baby

EXCLUSIVE: Lisa Oldfield's son forced a wedge in her friendship. Until she offered her friend her eggs.

At one stage in my late 20s and early 30s, I thought I was never going to be a mother. I suffered multiple miscarriages thanks to an undiagnosed thyroid problem. My heart broke into millions of pieces every time I bled during my first trimesters.

So it was with unmitigated joy that I finally became a mum to Harry (now six) at 35, followed by Bertie (now four) just under two years later.

I’m by no means a model mum; I drop the odd clanger around the boys, I don’t bake birthday cakes and I’ve never done canteen duty. That said, Harry is my pride and Bertie is my joy. I love wrestling, bushwalking and reading with them. I encourage their interests and regularly take them to the zoo, museum, fishing, whatever takes their fancy.

They are growing to be fine young men, and, despite their unconventional upbringing, both boys are kind, thoughtful, funny and smart.

No matter how down or overwhelmed I have been in the last six years, my love for my sons is always the catalyst for me getting back on track.

From the moment I first kissed Harry’s downy little head when he was placed in my arms, right up to this morning when I attempted to teach Bertie to tie his shoelaces (apparently double bunny ears is the wrong way to do it) it has pained me to think of all those women who desperately want a child being failed by their own biology.

And for those of you who, like me, were born after the first wave of Feminism, that last statement — “being failed by their own biology” — is probably anathema. We were told we could be anything and “could have it all” – the career, the family, the husband, the house. But sadly, our biology hasn’t caught up with Feminism.

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Whether we like it or not, our fertility rapidly declines in our mid thirties and beyond. A 26-year-old woman, having regular unprotected sex has a 95% chance of falling pregnant within a year. By the time that woman reaches 41, she has a 10-12% chance of conceiving naturally and by 45 the chance of natural conception is down to 1%.

Further, by the time a woman is in her 40s, 90% of all remaining eggs are chromosomally abnormal. Even worse, our belief that IVF can provide an immediate panacea to age related fertility issues leads us into dangerous complacency when it comes to family planning. More on this later.

And that is the situation one of my dearest friends, Helen*, found herself in. A career woman who ran her own successful business with offices in multiple countries, Helen finally met her Mr Right, Tom*, at age 39.

Before Tom, Helen had a couple of deadsh*t boyfriends, including a divorced father of two who promised he’d give her the baby she desperately wanted but failed to mention the vasectomy that he’d had five years prior.

So when Helen met Tom, time was of the essence. A year before they married, Helen and Tom were trying in earnest for a child. Not long after the honeymoon, and still missing those two precious tell tale lines on a pregnancy test kit, they approached a leading Australian IVF clinic.

Helen was overjoyed when after the first egg retrieval they had eight little opportunities for their much desired baby.

I went with Helen to numerous six week scans, only to find her rapidly diminishing egg supply hadn’t taken.

Listen to Lisa Oldfield talk about giving her dear friend a baby with Mia Freedman on No Filter. 

Helen was told her eggs “weren’t viable” in a way that seemed both clinical and cruel. The previously mentioned IVF panacea was no panacea at all, the very best technology could not right the issues associated with the age of Helen’s eggs. No matter how hard we wished, we could not stop time.

Seeing me with my little Harry caused Helen much angst. She’d get frustrated that I “always had the baby in tow” every time we caught up.

We saw less and less of each other, I felt guilty for having being so fortunate. She felt anger for exactly the same reason.

The final straw was when Helen failed to turn up to Harry’s 1st birthday. When I phoned her the following day to enquire about her whereabouts she said “I didn’t need you and your smarmy mates rubbing their babies in my face”.

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I’m ashamed to say that there were recriminations, “get f*ckeds” on both sides, and we vowed never to speak again.

Fast forward a couple of years, Bertie had now joined our family and I felt complete. Desperate to shift the baby weight, I took up running with my two little Jack Russell Terriers pulling me up hill and down dale.

Puffing along a main road, a flash European sports car screeched to halt right next to us. The window pressed down and there was Helen.

After a few awkward hellos and the honking of traffic behind her, Helen pulled in to a side street. We sat on the bonnet of her car. Each of us holding a Jack Russell.

On my way to party with the #beautifulpeople @midnightshiftsydney #rhos #rhosydney

A post shared by Lisa Oldfield (@lisalocks16) on

Helen explained that she and Tom had travelled to South Africa to source a donor egg (in South Africa, donors can sell their eggs for profit). After blowing in excess of $100K and putting their lives on hold for months, Helen and Tom came home, literally and metaphorically, empty.

I felt so sorry for her, but she seemed resigned to the fact that she’d “have fur babies and grow old disgracefully.” We hugged, we kissed and promised to catch up sans babies very soon.

That night, I started pondering. Perhaps I could donate my eggs to Helen and Tom. My husband David was horrified at the thought I’d have a baby with someone else – “but it would be your child!” and “it’s just weird” he muttered over and over again. To ameliorate his fears, I resorted to black humour. “Well, you never know when I might need a new kidney,” I said but he wasn’t convinced.

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I called Helen and suggested dinner and drinks and I just came right out and said it.

“What if I gave you my eggs?”

“Babe, that’s very sweet, but you’re probably too old,” Helen laughed, but at the same time looking in to my eyes searchingly.

“Oh f*ck off, I’m only 37. I’m 35 on Facebook!”

“You’re serious ? Sh*t, what does David think?”

Lisa and her husband David Oldfield. Image via Getty.

"He's totally cool with it," I lied. "Besides, we're both tall with dark hair and blue eyes, no one needs to know."

Helen took a huge gulp of her Sauvignon Blanc and said "let me talk to our fertility specialist."

The following afternoon Helen called.

"Look, you are older than the recommended donor age, but this might be my last chance, let's give it a shot."

Hmmm, I thought, now how to do all this without David? No such luck, one of the first requirements in becoming an egg donor is having your partner's consent. It took some convincing, prodding, pleading and multiple counselling sessions but eventually David came around.

We then had the legality of egg donation explained. I could withdraw my consent any time during the egg retrieval process, but once the egg had been fertilised, we had no legal right or ownership to the oocyte (that's a fancy term for an egg). We had no legal rights to the embryo, but conversely, we had no financial obligations to the child it would eventually become.

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After some blood tests, scans and gene screening, the fertility treatment started at the beginning of my next cycle. It's called hyperstimulation. Basically a cocktail of hormones I had to inject daily to ensure I generated as many eggs as possible.

I'd be lying if I said it was a cake-walk. It wasn't. I felt boated, sore and carried on like a horned hormonal beast from hell. I burst in to tears at the drop of a hat. Our au pair found me in the fetal position because someone had put the everyday cutlery in with the good cutlery. But I had to remind myself this was only temporary.

Egg retrieval day came, it was a minor procedure with sedation, and voila, we had 12 eggs (which I thought was pretty bloody good, but apparently 14 or more is ideal) they were fertilised and frozen, ready for Helen.

Listen to Lisa Oldfield's full No Filter interview with Mia Freedman here. (Post continues after audio.)

Long story short, we got lucky first go! I was excited. But also a little lost. I didn't know how involved I should be? Should I come along for scans or was I intruding? Was it appropriate to suggest baby names? How did Helen feel about things like circumcision?

So from that point on, I kind of took a back seat to proceedings. I was kept informed but wasn't really involved. Just under 8 months later, Helen was delivered a very bonny, very chubby little boy. She named him Connor*. I had a bad cold when he was born so I didn't get to see Connor until 10 days after he was born, by which time he was home from the hospital.

I held him, it felt lovely, but it didn't feel the same as when I had my boys. I didn't feel that instant connection. I searched his little face, looking for traces of me, or Harry or Bert, but to me he just looked like his dad. Much fairer and fatter than my boys.

But watching Helen expertly put little Connor to her breast like a pro and looking so utterly serene, I realised it was all worth it. Helen finally had what I had. I felt pride and maybe a little awkward, but figured this act had to counter many of the shitty things I had previously done in this life.

As Connor grows (he's now 2) I see more of me and particularly Harry in him. I never think of him as "mine" or "my son", I guess I just view him like I would a nephew or cousin. We haven't decided when, or indeed if, we tell Connor of the circumstances of his conception. That's something I'll leave to Helen and Tom and just follow their lead.

Click here to sign up for an information session with The Australian Egg Bank. 

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