Single mum’s heartbreak: My IVF babies will be orphans
Samantha McConnell spent £15,000 on IVF to become a single mum, but after just five short years, she was given a tragic diagnosis…
For ages, I longed to be a mother, to have a tiny person to nurture and cherish. So, when I decided to have IVF and have two children alone, I knew I’d give them everything I had, that I’d love them enough for two parents.
But while I was ready – practically, financially and emotionally – for my babies, something happened I could never have prepared for.
Two months ago, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just weeks to live.
I’m leaving my beloved daughter and son as orphans. The mere thought of it is breaking my heart.
Being a single mum wasn’t my first choice. But when I hit 38 and discussed having a family with my partner of nearly a decade, he confessed that, having already had two children from a previous relationship, he didn’t want more.
Faced with the prospect of not having a family, I realised how much I wanted one. To fall pregnant, give birth, the whole shebang… So, we split up.
Knowing I couldn’t hang about for Mr Right, I looked into adoption, but it was a lengthy process.
Then, I came across the European Sperm Bank in Denmark. They provided a picture of the donor and a voice recording to pass on to any children conceived.
I paid £2,000 for sperm from a 35-year-old medical student. Luckily, I’d worked in the RAF for 20 years and could afford the hefty fees.
In May 2010, I had three attempts at IUI – where they placed the sperm inside my uterus. Although I tried to keep my feelings in check, I was devastated when the attempts failed.
I moved on to IVF, a more invasive treatment where my egg was fertilised with sperm in a laboratory before being replaced inside me.
After my first try, two healthy embryos were implanted and I also had five frozen ones to use in the future.
I was on a break in Tuscany, Italy, to celebrate my 40th birthday when I suspected I might be pregnant. Every time I passed someone smoking, my stomach turned.
I was too scared to hope, and even a positive pregnancy test didn’t convince me. In fact, it took four!
I had terrible morning sickness and a traumatic labour in December 2012, but none of that mattered when I
first held my daughter, Grace.
Back at our Lincoln home, no heaps of dirty nappies or long sleepless nights could tarnish my excitement. Motherhood was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.
Grace was two when I decided to give her a sibling. Both of my parents and my sister had passed away and, without a father, she’d need all the family I could give her.
I’d hoped I might have met someone by then, but my focus had been on Grace rather than dating.
I returned to the clinic in December 2015 and was soon pregnant again.
Grace was delighted, reading stories and singing to my bump. When I welcomed Rory into the world in August 2016, I felt the same rush of love. My babies had come with a £15,000 price tag, but they were worth it.
As any parent knows, juggling two children can be tiring, so when I developed chest pains in August this year, I assumed I was run down.
It faded, only to be replaced by a sickness bug. Tired and itchy the week after that, I was worried enough to call my doctor.
They took blood tests but further stabbing pains led to me being admitted to hospital. After an ultra-sound and MRI scan, a doctor approached with a box of tissues.
‘There’s a mass around your liver and lungs,’ he said.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned… ‘Love with all your heart, for as long as you can.’ I have already held a ‘wake’ to say goodbye to my friends and family
They couldn’t diagnose me until I’d undergone more tests, but they were pretty sure it was pancreatic cancer.
When I found my voice, I asked about treatment. But the doctor shook his head.
‘It’s too advanced,’ he said. ‘I’d start making a will.’
His words left me terrified, I started scribbling words on a napkin before a solicitor could come out the next day.
And while I had the pen in my hand, I also started writing letters to Grace and Rory, explaining how much I loved them. I never wanted to leave you so soon.
When the results came back, the prognosis was terrible. At 46, I was given only six to eight weeks to live.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to tell Grace. ‘I don’t want you to die,’ she said. ‘Neither do I,’ I whispered.
She rubbed my hand. ‘ Will that help the cancer go away?’ she asked. When I shook my head, she pointed to a trolley full of tablets. ‘ What about medicine?’
‘It won’t work, darling,’ I told her gently.
Rory’s just two years old. He doesn’t fully understand, but he knows something is wrong. I spend hours cuddling him, making sure he feels comforted, protected, for as long as I can. Not wanting Grace and Rory to go through the trauma of a funeral, last month I held a ‘wake’ to say goodbye to my friends and my family. I wore a bright pink wig and a floaty kaftan. More than 100 people turned up.
My cousin and her husband are going to look after Grace and Rory. I can’t bear the thought of them forgetting me. Along with countless letters, I’ve filled memory boxes and had teddy bears made out of my clothes for them to cuddle.
I’ve even recorded myself reading bedtime stories and singing lullabies.
While other people tell their loved ones to think of them when they see a robin or a white feather, I’ve told Grace and Rory that when they get an itchy nose, it’ll be me.
My future is so uncertain now, and I may not be here when you’re reading this, but I do know my love for Grace and Rory will never die.
Samantha has written letters and cards for Grace and Rory to treasure
Making memories: a day trip for Samantha and her children Samantha conceived Rory and Grace against all odds