| 3.9°C Dublin

exclusive 'There were days when I was driving back in the floods of tears' - Irish politician reveals her harrowing journey through fertility treatment


Deirdre Donnelly

Deirdre Donnelly

Independent councillor Deirdre Donnelly who sits on Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

Independent councillor Deirdre Donnelly who sits on Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.


Deirdre Donnelly

Earlier this week, an Irish fertility expert cautioned that women are being given a “false notion” if they're advised to freeze their eggs close to the age of 40.

Fewer than five per cent of women are able to have an IVF baby with their own eggs past the age of 44.

For some women, that small percentage still offers some hope. For others, it's a deterrent.

Mother-of-one Deirdre Donnelly, an Independent councillor in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown believes she too was given false hope by an Irish fertility clinic when she underwent treatment nine years ago.

She wasn’t given the full facts by the clinic, she contends, went through two gruelling years of high hopes and disappointments, all while rearing her five-year-old son and tending to her mother who was dying with breast cancer, and was never offered counselling,

It wasn't until she finished two years of unsuccessful treatment such as Clomid and self-injecting Gonal-F, Luveris and Orgalutran that she learned of secondary infertility, or the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby.

“You go in and there are all of these photos of babies on the wall. I had no idea that the chances were so slim in the first place. The issue with me was that the endometrium was thin.”

“Then they told me to go to surgery to see what was wrong… the surgery was very painful, and afterwards my obstetrician said ‘I don’t know why they’re putting you through this, there’s very little chance of you getting pregnant in the first place.”

“I really feel sorry for women who are put unnecessarily through this. Every time I went I was told ‘you do realise there’s a chance you could have twins’. I even had names picked out for them which sounds very sad now I know. It was always ‘baby or twins’, not that I had very little chance in the first place.”

 At one stage treatment was suspended because blood test results were on the wrong headed note paper, the clinic deemed. On another occasion Deirdre's husband had to drive to the clinic just to hand in his driving licence to "give permission" for her "treatment’ which at that stage was a prescription drug called Clomid which their GP could have prescribed.

“The way we were treated I thought was unbelievably poor,” Deirdre contends.

This summer when Deirdre went for a routine cervical smear, a GP told her that she should never have been such high doses of drugs to increase oestrogen levels due to her family history of breast cancer.

“She told me ‘the fact that your mother had breast cancer, they should have watched that carefully instead of putting you on oestrogen in the first place."

She added: “I’m 51 now and irrespective of treatment, I’m past that now. But for women who are having difficulties we should be doing a lot more. In my case the clinic had me there for two years paying for scans and blood tests, and according to my consultant obstetrician I had very little chance of getting pregnant in the first place.

As a politician, Deirdre is hoping to spread awareness about the need for controlled standards among fertility clinics. Counselling for couples is key, she says.

"You’re putting everything on hold, hoping that there’ll be a positive outcome out of the process.”

“My mum died in August 2009, I look back now and think I was up and down to the clinic all that time when I could have been with my mum before she died.”

“There were days when I was driving back in the floods of tears on my own. They would have seen the state of me leaving the clinic but still no counselling was offered.”

“I think women should be told this is a frustrating process. You won’t be able to book your holidays or make any long term plans because you won’t know when you’re going to be called in.”

She added: “I remember my mum’s month’s mind was on the first Sunday of September, and I had just found out that Friday that there was no possibility of having any more children. On the Monday then I was back bringing my son into senior infants and I saw children going into primary school for the first time, and I thought ‘I’ll never have the opportunity to have that again’.”

Helen Browne, co-founder of the National Infertility and Information Group, mans a 24-hour helpline for people experiencing infertility, and says standards have improved in fertility clinics in Ireland.

“In my experience, the clinics would have been brutally honest with [the callers to her helpline], and they’d be very upset, because they’re told as you get older the chances of success are reduced.”

“Clinics have a success rate. If their success rate was to decline because they were treating people who were much less likely to have children, it wouldn’t be good for their statistics.”

“People would have been upset because the clinics weren’t happy to do it.”

“Compared to nine years ago, there are far more tests and investigations being carried out. Nine years ago they wouldn’t have had the AMH (Anti-Mullerian hormone) blood test. They grade the embryos better than they would have before; the testing is better than it would have been," she says.

IVF is a harrowing process and even when parents use a donor egg and have their baby, they can be left with feelings of grief years later, she said.

“I’ve received phone calls from people where the clinics would say we don’t think it would be possible for you to have a child, the best option would be to have a donor egg.”

“The grief of not having to have your own child is sidestepped, and then they go for the donor egg option, and then they’re left with the grief years later.”

“They’re delighted with their child, but still they come back and say I don't think I grieved properly when the IVF didn't work out."

Most Watched