Well, three times actually; and it has made me think long and hard about whether to post this. Left me pondering that I might be turning into a one woman pity party? Or perhaps, I fear that I might be shattering the illusion that happily ever afters come easily to those who have already endured enough heartbreak? When I read it back to myself I thought “Well, you couldn’t make this sh*t up if you tried?”
I suppose that is my reason for posting; that I considered that there might be more of us, the unlucky ones, the ones who chase that rainbow, that “happily ever after” for far longer than they have the energy to. The ones who feel battered, bruised and broken by it all, who are on the precipice of giving it all up and chasing another dream.
It’s no secret that after Teddy died almost three years ago, we found out we were pregnant again the following Autumn. Sadly, that pregnancy also ended in heartbreak just before 15 weeks. Afterwards I had more complications, retained tissue from an incomplete miscarriage that led to another operation in March of 2017. Then? Well, nothing. No periods, no ovulation, no hope. I suppose you might call me one of the unlucky ones? Suffering from unexplained secondary infertility. I know it happens to so many more women that we even think possible. Don’t get me wrong, infertility for anyone is simply unjust, it’s heartbreaking; but infertility after the death of our son and the loss of a second baby, it just felt like an impossibly cruel joke that the universe was playing on us.
I tried everything. Changed my diet, cut out caffeine, cut out alcohol, took a selection of the most expensive vitamins known to man. Yoga, acupuncture, fertility massage, Chinese herbs, reflexology; I have literally spent thousands. Oh, and did I think to “Just relax?” or “Book a holiday?” Well yes, we did both, as much as we could, but sadly my consultant said that wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference in our case. I charted my temperature, p*ssed on more ovulation sticks than I care to imagine (quite literally pissing my money away), and saw my consultant regularly to monitor what might be going on.
Meanwhile, everyone had a rummage up there. Two hysteroscopy’s in 2017, an HSG (that’s where they flush your tubes through), monthly meetings with the “dildo wand” (that’s my favourite nickname for an internal scanner for those not familiar). Still no one is any the wiser. By August 2017 I was put on hormone therapy (essentially HRT) to try to mimic my cycles and get everything back on track, at least give me a period?! I was also put on a drug called Metformin to try and regulate my blood sugar and help with ovulation. 6 months passed, no change.
In February 2018 we started a drug called Clomid, used for ovulation induction. During this time I’m still doing everything I can to make sure I am eating right, exercising and, yep, “just relaxing”, to give it the best possible chance. By the third cycle of Clomid (you can only do up to 6 rounds as it thins the uterine lining over time, something my body needed no further help with), my cycles where in a mess, almost 60 days, with a 1-2 day period at the end. Still, we persisted. At the end of the summer 2018 we were referred for IVF.
I felt so grateful that there were options, that this might be the magic wand we had been waiting for. The key to the door that opened to our happily ever after. It had worked for so many people we knew, why not us?…
September 2018- First meeting with our consultant at the IVF clinic. We discussed our options and what a treatment plan might look like for us. He agreed that after my disastrous experience with Clomid that I needed to wait until I had two full cycles before we started treatment.
November 2018- We start our first round (excited!). We are on a short protocol of treatment. Meaning that stimulation injections start at the beginning of your cycle and continue for two weeks. I am on a low dose of stimulation drugs because I have polycystic ovaries and a high AMH, meaning I am at high risk of over-stimulating. The injections go well; just have to remember to do them at the same time each evening. The following week I go in for my first progress scan; all looks good. I start a second injection, each morning, to stop me from actually ovulating from all the follicles that are being produced from my ovaries. Two days later I have a second scan; all still looking good.
Early December 2018- Third scan; shit, not so good. The follicles aren’t growing fast enough. They up my stimulation dosage over the weekend to give them a boost. I go in for another scan on the Monday morning, not knowing what to expect. Cycle is cancelled. My ovaries have only produced two follicles; the clinic recommend at least 5 to be present in order to take anyone to an egg retrieval procedure. They give me a “trigger shot” to try and induce ovulation from those two follicles and send me away for the rest of that cycle. Heartbroken. The festive season can go and f*ck itself. We hide it from our family and friends, because I am too ashamed to be letting everyone down, again.
January 2019- December passed in the blink of an eye. After months of sobriety and eating like a goddess I was able to indulge over Christmas. I have my last glass of wine on New Years Eve (just one) as it all starts again first week of January. We have a different plan this time, a long treatment protocol. This involves me starting an injectable drug called Buserilin on day 21 of my cycle; for three weeks. It shuts off your ovaries and tricks your body into thinking it is menopausal. F*ck me, I feel menopausal. Hot sweats, forgetfulness, I think I hate everyone?! I didn’t expect I would feel like this. This needs to hurry up and end.
End of January 2019– Back onto two weeks of stimulation drugs; these kick-start your ovaries into producing follicles again. Still on the Buserilin too. Two injections a night. My body is starting to resemble a pin-cushion. I can’t fit into any of my jeans; the swelling is real. First two progress scans go well.
February 2019- I go to my third progress scan; it looks like history is about to repeat itself. Those follicles are slowing down. They up my dosage again over the weekend. I go home; rest, drink water and use up all my wishes that this too doesn’t end abruptly. Monday rolls around; miracles do happen. 23 follicles of measurable size; egg retrieval booked for Wednesday.
Wednesday 6th February- We arrive at the hospital for 7.30am. Check into day surgery. I am armed with a stack of magazines and a positive outlook. I hate anaesthetic; sh*t I only just remembered that. I wake up from my procedure and we get the news that 10 viable eggs have been collected. We are over the moon. We head home; I sleep off the anaesthetic and feel rather sore.
Thursday 7th February- We nervously wait for our call from the clinic. It comes. Three eggs have fertilised. Just three. I put the phone down and cry. My husband says “It only takes one, Elle.” I know he’s right.
Friday 8th February- Another call. All three have made it to day two embryos. We are egg-static (sorry, too easy). They tell us not to expect a call over the weekend unless something is not right. We book our embryo transfer for Monday 11th. I then watch my phone for two days over the weekend, waiting for bad news. It doesn’t come.
Monday 11th February- We go in for embryo transfer. I don’t know what to expect. This all feels very real. They show us the chosen embryo on a screen. It looks like a beautiful full moon. The embryologist hands it to the consultant from one room to another through what can only be described as a 1970’s dining room serving hatch. Within a minute, the transfer is complete. We meet with a nurse who tells us not to test until Friday the following week. We leave the clinic; all smiles.
The two week wait. I think this is what it feels like to lose your mind. Google is not my friend. Every little twinge is a sign it hasn’t worked; or a sign it has? I have acupuncture, I lie on my back with my legs in the air when I practice yoga. I eat healthily, I rest, I try not to go completely batshit crazy.
Thursday 21st February- I test a day early (rebel). It’s positive. Surely not? I tell my husband; he’s excited. The following morning I get up early and test again before my husband goes to work. Positive. We are both speechless. Could it be? I call the clinic later that morning with my result. They congratulate me and book me for a viability scan at 7 weeks. We tell our parents, they are over the moon. I am in disbelief.
The following morning. I start spotting. Not bleeding, but enough for me to worry. I cry. It continues over the weekend.
I call the clinic on the Monday morning. They say it’s normal as I am taking progesterone. I know IVF pregnancy is different, but my anxiety is through the roof. I call my GP; she agrees to see me that afternoon. She asks me if she wants me to calculate a due date; I say no. I have a blood test and go home.
The following morning the spotting continues. I call the Early Pregnancy Unit at the hospital and tell them I am worried. They fit me in that afternoon. I go in alone and wait nervously for two hours. My anxiety is at new levels. I am scanned by a consultant, she can’t see anything in my uterus, but it might be too early. She scans my ovaries, both swollen and “bulky” from IVF. She sees a shadow on my right, potentially in my tube. They take more bloods and hand me a leaflet “Pregnancy of Unknown Location”. After 3 hours, I head home.
8am the following morning, my phone rings. The consultant from yesterday. She explains my blood HCG is high and tells me it’s a suspected ectopic and to head back to the hospital. I call my husband and ask him to leave work and meet me at the hospital. I call my Mum in tears and apologise to her for letting everyone down again. When I get to the hospital I am taken straight to a room in the EPU. Two consultants and a nurse look after me. I fill in forms, they take (more) blood, they put a cannula in my hand. I am taken to a room to be re-scanned. They can see something there, between my right ovary and my tube. I sob. My husband arrives.
We are taken up to a ward and I am put on a drip as I haven’t eaten since last night and can’t have anything to eat or drink. The ward and the cubicle are identical to the one I was in when Teddy stopped breathing. I panic that I am going to die. Lunchtime comes and goes, and the afternoon passes by. The consultant comes every couple of hours to apologise and I beg them to let this be over. I am taken down to theatre at 7pm. People crowd over me as I wait for the anaesthetic (I still hate anaesthetic); I shake as the nurse squeezes my hand to try and comfort me. I feel a rush up my arm and my neck.
I wake up that evening and see the consultant from earlier today. It’s gone 9pm, she stayed to make sure she could do the operation herself, what a wonderful human. She says we have “some good news“. There was no ectopic. “We’ve left everything in there and I will speak to you in the morning about what we do next.” I am relieved, elated and confused beyond measure. They wheel me back to the ward where my husband waits for me. Tears stream down my face; I don’t even know why anymore? He has to leave as it’s late. I don’t sleep, I snack. Perhaps not being starving will bring more clarity? The hazy feeling from the anaesthetic makes me want to vomit. I persist with the snacking.
I don’t sleep for fear of something bad happening. I intermittently see Teddy in a tank next to me in the dark and am convinced I am finally losing the plot. When the morning comes, my husband returns, so do the consultants. They need to “give it more time”. I have two new snazzy holes in my tummy and two cannulas in my arms. I just want to go home. I ask to be discharged on the promise that I will rest at home.
Several more days of waiting and bedrest. Google is still not my friend.
I return to the hospital the following Monday morning for another scan. Back to the EPU. I start to shake before I even get into the room. Another consultant scans me internally for an hour. Looking at everything from every angle. She sees a sac, in my uterus and thinks it is a pregnancy that has stopped developing. I sob. The hospital want to arrange a D&C for me that day, but it feels too rash, too sudden. I ask to go home. I call the IVF clinic to let them know what has happened over the past week. They advise me to go to them for another scan that afternoon.
My Mum arrives. We both cry. My confusion has peaked. We agree it’s a good idea to get a second scan at the IVF clinic. We go in that afternoon and the scan is quick and easy. They see a sac in my uterus too, and perhaps a blood clot (not unusual)? They say they need to give it more time to show what is going on, and re-book me for another scan in a weeks time. I feel hopeful, it might not be over. We can’t just give up on this yet, we have to give it a chance at least? My mum stays the week and helps me take my my off things. I have cancelled all work commitments in my diary since this nightmare began, and I continue to send apologetic emails to everyone I am cancelling on. I tell friends and family the truth, but it just invites more questions; ones we cannot answer.
I avoid Google for the week. We have fallen out.
The scan day arrives. Ironically, I have had no further bleeding since the day after the suspected ectopic surgery. I feel fine; well hungry and nauseous, but fine. I fear we have delayed the inevitable, but I can’t help but chase the happily ever after. I pick my husband up from the station that afternoon and we head to the IVF clinic. We wait in silence.
She begins scanning. I watch my husbands face as he sits motionless. He’s moved his chair to the side of the bed and squeezes my hand; I squeeze back. Eventually she explains the sac is still there, it has grown, but there is nothing else. No yolk sac, no fetal pole, no heartbeat. They should see all of these things by now. The sac is filled with blood, she thinks. I’m not even crying anymore, I just feel numb. She explains a nurse will come and see us shortly to discuss how we manage this. I return to the bathroom to get dressed, and as I close the door behind me my back falls to the back of the door and I slide to the floor. This is what it feels like to be completely broken. My positivity has finally run out.
Almost a week later. Several phone calls with my consultant, the EPU and the IVF unit led to me being arranged to have a D&C procedure fairly swiftly under guidance of sonography. Given my history of “retained products from pregnancy” they thought this was best. They also wanted to send everything for histology testing; hopefully to shed some light on what had happened. My consultant, the nurses, everyone was brilliant that morning. I was ready to go through for the procedure before 9am, that familiar rush and tingle up my arm; I was out like a light. I wake up about 45 minutes later, in the same recovery room as the two weeks prior; except this time the familiar face of my consultant in front of me. I am not sure what I expected her to say, but it wasn’t this. “I am so sorry, we didn’t go ahead with it.”
What?! Was I dreaming? What on earth had happened now? She went on to explain that they had begun with ultrasound to guide them, and there they were; not one, but two pregnancy sacs. She started showing me pictures she had captured, and explained why she couldn’t go ahead given that there could now be the smallest chance that I was still pregnant; with twins. I was speechless. I spent the next half an hour in recovery completely dazed and confused, asking if anyone had told my husband what was going on? When they took me back to the day unit, there he was, looking even more shocked than I imagine my face had when I had woken up. Neither of us dare say anything for the first couple of minutes. We had lost this baby three times in the last three weeks, and now, there were two?!
After another couple of hours I was taken back to the Early Pregnancy Unit, for another internal 3D scan with my consultant and the same lovely consultant who had looked after us and done the emergency laparoscopy for me. They decided to scan together; to look at everything thoroughly; and sure enough, there they were; two sacs. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. There wasn’t much detail inside either, and no heartbeats; but two? We only had one good embryo transferred, so it must have split. I don’t even know what the chances of that are? (I mean, I am sure Dr Google would tell me, but we still weren’t speaking). Both consultants agreed, they needed to give it more time, another week. They agreed the chances of the pregnancy being viable were very slim, but that they had to give it a chance, especially given the changes that had already happened in recent days. Another agonising wait.
The trouble is, with something like this, is you can’t just put it out of your mind? You can’t just say “Oh well, I won’t think about that until the next scan then.” It’s going on inside you, and you have absolutely no idea what is happening. I wanted to hide from the world during that week; actually, I did a pretty good job. Only leaving the house to walk Boris; I didn’t drive anywhere or do anything until that following scan appointment. It felt as though our lives were on hold, again. Our cards had been thrown up in the air once more, and the hand that was about to be dealt could give us everything, or take it all away.
I don’t think I will ever forget that final scan. Those two empty sacs on the screen next to one another. The way the consultant apologised and looked as though she was going to cry too. The way she placed her hand on my leg as she delivered the news we had been dreading. The way my husband squeezed my hand so tightly, or the hug that the nurse gave me before she took us through to another room to discuss what would happen next. I never would have expected twins, I never would have dared dream of them; but seeing them there on the screen made it all the more real, what we had just lost. The consultant said “I wish I had been able to give you both some happy news. I really do.” So do I, more than she will ever know.
For now, every healthcare professional we have had contact with can only apologise for us getting even more “bad luck”. Our track record seems to baffle them. I’ll be honest, it baffles me. We starting trying for a baby four and a half years ago, I was 29. I’m 34 this month. Time is hurtling forward and each year seems to bring new heartbreak, more complication, and that happily-ever-after seems further away than ever before.
As I sit here, no longer pregnant, and drinking one of my first caffeinated coffees in months (well, you’ve got to treat yourself sometimes?!), I wonder what could possibly happen next? You see, it appears we have run out of steam, given up on the fight, for now, at least.
Perhaps I won’t burn those positivity pants just yet though, hey?
1 in 4 pregnancies in the UK end in loss. Tommy’s the Baby Charity provide vital research to reducing miscarriage and still birth, and are committed to supporting those families who are affected by it. If you, or someone you know, needs support, you can find out more about Tommy’s by clicking here.