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  • Writer's pictureViolaine Tewari

Anna’s medically-assisted procreation journey

I leave Anna's* flat, my yoga mat under my arm. In my beautiful red floral dress, I catch the eye of passers-by. It's a beautiful day in Nice on this late May day.

But I don't know what to make of this interview with Anna. I'm grateful for her time and trust. We talked about her medically-assisted procreation journey, her endometriosis and the oocyte donation that enabled her to become a mother. I also asked her to talk about the difficult moments along the way. Her eyes became misty, and she wiped away a few tears. Did I do the right thing by bringing out these emotions in her?

The idea was to start my blog with testimonials from people undergoing medically-assisted procreation. I immediately thought of Anna, whom I accompanied for 14 months, from the start of her MAP journey to her delivery. Anna is Italian. She lives in Nice with her French husband. She's the mother of a little boy who's already seven months old.

This morning, I went to her home to prepare this article. When I enter, the first thing that strikes me is the large paintings that decorate the walls of her apartment. Magnificent portraits of women from all over the world, because Anna is a painter.

Immediately afterwards, I notice the mess created by the presence of a baby: toys, the bathtub in the bathroom, feeding bottles, the stroller, the swing... how much space a baby takes up in our lives! Her son is asleep, so we've got plenty of time to conduct this interview, leisurely over a cup of coffee.

Of course, just as we are about to start, Flavio* wakes up and joins us in the living room. I was thinking of starting a podcast. It's going to be difficult with the baby around to produce quality sound with my little voice recorder. That's okay, we'll do a written interview! And so we begin...

Anna, could you please introduce yourself to us?

Hello, my name is Anna. I'm Italian and I've been living in Nice for 13 years. I started my medically-assisted procreation journey quite late. I was 38-39 years old. I suffer from endometriosis, one of the reasons why I had difficulty getting pregnant. I started by cryo-freezing my ovocytes when I was 36. When we tried to defrost them, it didn't work, because they didn't resist.

So we tried IVF, but the application was rejected here, in a private clinic in Nice, because of my age, my endometriosis and all the tests I'd have to undergo. I don't know exactly why the file was refused, but I think it was because it wasn't good enough. They keep statistics and my file wasn't interesting in that context. I think so, because otherwise I can't think of any other reason.

Why did you freeze your eggs at the age of 36?

My gynecologist advised me to do it, but it was already too late. It's supposed to be done when you're younger. I was told that I was within the limit, because after the age of 36, you can't do it anymore, but I had the right to because of my disease. Unfortunately, I only had two eggs.

My gynecologist then advised me to consult with a colleague in Marseille, who might be willing to accept my case. I'd been to Montpellier before, but the gynecologist who was taking care of my sister-in-law there had also refused. She told me that my case wouldn't be accepted and that she'd advise me to try an egg donation, but we still wanted to try in Marseille.

There, they accepted the case, because it was at a hospital and not a private clinic. The gynecologist believed there was a chance. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an empty follicle syndrome, with zero oocytes. Before the protocol, I had received several doses of the COVID vaccine and I think that played a role too, because it affected my cycles. So maybe it wasn't the right time when I did it.

But anyway, it was complicated. I'd already had endometriosis surgery and was told that the ovaries had been affected and were pretty damaged.

The next stage in the medically-assisted procreation process: egg donation

So there she was, advising us to mourn the loss of my oocytes, and that was the hardest part... When they tell you that... We quickly made the decision to look for a clinic. We compared Spain and the Czech Republic, to see how things would work out.

Anna starts to cry.

It makes me sad to talk about it.

Yes, but then I'm super happy. I've got a beautiful baby.

So we found a clinic in the Czech Republic, which was quite reactive, so things went very quickly. In just a few months, they had us all scheduled. Then, unfortunately, I caught COVD before we left for the Czech Republic. So it was pretty tough, because the transfer was cancelled.

My partner, who doesn't speak English at all, had to go to the Czech Republic on his own for the sperm collection. And I thought that was admirable of him.

And after a month, we both went for the embryo transfer. And it worked the first time. I was 41 at the time.

Can you describe the emotions you experienced during the medically-assisted procreation process?

It was a very difficult two years emotionally. I received a lot of hormone injections, so it was difficult with the ups and downs, the crying... especially when they tell you that you're not entitled to IVF and that there's nothing you can do. That's hard to accept.

Compared to other women, I didn't follow a very long process, because I wasn't given the opportunity to do so. But still, two years is a long time. I saw professionals to help me. I did yoga to relax, massages. I saw a psychiatrist who treated me with EMDR. What else did I do? I had acupuncture. It was very good, it helped. Reflexology. I tried everything to give myself a chance to make it work.

Sophrology during the medically-assisted procreation course

We started during the PMA process and continued throughout my pregnancy. During the PMA, it helped me deal with my feelings of sadness, my fears, my worries and anything else that might be difficult.

During the pregnancy, it was very good, because it helped me prepare for the birth, even if it didn't go as I'd hoped. I was communicating with my baby in the womb, connecting with him, because after all, when you receive an oocyte donation, you're always afraid of having difficulties with that. It also helped me to refocus on myself.

Looking back on your medically-assisted procreation experience, how do you feel today about the question of donation?

When we made our decision, we did it pretty quickly, we didn't think too much about it. We didn't ask ourselves too many questions. I knew people who had done it. I was also part of an oocyte donation Facebook group. I already knew about an association like Les Cigognes de l'espoir. So I read a lot of testimonials and that gave me the strength to try.

I think that for the moment I'm not giving it too much thought, but on the other hand, I'm wondering how to explain it to him when he's older. I know I'll have to tell him, so I'm just a bit worried about how it's going to go.

One of my customers also told me that he found out he had been born of donated sperm, but had not been told. As a result, he discovered this very late in life, and also that he had a half-sister. He said to me, "Look, I've got my dad, he's my dad, so I don't care, but I told him I'd rather have known." He told me that it was a good thing to tell my son and that he should know. After that, I don't think it's going to change the fact that I'm his mother and I'm the one who's helping him grow up and who's by his side. You just have to know how to explain it to him.

Your medically-assisted procreation journey is behind you. You're now very busy in your role as a mother.

I'm very happy now, my baby's doing well. The egg donation went very well. I have to say that the clinics abroad are very competent. I have no regrets.

Do you have any advice for people going through the MAP process?

Everyone has their own feelings, but I really think that alternative medicine helps a lot, because we're under a lot of pressure and stress. Sometimes it doesn't work because of that too. You're in a negative spiral, and I don't think you can manage on your own. You need to be helped and cared for by someone. Don't hesitate to turn to professionals for help. And us women, on top of all the medication, we have to deal with a lot of emotions.

If you had to change anything in your medically-assisted procreation journey, what would it be?

It's mainly to do with endometriosis. I wish someone had told me to cryopreserve my oocytes when I was younger and not at 36 when it was already late. As a result, it was useless and gave me false hope for years. Now, I think that endometriosis will become better known and better treated. Women should be advised at an early age. The more the years go by, the harder it is.

Any final advice for a woman undergoing medically-assisted procreation who might be reading you?

A lot of strength. You have to be positive and not give up. You have to keep going, remain hopeful and not ask yourself too many questions. Go for egg donation. There's no problem. It will be your child. He'll have grown up in your womb. There are epigenetic studies on the subject. So there's still something of you in this baby. And afterwards, you'll have a beautiful baby with you and you won't even think about it.

The interview is over. Anna takes Flavio in her arms. She tells me about the support she received from an association and the parents' cafés she attended. Her main concern is how to look after her son in September. Should she call on a childminder with whom she has an infinite number, but who lives in Nice Est, or find someone closer to home? She's not too confident about leaving her baby with a stranger...

Anna is in the flow of life, she's a mother like any other with her baby. I take my leave, as it's almost lunchtime. She's going to put her fish in the oven and look after Flavio.

women undergoing medically-assisted procreation

So was I right to come and interview Anna?

Yes, I think the power of the spoken word is liberating and therapeutic.

Anna's emotion brings me back to my own questioning. Is it true, as I say in the discussion groups I run every other week with people undergoing MAP, that I've really mourned the loss of my own oocytes? Does it really matter? Today, I love my daughter. If I hadn't resorted to donation, she wouldn't exist. How could she not exist? I feel like she's always been in my life.

Is there a clear answer to this question? Probably not. But that's what makes our feelings as human beings so rich and subtle.

I would like to thank Anna for the trust she has placed in me by working with me throughout her MAP process and right up to the birth. It's a privilege for me. I would also like to thank her for sharing her emotions and her PMA journey in this interview. I hope that this article will help others on their journey of exploration.

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