Making Tayt: inter-partner egg donation
Purdey and Maddie both always wanted children, and combining inheritance with money from a house sale they could afford IVF treatment. They decided Purdey would carry Maddie’s fertilised egg – called inter-partner donation. Here they share their journey.
Maddie: “We always had the idea of carrying each other’s child.” Purdey: “This was the closest way we could make a baby together. I would have the experience of carrying a baby but Maddie would get her genetic child at the end of it. We’ll swap roles for number two. We both always wanted to get pregnant so this way we both get to do it without one of us feeling left out.”
Once eggs have been stimulated and then harvested it doesn’t necessarily matter who has the fertilised embryo implanted – the body doesn’t necessarily know the difference and in the grand scheme of IVF the additional cost to swap this part is fairly minor. So the couple found a clinic and had some initial fertility tests, which did not show any problems, and they started harvesting Maddie’s eggs.
On their first attempt Purdey got pregnant but unfortunately miscarried around five weeks. Expecting to have to try a few times the couple pressed on. Two more cycles of IVF resulted in two more miscarriages, both around five to six weeks again. Maddie: “In the end, due to Purdey’s miscarriages, I had to be harvested three times, and many were not very good quality. I produced 44 during one cycle and ended up in hospital!”
In an ideal scenario a woman produces 8-12 eggs in one harvest, but Maddie was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries. Reacting to the hormones, her ovaries were over-stimulated and she produced too many eggs, a lot of which were low quality.
Purdey: “During that round Maddie’s ovaries swelled to the size of grapefruit after she had been harvested and as a result her bowels shut down. Every time they take an egg out a needle goes in and you can get fluid which leads to swelling, and that happened 44 times on this occasion.” But some of Maddie’s eggs that were harvested were viable. They were fertilised with donor sperm the couple had imported from a sperm bank overseas. They chose to import sperm so that there wouldn’t be any issues with their child having unknown siblings in the UK. Luckily Maddy’s part was done. Now it was Purdey’s turn – her body was in better shape to have the embryo implanted anyway.
Purdey: “IVF is intensive. In the end I was injecting myself twice a day – well Maddie helped with one of them. One of the needles was horrible, by the end I was sobbing as there wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t sore. It was brutal, but not everyone would have the same experience because everyone’s medical needs are unique to their situation. All that seems like such a distant memory now.”
With three IVF cycles behind them and the subsequent three miscarriages, Purdey and Maddie were feeling the strain emotionally but fought to maintain their positive outlook. Maddie: “The things I worried about initially, like the injections and stuff were nothing compared to the emotional rollercoaster you go through.”
The couple knew two separate friends who had both also repeatedly miscarried. Both had seen the same specialist who diagnosed a condition called ‘natural killer cells’. Some practitioners in the IVF community don’t believe that it exists, but those who do believe the cells target the embryo in the first few weeks and kill it. The couple sought out the specialist, Purdey was tested and reportedly had a high level of these natural killer cells. She was put on drugs to treat the condition and then fell pregnant.
Purdey: “ On embarking on our fourth cycle I said to Maddie, ‘I don’t think I can do this again.’ I’d reached the end psychologically. Fortunately we did not have to this time.” Purdey was understandably on tenterhooks throughout the pregnancy but particularly in the first trimester. However the pregnancy went well, their son was born and their parenting journey began.
On the birth certificate Purdey is his mother and Maddie is the other parent. So what was this aspect like for Maddie, as his genetic mother? Maddie: “It’s been a little bit different to what I expected. I think Purdey and Tayt have a stronger bond because she carried him and she was his primary carer. I wasn’t quite as hands on initially as she was. I thought I would want to be in control but I was really happy – we fell into our roles. Her maternal instinct kicked in and in the night time she was more able to cope.”
I found it much tougher having a newborn than I thought I would. I thought I’d love it but it’s so tiring with the sleepless nights. I’d had quite a lot of experience with babies but it was still a really steep learning curve having my own. We just love it now he’s older, he’s running around, he’s got a personality, he laughs a lot. It’s much more enjoyable now.” Now they’ve settled into family life with their busy little boy, Purdey and Maddie are thinking about trying for their second child, but it’s early days. What would they say to any other lesbian couples looking at IVF?
Purdey: “We would recommend doing a lot of research before you embark on IVF, and having a full range of tests if you can, to save the heartache of any undiagnosed conditions. With a same-sex couple, as you are not trying to get pregnant in the conventional way, it is easier for conditions such as PCOS and Natural Killer Cells to go undiagnosed. If we had done this earlier it would have saved us the heartache of three miscarriages, but saying that we wouldn’t have our son now. We love him and we wouldn’t want to change him – we believe in fate and this was our journey. It has been so worth it.”
Purdey Silvester, 35, and Maddie Stoller, 34, live in a rural village in Hertfordshire with their son Tayt, 18 months.
You can find out more about Natural Killer Cells on the HFEA website: HFEA.gov.uk
Interview: Hannah Latham, photographs: Louise Prance Photography
This article was printed in We Are Family magazine issue 6, Summer 2014. Details may have changed - please do not rely on this information solely when making decisions - do your own research, make your own checks and get legal or health advice as appropriate.