'I became a first-time mum at 47. This is what you don't know.'

Early educator Donna knew more than anything that she wanted to be a mum. As she approached the age of 40 in 2015, she moved back home to Brisbane to save some money and focus on her fertility journey.

"I was sick of waiting for the perfect guy to come along and I knew I could become a mum by myself," Donna told Mamamia.  

"I did some research on fertility clinics and started by choosing a sperm donor and doing two rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination). After this failed to work, I was declared 'medically infertile' by the treating doctor before commencing with IVF. Because I was nearly 40 by then, my doctor said l could go straight on to being bulk billed through Medicare to start the IVF process.

Watch: Amanda Keller talks about having kids later in life via IVF. Post continues below.  

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In 2016, Donna began her first round of injections and medication. She was told that for her age, her AHM levels were good and she felt positive.

"For my first egg collection, I only got nine eggs and just two that fertilised with one viable embryo. They transferred it and literally the next day, I bled and it was gone. The doctor was surprised, saying it was unusual, and I thought it was obviously not meant to be." 


After her first IVF doctor retired, Donna began seeing his replacement for her second egg collection and eventual embryo transfer. 

"Straight away I fell pregnant and while the clinic were very positive, I was very unwell with bad cramps. Something just didn't feel right. At about five and half weeks pregnant, I was at my sister's place when the cramps got so painful she took me to hospital. Initially they said everything was fine, and that perhaps it was the pessaries I was on that caused the cramps. I had more tests with my IVF doctor who said the pregnancy was smaller than what it should be for that gestation. I knew in my heart it wasn't right. At eight weeks I had another scan, and it was gone."

Donna decided to try one more egg collection with the clinic. She got 13 eggs but found out on Christmas Day that none of them took. It was around this time that her father passed away.

"After I moved in with my parents, we found out a month later that dad had cancer. A year later he died. It had been a lot to see him go through cancer treatment while also going through IVF myself and it was a very difficult time for mum and me." 

After three donated embryo transfers, one that resulted in a chemical pregnancy, and two that didn't take, Donna decided it was time to change clinics. 

"By then I'd had six transfers, one miscarriage, and one chemical pregnancy. I was told by a nurse at the clinic to consider surrogacy, but I wasn't ready to stop. I had heard good things about Doctor Kee Ong from Monash in Southport and I booked in to see him. Until then I had told hardly anyone about doing IVF and it was a heavy secret. After Dr Ong gave me some hope, I started telling more people about what I was going through to explain my rollercoaster of emotions. In hindsight, I wish I had been more open earlier."


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At the new clinic, Donna underwent several tests and started on some new medication. An initial embryo transfer didn't take, so they suggested she look into using an egg donor. 

"I began looking at a website for egg donors and it felt a little like a dating app - placing my ad and making myself sound appealing. It was actually heartbreaking seeing all the other adverts from women. Ultimately however, I didn't need to use the site as my friend Kaitlin who I used to work with offered to be my egg donor. It was incredible, I couldn't believe it! There were a lot of tears when we met up to talk about it."

Mum-of-two Kaitlin was committed to helping Donna achieve her dream, and in 2018, they started the lengthy process to conception. The women had to see a psychologist together and separately and Kaitlin with her partner. There was legal, ethical, and medical advice to learn and consider, which all required time. 

Amid the process, the pandemic hit and months went by where nothing could happen. Eventually the first egg collection from Kaitlin created two viable embryos and after the transfer, Donna was pregnant. But the joy was fleeting as she miscarried at seven weeks and then the second embryo didn't take. 


"I was devastated. I didn't want to ask Kaitlin to do it again as it is such a big commitment - all the injections, medication, and then the egg collection - but she said yes. This time we got three embryos. In June 2021, we transferred the first one, and it resulted in a chemical pregnancy. I decided to put everything on hold. I had my sister's wedding coming up in October and I wanted to enjoy that as well as a normal Christmas. It had all taken a huge toll. 

"When January came around, I told Dr Ong to just put the last two embryos in. I couldn't take it anymore and I wanted to get on with my life. Those next two weeks until the blood test were very anxious - all that waiting. The day before I was due to go into the clinic, I began to bleed and I freaked out. I called the nurses, and they told me to come in early. I went to a friend's house to rest and when they called later to say I was pregnant, I just burst into tears. I was so happy but also terrified."

After some more concerning bleeds, which Dr Ong said could have been the second embryo, the pregnancy stuck. At eight weeks, the scan showed everything was progressing normally and Donna was discharged from the clinic and referred to her GP for antenatal care. She was thrilled.

"I was really ill and couldn't keep anything down but I knew it was a good sign that the pregnancy was sticking. I was vomiting my guts up and yet I was the happiest I've even been in my life! When I had my 13 week scan and saw my baby moving for the first time, I cried and cried. It was the best feeling ever.


Donna at 34 weeks and 4 days pregnant. Image: Supplied.

"While I was overjoyed, I also spent a lot of time worrying about everything. I had a wonderful student midwife who was very reassuring whenever I had questions. I kept myself busy with work and walking the dog and at 23 weeks, when the worst of the sickness had subsided, I started back with my personal trainer to stay as fit as possible. I had so much love and support from my mum and my friends, which helped me along the way."


On Friday October 7, at 39 weeks and two days, Donna was due to be induced. She took the bus to the Mater hospital in Brisbane with her bags and met her birthing partner and friend Chloe in the maternity unit later that day.

"I was so independent, I didn't want people fussing! The day before I had been for a seven kilometre walk with my dog and I felt good and I felt ready. The initial induction experience was quite painful and while I tried to walk and sleep, I was very grateful Chloe was there to distract me. After 12 hours, they transferred me to the birthing suite where they broke my waters and the contractions began."

Donna says she used the TENS machine, had a shower, sat on a birth ball, and used the gas as the pain built. Chloe gave massages and put music on and just sat by her side the whole time.

After a few hours, the midwife examined her and said she was still only three centimetres dilated which was not the news Donna was hoping for.

"I requested an epidural for the pain and then managed to get a few hours sleep. When they checked me again, I was nine centimetres dilated but not ready to push as my cervix was in the wrong position. Suddenly there seemed to be a lot of people in the room and the worry was that baby's heart rate was slowing."

Doctors told Donna that they may need to do a c-section, but then suddenly told her to start pushing! They held a mirror up so she could see the head emerging, before telling her they would need to make a cut and assist the baby out as he was stuck and in distress. 


"As he was pulled out and held up, I panicked because the cord was wrapped around his neck, but quick as a flash he was free and they placed my boy on me. I was crying and so was Chloe. 

Donna and Eli Douglas. Image: Supplied.

"It was amazing. I just remember laying there sort of staring at him and having happy tears flow down my face. I asked Chloe to take my phone and message my mum, my brother, and Kaitlin. I wanted them to know first that I'd had my healthy baby boy, Eli Douglas, who I named after my dad."


Donna was lucky enough to get her own room at the hospital and says that for the first few hours, she just lay there feeling total contentment.

"I was just staring at him. I couldn't stop staring and crying. There was so much love. I still do it now... he'll just be lying there and I'll just be looking at him telling him how much I love him."

Six-week-old Eli Douglas is now happy at home and Donna continues to bask in the joy of motherhood after seven years of wishing and trying to conceive.

"A lot of people told me when I discovered my eggs weren't viable that I should give up and that it wouldn't happen, but at the time I knew I couldn't. 

"Other people have questioned why I would want to do it all by myself, but I am not by myself. I have lots of support and love and so does Eli. Kaitlin has given me the most amazing gift and while I know it won't always be easy, I honestly just feel so very blessed to be Eli's mum."

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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