I didn’t always feel this way. In my teens, I had assumed that I would probably fall in love and have babies. But after multiple failed relationships that left me feeling hurt and vulnerable and with many broken dreams, I stopped searching for the right man and instead, started a journey to accept and love myself as a single and and without children.
Barely a week goes by when I don’t asked ‘Do you want your own children?’ But people never seem comfortable with my response: “No I do not.” As soon as I tell them this, I sense a shift in energy towards me, from curiosity to suspicion; an initial pause, followed by judgement. After all, l’m 34 and single – an age when most women’s biological clock is believed to be ticking – and work in a caring profession as an NHS District Nurse.
My patients usually assume that l have a family and a husband when we first meet, like ‘most’ women of my age. I feel like I have to work harder to gain a person’s trust when they learn that l have no desire to become a mother and nurture my own child. Some mothers look at me as if I was born without a part of my brain functioning properly. Children signify innocence and love. Perhaps denying myself that makes people nervous of my ability to experience compassion and love.
I knew that this would be challenging. I had long harboured the belief that I was somehow unloveable. My mother left my father, brother and me when I was fifteen. Growing up, I never felt I like I belonged to my family. My brother also cut ties with me a few years later. I anaesthetised my hurt and anger with hunger and was hospitalised with anorexia aged thirteen, then again at seventeen.
I had fought against my flesh for over two decades, limiting my nutritional intake, lowering the scale’s balance, to try to starve, vomit and carve out a sadness to retreat into. This all left me with a fear of motherhood. I knew the damage that can be inflicted from a lack of love and acceptance. I wanted my child to be loved and needed by a family who truly wanted him or her.
I’d tried to overcome these negative feelings by being kind and altruistic towards those in need. Becoming a nurse had helped lighten my internal darkness. I hoped that by exploring acts of selflessness would guide me further towards an elusive inner peace. My realisation that children were not in my future settled within me more peacefully than I had anticipated; I watched my friends around me become mothers for the first, second and third time with a calm detachment.
Aged thirty three, my body was somehow healthy; it had not always been this way and I wanted to turn this fact into a positive experience. My periods were regular and my weak bones had strengthened. I listened to a feature on Radio 1 one morning whilst on my way to work, in which donor children were discussing their experiences of navigating their identities after finding out their mother or father was not genetically related to them. I empathised with both the children telling their story and the fight their parents underwent to succeed in creating a family. I found the whole concept really moving.
I did my research and contacted the egg donation department at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. I wanted to donate my eggs to an NHS hospital, an organisation I am deeply committed to and admire. I was admitted to the fertility clinic and began a series of screenings to decide if I was physically and emotionally fit enough to be a donor. The blood tests, ultrasounds and swabs were easy enough. The genetic counselling sessions were more challenging. Together with a therapist, l explored my troubled childhood and long-standing mental health issues. Some research shows anorexia nervosa could be inherited genetically. I felt nervous that this legacy would be proven and l would be disqualified. I was wrong. I was accepted and admitted to the clinic, I felt exonerated.
I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing until I’d already started the process. I told my dad first and explained that I wanted to donate my eggs to a woman who needed them more than I did. He was sceptical having watched me exploit my body for control in the past, but this was different. When l did tell colleagues and people close to me, their reaction was mixed. Those who had watched me struggle against myself for years on end understood my need to redefine my experience of motherhood through this life changing decision.
I found the donation experience an enjoyable one. I felt a genuine bond with the fertility nurse who took responsibility for my care at the hospital clinic. She was motherly towards me, calling me between appointments to check how l was coping. She understood my vulnerabilities around my weight and made sure I never had to see the ‘number’ on documentation.
After my initial screening process, I was supplied with syringes pre-filled with hormones which l injected into my stomach over the course of a month, twice a day until the egg collection date. Physically the weeks of growing my eggs were uncomfortable and I experienced cramping, aching and throbbing as the eggs inside me swelled, tricked into maturation by synthetic hormones. Leading up to my harvest l was scanned every 48 hours. The operation to take the eggs needed to happen when they had reached their optimum size. Each one held such huge potential for a new life.
I was in total awe of my body. Until now it had been a vehicle for my own personal torment. But the egg donation was my moment to do something truly miraculous, to pay tribute to myself and help heal and care for my body.
On the day of my egg harvest, I administered the trigger shot, to release my eggs. The egg harvest took place under general anaesthetic. The surgeon retrieved eighteen eggs in total. When l woke up l felt woozy and vulnerable. My friend Margaret, who has three grown up children herself, collected me from the recovery room. On the drive home, l thought about what pregnancy would feel like. I knew the mummy-to-be who would receive my eggs would undergo implantation surgery tomorrow.
Three months after both her and l had recovered from our experiences, my fertility nurse called me to tell me the recipient was pregnant.She relayed to me that the mother wanted to pass on her gratitude. I felt a wave of relief, pride rose up inside of me, an unfamiliar feeling, I wondered if now l would be healed.
Strict protocols were followed to ensure she and I would never be in the hospital at the same time. We remain total strangers but forever bonded. The fertility clinic informed me of the due date on the phone close to the birth. By now the donor-recipient has her baby now. I was invited to call back and find out the sex, although l never did. I felt like this baby belonged to her now. Our child would remain anonymous to me, until their eighteenth birthday when he or she could take the decision to contact me or not. I would need to consent to my anonymity being waived for us to ever meet.
I found purpose in this family’s need for me. My egg donation is my proudest, purest memory to date. I reflect on those days growing my donors egg as a truly happy time. I would urge any woman who is open to donating her eggs to do it. Although l wouldn’t do it again, once gave me the fulfilment I needed. I do think about the baby and it makes me smile. I finally became a mother, on my own terms.