Trine & Mikkel: For us, making an initial attempt with Trine’s eggs was part of the acceptance process

Hear Trine & Mikkel’s story about getting pregnant naturally and quickly with their first daughter - and then experiencing severe problems and losses, getting diagnosed with secondary infertility and early menopause - and then still winning the battle and having another beautiful daughter using donor eggs.

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22. juli - 2022

Tell us a bit about yourself and your husband Mikkel

Mikkel and I started out as best friends for three years before we became lovers. When we started talking about having children together, we had been lovers for 1.5 years and were on holiday in Uganda. At that time, we knew several couples who had difficulty having children, so of course we also wondered whether it would be a struggle for us.

Then we decided we were ready to become parents and have a go (we knew that it can take a really long time), and 3 weeks later there we were with a positive test. It all went so quickly, but we felt lucky and happy that it went so well. At that point, we were both working as early childhood educators, and got on so well together. Like many other young people, we were constantly out and about with friends. In January 2016, we were finally joined by Saga. The pregnancy was completely complication-free. It was a wonderful time.

It sounds like a great start to your family. When did you start wanting to expand your family further?

We started thinking about a sibling for Saga when she was 1.5 years old. Four months later we had a positive test and felt lucky again. We knew that one should not take having children so easily for granted.

We went for a nuchal translucency scan (November 2017). Unfortunately the doctors discovered that our little girl (Alva) was extremely ill. It was really difficult to understand. Because on the scans we could see her lying and swimming around. But at the same time we heard them saying that she had lymph and heart disease due to something called trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome). This means that the very next day there we were in the hospital, waiting to have a surgical abortion.

It was the most upsetting situation. Everything went so quickly. One day we were happy. The next day we lost our baby and all our dreams.

At this point, we did not yet know that it would happen repeatedly for the next 3 years.

How did you get out of this situation and start fertility treatment?

We started treatment a year after we lost Alva. This is probably where you can say that we were affected by secondary infertility. Meanwhile I had two excessively long cycles (55 and 70 days).

I went to the doctor on both occasions and was told that my period was on the way and I just needed some mental rest.

The latter at least was true, because I had in no way processed the loss of Alva. In the autumn of 2018, I was at the doctor’s again. This time Mikkel was with me and I wanted a referral to a gynaecologist. Fortunately, my doctor was sympathetic and we got an appointment for just one week later.

What was the next step with the gynaecologist?

When we met the gynaecologist for the first time, I was so overwhelmed and happy about the fact that we took hormones home that same day and were prepared for insemination.

We felt that someone was really willing to help us. I felt an inner hope and sense of calm.

We were both tested and Mikkel’s answer came back quickly. They were very positive. He was over the moon with the doctor’s message. We continued with the insemination. At the same time I gave blood samples that could provide information about my egg reserve, metabolism etc.

When I had my blood tests taken, the nurse at my GP’s surgery didn’t think the AMH blood test was necessary, because I was 32 years old at the time. That means I didn’t get the correct answers immediately, so the gynaecologist who was inseminating me ordered a new test. She already sensed after a few scans that there were very few eggs. At this point, I didn’t give it much thought. Previously getting pregnant had been easy.

I had forgotten all about that damned test when I came for a scan one day in December. At this point, we were in the process of our 2nd insemination, so that is what I was concentrating on.

But now the result of AMH test had arrived. I must admit I didn’t really listen this time either, because I had got pregnant easily in the past and therefore thought I should have plenty of eggs. But the number turned out to be very low (0.5). It came as a big shock, especially because it doesn’t get lower than that. It was very bad news.

Try to describe your feelings after this information?

My world fell apart. I only heard words like: Donor eggs, early menopause and infertility, and I started hyperventilating.

I was alone for the scan that day, and really wanted Mikkel right there by my side. But I was driven home, where I was overwhelmed by panic and negative thoughts.

I did not feel in any way like a woman or a mother. I went through what can best be described as an identity crisis in that first month after the news that I would probably not become a genetic mother to my children. If I could even get pregnant. I was jealous of our friends. I begrudged other people their positive experiences, and felt that our whole future had been taken from us. Worst of all, though, was my bad conscience about not being able to take care of Saga.

I was incapable of looking after the one child we were so lucky to have, and if I couldn’t, then I didn’t deserve to have more children either. I started to believe irrationally that ‘someone’ must be sitting and watching me and thinking: “Her there - she’s such a bad person she doesn’t deserve to have children.”

I honestly felt I was a bad person. That’s how I felt all the time. My self-esteem was almost non-existent and it was getting increasingly difficult to get along with other people. Even family and friends. Nor did I care what they did or how they were. In short, it was easiest for me to be alone.

How did Mikkel handle the situation and the information?

Mikkel constantly reminded me that the current Trine was a product of the situation we were caught up in. She wasn’t real. That was the greatest help for me throughout our many years of treatment and while we processed our grief.

The phrase ‘egg donation’ just increased my grief for Alva, and I felt that Alva was my last chance. Several times I screamed at Mikkel, telling him he should just move out. I told him it was okay for him to leave me, so Saga could have siblings, and at least he could live out his dream of more children. It was all very intense, and the whole foundation of our relationship was crumbling. Fortunately, Mikkel was always very calm and good at acting rationally in situations where I was out of my depth.

What was the next step?

Fortunately, we started IVF quickly one month after the news about my low egg reserve. The feeling of being up and running and being able to take some form of control helped me mentally, and countered my constantly depressing thoughts.

After two negative courses in IVF using my eggs, we ended up sitting like two zombies in the car back and forth to Aarhus, where we had bought treatments. We just drove, and when we arrived at the clinic, it struck us how strange our reality was. I cried every single time we stopped in the car park. No matter how many hormones they pumped into me, it was an uphill struggle. Like many other people, we became frustrated with the way in which treatment takes your freedom away from you. Everything had to be timed according to cycles, scans and egg implanting. It was difficult to plan work, caring for Saga and holidays.

How did you handle the inevitable financial burden?

We were further frustrated by the financial aspect of our desire for one more child. We had not previously received treatment, but, if you want a second child, you have to pay for it yourself.

We got help from the family. There was no way we could afford it with my early childhood educator’s salary and with Mikkel on a state education grant. After 4 attempts with my eggs, the dream felt even further away. We had got a total of two eggs out and neither stayed in place. It was a failure every time I had to lie on the couch, trying to find some kind of hope. We had a long talk with each other and both agreed that we would stop there. We agreed that, if one day we happened to have just a little energy left for this fight, then we should use donor eggs.

It helped my processing of the donor egg decision a lot to read about Epigenetics and to become part of a community on Facebook where we could all speak freely and frankly. I discovered that women who had had a child using donor eggs were just as much mothers and had the same deep feelings as genetic mothers.

What did you think about using donor eggs?

Trine: My first thoughts were that, if we really couldn’t succeed with my eggs, then the donor should be completely anonymous. I was so scared that the donor would come and take my baby from me because it was really hers. It was an irrational thought, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I found a community on Facebook for women in the same situation as me. Other women who fought and used donor eggs in their attempts.

I discovered I wasn’t alone when it came to the worries, emotions and oppressive thoughts.

Mikkel: I was never upset about the fact that we potentially had to use a donor to have the child we dreamed of. But nor was it me who was branded as being ‘wrong’. I had no doubt that, even if we used a donor, the child would be just as much ours as if he or she had been a product of Trine’s eggs. Whether I would feel the same, if it was my semen there was something wrong with, I dare not say. It would probably have taken a lot more mental processing. But I accepted and acknowledged Trine’s grief and could easily understand her frame of mind.

When you are suddenly deprived of such a fundamental biological and evolutionary trait, it is only natural that your self-perception and gender identity are really put to the test.

How did things proceed from there?

When we finally made the choice to find a donor, we filled out a form at the clinic. We tried to find a donor who matched me as much as possible in terms of hair colour, eye colour, height, physique and ethnicity. It felt very strange to incorporate another woman into our dream of having a child. Throughout our own IVF course, however, I began to change my attitude about whether the donor should be Anonymous, Open or Known. I had seen more and more people deciding to search for a donor themselves, thereby getting a known donor. This really appealed to me.

Not because we had to meet, talk or become best friends, but because I needed to demystify the process as much as possible and, particularly, have a human being I could THANK. It was a good feeling, knowing what the donor looked like and being able to get in touch even before our child would have the right to when they turned 18 (which is the rule for an open donor).

Searching for a donor

So, we created a post in a closed Facebook group and wrote a kind of ‘sales ad’. It felt a little strange to tell a group of unknown women about our struggle and needs, but we needed the greatest help and we got it. The name of our first donor is Camilla. She was already prepared to start treatment the week after our first contact on Facebook. It was great to talk to her and I can remember a sense of relief and hope for the first time in ages. The egg extraction went well (10 eggs). Subsequently, we unfortunately only had one usable egg, but the egg remained in place (August 2019), and we were happy!!

It was the first pregnancy with donor eggs, and I finally felt like a woman again. My body was working. It was capable of everything expected of a woman’s body. While happy, though, we were also very anxious and scared. We knew from Alva that the scans are not a walk in the park, and we paid for a lot of extra scans before the nuchal transparency scan, which we turned up for out of breath and with tears in our eyes. We coped with the scan, and for us it was the most important milestone. Now we dared to breathe again. In the 14 days prior to the gender scan, everything felt normal.

I genuinely felt good about other people’s pregnancies, and I had the energy to do something extra for the people I cared about. I had missed it so much.

But then we suffered another misfortune. The gender scan in week 15 revealed that Ask was seriously ill with a brain disease called Holo Procensafeli. This means that, if lucky, he would only survive 5 weeks after birth. That is, if he could even survive the pregnancy. Once again we had to make the decision to say goodbye to our child. I gave birth to him in week 16. As we sat with him in our arms he was truly ours. Equally mine and Mikkel’s That was a consolation, given the intense grief we were experiencing. We had to contact a donor again, since there were no more frozen eggs left.

My first thought was to ask Camilla, who had just helped us, but due to the risk of recurrence, the doctors did not recommend it. We got in touch with Jannie instead.

I was so impressed and deeply grateful that other women were willing to help in this way. To be able to give another family the greatest gift.

You tried again. Tell me how things went from there.

Our donor actually spent her Christmas break creating life for us and had 14 eggs extracted, 4 of which could be frozen. Our 1st attempt was not successful, and the egg did not stay in place. We managed to implant the 2nd egg before Denmark locked down due to Corona. At first, being isolated at home felt wonderful. We had almost been longing for that for 2 years.

It meant that there were no maternity visits or coffee parties with bad advice and well-informed remarks from someone who also once knew someone who had lost their child. There was just space and time to be together - the two of us and Saga.

Fortunately, the 2nd egg remained in place (March 2020). Unfortunately, I had a miscarriage in week 7. It was an intensely powerless to suddenly experience that loss at home, unable to do anything while your body detached the life that had been growing in your stomach. Suddenly being isolated at home felt like torture, because we were forced to take a break. It was hard to wait for the clinics to reopen so we could continue our fight. I was already fighting against time, because I was so passionate about not having too big an age difference between Saga and our next child.

You went for your 3rd attempt with eggs from your other donor. How did you feel?

By the time we could start again, it was July. The 3rd egg did not stay in place. So now everything depended on the last egg. Luckily it remained in place and I got pregnant with Asta. During the pregnancy we had extra scans and also paid for a 3D scan to be able to see how wonderful she was. Seeing her before she was born is nice for me, as I was processing the fact I had got a little cell from another woman. But I needed to feel a greater attachment to Asta than I had first thought. I got this through the scans where I could see her smile, suck on her fingers and just play around inside my stomach.

Did you share the process with anyone along the way?

It can be a huge dilemma, deciding whether to share the fact that you are receiving treatment with donor eggs. I was very ashamed at first, feeling I might have done something wrong and did not understand why suddenly there were no more eggs. It was shameful and I therefore felt alienated and completely alone.

We chose not to keep the fact that we had used donor eggs a secret, because the best way for me to dispel my sense of shame was to speak openly and be proud of the help we had received. I had also been afraid of hearing people say things like: “It’s funny - she doesn’t really look like you”. So, we preferred to talk about it openly and frankly. I knew I would be hurt by those kinds of comments, even though I was well aware that it was unlikely Asta would look like me.

We were also already talking openly about our story with Saga. It is very abstract to understand, but they both need to know that we received help and there are no taboos.

We are proud of our story. Asta and Saga could not be more wanted. We talk in the same way about Ask and Alva, whom we lost, and Saga often refers to them as her siblings. That is really touching, and it means a lot that they are not only part of our story but of Saga’s too.

How did the process affect you - as a couple?

During the years we were struggling with (secondary) infertility and the grief over Alva and Ask, we became closer. It was us against the rest of the world. Even though the world wanted the best for us, it was our personal battle. We gave ourselves licence to articulate any thoughts whatsoever we might have. We had like a common refuge, where everything was allowed, without being caught off guard by rational thoughts from sweet, well-meaning friends.

Several times we were advised cheer each other up on bad days. We quickly found out that didn’t work for us. It seemed fake and staged. If we could not be 100% in the emotions when they occurred, it felt like an explosion in the head.

I think we were particularly good at noticing each other’s needs. When I thought I was the biggest coward and just wanted to escape, Mikkel knew that I really just needed to be held. And if I (Trine) had a bad day, I didn’t try to pull Mikkel down, if he had a good day. We thus accepted that we could not always be synchronous in the life we had unfortunately ended up in.

We used a lot of humour. Being able to see the comic side of life when everything else was often grief, fertility treatment, frustrations, worries etc., was a relief, and as if you had just surfaced after sucking some oxygen, before diving down again.

Did either of you get help in terms of processing some of the emotions?

I had a hard time. The feeling that my head would never switch off was tough. I went to a psychologist a few times. It was mostly to process the grief, the feeling of being inadequate, and the fact I was finding more and more things meaningless. I had mood swings and missed the life we had together before we lost Alva and Ask, and then withdrew from friends and family, since eventually couldn’t stand all the pregnancy announcements. At one point we had one a week! It was way too overwhelming. Most of all we wanted to opt out of the community and come back when we were out on the famous ‘other side’. I was constantly bitter and thought life was unfair. While other people went through their pregnancies and all the scans without friction, we faced one misfortune after another.

Often I could not bear to get together with acquaintances and chat superficially - “How are you?” etc. Because I couldn’t give a satisfactory answer. There were simply too many things to talk about. The fact that I couldn’t cope with sentences - such as “Now you should be happy that you have Saga”, “It’s good that the doctors discovered Ask and Alva were ill” and “There’s probably a meaning to it all” - is another subject. On the other hand, Saga was a huge help to me, and the fact that she makes us happy every day helps keep me on top of things.

Mikkel was there to remind me that the feelings and the ugly thoughts were not me, but the way I was at the time as a result of the situation I was in. The old Trine was right behind. He made sure I didn’t lose myself.

Did you have any concerns regarding Saga?

During the treatments, first with my eggs and then with donor eggs, I was very sad that Saga was getting older and older, and the age difference between her and a living sibling was only getting bigger. I had no doubt that they would get the most out of being close age-wise. Couples we knew were having children at two-year intervals. As an only child, this meant a lot to me. Since we got Asta, the age difference issue is not an issue. The two girls get so much out of each other. We can explain to Saga why we just have to wait with something because Asta needs something different. Saga has even been a huge help in taking care of her, fetching things (chocolate for her mum who is breastfeeding, because Asta also has to have cocoa) and enjoyed a little extra iPad time at times when mum and dad needed to catch up on their sleep.

How are you today?

Mikkel: When I see Trine today and see her sitting with Asta, I wish I could travel back in time to the Trine who was so desperate and show her a glimpse of the reality that is fortunately dominant today. Asta is our child. And Trine is Asta’s mother just as much as she is Saga’s mother. My advice to people considering donor eggs would therefore be: “Do it! If that’s what it takes, do it! It’s your child, and you know it the second you get two lines.”

For us, making an initial attempt with Trine’s eggs was part of the acceptance process. But if we had known how natural it would become and feel with donor eggs, then we would have started a bit earlier.

The pregnancy with Asta was nine long months and filled with worries and anxiety about losing her. It was therefore surreal to experience how quickly and naturally we became a family of four - exactly what we had dreamed of for so long. The worries were quickly overshadowed by all the practical things like breastfeeding, lack of sleep and all the new roles we now had to cope with. It was such a relied to be able to let go of the anxiety that had been part of our lives since 2017.

In April 2022, Asta turned 1. It was a fantastic milestone for us. It was a day of celebration and many thoughts about the time we have been through together. Her beautiful 6-year-old sister is the best sister in the world, and we have found peace and arrived at an existence where we don’t feel we have to be prepared for the next fight. For that we are so grateful. Life’s ups and downs seen trivial small and making liver pâté sandwiches is fun. The important thing is that everyone is healthy and having a great time. It is guaranteed to sound clichéd phrases, but we feel all the years of misfortune and grief have led to a stronger bond between us. We have got to know one another in a way that very few couples are fortunate to do.

The future is difficult to predict, but we have 8 eggs frozen, and we will probably hold onto them for as long as possible.

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