A child’s palm print; a woman’s choice

It was a long emotional and painful journey before Marusca Micallef could hold her daughter in her arms. She opens up about her experience conceiving by IVF and tells Kurt Sansone every woman should be given the chance to celebrate Mother’s Day

Marusca Micallef shares the story of her long and painful journey to motherhood
Marusca Micallef shares the story of her long and painful journey to motherhood

A plastic plate with her daughter’s palm print enjoys pride of place on the kitchen top in Marusca Micallef’s house.

It was a Mother’s Day gift her daughter Charlotte brought from the nursery last week and speaking about it gives Marusca goose pimples.

After 10 years of marriage, today will be the first Mother’s Day that Marusca can celebrate as a parent.

Marusca’s eyes well up as she recounts the rush of emotions she felt when Charlotte came back from the nursery with the gift.

“I cried. It’s the first gift from my daughter and it is there in the kitchen for everyone to see,” Marusca tells me.

Her daughter will turn one at the end of the month and preparations are underway in the Micallef household to celebrate the first birthday party with relatives and friends.

Charlotte was born last year after Marusca, 32, and her husband underwent in-vitro fertilisation treatment in the UK.

Read more: This is about medicine, not theology | Mark Sant

The couple had only resorted to IVF as a measure of last resort. Hormone pills, injections, relaxing holidays, Marusca and her husband had tried it all, to no avail.

Emotional turbulence caused by circumstances as ordinary as meeting cousins with children and numerous blank pregnancy tests as a result of false alarms had become the norm.

Marusca recalls one time when the couple were preparing to go to a wedding. “My period had missed by two or three days and I tried the pregnancy test because I did not want to drink alcohol if there was the chance of pregnancy. When the blue line never appeared, I got angry and threw the test out of the window,” she says.

The couple’s infertility was unexplained and it was only after two years of secretly trying to deal with the problem that Marusca could pluck up the courage to tell her mother of the difficulty to conceive.

“I am an only child, so my parents were longing to become grandparents. They were initially unable to understand why we were postponing getting pregnant and I kept bringing up all sorts of excuses from getting a new job to paying off the house loan,” Marusca says.

But the heartache was too much to bear alone and one day while at her mother’s she opened up. “My mother cried with me but it felt as if I had shared our burden with someone and I could let my guard down,” Marusca recounts.

The doctor had been suggesting IVF for some time but she was reluctant to undergo the procedure fearing failure.

“I knew the success rate of IVF was not very high and I feared the emotional backlash of being told the attempt was unsuccessful,” she tells me. Her husband was ready to support any decision she made.

But it was only two years ago, while the couple started the adoption process that Marusca plucked up the courage and told her husband she was willing to give IVF one try.

Marusca and her husband travelled to Britain and spent three weeks there.

Five eggs were extracted and fertilised but only four developed into viable embryos, Marusca recounts.

“I was given the option to have one embryo implanted and the other three frozen for future use,” she says.

Marusca’s first attempt was successful and she conceded that luck was on her side. “I consider myself very lucky to have had a child from the one embryo that was implanted and till this very day when I look at my daughter I still cannot believe she is here with us,” she says.

Marusca explains that the UK clinic will keep the other three embryos frozen for five years, which can then be extended by another five years. She is aware that after 10 years the embryos could be given up for medical research.

Read more: An idiot’s guide to how Maltese IVF law will change

“Adoption was not offered to me as an option and giving the embryos up for research is not the choice I would prefer but it is also a way through which good can come out, especially when the viability of embryos starts to deteriorate at that stage,” Marusca says when I ask her for a moral justification for her actions.

Her argument is pretty much what philosopher Fr Peter Serracino Inglott had made 13 years ago when he found no moral objection for unclaimed embryos to be used in therapeutic research.

But why does Marusca feel the need to share her story at a time when Malta is discussing embryo freezing as part of a radical overhaul of the IVF law?

“It is not easy to tell your story but I am fed up of hearing church people and MPs pass insensitive comments that hurt people who have to deal with infertility issues,” Marusca tells me.

She says embryo freezing can in no way be compared to killing. “How can a woman resort to frozen embryos in an attempt to get pregnant if they are dead?”

Marusca says women should be given the choice to make their own decisions. No one is obliging a woman to necessarily freeze embryos if she feels it goes against her morality, she argues.

“Nature told me no but this does not mean I should not have tried every means possible to get pregnant and have a child of my own. People should be allowed to choose the treatment they want and not have doors slammed in their face,” Marusca says.

She insists that had somebody offered her the option to adopt a frozen embryo, she would have done so willingly.

Hers is a heartfelt appeal to legislators not to shut the door on treatments that can help infertile women conceive.

“The whole experience linked to infertility and the treatment that comes with it is an emotional trauma, has its health risks and is a financial burden. Many keep the problem to themselves because they fear being judged by others,” Marusca says.

As she gets to enjoy the tribulations of an irritable child who is teething or the mischievous look of a daughter trying to ‘escape’ from her walker, Marusca cannot help but count her blessings.

Not all women suffering from infertility will get to enjoy Mother’s Day like Marusca but she insists everyone should be given a fair chance to try.

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