I had IVF to have my two boys – but not for the usual reasons

IVF is a last resort for many couples when a natural conception just isn’t happening. It’s a beacon of hope and for some, it delivers the ultimate gift. I also had IVF, but not because I struggled to get pregnant. My reasons for undergoing it were certainly not the norm, but I’m forever glad I did. This is why.

Should we even have a baby?

It was a discussion my husband and I had even before we’d gotten married. It had nothing to do with weighing up the pros and cons of having kids, rather it was around the harsh reality of possibly handing my genetic disease on to my future kids.

If we didn’t have children, we’d travel a lot, we said. But I knew deep down that no amount of adventures could compensate for the deep longing I had to start a family of my own. I also knew though that I couldn’t possibly risk ever passing on my disease to my children. So what to do?

Adoption wasn’t an option

We got married because kids or no kids, we loved each other. But the time came when we wanted them. Knowing we didn’t want to risk having them naturally and passing on my disease, we looked into adoption. The door was quickly shut though when I found out that I didn’t meet the health criteria. As hard as it was to get that news, I understood it then and I understand it now – no agency wants to place children in a home where they could potentially experience more loss than they already have.

A curse upon your house

The disease I have is a hereditary cancer, and cancer is certainly the word for it but it’s not cancer as most people know it. My tumours are benign, although new ones just keep on popping up, despite the old ones having been removed. I’ve had three brain surgeries, numerous eye surgeries and as a result, I have a multitude of deficits. I wouldn’t call myself disabled but when you add up being half blind, hearing impaired, weakness down one side of my body, balance issues and a semi-paralysed vocal cord, I guess I am. Despite this, I lead a very normal life. And I am determined to lead that life, which is why when the adoption door shut, I didn’t give up on our dream of having our own little family.

A flip of a coin

But with an even 50 percent chance of passing the rogue gene on to our kids, we couldn’t have a glass-half-full approach to getting pregnant naturally -‘Oh, let’s think positive, the baby probably won’t have it!’ – just wasn’t a smart way of thinking. 

A work-around

Then one day while my ophthalmologist shone a bright light in my eyes looking for tumours, he casually mentioned that PGD testing may be an option for me, just in case I was thinking of having kids someday. PGD what? I remember thinking. When he told me that there was a way to get pregnant that would guarantee I wouldn’t pass on the gene to my baby, I wanted to hug him (I didn’t, of course, and instead spoke very casually saying things like, “Oh wow, really? I didn’t know that”).

When science delivers a dream 

PGD stands for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and is a technique used in IVF. After undergoing the usual IVF process to stimulate ovulation, collect the eggs and then fertilise them, the embryos are tested and only the non-affected ones are stored or implanted. This all sounds very science-y and medical, but the end result is we were able to have two beautiful boys naturally and stop the disease curse in its tracks. They, their kids and their kids’ kids won’t ever have to endure what I and my father have. 

“Where do babies come from Mummy?”

We joke that we’ll tell our sons the way to make a baby is to go to your local science lab and give them a wad of cash, but there’s some truth in it. It’s not always a case of ‘when mummy and daddy really love each other they make a baby’. Nor is it a case of, ‘you grew inside mummy’s tummy’ for those who’ve brought babies into the world via surrogacy or adoption.

The right decision

I will always carry guilt and sadness that the one affected embryo that was created didn’t get a chance at life. And I will never feel at peace with that. But I also know that we made the right decision. We changed the future by eradicating something insidious in my family. Just last year I had two more brain tumors removed. Then, a couple of weeks ago my ophthalmologist found a new tumour in my only seeing eye. It was caught early, so I won’t lose any sight (well, not this time at least). When I got home from having laser treatment for it, I cuddled my boys extra tightly. I stroked my toddler’s wispy blond hair, and kissed my eldest on his smooth-skinned forehead, then I gave my husband a knowing look. Our boys will never have to endure anything that I have, and it’s all thanks to three little letters: PGD.

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