It’s June 15th 2018, and we have an appointment with the UZ Gent reproductive team.
We make it on time and sign in. It’s a warm day, and Jo eats her lunch while sitting on a wall just outside the hospital while I twitchily play with my phone. I hate hospitals. Every fibre in my body is screaming that I don’t want to be here.
This is an audition, I tell myself. The hospital has to convince us that we want to do this, not the other way around.
It’s not true, of course. They can deny us treatment for any number of reasons. If they don’t like us. If we don’t look right. If we’re not healthy, or thin, or rich enough.
The reproductive health department is on the first floor, in a smaller, almost intimate ward, or as far as that’s possible in a huge hospital such as this one.
We sit down in a waiting area, and talk about stupid things, silly things, anything because I want Jo to keep my mind occupied.
The gynaecologist calls us in almost-on-time, and we take a seat in her bright white office to go over a huge questionnaire I had to fill out the week before. Which medication did my mother take when she was pregnant with me? Which relatives have had problems conceiving? Any miscarriages in the last three generations?
The only question we stumble over is Jo’s height and weight, as we’re planning for me to be the one whose body is this going to happen to, so neither of us expected that to be an issue. She has to take out her phone to convert inches into centimetres, and we try to laugh it off.
They can deny us treatment. If they think we aren’t proper parenting material, they can say no.
I have to undress right there in the office, which I hadn’t fully expected. I’m instructed to lie down on the examination chair with my legs wide open, and there’s the familiar dildo-like contraption with a dollop of lube on top. It’s not my first time having that done, but it’s still uncomfortable as hell.
It hurts when the gynaecologist vigorously turns it inside of me to see my uterus and assorted bits, and Jo is looking decidedly pale watching me. I know she is way more scared of these things than I am, so I keep on joking and smiling through it. It’s fine. It hurts. It’s fine.
After more discussion, the doctor seems pleased with my general chances. As we walk out, she wishes us a happy pregnancy. So did we pass? Are we good enough yet?
Back to the waiting room we go.
There is a large glass box filled with birth cards left there at the fertility department. Evidence of hundreds of babies being born, all stacked up. I imagine us sending them a card as well a year or so from now. Much love, Nele and Jo.
We wait longer for the therapist. Still, it doesn’t seem like anyone is overly busy around here. These people have time for us, and it’s nice, but it also scares me. I am afraid they’ll see through us somehow and know that deep down, we’re not perfect. Not good enough.
We spend more than 1.5 hours in the therapist’s office, parrying questions left and right. Have you thought this through? Have you always wanted children? Will your child have a male presence in their life?
I’m constantly thinking about whether we’ll be accepted. Do we laugh enough? Seem relaxed enough? The therapist looks positive either way, so that’s good, that’s…
We can’t breathe yet. She explains that if we want to go ahead, the nurses, gynaecologists, and the therapists will discuss our case in a team meeting, and only if they all agree we are suitable we can start treatment.
She takes out a bunch of paperwork next.
In Belgium, we will have to do at least six rounds of insemination in the hospital (IUI), whether we want to or not.
Using donor sperm is only legal if it’s entirely anonymous. There is an option for semi-anonymous in case the law ever changes, but we can’t choose anything about it. They’ll pick a donor for us, and we will know nothing about him. Even if we pick something as minor as hair colour they can’t guarantee that they’ll give it to us.
You don’t have a say in this.
Eventually we leave and wander towards the tram, feeling overwhelmed and more than drained.
We go to McDonald’s and morosely eat fries while I feel a tension headache rattle through my head. Not surprising, considering we just sat through a total of FOUR HOURS of information and interrogation and examination.
I have to admit they were far friendlier than I had expected. They really did seem to care, and it feels as if we would have been accepted for treatment if we wanted to be.
But – and maybe this is selfish of me – I don’t want to be made to feel like we should be oh-so-grateful that we’re even allowed to try for a child at all. I don’t enjoy the idea of having to ask permission, when any random straight person can just go have a drunken one-night stand. Why do we need to be scrutinised? Why do we need to show that we’re worth it?
More importantly, I want to know at least something of the man whose child I will carry. I don’t want to have to hope that they’ll give us someone decent, I want to be the one to make that choice.
And I want to decide which treatments I will subject myself to and when.
I want agency in this. All of it.
Is that so strange?
I would want to know about the donor too, it seems like such a basic thing to know about the person who is providing half of the DNA of your child… It’s a difficult decision to make. Good luck to you both xx ❤
It feels so essential to me to know at least something. For the child, but for myself as well. I think I would spend my entire pregnancy worrying myself sick about who this person was if I didn’t have any information whatsoever. When we started this we had no idea how many difficult decisions we would have to make… but we will get there in the end! Thank you <3 xx
Wow I had no idea laws in Belgium were so different from those in the Netherlands!
We can quite easily order sperm semi-anonymously (from a bank of choice, like Cryos in Denmark), our clinic keeps it for us, and the treatment (IUI and IVF) are both covered in our basic insurance plan. Have you considered crossing the border and trying to conceive here instead?
It’s crazy how different the laws are. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the religious background of both countries? Belgium has long been more Catholic and conservative.
We have considered going to the Netherlands, I am writing a post about all the other treatment options abroad as well as other options at home we’re looking at now. My insurance refuses to pay for any treatment outside a select few hospitals though, so it would be very expensive. It’s such a difficult (and unfair) decision to make.
Im so sorry you two are facing this. I wish it were just a tad easier for you two to start your family! In the end you’ll get there, know that we’ll be rooting for you along the way!
Aw, thank you! It has been brilliant getting so much support online, there is this whole community out there that we had no idea existed! It really does make a difference to know we’re not alone in this. <3
Wow 1.5 hours?? When we met our therapist (from AZ Brugge) it lasted 15 mins tops and it was done and he never asked us about a male role model or whatever. I get what you mean about the anonymous donors, though we were lucky in having more infos. We’re an interracial couple and there’s such a lack of non-white donors that I got to choose amongst the few available.
Btw just found your blog and sending much luck in this journey.
The 1.5 hours appointment was for lesbian couples, from what I understand it’s even worse as a single woman, then you would have to go three times as well as pay a chunk of money up front. It feels so horrible that they can do that. I’m glad you had a better experience though, it’s good to hear that there are other policies in other hospitals out there. Great that you got more information on your donor as well, it’s such an essential thing! I have heard from some people that they really don’t care who it is, but I can’t get over that bit and I feel like I need to know at least something. Thank you so much, I hope you’ll stick around for the ride! ;)
Oh we’re a lesbian couple too lol. I asked my wife if I was remembering correctly, it’s been a while since we started this journey and she confirmed that it was like 20 mins, 1.5 seems so excessive!! It really is hard all the hoops we have to jump through to become parents…we have a 4 yrs old and a 7 months old now and of course it’s all worth it but it’s such a difficult journey.
It makes me wonder what it’s like for straight couples now. Or maybe we just looked especially shady? *laughs* Awesome that it all worked out for you and that you have two kids, hopefully we’ll get there too some day (soon!).
I’m glad it went relatively well. But you’re right, why do we need such scrutiny, all those tests etc?! Our appointment there is next month, I sort of know what to expect now (still very nervous!).
Some questions that we were asked and that might be useful for you to prepare an answer to in advance:
-Height and weight for both of you
-Jobs and education
-How long have you been a couple?
-When did you first talk about having children together?
-Have you always wanted children?
-Did you ask a friend to ‘donate’ for you? Why did/didn’t you?
-Will your child have a male presence in their life?
-Have you told your parents that you are doing this? Your friends?
-Have you ever been in therapy? When, for how long, and why?
Wishing you the best of luck!!!