Eva María Bernal has become a reference in the world of assisted reproduction, both by her personal experience and the work being done in her current project “Creating a family”. She is not a psychologist or coach, but through her experience as the mother of three children born through assisted reproduction, helping and advising all patients who are in a process of assisted reproduction. On her website you can find workshops, support groups, support and information, among which stands out her book “My assisted motherhood”.
Very kindly, Eva has given us an interview to learn more about her history and responds clearly to some questions that may arise surrounding the assisted reproduction.
1) What are the main fears before beginning assisted reproduction treatment?, Is the fear that you have during a treatment, different to the fear that arises when it is confirmed that you are pregnant and during pregnancy?
The family model to which you belong is very important. It is not the same to be a heterosexual couple who is looking for a child to be a couple of the same sex or a woman alone, where assisted reproduction becomes the only vehicle that will facilitate the desired pregnancy. The family model is a key element to deal with an assisted reproduction treatment, but we must also take into account the personality of each one.
Fear felt during treatment is different from the one shown with the confirmation of the pregnancy, however it can be just as difficult or worse at this late stage. You think that the positive pregnancy test is a panacea, but when you’re pregnant, it starts the panic to lose it.
Fear goes through different stages, regardless of the family model to which you belong, even having had children. Many women who have become mothers may again experience fear at the thought of not getting pregnant again when they want a new baby.
2) How should one prepare psychologically to deal with an assisted reproduction treatment?, do you think that it is harder to face it for a single mother than for a woman in a couple? From your own experience as well as from women who you are helping.
For a single mother, today, it is no harder to deal with an assisted reproduction treatment. Single mothers are women who have a very defined personality, often have a very organized mind and are very responsible. These features are basic, not only in their daily lives, but also to be able to have children and bring up a family. Single mothers must be strong emotionally and have problem-solving capacity.
In the case of women within a couple, more things can be shared and it is perhaps easier to relax, but a single mother must be a woman of many resources.
It is interesting to note that single women, when they have children, feel very supported and accompanied by family members, friends and neighbours who are willing to help with everything you need. In the situation of an unmarried woman, people are much more receptive to help.
3) As a single mother, what advice would you give to single women who are planning to become mothers and have doubts or fears of facing an assisted reproduction treatment?
When a woman thinks that it is the time of being a mother, it is important to give yourself a time and mature it well, i.e. be fully convinced that you want to have a child and that it is really the moment. It is important to be clear that becoming a single mother does not mean being alone. There are many associations and media that can give support. I am one of the founders of the Association “Mothers by choice” and we offer support to single mothers in a different way: activities, events, information, etc.
Another aspect that I would highlight as important is economic. It must be borne in mind that the treatment is going to cost money, but we must not forget the money that will be needed afterwards to care for the child.
4) You had your children through various treatments, the eldest by IVF and the twins by embryo donation. How was the evolution in these treatments?
Having no partner, my first treatment was with donor sperm. After five inseminations I switched to in vitro fertilization, and with IVF I was pregnant with my eldest son. After a while, I decided to be a mother again, but after several treatments and attempts, I was about to give up my dream to be a mother again. It was with the latest treatment of embryo donation that I got pregnant once again and became mother of twins. They transferred me two embryos and I got pregnant in the first attempt.
5) Your last two children were conceived through a treatment performed in the clinic URH Garcia the Real. How did you approach the news to know that you were going to have two children?
It was three years of transferring embryos one by one because I didn’t want to be large family. When I had little money saved for more treatments, I decided to switch to this clinic and there they transferred two embryos. At that time, thinking that I could be pregnant of two children made me go through a difficult time for the idea of becoming a mother of three children. However, in just two days, I took everything with a lot of enthusiasm and optimism. Although I had devised my life with two children and myself, I have been lucky to have the support of my family, and today I am very pleased and happy with my three children.
6) How was your experience in URH Garcia del Real?
I always felt very much at home. My twins were born thanks to the treatment in this clinic. Dr. Sylvia Fernández-Shaw was very friendly and I have very good memories. Throughout my treatments in other clinics, I had been receiving news of friends getting pregnant in URH García del Real. A friend of mine, also a single mother, became pregnant there by embryo donation. L ater another single mother also got pregnant, etc. Sylvia was as the place where to send people who wanted to get pregnant .
7) Do you think that heterosexual couples are more reluctant to explain that they are following assisted reproduction treatment?
Yes, they are more reluctant. Homosexual couples or single mothers can not deny it. They know that assisted reproduction is what you need if they want to be mothers. Although the concept of assisted reproduction has evolved with the passage of time, it still remains a taboo. There are heterosexual couples that find it hard to admit that there may be a problem in their fertility and that they must rely on assisted reproduction.
8) We read on your page that men do not tend to be regulars at the community you manage in assisted reproduction. How do you think that you could get or motivate men to attend, or to become more involved?
Men do not often go to the sessions support (the support group organized in Madrid) that I do, perhaps one has attended a time or two, but not repeatedly. In the case of same-sex couples they are usually go both. On my website, in two years, only one man has made a comment.
We must insist that men engage more and become more open with their partners, in such a way, that they can understand that fertility is something of the two of them. We must also take into account that the “passion” of having children tends to be more felt by women than by men, and perhaps this feeling is what pushes more women to fight to achieve their dream and be more consistent and assiduous to the community.
9) ¿Have you imagined they day in which you are going to tell your children how they were conceived?¿how and when are you going to explain it to them?
From the begining it was clear in my mind that I wanted my children to know how they were conceived. From the first moment I have told them everything. It is possible that the small ones do not understand yet, but they get familiarised with the vocabulary. The eldest is now 9 and he knows his story. I think it is important to prepare the children to know the truth. When other children ask my son, he doesn´t have problems explaining that his mother went to a clinic that helped her to have children.
10) Assisted reproduction not only has helped you have children, it has changed your life in other ways. Now you help women to achieve their dream with your experience, your counseling, your strengh. How do you see the assisted reproduction from this new perspective?
I see it just as hard as when I saw it then. You live it very intensely. It doesn’t mean that you are suffering, but when it seems that you can forget the assisted reproduction, some memories come back, you know that it is there, and is unavoidable to return to the experiences that I went through and that I am currently living with the women that I help. However, my experience and having children, helps me to see things from another perspective, and can contribute to help women that are blocked and do not see it clearly. In that sense I think that the level of psychology that gynecologists need is brutal, as they are like the target of the negatives and positives. In addition, people who usually do not accept that they need an assisted reproduction treatment tend to be less receptive and are more difficult to handle.
I always remember two phrases that I was told and that I find very useful on assisted reproduction: “Nobody said it was easy” and “this is biology, not Mathematics”
11) In the emotional support that you offer to the women who come to your aid, how do help them?
I am not a coach or a psycologist. My work is totally different. I offer help and support to women that have doubts or get stressed during their assisted reproduction treatment. I am next to them offering emotional or strategic orientation, depending of what they need. On the emotional orientation, I help women finding how to cope during the assisted reproduction treatment, and how to face the next cycle of treatment. I help them in these and other situations. On the strategic orientation, thanks to the perspective that I have of the whole process, I make them see it from another point of view, objectively, or I even help them raise questions to their doctors. They also ask for orientation on the clinics that they may go to, and I make suggestions based on my experience and other factors.
In summary, my work is getting near to those who need to share their thoughts and feelings, those that do not want to be alone and need help to know how to continue their reproduction assisted journey.