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Episode 277

Lauren & Donna

In today’s episode I interview Lauren and her mother-in-law, Donna. Lauren has MRKH syndrome and was born without a uterus so she knew from a young age that her fertility journey would be challenging. After going through IVF to retrieve and fertilise her eggs, Lauren handed her pregnancy journey over to Donna who, at the age of 50, carried Lauren’s baby. Surrogacy stories aren’t always straightforward but this episode is a testament to Lauren and Donna’s love and gratitude for each other.

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MRKH syndrome affects 1 in 5000 women and is primarily a disorder of the reproductive system where the uterus and vagina are either missing or underdeveloped. When she hadn’t started menstruating by the age of 14, Lauren’s dad took her to a specialist who confirmed her diagnosis.

Lauren: “I went to a specialist on the Central Coast and it was really impersonal. I just thought I was going in for blood tests but he did an examination which as a young woman was quite intimidating. I just thought I was going in to get blood tests. He just told me I didn’t have a uterus and my stepmum just burst into tears. I just had no idea what it meant. I later found out that I have remnants of a uterus but it’s not functioning.

“I told myself all the time that I didn’t want children; that’s how I dealt with it to begin with and I was young then. It was only when Jake proposed that we started talking about children and working out how we would do that. We went to IVF Australia to see a specialist and they confirmed that my only choice was surrogacy. At the time I was only 18 and not quite ready for everything that journey meant.”

Lauren was 22 when she stumbled across news of a uterus transplant and Donna immediately offered hers. They started the lengthy process but got knocked back halfway through because their blood types weren’t compatible. The conversation naturally turned to surrogacy and Donna embraced the opportunity from the get go.

Donna: “I had medication to stop perimenopause. The IVF team and all the health specialists were really supportive of me carrying the baby. I ticked all the boxes so it was meant to be.”

Lauren got 27 eggs from her first round of IVF and ended up with10 embryos. Her IVF procedure was traumatic and while the end result was successful, she experienced a punctured bladder as a result and spent a lonely and painful week in hospital recovering. Once the IVF and the legal process was complete, Donna was prepared for implantation. Unfortunately the first attempt was unsuccessful but on day 10 of the second attempt, they stood together in the bathroom and watched two lines appear on the pregnancy test.

Lauren: “We were jumping up and down in the bathroom together, it was such a happy, amazing day.”

Donna: “I knew from day 6 that I was pregnant. I was sick from morning to night and it didn’t stop till 18 weeks. I was hospitalised a few times and put on IV fluids and I ended up with gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.”

Lauren: “It was really hard seeing her sick and in pain. In some ways Jake and I had a lot of guilt; you never want to see your loved ones in pain, especially on your account. It felt like we had put her in that position….

Donna: “I wouldn’t change it for the world. That’s life.”

They went through their local public hospital and because of Donna’s age and her gestational diabetes diagnosis, she was high risk and received both midwifery and obstetric care. They admit that their care was exemplary. Despite covid restrictions Lauren was welcomed into most appointments and treated like the mother she would soon become.

Lauren: “I knew before the pregnancy that I wanted to breastfeed. I researched it a lot and I connected with groups on facebook to learn from personal experiences. I had to really talk to everyone around me about it because I felt embarrassed about it; I hadn’t birthed so why would I breastfeed but everyone was so encouraging. I don’t know why I was embarrassed or why it was on my mind at all. I went to my GP and asked for motilium which she gave me although she was hesitant at first. I was also on birth control with high oestrogen levels and low progesterone for five months. Once I stopped I started to use a breast pump and within a week I was lactating. Getting those first drops of milk was so exciting! I didn’t get colostrum but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my supply. Five weeks before Ronnie was born I started storing milk and then when she was born I was getting about 160ml per day.”

Donna: “I told them that I would only have the baby if I could have a caesarean. They said that they didn’t want to do it earlier than 39 weeks but I ended up in hospital at 37 weeks as I felt like she wasn’t moving like she normally would. The day before she was born we had a social worker who really supported us and worked hard to get Jake access to the theatre so he could be at the birth, too. I have no words to describe the caesarean birth. I really didn’t know what to expect and it was just…I don’t recommend it.”

Lauren: “Jake and I both watched the caesarean birth. We were both confronted by Donna’s discomfort. Ronnie was frank breech so it was really hard to get her out. Ronnie didn’t cry as soon as she was born but they rubbed her down and she started crying then. Donna and I spoke many times about what we would do after birth and Donna just wanted her to go straight to me. Twenty minutes after she was born she latched on straightaway. The midwife was in shock and she was just so beautiful, she just thought it was so amazing. We went to recovery with Donna and then after an hour we all went up to the maternity ward.”

Lauren stayed with Donna overnight and the next day they went home together with their daughter and granddaughter.

Topics Discussed

Family surrogacy, MRKH, Induced lactation, IVF, Caesarean

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