Why would a single, middle-aged woman endure years of fertility treatment in order to have twins? Diana Williams explains why it was the best decision she's ever made
Anyone who knows my story might think that I had always been desperate to be a mother. Why else would I spend so much money on fertility treatment that enabled me to give birth as a 50-year-old single woman?
In reality, I was quite ambivalent about having children during my 20s and 30s. I had got a job in the Civil Service at 18-years-old and enjoyed focusing on furthering my career and buying my house in Birmingham. Deep down, I think I probably assumed I would get married and have kids, but it was never a burning issue and the men I had relationships with turned out not to be keepers. I certainly never remember feeling envious when my friends or family had babies.
Having moved to London for a promotion in my 30s, I then made the decision, in my early forties, to take a career break for a couple of years to work for VSO in Ethiopia and Kenya. I don't know why, but watching the mothers out in Africa carrying their babies around on their backs all day did something to me, bringing out a stronger maternal instinct than I'd ever had before.
I considered adoption, but I wanted to go through the birth experience. At 44, I didn't hold out huge hopes, but nor did I assume it would be impossible. If it worked, great; if it didn't, so be it. And that's pretty much the kind of attitude I took along the journey ahead of me. That is, I was eager and optimistic, but I was also pragmatic.
The first thing I did was to go to a London fertility clinic, where it was confirmed that my eggs weren't viable. No great surprise there. But there was always the donor-eggs route. Because I was on my own, I also needed to think about the sperm-donor route. There was a third challenge, too. Because I'm of Jamaican origin, I needed the egg and sperm donors to match my own ethnicity in order to successfully conceive a child of my own ethnicity. The clinic warned me that due to the limited number of ethnic donors here in the UK, it might be a long wait.
The next step was to prepare my body. I had a fibroid removed and went on a diet because I was overweight. In addition, I joined organisations such as the Donor Conception Network and became a member of support groups for people who were awaiting donor eggs or sperm or both. Friends and family were surprised. "Why would you want to do that?" some of them asked when I told the about the fertility treatment. But in the main, they were supportive. And although I think many people assumed that it would be emotionally harder going through the process alone, I sometimes felt the opposite was true. For instance, with couples opting for an egg or sperm donor, you could see it sometimes upsetting the person whose genes would not form part of their baby. I also saw how difficult some of the decisions around fertility treatment can be among couples, whereas I only had myself to think about.
In 2010, by which time I was 46 and still waiting, I attended The Fertility Show - a trade show for the fertility industry - and it was there that I met the team from IVI, an international fertility clinic in Spain. When I discovered that it had a large bank of eggs and sperm from a wide range of donors across many ethnicities, I made the decision to travel to its Madrid clinic for treatment. It also appealed to me that, unlike in the UK, in Spain egg and sperm donors are anonymous. My feeling is that anyone who has donated for altruistic reasons would be unlikely to want someone to come to contact them at 18. The clinic seemed very supportive of single women, too, whereas in the UK, clinics seemed much more geared up to couples. Sometimes, I felt the UK clinics didn't even accept that I was single, making an assumption that I must be gay.
On my first consultation in Spain, Dr Alfredo Guill?n sent me away with hormones to thicken the lining of my womb in preparation for the transfer of embryos and it was a couple of months later, when I returned for that procedure, that I remember standing in my hospital gown thinking, "Wow, this is really happening."
The first two attempts were with eggs from the same donor and each time, I had to wait two weeks before doing a pregnancy test. On the first occasion, I focused on little else for the fortnight. The second time, I was more relaxed about it, although obviously still disappointed when the result was negative. It was at this point that I took a year out to become a volunteer for the Olympics. I just wanted to give my body a break from all the hormones.
The following year - 2013 - I decided to go back for two final attempts with a different egg donor. I had always said that I'd stop trying at 50 and that was only a year away. I know I would have been fine if it didn't work. But I didn't want to regret not giving it one last go and on the second of two more attempts, I discovered I was pregnant. I was tentatively excited, because it was only six or seven weeks in, but by 13 weeks, I found out not only that I was still pregnant, but that I was having twins. Now, I allowed myself to feel ecstatic, although many of my friends and some family were more than a little surprised. "I know you mentioned you were trying to conceive, but that was years ago!" they said, not realising I'd been carrying on all this time.
It wasn't the easiest pregnancy, as I had high blood pressure. But I loved being pregnant nonetheless, and when I gave birth, with my mum there as my birth partner, at 36 weeks via caesarean section, it was quite literally a party atmosphere. I could not have been happier when the boys were born, although because they only weighed 4.7lb and 4.2lb, they did need some extra care and we all had to stay in hospital for 10 days.
I took to motherhood immediately and although I was grateful to my mum and sister-in-law for staying with me to help out in the early weeks, I was keen to settle into my own routine. Now, the boys are seven months old and while I'm not saying it isn't hard work, I love it.
I will always be completely honest with the boys about the egg and sperm donation. In fact, I have made a little book called "Our Story", which explains all about the help I got from the clinic. I already read it to them.
I don't look my age, so I don't tend to get any raised eyebrows about being a much older mum. And I have a lot of energy, which means I'm not worried about having to run around after a pair of toddlers. Even when it comes to longevity, I'm not really concerned. So far, the genes have been good to us in our family. But I'm glad there's two of them, so they'll always have each other, no matter what.