The journey to make a family is different for everyone, so to show the amazing diversity, brave women and couples are sharing in this new series “The Fertility Stories”.
“Because you’ll never know how badly you want
something until you are told that it may not be possible”
so together, we need to change how others view infertility.
Today’s story covers really hits home how much of a limbo life can become. Not knowing you have fertility problems until you start trying, then the things we put off wondering if we might finally be pregnant by then. The weird feeling of relief when you find there is a reason behind it, couples with the overwhelming decisions to make…
My husband and I got married in 2014 and I came off the pill a couple of months after. We knew we wanted children and even though our first priority was to move house, we figured there was no harm in seeing what happened. A few months later, I figured I had better to look further into how to get pregnant and check to see if I was doing everything I should be. I bought some folic acid and started taking more notice of my cycle. I remember that first month of “properly” trying, I was adamant we would have sex every night or at least every other night over the course of about 10 days! It was awful, looking back!
More months passed and still no sign of pregnancy. I avoided applying for job promotions, or looking at other jobs, we held off booking anything like holidays, just in case. We had got a house and bought a puppy (because then the dog would be a good age when the baby came!)…..everything was based around this baby that could appear at any time! My friend suggested using the ovulation tests, which I did. At this point it became such an obsessive thing, peeing on a stick every night, dragging my husband to bed if it came up positive! And I’d lie with my legs in the air afterwards…anything that might help.
By now, just over year had passed. I had had the usual comments of, “you’re overthinking it”, “it’ll happen when it’s meant to”, “try losing some weight”, blah, blah blah!
We finally decided to go to the doctor, 18 months after I had come off my pill. The first doctor I saw was awful!! No idea if he’d just qualified or what, but mentioned we had been trying and nothing had happened and he got really awkward asking about how regular my periods were, and then went to a little book in his bag and ran his finger down a page, saying “infertility, infertility”, till he did indeed find the section on infertility! That word was SO scary! We weren’t infertile were we?! Anyway…he figured out we needed to do some tests. I had my blood tests, my husband provided his sample. We were called back to the doctor (a new lovely one this time) and she explained my husband’s sperm count was very low and that she would refer us to the fertility clinic at the local hospital.
My husband had had an operation on his testicles when he was a teenager but he hadn’t been made aware this might affect his fertility…neither of us had thought there’d be an issue. The clinic took another sample and agreed the sperm count was very low, and suggested we came in to talk about options. To be honest, I think we both went into that meeting knowing we would be told we’d need IVF. The lovely nurse sat us down and explained that IVF with ICSI would be what we needed. However, the criteria for our NHS area stated we would have had to have been trying for 3 years before they would refer us for IVF, and that they only provided one round. That’s when I broke down. At this point we had been trying for two years, and another year felt like a lifetime away. We could access private treatment if we wanted but that would mean we would lose any access to NHS treatment. We walked away with two different emotions…frustrated we couldn’t get on with the treatment we needed but almost relief that we had a diagnosis. We weren’t “doing it wrong” or “overthinking it”.
We decided to use the next year to get fit and healthy but most importantly to live life again! Have a glass of wine, go on holidays and prepare for a year’s time without having it hang over us every day. That was October 2016.
In May 2017, our local CCG decided to start a consultation on withdrawing funding for IVF within our trust. I signed every petition I could and got others to do the same thing. 3 months passed and no news of withdrawing funding and so we assumed it was good news! In September I went back to work (I’m a teacher) and prepared myself mentally for the year ahead…we were going to get referred in October and I’d need some time off, I needed to manage my stress levels. I was ready for the next part of the journey (hate that phrase!). On 3rd September, I saw on Twitter that the CCG had decided to pull funding for the IVF, I rang the nurse and she said they had literally just found out, and they knew nothing more. A couple of days later we were told, it had been pulled and she would help us with referral to private treatment if that’s what we wanted. I was gutted. We didn’t think private treatment was affordable at that point but investigated a couple of different clinics anyway.
We decided with a CARE clinic that was relatively close by and offered discounted treatment if I donated my eggs. I got in touch immediately and realised we could afford it if we did it that way. After tests, questionnaires, counselling and scans, we were given the go ahead.
I realise that I’ve waffled on a lot at this point without even talking about our IVF, but I feel like one of the most painful parts of this has been battling to even access the treatment we need.
In Dec 2017 I started on my long protocol which involves essentially stopping my cycle, then jump starting it again by stimulating my ovaries to produce lots of mature eggs. The drugs didn’t have too much of a negative effect on me to be honest. I was terrified of being super irritable and hormonal but I think I was ok (my husband might say differently!). Physically I was ok, I was excited, I felt positive. Work was very understanding and gave me time off for appointments when I needed it. I had my eggs retrieved on 22nd January. The sedation was lovely! They managed to retrieve 10 eggs, which I was a little disappointed at, because I knew 5 would go to the lady I was donating to. I hadn’t really thought twice about the donation element of it up until that point. I suddenly felt very protective of “my” eggs and apprehensive we would only have 5 to try and fertilise. I would never in a million years have changed my mind about donating those eggs, but it was hard to let them go I will admit.
From the minute the eggs are retrieved, you feel SO out of control. Will they fertilise? Will they last? Will this work? 4 of our 5 fertilised, 3 lasted till day 4, but we only had one suitable for transfer by day 5. But is was a grade 1 embryo, the best it could be! Surely this was meant to be. We were so excited. We took pictures as we waited, certain this was the first day of the next stage of our lives! The transfer went fine, and we went home. I took it easy for the first couple of days, then went back to work part time. We had two weeks to wait until we found out if our little embryo had stuck.
That two-week wait is hands down the most awful thing to do. You are so careful of anything you do, eat, drink. Every time I had a negative thought, I’d talk to the embryo and rub my stomach. I swayed from being convinced it had worked to being absolutely convinced it hadn’t. It was emotional torture. We kept out test date quiet and I’d taken the day off work. Friday 9th February, I got up at 6am, after very little sleep, and took the test. It was negative.
We both cried and sat and held the test stick, almost looking for the result to be different. But it didn’t change, it hadn’t worked. I almost went into survival mode. I was gutted but I felt better than I thought I would. We sat in bed, planning the next stage. We’d go on holiday and try again in summer. I got on with my day. It hit me a couple of times over the next week, and I’d just sit and cry. The clinic offered counselling, but I didn’t feel I needed. I wanted to just draw a line under it. I didn’t want people asking me about it. Looking back, it was self-preservation I think.
We had a chat with our consultant a couple of weeks later, who suggested it was probably just that the embryo wasn’t genetically strong enough and that’s the case in 90% of failed implantation cases.
It was probably a week or so after that chat (a month after our negative test) that I found myself feeling more down, more irritable and not in control of what I was feeling. I just kept telling my husband I was tired. I was scared that if I allowed myself to feel this down, I didn’t think I’d get back out of whatever hole was waiting for me. I felt like I was clinging to my emotional wellbeing. I was terrified. Then one evening, I just let it all out, I cried and cried and ranted and everything I had been bottling up came out to my husband. He was amazing. And I felt SO much better after I’d done it. And I hadn’t fallen down a big dark hole. I was still standing. Having spoken to a couple of people since who’ve been through the same thing and they have said it’s grief I’m feeling. It makes sense. I still have our photo of our embryo in my bedside table. It will always stay there. It could have been our baby. I spoke to it. I planned it’s nursery and looked at outfits for it. It’s painful that he or she didn’t develop, but we’ll always have him or her in our hearts.
So the next step is round 2 this summer. The consultant said he will increase my stimulation drugs next time so we should get more eggs. We have saved tirelessly and tried fundraising a little. The financial aspect of this should never be forgotten! We will pay over £8000 next time, but this will give us two rounds if we need it and any frozen transfers.
I still have up and down days and I’ve still got work to do to get me into a positive space before the next round starts. But I’ll get there. I’m positively realistic about the next round. If I’m honest I went into the last round so naively excited, this time its more realistic.
Seeing babies and pregnant people still kills me. Pregnancy announcements still make me cry. It took me 4 months to muster up the courage to go and meet my best friends new baby, but she understands. She just gets it.
“My biggest piece of advice for anyone experiencing any stage of this, is to try and find people who have been through something similar”
Because unless you have been through this, you CANNOT understand what it feels like. My outlet is Instagram that has a lovely community of ladies who are going through or have been through this. People will always say the wrong thing, so find the ones who are less likely to or who can just listen to you rant. This journey is a long one from start to finish, and you’ll need people on your side.
Click here for more brave and diverse fertility stories