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Trigger warning: this article covers IVF and fertility issues
“At the beginning of the year, my partner and I started our journey to becoming parents. I’m bisexual, in a same-sex relationship, so I knew that we’d need some kind of fertility treatment. Honestly, I assumed it would be quite a straightforward process for us. I didn’t have any fertility issues, and we thought it would all happen pretty quickly.
After our initial consultation, we decided to try IUI (or artificial insemination) instead of IVF. Without getting too technical, IUI is when sperm is injected directly into your womb. With IVF, some of your eggs are removed and fertilised in a lab. But before we could begin the treatment, we needed to find a sperm donor.
It wasn’t like we were given a list of donors to choose from; we had to go and do the research and find them ourselves. At the time, it was also important that we found an ethnic match: a Black sperm donor. We looked and looked, but had no luck. That’s when I started to worry – how could there not be any platforms in the UK with Black sperm donors?
Looking further afield, changing direction and starting treatment
We realised that we had to look outside of the UK, but because of COVID-19 and increased VAT, getting a European donor was incredibly expensive and we just couldn’t afford it. Sperm in the UK already costs several hundred pounds, and that’s just for one round. We were planning on three cycles of treatment, so were facing a bill for thousands of pounds even before looking abroad.
We carried on searching, even in the US, but again it just wasn’t feasible for us – there were licensing issues on top of the cost. We knew we couldn’t travel anywhere, so we reached a point where we had to pause and reassess. It’s then that we realised that the most important thing to us is being parents, even if we couldn’t find an ethnic match.
In the end, we chose a donor who isn’t Black and I started my IUI treatment. I honestly thought I’d get pregnant on the first round. It even felt like I was: I had all the symptoms that you typically associate with pregnancy. I was absolutely convinced, right up until I got the negative test result. And that was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Suddenly, it went from this really exciting process to what felt like just a matter of chance. I went through two more cycles, but unfortunately both were unsuccessful. So, again, we had a decision to make. Do we do more rounds of IUI or switch treatment?
We chose to begin IVF, a process I’m going through now. We know it’ll continue to be a long journey, but I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. Maybe the first sperm donor just wasn’t meant to be, and now that we’ve chosen a different donor, it’ll work out. We know there are no guarantees, but we’re doing everything we can and we’re trying to appreciate the here and now.
Starting conversations and raising awareness
Speaking about the challenges we’ve faced was quite daunting, but I knew I needed to be brave and raise awareness about what we’re going through. Especially in the Black community, we don’t necessarily open up about fertility issues. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject; people need to hear about these kind of struggles so we can do something about it.
There was so much I didn’t know before starting this journey, and I want to make sure more people have the information they need to make very important choices. I’ve actually decided to donate some of my eggs to help other future parents, because there’s a shortage of Black egg donors in the UK too.
Speaking up, feeling heard and finding support all around me
By trying to become a parent through IVF, my entire mindset of what having a family means has changed. What’s great is that I know my story has opened other people’s eyes too. I’ve been honest with my family, friends and colleagues this whole time, and I’ve had more support than I ever expected.
To me, there’s nothing more powerful than someone taking a genuine interest in how you’re doing. My managers and colleagues are all like that. Without me having to say anything, they’ll ask how I am and what’s happening. By talking about my experience, I’ve been able to connect with so many more colleagues, and share the knowledge I’ve gained along the way. We’re all learning together, and that’s an incredible feeling. Yes, it might be uncomfortable sometimes – but that means we’re all growing.
So don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. If something’s important to you, speak up. We need to have these kind of conversations. For me, it’s meant that I’ve found hidden bonds with my colleagues. And I’ve been able to shed light on important topics – particularly for the Black community – that matter in so many ways.”
– Leanne, Small Business Manager