The absolute hardest part of having to have fertility treatment is by far the emotional journey. The not knowing, the feeling of it being so bloody unfair that you can’t do it yourself, the heartache when your period starts, the feeling of being defeated, and wondering if you can even go through it all again. I would recommend to anyone about to embark on fertility treatment to tell as few people as possible. Obviously you need a support network and someone other than your partner to off load to. But the more people you tell, the more questions you get asked and the more you have to go over and over whats going on. Its a hard enough journey without constantly having to update anyone and explain it. But at the same time the people who did know were amazing at providing me with the support I needed. Just chose wisely.
When Marcus and I got married we both wanted to start a family immediately. That was surely our next chapter. We were thinking all things family, from moving to a nicer location near good schools, buying a new car, buying baby books and toys before we were even pregnant (totally jinxing ourselves). Neither of us had tried for children before and up until now we’d been focusing on baby prevention, rather than creation. Turns out its not just wham bam thank you ma’am. You hear about all these “We only did it the once” and unwanted pregnancies, coupled with hitting that age where everyone around you seems to be popping out kids so easily, and it just seemed its the easiest thing ever. Well, in our case apparently not so much.
We agreed to come off the pill as soon as we were married. A honeymoon baby was the dream. It was exciting and fun, we were in the honeymoon period of our marriage and so keeping our hands off each other felt like more of a challenge than getting pregnant. After about 4 months of fun and frolics we thought we’d ramp it up even more and made our baby making top priority, much to Marcus’ delight. A few more ‘ladies weeks’ and google searches later we invested in a fertility monitor. Basically, I had to pee on a stick each morning and pop it in the machine which calculated my hormone levels. When a nice smiley face appeared on the monitor it was time to get frisky. Less to Marcus’ delight; we read its worth holding out in between to have a super stock of swimmers.
Nearing a year trying all the usuals; don’t stand or pee after sex, legs and bum in the air afterwards, save the swimmers for around ovulation time, etc. we were still not pregnant. It became a chore rather than fun. It didn’t help that all of my close friends were either pregnant or had children already. There felt like a lot of pressure with people always asking if we were going to start a family, and despite having a legitimate excuse of recently purchasing a house which was needing complete renovation, our token response became “we’re concentrating on the house and then maybe we’ll think about having kids”. A year on from coming off the pill we eventually agreed we ought to speak to our Doctor. Neither of us wanted to bury our heads in the sand about it as we really wanted a baby. The more you can’t have something, the more you want it. At this point I just assumed the problem was my end as a result of being on the pill for years and years. The doctors were really great and after a consultation, blood tests and sperm check they didn’t hesitate to refer us to the hospital for more tests. They were really helpful and optimistic, so things still felt ok. It probably took just over a month to be referred, and that was mainly because they took blood tests from me at specific points in my cycle. It transpired Marcus’ count was on the low side, so they needed to do a few more checks on me before making any decisions about the next steps.
The hospital were also really speedy. I had to have an internal scan; basically a plastic tampon on the end of a pole had a snoop inside my lady bits to check my tubes were all clear. I didn’t like the idea of this one bit. I hate smear tests and when told about the procedure I definitely didn’t relish the idea. However, I can honestly say I didn’t find it that bad or uncomfortable. The worst part of the scan was being in the same waiting room where expecting parents go. Your hanging out with all these pregnant women/couples feeling pretty crap that you are there because you are far from having a bump. Also Marcus came but wasn’t allowed in with me, and we were getting strange looks as I walked into the “scan” room alone. They really ought to have a separate department. I’m told its the same if you have to go for a scan following a miscarriage. Hideous!!
We had a follow up appointment at the hospital after my internal scan and the consultant abruptly announced we couldn’t conceive children. I was too shocked to even cry at this point; my brain hadn’t even processed the whole sentence. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Not being able to have children had never ever crossed my mind. Not only was I completely unprepared for this ever being the case, but the delivery of it was just so matter of fact that I don’t think either of us really knew what to say or do. After what felt like an overly long pause, my sweating palms clung to Marcus’, and he softly asked the consultant what our options were. She told us to pick a clinic from the list on the back of a poorly photocopied leaflet (nice). We decided then and there on Cambridge as it was the most convenient for us. We assumed we’d be heading over there a lot if the next step was “intervention”.
The first step with the ridiculously posh fertility clinic was to go to a seminar. We drove up a long drive to the grand Manor house, unsure of what to expect. My first thought was”this would look great as a wedding venue”, with the manicured hedges. My next was, how busy the car park was. Once we were inside there were at least 80 other couples all there for the introduction seminar. I had no idea how common an issue this was for so many couples. Marcus whispered “oh well at least we aren’t freaks”. Whilst I was thinking to myself “clearly no one ever talks about this sort of problem”!! It was quite odd but also quite comforting being there with so many others struggling. We all silently watched the power point presentation explaining what happens next and the different procedures available at the clinic. I don’t think I was really listening to be honest, just nodding along feeling numb that we were about to actually do something like IVF! We took away our pack of information and awaited our first consultation. The clinic staff were completely different to the consultant at the hospital. Warm, empathetic and positive. I felt quite reassured that we had chosen Cambridge.
Our appointment didn’t take long to come through. In fact, through all of this hideousness, the time frame was far from an issue. The consultant was very nice and calmly filled in a large form whilst explaining what our options were and getting us to sign consent for things as we went along. Freeze sperm, yes. Freeze any good eggs, yes. Donate eggs for research, yes etc.
I went away with two clear things in my head. I was about to embark on actually injecting myself with drugs every day despite hating needles. And we had to bypass IVF and go straight to the last chance saloon of ICSI.
With IVF, or as I understand, they put your egg and daddy’s sperm in a “culture” and let the sperm still do its thing. With ICSI, they don’t rely on the swimmers and just shove its lazy head straight in the egg to ensure it starts the magic. After up to 5 days, if the cells are dividing properly and get a good rating then they transfer the best embryo (the eggs new name by this point) into mummy. Job done as far as the clinic goes. Again, it soon became reality that the worst part of the whole thing is that you have absolutely no way of ensuring the little embryo sticks to the lining of the womb. You go through quite an ordeal with no real guarantee.
Next was a “drugs teach”. I had to go on a drug that basically put you through a swift mini menopause. Essentially, they take your hormone level to base (alike menopause) so you can be pumped with the hormones to make your eggs huge and juicy. I took the course to take away my hormones, then a different course to pump me back up again. Then the last injection is to tell your body to release the eggs and that you are pregnant. It all has to be timed to perfection for them whipping the eggs out and then putting a good one back in. The idea is that your body expects it all and thinks it’s sort of doing it itself.
At the drug teach you don’t actually get to have a go at stabbing yourself. Annoying as that was worrying me the most. And to my horror, given I hated needles, it’s not like a pre-set pen, which I had in mind. Oh no. I literally had to take a syringe, add a needle, draw up the drug from its little vile pot, flick out the air and then grab a chunk of tummy flesh before taking the mind over matter plunge.
I think just out of pure love for Marcus and wanting to start a family, when it came down to injecting myself I massively surprised myself in just going for it. The first night I got it all prepared, sat on the edge of the bed, syringe in one hand and fatty belly squished in the other. I poised with the needle against my skin and counted up to three before just going for it. I genuinely hardly felt it. Maybe because I’d grabbed such a chunk of belly, but the only time it was a bit sore was if I injected into the same area twice. My top tip would be to start from the outside in, or vise versa, and swap sides/high or low so you don’t inject the same area too soon. The most discomfort I had was the ridiculous itching where my skin was healing. It was so annoying. I used to wrap an ice pack in a tea towel and hold it on where it was super itchy to relieve it.
The “plump up your eggs” drug and the last one off injection were all in pre-filled pen things, so you just have to turn a dial for the dose, pop on a new needle and then press the button when its held against your skin. They deliver the drugs to you, which all have to be stored in the fridge, and you do your jab at the same time every evening. Initially this seems fine, but that basically means from that point on you are on a curfew. It’s definitely a commitment, but in hindsight you may as well get used to that if you plan to have a bedtime routine with your babies. Pfft, popping home to do your jab is a drop in the ocean of commitment compared to a baby.
A few internal scans cropped up during the whole drug taking to measure the size of my eggs. Hello plastic tampon camera again. The eggs get absolutely massive and by the end I was quite uncomfortable and ready for them to be removed. Some rumors went out at work that I might be pregnant because someone thought I was waddling. Awkward. It was actually the day before I was going in to have the eggs out and boy did I know it. You can have a local anesthetic to have them sucked out, or be fully put out. I’m a massive wimp so I got knocked out!
That morning as we rolled up the long drive to the Manor House, I felt super nervous, but ready to get on with the next stage. Marcus was very calm, he usually is, but also, all he had to do was go into an empty room which had a tv and some graphic “reading materials” and empty his load into a cup, whilst I was being internally vacuumed. Difficult!! We were doing a fresh cycle, so my eggs and his sperm came out at the same time and were then put through the ICSI process immediately. Depending if any of my eggs were any good of course. Fortunately, all the staff at the clinic were super lovely. They put a nice warm wheat bag on the back of my hands to help the veins show up for the anesthesist and used numbing cream. I can honestly say the most discomfort I had was having a suppository. Not even sure what that was for, but I think maybe pain relief.
I woke up back in my room with Marcus by the bed and after I’d had a drink and some toast we went home. Obviously I felt a bit drowsy from the anesthetic and had period like pains, but nothing particularly painful. The next step was to wait for the news on our little developing Embryoblasts. They only allow one transfer funded through the NHS so any other good eggs or embryos would be put on ice for later. The next day we had news I’d managed to plump up a few decent eggs, but all had been put through the ICSI process and none put on ice. We now had the 5 day wait before we’d be back in for one to be transferred and essentially your pregnancy is taking place outside your body in a lab. Bit crazy.
Our guys were doing well and we had a champion one ready to go, so back up the long drive we went. Now, we were told transfer was a like a smear test. Duck beak thing in and then a very fine tube pushed into your cervix to drop off your precious little embryo. Sounded absolutely fine after all the tampon camera action. Don’t let my experience put anyone off, as I was told that it was extremely unusual and largely because my cervix is resting the opposite way than usual. This proved to be a problem nearly a year later with Issey being back to back in the womb and me having horrendous constipation. Thanks cervix. But that story is for another time. Anyway the transfer, aside from the emotional side of things, was by far the worst medical procedure of it all. The doctor couldn’t get the nice fine tube in and basically pulled out a knitting needle. They offered me some gas and air, but the adrenaline was keeping me going whilst it felt like he was stabbing around. Truth be told I was a bit afraid of gas and air; *scoffs* that fear swiftly evaporated once I was in actual labour and it became my best friend.
The doctor managed to drop off our embryo and as soon as I could sit up I went into shock and started shaking uncontrollably. I felt scared and just hadn’t expected anything like that. Marcus helped calm me down, he’s amazing at saying the right things bless him, and after a cup of tea we went home to wait.
The longest 3 weeks of my life started that afternoon and every slight twinge or pain was another sharp reminder that I was supposed to be pregnant now. The last medical side of things was using a gel pessary. Pretty yucky and annoying as you have to pop it in and then, I assume to kind of massage it in, go for a half hour walk! Again this was meant to be the same time each evening for the full 3 weeks at the very least. This was the only time Marcus and I fell out or I felt unsupported by him. Marcus and I aren’t walkers at all. We don’t really walk anywhere. Obviously, that’s another thing that’s changed since having kids. On many occasion he would just follow me in the car like a weird stalker. Mainly as it was getting darker at night. On one occasion I got so cross with him I stormed off out the door after he had protested about accompanying me because the football was on. He quickly followed, obviously with the footy on the radio in the car *rolls eyes* and when we got home I nabbed the house/car keys off him and wouldn’t let him back in, so he missed even more of the game. Point made.
I think I knew deep down that we hadn’t been successful with our champion embryo straight away. I went on loads of forums about twinges and symptoms. One of the most annoying things about doing that is people put up similar pains asking if anyone thought they had lost the baby, but no one ever posted back again confirming what the outcome of their symptoms had been. Forums are as useful as they are at making you more confused. At about day 5 a huge blob of gel fell out of me whilst I was sat on the loo. It was absolutely disgusting and for a few minutes I was horrified it might be our baby. I say baby now as that’s how it felt. I knew the science, but in my mind I was meant to be pregnant now. I was nurturing a developing baby in my womb, not a bunch of cells. It happen in the toilet at work so there wasn’t much I could do about it. I called Marcus and he suggested I call the clinic to check. They assured me it was all quite normal. I guess what goes up must come down.
The next morning my period started. Bright red and heavy straight away. It screamed in my face “your not pregnant”!! I had a huge funding bid application deadline that day at work so I had no choice but to swallow hard and go in. Marcus had already left so I called him as I walked into work and he comforted me as best he could. I could tell he was gutted, but he said all the right reassuring things as usual and I just had to get on with work. I updated the clinic and they advised we had to wait 6 months before we could try a new cycle as it was been funded by the NHS.
I felt on the edge all day. I wanted to cry as hard and as long as I could, but I had only told one work friend and if I told her I feared I wouldn’t stop crying for the rest of the day. Doesn’t a hug just reduce you to a complete mess when your trying to hold it together?! I got the funding bid sent off and despite feeling crap, agreed to after work deserts with the girls. There is a place right by my office which only sells desert. Amazing. I thought cake would be the answer and Marcus wouldn’t be home for hours so better than being on my own wallowing in self pity. Unfortunately as we walked in I hadn’t realised we were meeting up with some friends who were on maternity leave, and they were bringing their babies!! As soon as I’d sat down I knew I wasn’t going to last and as a baby let out a gurgle I literally ran from the shop and started hyperventilating on the street. My friend (who knew) followed me immediately and I blubbed on her shoulder about what had happened. She said she would make my excuses and, although offered to take me home, I just wanted to get into bed. Marcus got home as quickly as possible and we indulged in some Chinese take away and cuddles. We decided to consider going private as 6 months felt a long time.
The clinic wanted to see us for a follow up consultation and to plan in our next attempt. The doctor was very nice again and reassuring, but they raised further concerns about Marcus’ count. For our next round we would have to provide a few samples so some could be frozen for any more attempts. This was a bit alarming as she kinda sold it that Marcus was running out of swimmers and if that happened we’d have no hope at all! I didn’t really want to discuss the ‘what ifs’ even at this stage.
A friend of mine, who had been struggling with multiple miscarriages, knew we were struggling to conceive and recommended a Chinese herbalist to us. I’d not even thought about alternative medicine before now, but after discussing it with Marcus we took the ‘we’ve got nothing to lose’ approach. For now lets just say we didn’t ever need to try ICSI again, but I will go into our actual conception journey another time.
Looking at my girls now I often wonder who that little embryo would of become. A boy, a girl. Someone with their own little personality. It’s so sad that he or she didn’t keep growing, but it’s much easier to cope with now we have our two miracle girls. My heart goes out to those who try and try with IVF or ICSI and have no success. The last stage is completely out of your hands after the whole process being so controlled, and it’s so frustrating.
I’m so thankful we have our girls, although occasionally I have to remind myself when they are screaming or awake all night. The fact we managed without having to go through ICSI again is in itself a miracle, but to go on and have two gorgeous children makes us incredibly lucky.