Koby Argall finally had the family she’d always dreamed of – two stepkids and two babies, born after four years of patience and heartache.
But the little snow babies as the Aussie mum calls them – the nine embryos created and frozen during her IVF journey – what would happen to them now?
Once so desperately wanted, it seemed they were destined to sit in an IVF clinic’s freezer. ‘The clinic ran through our options,’ 32-year-old Koby remembers.
‘They could be destroyed or donated for scientific research, but I couldn’t imagine doing either.’ With the prospect of an annual fee of $700 for storage, Koby took matters into her own hands and started researching alternatives.
‘I discovered all these stories online of people desperate for a baby and advertising for an embryo donor,’ Koby tells New Idea. ‘I read them, crying, for hours until I stumbled on a particular message on the Embryo Donation Network.’
Cathie and Paul Thomas couldn’t have children, but they were as desperate for a baby as Koby and her husband Dave had once been. ‘Something clicked about Cathie’s story.
They seemed very similar to us and I emailed her that night,’ Koby says. ‘I wasn’t 100 per cent decided that I wanted to donate, but deep down I think I knew I would.’
Koby agrees the prospect was daunting. ‘I’m a very emotional person and if someone had asked me before whether I could imagine my biological child out there without me, I’d have said no,' she admits. ‘But when you’re faced with the options we had, everything is very different.’
The fact the pair got on so well helped too, and Cathie, 36, remembers their first meeting.
‘It was like we’d known each other forever,’ she says. ‘After five hours together, Koby texted us on our way home to say they’d like us to be their embryo’s mummy and daddy. I still have that text and it still makes me teary!’
Medical checks and many counselling sessions followed the decision, which Koby says was tough. ‘We were told to think about all the worst-case scenarios – what would happen if Cathie died, what if the baby was sick and they tried to give it back. We decided we’d cross these bridges if we had to, and still wanted to go ahead.’
Of course, there was a huge roller-coaster of emotion for both women in the months that followed.
The first two embryos resulted in miscarriage and Koby says she felt huge guilt for this.
But then in February 2014, Cathie fell pregnant with the third embryo. The pair had agreed to stay in touch throughout the pregnancy and afterwards, so Koby was one of the first people to know when baby James was born.
Koby and Dave met James when he was eight months old, and again it was worry-free. ‘I felt a bond,’ Koby says. ‘With his beautiful eyelashes he looked like our kids Brett and Alaska, but weirdly I could see Paul in him too! I don’t know how that works.’ ‘It went so well,’ Cathie adds. ‘I was worried it would be hard for Koby, but it was great and it didn’t feel like James was theirs or anything.’
With six remaining embryos, a few years later Cathie and Paul were keen to try again. But as they started the process, Koby had some incredible news for her now great friend.
‘I got pregnant naturally,’ Koby smiles. ‘By then, I wanted another baby and Cathie and I had talked about how amazing it would be to go through pregnancy together.’
Months later their wish came true and Cathie fell pregnant with embryo number six. ‘We were both so sick and it made it bearable having Koby to talk to,’ Cathie says. ‘We’d become so close by then. I still speak to her every day.’
On August 17, Koby gave birth to William, and on October 19, Cathie had baby Hannah. ‘This time it just felt like looking at one of my best friends’ babies when I saw the first photo of Hannah,’ Koby says.
‘I actually felt a bit guilty I didn’t feel more, but there was still love there.’
Koby and Dave met baby Hannah soon after. ‘Cathie and I wanted to see each other as much as the babies,’ Koby laughs.
In future, she knows she will always be a part of James and Hannah’s lives. ‘Embryo donation isn’t for everyone,’ Koby acknowledges. ‘But in our experience, it’s been nothing but positive.
We’ve had the fairytale ending.’ With three embryos still in the freezer, there are more decisions to be made. But whether Cathie and Paul try for more children or Koby donates her embryos to another family, it’s something they will face as they’ve faced everything so far – together.
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!