Cathy Raubenheimer is a 46-year-old woman from Cape Town who spent seven years desperately trying to fall pregnant.
After 14 IVF treatments, three egg donors and two surrogates – all of which proved unsuccessful – Cathy has made peace with the reality that she might never have children of her own.
She now wants to use her story to shed light on infertility.
“I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I remember as a little girl, my sister and I would pretend to be moms as we played with our dolls.
'Did you sleep okay?' she would ask me.
'No, my baby kept me up all night!' I’d reply.
I looked most forward to holding my own baby one day and couldn’t wait to be called Mom.
But I put that dream on hold when my career started taking off.
I moved to the United Kingdom after landing a job at Visa Europe in their marketing department. A few years in, they moved me to organisational development, which was more of a leadership role. I’m quite a determined person so I enjoyed the work and I loved the business culture.
Before I knew it, years had gone by. When I got back to South Africa, I was 38 and realised that if I wanted to have a child, the time was now.
I had just recovered from a failed engagement so I decided to go about this journey alone, instead of waiting till I met the right man.
I started seeing a psychologist to prepare me for this journey and then I met my future husband, Julian.
It was the worst possible timing! I wasn’t going to let another man get in my way. So I ended things with Julian as quickly as it started. But he persuaded me to give him one year before we would try to fall pregnant.
Julian and I moved in together during that time but I was soon running out of patience. As a divorced man with two grown children, I sensed that Julian wasn’t as eager to deal with dirty nappies and broken sleep as I was.
I called off the relationship again. About three days passed before I got a call from Julian. He told me he wanted me and everything that came with it. And that he had found us a house.
I went numb. It was a shock to my system. Eventually I came around and agreed to give us another go.
We married shortly after and then began our road to pregnancy.
I started IVF at Tygerberg Hospital in 2014. After five unsuccessful attempts, the professor suggested I try falling pregnant via an egg donor.
I was devastated. I wanted it to be my and my husband’s baby so badly and if we used an egg donor, the baby wouldn’t biologically be mine.
We then decided to try IVF privately. It was a costly affair. IVF through a government hospital cost us just below R20 000. But privately, we had to fork out R80 000 each time.
It also took a lot out of me emotionally. After each procedure you have to wait 10 days. During that time you’re too scared to do anything out of fear it may hinder your chances at falling pregnant. When the test comes back negative, you lick your wounds and wait till you’re strong again to restart.
After a few unsuccessful rounds, I realised an egg donor might be something I seriously had to think about.
We found an egg donor – a woman in her 20s who was from Pretoria – and had her flown down so we could do a live transfer.
The egg was fertilised and I fell pregnant. I was over the moon! But the joy was short-lived when at six weeks I miscarried.
We found another egg donor but this time it never took. So we tried my sister's eggs. Doctors said we stood a better chance if it were someone who shared my DNA as my body was more likely to accept it. But again we were unsuccessful.
My husband was there for me every step of the way. If ever I needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to, he was there. Still, I was the one dealing with these feelings. I had a deep need to bear a child and it felt like my body was letting me down.
We decided to turn to IVF once more but after the 11th attempt, Julian and I discussed using a surrogate. To get a surrogate, you need to have a lawyer and have a psychological evaluation done of yourself, the surrogate and the spouses involved. You also must put the surrogate on medical aid months before starting the process and need to give her life cover.
We found a surrogate but she then she pulled out. Thankfully a friend of mine agreed to carry our baby. She is a mom of five herself and has a big and beautiful heart.
But then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. With fertility clinics closed and the world grinding to a halt, it gave Julian and I time to rethink things.
We decided against starting the process as it was just too emotionally and physically taxing. Our seven-year journey had run its course and the end happened naturally.
The moment I decided that was it, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders because now I was on my sunshine path.
There’s so much love in my heart and I know I would have been a great mom but I have channelled that love into different things.
I’ve started IVF Support, an online platform where women can share their experiences, ask questions and learn from each other.
Two years ago I started writing a book entitled Abundantly Empty about my journey, which has recently been published.
All of the money and tears that went into this experience had to be for something and I am so glad to have a purpose.
I want to use my journey to help other couples and raise awareness around infertility.”
Abundantly Empty will be available in all leading book retailers later this year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a book order.
R285 + R50 courier (within SA).