Since the late 1970s, In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) has offered an incredible opportunity for women and men, who, for whatever reason, have been unable to get pregnant on their own. Worldwide, more than five million babies have been born through assisted reproduction, but what happens when IVF is not possible? Two Tauranga women, who both work at The Gym, share their stories about the bleak realities of infertility and what inspired them to consider other parenting options which led eventually to the creation of their fabulous families.
In 2016, when Anna Keogh left her job to become a personal fitness trainer, she wrote about her sudden career change on Facebook. She had been working with Cool Bananas, a Christian-based organisation which runs programmes for school children, and wanted to share with her social network what had prompted the seemingly out-of-character move. After all, she had loved her job, but working with children had become too hard when she and her husband Kyle couldn’t have their own.
It was the post that changed everything for the couple – Facebook had lived up to its social connection reputation.
Two years later, 4-month-old Tasia babbles and coos quietly in her cot and soon drifts off to sleep; a happy bundle of placidness. Visiting that day, I can’t help but marvel at such a peaceful setting as the story of her birth unfolds.
For Anna, the eight years leading up to Tasia’s arrival in January, and the initial weeks following, had been a firestorm of emotions. Not that anyone would believe it now; she’s relaxed and happy, and totally into being a mum, at last.
Long road ahead
When Anna, 36, and Kyle married nine years ago, they decided to start a family right away, but when nothing happened after a year, they made an appointment with their doctor. Although there was an inkling something wasn’t right, they weren’t prepared for the news – Kyle’s sperm count made conception unlikely and they would have to investigate IVF.
After another six months and more tests, those plans too were dashed. The sperm, while having all the DNA in place, could not be used for IVF.
“We were told, ‘sorry, there’s nothing we can use; here’s the information on sperm donors’. It was blunt but I accept that’s just how it is. I was devastated and felt life was never going to be the same again; I couldn’t imagine myself not being around children. It was the same feeling as a death – it’s grief – and I knew that even if we adopted we were going to have a different journey than our friends.”
Anna had met Kyle through their church and Anna’s work was in the Creative Arts. The news about their fertility prompted Anna to question her purpose and beliefs.
“We see our purpose together is to leave a legacy in whatever we do, like working with children and influencing them to make good choices and having an encouraging impact on anybody we come across. So to realise our blood legacy was not going to continue on, it was confusing because we felt like this was what we were made for.”
Taking on the role at Cool Bananas helped Anna move on, and she filled herself up with the joy of being around kids. Thoughts of going down the sperm donor path were put to one side – they weren’t ready for that step. Meanwhile they hung out with other couples, and got back into the rhythm of life, until their friends became parents.
“As happy as I was for them, it felt like we had lost our friends, so we moved on and found younger couples to hang out with, until they got pregnant and then it started again. It was just really hard.”
Anna and Kyle began a backwards and forwards discussion around the idea of using a sperm donor, with Anna fighting for it and Kyle voicing concerns about bonding with a child that wasn’t genetically his.
“This was my worst time. I felt really alone and probably quite depressed because I didn’t know how to process this grief and who to talk to. It got to the point where I’d sit at the breakfast table and cry and come home and cry – I couldn’t do it anymore.
“Two years earlier I had stood up in church to share our story and told everyone that here I was leaving a legacy with all these children I worked with, and that this is what I was meant to do. After that it was hard because I had to live up to those words and prove I was OK.”
It became obvious to Anna that she was struggling and couldn’t be genuine in her work anymore, so she walked away from the job she loved, feeling free in the knowledge she wouldn’t have to be around kids again. She poured her feelings into that life changing Facebook post.
A new opportunity
An acquaintance read it and contacted Kyle. They had been through IVF and had three children of their own. They also had three frozen embryos and had been looking for a family to donate them to.
The condition was that if Anna and Kyle wanted one, they had to have all three.
“It just felt right. For the first time in years we both felt this peace and knew it was the right thing to do. These lives had already been created waiting to be realised; why would we then create more life when there were already these frozen chosen?”
With any adoption there is a legal process to go through, as well as counselling and psychologist sessions, and in the rarer cases of ‘pre-birth adoption’ – sperm, egg and embryo donations – Ethics Committee approval is also required. Anna and Kyle were denied ethics approval the first time and had to have further psychologist appointments.
A year after that Facebook post, with paperwork finalised, they were good to go. Anna completed six weeks of medication to prepare her body for a pregnancy and, with eyes glued to the monitor, she and Kyle watched the embryo which became Tasia being implanted in her uterus. Then came the 10-day wait, culminating in Mother’s Day last year.
“It was really scary because that day had always been hard for me, but we got the call on the Sunday to say it had worked. We just cried. I remember thinking, wow, all those hard times were worth it. It was something so special, a unique story; it felt like this was how it was meant to be.”
Amid the joy of finally being able to welcome a child into their lives, Anna’s pregnancy was not plain sailing. The normal softening of joints and ligaments to prepare for birth caused her pelvis to separate, triggering severe pain and a couple of trips to ED. At full-term, Anna was induced and spent the next week in hospital, which ended in an emergency caesarean. Post birth, Anna suffered trauma and hallucinations and struggled with feeding.
“We bonded straight away but I struggled for those first eight weeks. Motherhood for me was going to be out running with the pram; instead I was stuck at home and couldn’t drive. You just never know how it’s going to go.”
The experience hasn’t stopped her wanting to do it all again though and next year they hope to repeat the process with the second of their “frozen chosen” – a sister or brother for Tasia.
“That first night alone with her in hospital I just sat up and stared at her – I couldn’t believe it; I couldn’t ever imagine not having her. This was what I had always been missing. ‘Tasia Belle’ means ‘beautiful resurrection’, and we chose her name because she brought hope back to life for us.
“It may not be right for everyone, but it’s the best thing for us. We have become friends with the donor couple, and Tasia has three other genetic siblings. She has this bigger family than just us, and that’s what we always wanted.”
Cover + Photoshoot Images: Charmaine Marinkovich Photography
Hair: Ephraim Ormsby, Ivy Hair
Makeup: Hair & Makeup by Chloe
Clothing: Magazine Clothing