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We're Nat and Laura, lucky to be married to each other and even luckier to have a beautiful daughter.
When we first talked about having children we agreed Laura would go first, we'd conceive using a fertility clinic to avoid any legal issues in the future, and to make sure it was watertight and we'd both be considered any future child's parent we'd need to get married! Which of course was always our plan anyway!
We were told the treatment would all need to be privately funded as there's no funding for same-sex couples to have fertility treatment in Brighton & Hove and the consultant recommended we try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) first. We naively agreed to the £5000 price tag for three attempts with only a 14% success rate. Unfortunately all three attempts were unsuccessful and we were left back at square one with a much lighter bank balance and no idea how we would be able to afford to try again any time soon. The clinic recommended we move on to In vitro fertilisation (IVF); with medication, scans 3 or 4 times a week, the compulsory counselling sessions and buying donor sperm it would cost us upwards of £10,000.
For heterosexual couples having trouble conceiving, they're able to go to their GP and get a referral if they have been trying for 12 months and the NHS will cover the cost of up to two fresh cycles and a maximum of four embryo transfers if they fall into the age/BMI/non-smoking criteria. For same-sex couples like us and so many others wanting to start a family together, even if you're lucky enough for your postcode to fall into an area with funding we would only be considered for NHS funding if we had been trying to conceive for 12 months and six of those had been attempts in a controlled environment; so 6 IUI attempts in a fertility clinic and of course these had to be privately funded. So that's £10,000 out of pocket before we'd even be considered for IVF funding and still only that 14% success rate!
The thing with fertility is time is not something that helps. The more time that passes, the lower the chance of success gets and we've seen how quickly things can change. We researched clinics and eventually chose to go abroad based on the success rates and the cost of IVF being almost half the price. We booked our flights and started the daily injections, we were so nervous but excited that this could really be it for us!
Our aim was to get enough eggs to have some embryos frozen to have a second or third baby one day so when the doctor told us they'd only been able to collect 5 mature eggs we were pretty disappointed. We reminded ourselves that it only takes one and anxiously waited for the fertilisation report the next day when they sent us a picture of our fertilised eggs! It's the most surreal feeling seeing what could be your future children as some cells in a dish, we weren't sure what they were supposed to look like but we still felt proud and excited for a few short seconds before the accompanying message delivered. Only one egg had fertilised. Just one egg, we didn't understand how that could happen and we definitely weren't prepared for it. We knew that now the chances of making it to day 5 with a normal developing embryo were slim since you always lose about 50% and we didn't have 50% to lose!
That week proved to be the most stressful week of our lives getting daily updates, having a glimpse of hope when we were sent a picture on day 2 saying two more had fertilised overnight, to be then told on day 3 that those two now weren't developing normally. What a rollercoaster! We went to the clinic on day 5 for transfer, hoping we had 3 embryos but knowing that we at least had one. We named it lucky number 6, after all everyone kept saying to us it only takes one!
We were nervously waiting to hear final numbers and the doctor came in to explain that he was sorry but none of them were developing any more. We were devastated, truly heartbroken and felt like it was so unfair this was happening. We talked for a while, spoke with the doctor and decided a plan of action. That meant borrowing another £4000 from our parents to cover the unexpected costs but it would be worth it in the end.
Thank all the gods and everyone else that it actually worked and we now have our beautiful daughter but to this day we have spent £16,000 making that dream happen. £16,000 we wouldn't have had to spend if we were a man and a woman having the same problems.
Anyone who knows me will know that I have always always wanted to be pregnant, we'd both love to give our daughter a sibling and a chance for me to carry this time but there's no way we can afford the costs that go with it any time soon. We have three embryos in storage but our clinic froze them together not separately without asking (I know, give us a break!) which means we have one chance at transferring them and if it doesn't work we don't know what we'll do. We're currently paying for them to be in storage and when that runs out we need to have the money together to transfer them or pay the huge storage costs again. We so so hope we can transfer them and make another tiny human as perfect as our daughter to complete our family.
We know we're not the only couple that has had to pay out of pocket to become a family but we've found ourselves in a very hard place financially catching up from the last treatments and having to find the money for the next. Friends we've spoken to, some who had IVF funded by the NHS had no idea that just because we are a same-sex couple we wouldn't be at least given the same eligibility criteria as they were. We're the same as any other married couple, infertility effects more people than you'd think and just because we're two women we have to jump through so many hoops and spend thousands of pounds to even be considered for help. It's just unfair that we're not seen the same as a married man and woman when our marriage is full of love and our want for a family is no less than any heterosexual couple.
We'd be so grateful if we could raise just the minimum needed to keep our embryos in storage while we save enough to go back to the clinic and transfer them. That would at least buy us some time and we wouldn't have to worry as they'd be safe in the freezer waiting for us!
I can't explain how much it would mean to us. Nat, Laura and Sennen xxx
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Natalie Sweeney started crowdfunding