By Jo Ford
REPRODUCTIVE MEDICINE HAS COME LEAPS AND BOUNDS. NOT LONG AGO, THE OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO SAME SEX COUPLES WERE LIMITED TO SAY THE LEAST. FAST FORWARD TO PRESENT DAY WHERE AMAZING BIOLOGICAL FEATS ARE NOW ACCOMPLISHED IN LABORATORIES ALL OVER THE WORLD.
Jo Ford talks to Balnarring couple Cat Martin and Marissa Egan about their unique story and how they truly are mothers to each other’s babies!
At what stage in your relationship did you first start talking about having children?
(Marissa) From memory, I think we used to throw the idea around quite early on, but we didn’t really start talking about it seriously until a couple of years ago. We knew we both wanted kids but we just never felt that we were financially ready. It was a big step in our relationship, so we wanted to be prepared.
Can you explain what the first steps in the process were?
(Marissa) We started attending a group called PLP (Prospective Lesbian Parents) to find out about our different options. These meetings were fantastic, and we were able to gather so much information about the huge number of ways in which to go about falling pregnant. I know that sounds rather shifty, but there are a lot of options out there, all with their pros and cons. It was at one of these meetings that we found out about City Fertility in Melbourne and decided to go to a free information session. We intended to go to many other fertility clinic information sessions but once we met Dr David Wilkinson at City Fertility, we were sold! He has been fantastic for us; incredibly knowledgeable but also happy to have a laugh.
The next order of business was looking for a donor. We initially looked at the option of getting a friend to donate through the fertility clinic, but it became apparent that this option wasn’t going to work for us when we started having to send legal contracts back and forth. There are a lot of horror stories out there about donors claiming parental rights and where recipients take legal action against donors for finances to do with the child. We wanted everyone to be protected, but it just made the friendship messy. We decided to use an anonymous donor and were given a list of potentials! City Fertility had about 30 donors, which was a huge number compared to the 1 or 2 donors at most other clinics at the time. (Once legislation came in that donor identity could be revealed once the child reached 18-years-old, most donors chose to back out, so we were very thankful for the large number that chose not to.)
After looking at many profiles, which included things like height, weight, hair colour, eye colour, ethnicity, parent’s ethnicity, skin tone, full health history (including parents), any qualifications, current job, hobbies and interests, reasons for donating, and a few other bits of information, we ended up choosing a diving instructor as our donor. He had a great health history, has blue eyes and blonde hair like Cat and ticked many other boxes for us – so he’s perfect. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the same donor the second time around, even after appealing to him with a letter, so we chose another donor for our second child.
Once deciding on the donor, we went through the process of injecting ourselves with hormones to increase the number of eggs we produced in a cycle. Normally a woman will produce one or sometimes two eggs in a cycle but with hormones this can be increased significantly. These injections had to be timed to perfection. I remember a time when Cat and I were heading to a 90’s dress-up party in the city – dressed as Bananas in Pyjamas – and we had to ‘shoot up’ in the underground carpark before heading in. I can only imagine what this would have looked like on the security cameras, but it had to be done!
We then had our eggs harvested. I had my eggs harvested for Cat to carry, and Cat had her eggs harvested for me to carry. It’s been a beautiful way for us to both feel connected and involved in the process.
The eggs that were mature enough were fertilised with our chosen donor’s sperm. The eggs that were successfully fertilised were given time to mature to blastocysts before being frozen. When we reached the right time in our natural cycles, the embryo was then defrosted and transplanted into the uterus. We then had to painfully wait for two weeks to find out if the embryo had taken or not. We repeated this process a few times with our first pregnancy which was sad but not unexpected. We were lucky enough to be successful on the first go when trying for bub number two. After a couple of check-ups at the fertility clinic after becoming pregnant it was time to head back out into the world and continue the pregnancy as any other person would.
How does it feel to be a parent?
(Cat) Fantastic! Daunting! Exhausting! Mind-blowing. Amazing. The most beautiful and exciting journey either of us have ever been on. Little Evie is growing and changing every day and we feel very lucky to have her in our lives.
(Marissa) Incredible!! We are having the best fun with our beautiful Evie. Of course, it’s exhausting, and there is no such thing as a day off anymore, but it’s so worth it. I’m particularly tired now, being pregnant, working full time, and coming home to our little munchkin. Cat is the most wonderfully supportive partner a person could have. It also helps that she has been through pregnancy herself, so she knows exactly how I’m feeling.
Are you planning on having any other children?
(Cat) I carried Marissa’s egg and Evie is a little Marissa. We’ve now swapped that around and Marissa is carrying my egg. Exciting.
(Marissa) It was disappointing that we were unable to use the same donor for my pregnancy, but no real biggy. We will be our own little family regardless. We’re still unsure what will happen once our second child arrives. Maybe that will be enough for us, or maybe we’ll want more. We’re not sure. We’ll go through City Fertility again without a doubt as they’ve been fantastic.
Have you always experienced positive reactions when people learn you are in a same sex relationship?
(Marissa) Most people are pretty good and may just have a few questions to ask. Then there are those people who just have no idea what to say! Others try to convince you that you just haven’t met the right man yet. And then there are the close-minded strangers that yell abuse out of their car windows if they see you holding hands with your partner. My parents needed a bit of time to get their heads around the idea but now they are fantastic. They see Cat as an important part of the family now.
(Cat) Mostly but not always. It took some key members of our lives a while to come around but we are now lucky to have everyone on board. Phew.
What advice would you give other same sex couples thinking about having children?
(Cat) Although you can never be 100% ready for children, try to identify and eliminate, or at least reduce the stresses in your life as best you can before beginning the journey, as this will improve your chances of getting pregnant and improve the relationship you have with your partner and your growing babe.
Here are a few tips:
- If you’re planning on having the same donor for all your children, reserve extra sperm so you know you have some tucked away for down the track. We certainly wish we did.
- Find out as much as you can about the process before embarking on the journey.
- Be kind to your body during the process, try and be flexible and keep an open mind.
- Listen to positive advice from others and ignore the negative. This is your unique journey.
(Marissa) Start your research early, join some groups, ask lots of questions. Most importantly, even though you can never really be ready for kids, make sure you and your partner are rock solid and make sure you discuss your different parenting styles and where you would compromise.
When your bub comes along, make sure you don’t take things too seriously, learn to look at the funny side of things, support each other and take time to stop and enjoy your bubba. Be prepared for the most exhausting but joyful adventure of your life!
Marissa and Cat have since had their bub, Archer. The family is happy and well.
Jo Ford runs Bodybump (pregnancy and post-natal aqua and fitness classes) and is bringing up two gorgeous girls, Lily and Rose. In her (limited) spare time, you’ll find her at the gym practicing what she preaches.
If you have an interesting pregnancy or birth story, contact Jo at email@example.com