John was the first person I knew I definitely wanted to have kids with. He told me on our first date that he already had two boys and while that’s not necessarily what you go out looking for in a new relationship it didn’t faze me at all and if anything, hearing him talk about them made him even more attractive to me.
We were both fairly fresh out of relationships when we met but after one long nine hour date we both knew there was something special there. No games, no playing hard to get, just honesty and love from the beginning.
A few weeks after we met John told me he had had a vasectomy after the birth of his second child, when he and his ex wife had decided their family was complete. Even though we’d only known each other for a few weeks it was an emotional conversation as we were both contemplating our future life together. That was the point I knew I definitely wanted to have a baby, and that I really wanted that to be with John. I needed to know that that chapter in his life wasn’t completely closed, that he was open to the idea, however we could make it happen. He told me honestly that he hadn’t considered having more children – until now. For the time being, that was all I needed to know.
We fell in love, John moved in with me and we started to build a life together. A year after we met John had his vasectomy reversed. A couple of weeks later, when the results came back to say it hadn’t been successful we were both crushed. Having a baby together was something we now knew we definitely wanted and this was a massive blow. We had already discussed the alternative options so we knew what would have to come next.
A couple of months later, much to my surprise, John proposed. We were already talking about IVF so I had assumed we were going down that route first and that we’d maybe get married later down the line – we hadn’t done things ‘by the book’ so far! We got married nine months later on a magical winter’s day, surrounded by our friends and family.
In the January we decided to start the lengthy pre process for the IVF, not knowing how long it would all take. I had a multitude of tests which I was never very worried about. I had no reason to think I would have any issue getting pregnant. I was fit and healthy and had never had any issues with my cycle, so I was shocked to discover I had a below average egg reserve for my age. This really threw me initially and it was the first of several moments in this journey that I felt a bit let down by the body I thought I knew so well. I was told not to worry about it just yet but that I would need the highest does of drugs to produce as many eggs as possible when it came to our first cycle of IVF. We had been so focused on John’s situation we really hadn’t considered that there might also be something going on with me.
We (or I, certainly) entered our first round of IVF somewhat naively. We had several friends who had been through the process who had all had successes first time round. Why should we expect anything different? We knew the success stats were on average 1 in 3 but we were confident things would be fine.
I had my first injection on the 9th May, 2016, the same day we got our retired greyhound, Ria. For the next few weeks I injected myself twice a day and visited the hospital every few days for scans and blood tests. Everything was proceeding as it should. The drugs were hard on my body (and my mind) and I felt bloated, sore and emotionally up and down. Those who know me know I rarely even take a paracetamol but I knew it was what I needed to do so took each day as it came. Eventually we were told I was ready for egg collection. The drugs stimulate your ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible (rather than the one you would naturally produce each month) to give the maximum number of opportunities for fertilisation.
This was the bit I was most nervous about so far. I would be heavily sedated and the consultant would use a very fine bendy needle to enter my body and retrieve the eggs from my drug stimulated ovaries. Would it hurt? How many eggs would we get? Would they be good quality?
When I woke up back in my room with John by my side the consultant was there to tell me they had retrieved 7 eggs. I felt really positive about this as the average for my age was about 10 and I knew I was likely to get less. Of those seven, five were mature enough to inject with John’s sperm (which had been retrieved and frozen at the time of his reversal op) and three had fertilised. Three opportunities for a baby right there! Over the next few days these tiny embryos were ‘cooked’ and watched over by the embryologist and each day I had to call for an update. Each day my heart sank a little more to hear one had ‘arrested’, one had ‘mutated’. Each one another opportunity gone. When there was only one left I was called in to have it implanted.
Nervous moment number two! For this process I was to be awake. It was actually magical. This time John could be with me and hold my hand all the way through. The consultant carefully placed the tiny embryo into my womb. We watched on a screen as a minuscule dot flashed out of the long needle and landed inside me. It blew me away. That potential for life right there, now safely inside me.
Now the wait. The two week wait. I’d read lots about this dreaded two week wait. The period of time it takes to know whether that little embryo has implanted or not, the two weeks you wait to know whether you are pregnant – or not.
I followed every piece of guidance and old wives tale I could get my hands on. I ate a fifth of a pineapple each day for the first five days, I had acupuncture, I bought the entire box set of ‘Friends’ for £20 on eBay and watched them religiously as the hospital told me laughter and the release of oxytocin (the ‘happy hormone’) was scientifically proven to help.
Halfway through the second week I developed the most horrendous cramps. I knew this couldn’t be good. When I started to bleed I knew it was over. I had done absolutely everything I could but it wasn’t enough. Round one, done. We were devastated.
It hit us harder than we could have anticipated. I felt let down by my body. I felt like I’d let John down. He felt awful for me having to go through this. I felt stupid and naive for getting excited that it could be so easy. It also felt unfair, really unfair. I suddenly became aware of all the babies and pregnant women around me. Each new announcement like a kick in the stomach. It’s not that for one second I didn’t want others to be happy, or wishing anyone else to be having to go through what we were, it was just that we so desperately wanted what they had, and that hurt.
We took some time out. We had fun, spent time with loved ones, we went on a beautiful yoga retreat where I rather embarrassingly let it ALL out after a heart chakra meditation. I had some counselling that was on offer from the fertility clinic. We talked, we cried and eventually we started to heal and feel ready to go again. 1 in 3.
In November we went back to try again. We agreed to do the exact same protocol as, according to the hospital, it had been textbook, just ‘unlucky’. So again, I started injecting myself and attending all the hospital appointments. In some ways this time was easier as I knew the process, but in other ways it was harder – we knew how bad it felt when it didn’t work.
Egg collection day came round again and from the scans it looked like we could be expecting more eggs this time. I was sedated, only five eggs were collected. This time four were mature and two of those fertilized. A couple of days later we were down to one again, time to go in. Another full cycle of IVF, another single opportunity for a baby with nothing to freeze for another go down the line.
Two weeks of waiting and we were still holding on optimistically. No cramps, no bleeding, perhaps some very light pregnancy symptoms but that could just be the huge amounts of progesterone I was taking. Test day – we made it to test day!
The words ‘not pregnant’ were clear. I rang the hospital with the results and they said I could still come in for another test, it might be too early, there might still be a chance. At the hospital I did another test. The nurse left the room for what felt like eternity. When she came back I could tell from her face it wasn’t good news. She’d run it through a special machine as there was a trace of something there but not enough to give anything other than an overall negative result. So what now? That night we climbed a hill and watched the sunset, knowing in our hearts that round two was over. We waited it out until the inevitable happened a few days later. It felt like we’d got further, closer to that positive result but devastatingly not close enough. Why was this happening to us? Why was it so hard?
For the next few weeks I really struggled. Was this ever going to happen? How do you know when to stop? It could always be the next one, or the next one, if we just had one more go. I got sucked into ridiculous online forums where people would say really unhelpful things like ‘oh you just need to keep going, it’ll happen eventually’.
I desperately started thinking through the other options on the table. Egg donor – if it was my eggs that were the problem we could use someone else’s. How would that feel? I would carry it and birth it but would they feel like my baby? Would we tell them? Would we tell other people? Adoption – so many children needing loving stable homes. We could give them that. We could give them everything. Why were we spending thousands and thousands of pounds trying to make a baby when there were already children out there who needed mums and dads like us? I hounded John with a million questions about the alternatives. He was patient but he didn’t think we were there yet. In my head I knew that neither of these options were right for us at that point, but for me, I just needed to know that somehow, someday, I could be someone’s mum. But John was right, we weren’t there yet. We knew the stats and we had to give it at least one more go. 1 in 3.
I knew if we were to go again I needed to get on with it as soon as possible. I didn’t want to wait around this time. I needed to give my body at least one clear cycle before another shot so we planned to get through Christmas and New Year and start again in 2017. We actually had a beautiful Christmas and New Year. We had John’s kids and my dad and step mum for Christmas. My dad had recently been given the all clear from cancer and it was a special time. I was thankful for what I had and so grateful to have those funny, loving boys in my life and John by my side. We had been through so much in our relatively short time together that it could have destroyed some relationships but we were strong.
In January we went back to the hospital. This time we opted for a different treatment protocol. We couldn’t face doing the same again. I also agreed to have an endometrial scratch (I’ll leave you to google that one). This protocol was shorter and everything happened very quickly. I didn’t have to take the drugs for as long and I was in for egg collection before we knew it. This was the protocol mostly used for older women having IVF, with the aim of collecting more and better quality eggs.
Two eggs were retrieved. Two. I started to come round while still in theatre and overheard the consultant saying to one of the nurses – “Only two eggs. I think we might need to start talking about egg donation”. By the time I was wheeled into the recovery room where John was waiting for me I was in floods of tears, too upset to speak. As he tried to console me and work out what the hell was wrong a nurse came in looking shocked at the state I was in. I eventually managed to tell them what I had overheard and they hugged me and told me it wasn’t over yet. We only needed one to stick. I knew I was slightly delirious from the anaesthetic still but I couldn’t help feeling completely defeated. In our first round we’d had 7 eggs and ended up with one. In the second round we’d had five eggs and ended up with one. How could we possibly make it to implant day with only two eggs?
The next couple of days were dark and painful as we waited to hear how they were progressing. Two became one and I was called in immediately to have it implanted. The embryos get rated by quality and this was the best we’d had yet. It buoyed me a little to know this and I knew I had to keep positive. 1 in 3. 1 in 3.
So we waited for two weeks. By this third go we’d worked out all the distraction techniques and we had a fairly busy couple of weeks. I stayed off the forums and Google, tried not to obsess over every little niggle, twinge or feeling I had, tried desperately not to compare it to the two previous cycles. Something in me was calmer. What will be will be. When test morning came I was awake stupidly early, a nervous excitement bubbling. I had no expectations. I just needed to know either way.
Two lines. Two red lines! The second line was much fainter than the control line but it was there. I couldn’t believe it, literally. I pretty much refused to believe it. I felt almost nothing. I couldn’t let myself. I needed to know for sure. Poor John was ready to celebrate but we had five hours until our hospital appointment to have it confirmed and I had to know for sure. It was going to be a long five hours. We went to our favourite place for brunch – a place we have now killed time either just before or just after some momentous occasions in our lives. We registered at the new library… We arrived at the hospital far too early.
When the nurse took us through she asked if we had tested at home already. Yes, and we think it might be positive. She quickly took my sample off to be tested and it was the longest three minutes of our lives. In fact, that’s exactly what she asked when she came back into the room. It was indeed positive, definitely positive. And then two of the other nurses we had been through so much of this journey with came in with massive smiles on their faces, their congratulations and warm hugs. That’s when the tears came.
I’m writing this now while being kicked from the inside, in my 29th week of pregnancy. It took me a long time to believe it, to be comfortable uttering the words ‘I’m pregnant’. In that time I heard myself saying ridiculous things like ‘I’m growing a tiny human’… But telling people has also been magical and emotional. Only a handful of our family and close friends knew we were doing this. The more people who knew, the more you had to tell when it went wrong. That third go, we kept it almost entirely to ourselves.
I’m a talker, an over sharer, a believer in sharing stories and experiences that might in some way relate to or help others going through their own stuff (although I have left out some of the gory details…). I’ve had these words in me for months and it feels good to get them out. I don’t proclaim for one minute that this was the hardest process anyone has been through to make a baby – some people take years to find out they even need to have IVF, so in many ways we were lucky we could get started right away – but it was our experience.
Someone asked me recently if, now that I’m pregnant, we’ve forgotten about all we went through to get here. No, but it does make it more manageable and for a very excited mum and dad to be.