Walking along a busy Melbourne footpath, with deafening peak-hour traffic screeching in one ear and a dial tone in the other, Fiona Wainrit waited anxiously for her fertility specialist to answer the phone.
The seconds went by slowly, and Fiona couldn’t help thinking, hoping, that this could be the moment that she had been dreaming about for so long.
But, she remained cautious – a previous miscarriage and failed IVF round were memories fresh in her mind.
“I remember it very distinctly, it was very noisy and I had to go down a laneway to hear her,” Fiona said of that life-changing conversation with her doctor.
Fortunately, it was good news.
“The specialist said ‘you’re very pregnant. You’re not just pregnant, but you’re very pregnant’.
“I was in disbelief, I was genuinely convinced it hadn’t worked,” Fiona said.
Just two years earlier, Fiona’s dreams of having a baby seemed to be fading. At the age of 38, her relationship with a long-term partner, the man she thought could be ‘the one’, had ended and she was at a crossroads.
“I knew for a long time I wanted to have kids. I was approaching 40, my biological clock was ticking and I really wanted to preserve my fertility at the time.
“I never thought I’d be in that position, but there I was,” she told The New Daily.
So, Fiona looked into egg-freezing to buy more time. Fiona refers to this as ‘circumstantial infertility’.
“I wasn’t doing it for medical reasons at that stage. I wasn’t sure if at that point in time I was ready to have a child by myself, to be a single mum by choice.
Fiona is part of a growing trend among women who are opting to freeze their eggs for social reasons, with numerous fertility specialists telling The New Daily that they have experienced a surge in demand.
According to latest national figures, there were 1790 egg-freezing cycles, for both medical and social reasons, in 2016 – a 48 per cent increase on the previous year.
Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that most of these women were not deliberately putting off motherhood for a career.
Rather, several surveys – including a recent Australian study – found that increasingly these women were freezing their eggs because they were not with Mr Right during their childbearing years. Egg freezing was their backup plan.
“My ‘circumstantial infertility’ certainly wasn’t by lack of trying to meet a partner. I’ve been in a number of relationships,” the Melbourne-based talent acquisition manager said.
“However, I haven’t been successful at meeting the right person who was ready to raise a family with me.
“I didn’t intentionally delay it for work or otherwise.”
After doing extensive research and speaking to doctors, Fiona started the egg-freezing process at the Monash IVF clinic: there was the paperwork, medical tests, fertility counselling, sorting out the finances, 10 days of hormone injections and eventually the multiple egg retrieval and freeze.
Fiona said that throughout this period she remained hopeful she would still meet the right person to have a baby with – but she didn’t want to rely on ‘Plan A’.
“I’m not with him now, but I met my subsequent partner before I did the egg freeze, when I was already underway with the administrative process.
“We had been dating for a few months, and I was very transparent with him about what I was doing. And he understood … he was very supportive,” Fiona said.
But 12 months down the track, she knew he wasn’t ready to have kids in her timeframe, and the relationship ended.
“I certainly didn’t want to pressure him, you can’t force someone to do something they’re not ready to do. But that was when I decided to embark on that journey of becoming a solo mum,” she said.
“I decided to go down the donor path. But I didn’t take the decision lightly.
“I very carefully considered every aspect of raising a child as a solo parent – financially, socially, emotionally – and made an informed decision to go it alone,” she said.
Fiona also had to wrap her head around another reality: IVF success rates.
According to research, one in three women starting IVF will have a baby after their first cycle, but this figure dwindles with age. By the time a woman is 40, her odds of having a live birth after one cycle are around one in 10.
The chances of having a baby from a frozen egg can also vary, especially if the woman is over 38 years old at the time of freezing.
Though armed with a healthy dose of reality, Fiona remained positive and transferred her eggs from Monash IVF to City Fertility Clinic to begin the process.
However, it didn’t all go according to plan.
Her first embryo transfer, using one of her frozen eggs and donor sperm, didn’t work. The following month, the egg didn’t survive the thawing process. The specialists tried again, and again. But before long, all the eggs had been used up.
After this, Fiona contemplated going through another round of hormone injections to freeze more eggs. Instead, she opted to go with IUI treatment, or intrauterine insemination, which involved injecting donor sperm into the uterus during her natural egg cycle.
“The stats were extremely low based on the average success rate in my age group.
“I tried to stay as positive as I could. You can let the failed tests get to you and I didn’t want to become a product of that. I just looked after myself, that self-care is really important, whether it’s yoga … or talking about it with your support network.
“Having said that, I was very fortunate that it didn’t take me long to become pregnant. I know that’s not the case for everyone. I have close friends who took 10 years to be blessed with a beautiful baby,” Fiona said.
Now 41, and holding her happy and healthy six-week old son Zac in her arms, Fiona said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a very personal decision and one that is not right for everyone,” she said.
“A child fundamentally needs love and believe me, to go to such great lengths to have a baby, he is very wanted and extremely loved.
“Some may argue that there is no ‘father figure’. However, my son has strong male role models in his life, so won’t be missing out in this regard.”
And even though she didn’t get a result from the frozen eggs, Fiona said she doesn’t regret her decision to take this step.
“It was the right choice at the time,” she said.
“If you want to have a baby, you want to have a baby, you’re craving it at every level, emotionally, physically and spiritually. The egg freeze gave me that peace of mind, and you never know what it can lead to.”