How this Infertility Warrior is Advocating for Donor Conceived People – Including her Daughter.

Rebecca Hochreiter

CMO of GoStork

In 2012, newlywed Elena Ridley started a blog to document her pregnancy. Little did she know that it would take over five years, including four different fertility doctors, multiple failed transfers and a selfless act by a total stranger, before she and her husband could welcome their first child: Georgia. Throughout the years, the blog and her instagram account evolved into an outlet where Elena could share their journey…  it also led to their egg donor! Today, Elena advocates for donor conceived people, helping ensure that their voices are heard and educating others in the process. During our conversation, Elena shares her story, including how she talks to her daughter about her conception, the beautiful relationship they have with their egg donor and her family, and her advice for intended parents considering egg donation as the next step in their journey. 

Elena Ridley with her beautiful family

1.    Your journey to create your beautiful family was far from easy – can you share a bit about your path to parenthood and your daughter Georgia? 

My husband Joe and I began trying for a baby right after we got married on 9/24/11, I never thought we’d have any issues getting pregnant because I always had normal cycles & had no history of infertility in my family.  We tried for a year and nothing happened so we did a few initial tests such as semen analysis, HSG, and preliminary bloodwork all of which came back normal.  We tried again for another year and finally were referred to an RE in September of 2013.  We did an IUI right away and it failed so we jumped into a second one using injectable meds and it worked!  My beta was on the lower end so we were very cautiously optimistic but our second beta did double, unfortunately the next day I began bleeding and experienced a chemical pregnancy.  We moved forward with IVF in July of 2014, we were extremely hopeful that IVF would work for us.  I had my first retrieval and had 34 eggs retrieved, 21 fertilize, and 7 make it to blast.  We transferred 1 embryo and unfortunately that cycle failed.  We did 2 more frozen transfers that year, the last one being in December & they also both failed.  We regrouped and got a second opinion in January of 2015 & 6 months later we did another IVF cycle at our new clinic w/ much different results, 10 eggs retrieved, only 5 mature, and they recommended a day-3 transfer because of our embryos being poor quality.  The cycle failed & at my WTF appointment my doctor said I should consider egg donation.  I remember being really upset with him so I left that clinic with nothing but money spent and never looked back.  At our first clinic we still had frozen embryos so we went back and tried another FET with our remaining embryos, we transferred 2 and the cycle failed again!  We were extremely discouraged but we persevered and that November of 2015 we went to a 3rd clinic where we decided to try PGS testing of our embryos, we had 16 retrieved and 11 fertilize.  On day 5 we were expecting a call with the number of embryos sent off to testing but instead we received a call asking us to come in to do a transfer that day (at our clinic 2 hours away) because none of the embryos were blasts yet and they wanted us to at least be able to try with the embryos we had.  We transferred 2 embryos and the other 5 all arrested development. I knew at this point that my second doctor was right about my eggs and that I probably needed an egg donor.  Our last cycle with my own eggs also failed and I was ready to close the door on my own genetics after 6 transfers of 9 embryos.  I was ready to become a mom and stop looking for answers as to why my eggs weren’t working.  While in the TWW of our very last cycle w/ my eggs I got a message on Facebook from a girl that had been following our story.  It was 5 days before Christmas.  She offered herself as a surrogate or egg donor and felt a calling to help us.  She said she could tell how much we wanted to be parents and really wanted to help us.  Her and I got to know each other via messaging over a few weeks and I learned she was a mom to two kids, a L&D nurse, and that she lived in Georgia.  We lived in Illinois so we knew that the logistics would be challenging but I mentioned her offer to my husband and told him I felt a strong connection to her and felt she was sincere in wanting to help us.  She wanted nothing out of it but for us to become parents.  We agreed to fly to Georgia in March of 2016 to meet them and our new RE.  We instantly connected with them and decided we wanted to pursue egg donation with her.  In May she began her protocol and on June 16th we were back in GA where we transferred 1 perfect 4AA embryo.  On June 27th I found out my beta was 967 & I was pregnant!  We welcomed our daughter Georgia June on Feb 22, 2017!  We have tried 3 times now to make her a sibling and unfortunately we have suffered 2 losses and had a completely failed transfer.  We still have 2 embryos on ice and are still hopeful that one day we can make Georgia a big sister.

A unique bond between two families!

2.    What inspired you to start sharing your journey more publicly and educating others about the different ways families are created?  Was it scary at first to open up? 

I had originally started a blog in 2012 to document our pregnancy but then I never actually got pregnant and it evolved into a blog about infertility.  Instagram hadn’t been out long yet, but I created an account there and started sharing openly in 2013 when we started our actual treatments.  There was such a small community of us there which has now grown to the hundreds of thousands and some of us are still advocating and educating on that platform.  Many have moved on but I will always be so grateful to everyone in our community, past, present, and future for their support, it’s truly the worst club with the best members.  It was important for me to share my story because I knew I wasn’t the only one out there going through this, then when egg donation became part of our story I felt even stronger about sharing because there are stigmas around anything that isn’t “traditional”; there are still people who feel that IVF is playing God or that it’s wrong, and that we should “just adopt” and those people need the most education.  Now my voice has shifted a bit and I’m evolving into more of an advocate for donor conceived people (DCP) being that I have one, I want her voice and the voices of other DCPs to be heard loud and clear—what I’ve learned is that their biggest concern is anonymous donation and the damage that it does to a DCP as an adult.  I have so much to learn still and I try to connect with DCPs and listen to them as hard as it is sometimes for me to hear about all of their concerns so I can make sure my own DCP feels heard and understands her story and feels the same amount of pride in her story as we do.

3.  Where did you find support while TTC and what would you tell those just beginning this process to expect as far as the emotional journey ahead? Husband, family, and friends have always been an amazing support, they all listen and try to understand me so much & have always been here for us through all these years, I am so blessed with personal support.  But beyond that our community—my blog followers, Instagram, Facebook; social media can be such a hard space to be in sometimes but in all reality I credit it to some degree in making me a parent because it connected my egg donor and I, we never would’ve known each other if it weren’t for social media.  Again, we are in the worst club with the best members and although there have been moments where our community has experienced some strife, overall we are warriors who support each other in every stage of the infertility battle.  

4.    We recently crossed paths on a webinar all about normalizing conversations around third party reproduction.  Speaking of that, what is your approach to telling Georgia her birth story as well as explaining it to others if/when it comes up with someone new for the first time?

This is your most important work as a RP (recipient parent)—aside from raising a human being which is pretty freaking hard sometimes, you’re raising one that has a unique story.  You’re responsible for telling them that there was a THIRD PERSON involved in their conception and in some cases they may never know that person.  In our case we used a known donor so we have access to her and her family and that truly is such a blessing for us and for Georgia, but that isn’t always the case.  Since our donor lives states away we try to talk about her often since they can’t see each other as much as we’d like them to.  We created a photobook through a company called Artifact Uprising where I put pictures of our journey, photos of me after a surgery, pictures of IVF meds, pictures of us at our clinic, and then pictures of our donor and her family, I hand wrote on the pages Georgia’s story, we read it a few times a month.  Since Georgia is only 4.5 years old she still doesn’t really understand what it means that she comes from an egg donor and that mommy’s eggs were broken so her egg donor Amy had to give some of her eggs to mommy, but we’ve been telling her that story since she was about 2 years old now.  We actually gave her the book on her second birthday.  Sometimes we tell others that she is from an egg donor and we address questions and just explain it as best as we can depending on the situation.  Not every situation warrants the need for that specific information to be known but sometimes it does and we just address it on a case by case basis in a way.

5.     What is a top piece of advice or words of wisdom for new intended parents or fertility patients just beginning their own family building journey. Trust your gut.  It’s simple, it’s common sense, it can be applied in MANY of the situations we are put in in life, including infertility. My gut was absolutely telling me that I need to move on from my eggs, and I credit it with preparing me to accept that my genetics were not going to be part of my child.  For us, trusting the timing of how things unfolded was also a lesson that I’ll never forget.  If things did not happen EXACTLY how they did, if we had not tried all the things we tried, if we didn’t have to face the hurdles and all of the delays and things that come up in infertility treatment then our daughter may not even exist so we know that for us, despite all of those setbacks, the timing of our journey was exactly as it was meant to be in order for us to be parents to Georgia.  

Thank you for sharing your story so openly Elena, and for supporting so many other intended parents and donor conceived people on a daily basis! 

Intended parents, check out Elena’s Instagram account for more practical and inspirational advice.