Family

My Embryos got lost in the post

For 10 incredibly stressful days this Christchurch woman thought her dreams of motherhood were dashed.

Following seven rounds of IVF and a devastating miscarriage, Christchurch woman Amira Mikhail thought she was finally on the road to motherhood when she found the perfect surrogate to carry her baby. But in an astonishing turn of events, Amira and her partner Simon McMurtrie’s embryos went missing in the post – leaving her in fear she’d missed her final chance at happiness.

“The whole thing was like a bad dream and I still can’t believe that it was able to happen,” she tells Woman’s Day.

“I said to the shipping company that they’d better be treating those missing embryos as missing children. They were my future babies out there and no-one knew where they were!”

Amira’s incredible story began in 2006, when she moved to New Zealand from Canada for her job as a vet. Uterine fibroids and endometriosis caused painful periods and heavy bleeding for many years. At 31, she had surgery at a private clinic to remove endometriosis (tissue growing outside the uterus), but the procedure went wrong, leaving her unable to conceive.

Doctors told her she’d need IVF treatment to ever fall pregnant and advised her not to wait. So a then-single Amira, now 39, decided to become a mum on her own after a good friend offered to donate sperm.

But with each failed round of IVF, her hope began to diminish – until her sixth attempt was finally successful.

“Hearing the words ‘you’re pregnant’ was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she recalls. “I loved every second of being pregnant. I relished every symptom.”

By then, she’d met quantity surveyor Simon, now 38, who stood by her in her quest for a baby. But she was devastated when at 12 weeks, she suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage.

“I’d never experienced grief before and this was totally overwhelming. I wanted to go to bed and never get up.”

Her loss was compounded when doctors advised her that becoming pregnant again would be too dangerous.

Grief-stricken, the couple turned to surrogacy. After an acquaintance offered to carry the baby for them, Amira and Simon went through IVF treatment to create seven healthy embryos. But after one failed attempt, the surrogate backed out.

“We got the impression that our surrogate wasn’t in it for the right reason,” tells Amira. “We found ourselves feeling nervous around her and became very uncomfortable with the whole situation.”

Back at square one, they turned to Amira’s native Canada, where legislation is in place to protect all the parties’ rights. They were put in touch with Natalia, a mum-of-two.

“She was amazing, like an angel,” tells Amira. “Her first email read, ‘I want you to know this will be your pregnancy and I will take good care of your baby.’ It was beautiful.”

Arrangements were made to fly the six remaining embryos from a Christchurch fertility clinic to one in Ottawa. It was expected to be a two-day journey, allowing plenty of time for the 10-day temperature shelf life of the specimen flasks they’d be transported in.

“I remember being reassured that nothing could possibly go wrong,” she says wryly.

Amira heard nothing for several days after the embryos were supposed to have left NZ. When she struggled to find out where they were, alarm bells rang. After several days of phone calls, Amira, then 35, was eventually told her precious cargo had transited in Japan and was on its way to Arizona in the US!

“I was absolutely freaking out,” recalls Amira, who was then told it might be in Hong Kong. After “the most stressful 10 days of my life”, she learned the embryos had made their way to a fertility clinic in Osaka, Japan.

Amira begged to know the name of the clinic, but was told only that the embryos would be transferred into new ice and packaging before being sent on to Ottawa.

She says the shipping company claimed the labels on the outside of the box had peeled off in the humidity of Hong Kong Airport, an idea she finds fanciful.

“I think they were lying to cover themselves in case I tried to sue them. I mean, if there was no label, how did a box of cryogenically frozen human embryos get through Japanese customs and randomly turn up at a fertility clinic? It made no sense.”

The embryos finally arrived in Ottawa two weeks after leaving Christchurch. Sadly, they missed the surrogate’s cycle for implantation and had to wait another month for the first embryo transfer. Whether they would still be viable after their epic journey was anyone’s guess.

Amazingly, surrogate Natalia became pregnant on her first attempt, and the result is Amira and Simon’s three-year-old son Kairo.

“From the minute he was born, it was like the start of a whole new journey for me,” tells Amira. “I could put all the pain behind me and start life again as a mum.”

Amira has written a book about her experiences, Mission to Motherhood, in the hope it helps others.

“Infertility can be incredibly lonely. But sharing and talking helps so much, and I want to spread that message.”

In just a few weeks, Amira and Simon are heading to Canada again to meet Kairo’s brother, who is due via another surrogate mother at the start of next month.

“We have to pinch ourselves at how lucky we are,” she says. “It’s more than I ever believed possible.”

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