showed a faint positive, instead of sharing the happy news I starting Googling for information about early abortions.
Concerned that the pregnancy test wasn't more conclusive, my consultant advised me to go for a blood test. The results revealed that the pregnancy hormone was not as strong as it should have been and that the pregnancy would not "stick". A week later, I had a heavy period and it was all over.
I deleted my membership of the IVF forum, chucked out all my fertility paperwork and test results, and drew a line under the whole sorry affair.
Today, I am happy being childless. I like my life without children and I know that I would not have been a good mother. My body still suffers from the effects of the IVF. I struggled to lose the weight I put on and it might be a coincidence but I still suffer from menopausal symptoms at the relatively young age of 46.
Perhaps I needed to go through the emotional journey of IVF in order to discover that I don't want children after all. But as I am now stony broke, I can't help feeling it was a very expensive, foolish and miserable way to find out.