To say I was blindsided by infertility, loss and the complexities therein is very much an understatement.
I met my husband in a University lecture at 19, engaged at 24, married at 27. By 28 I had the job, the house, the support network, the life for a baby. When we started trying to conceive I felt nothing but excitement for what was to come. Month after month, if my period was even a day late, I would take a pregnancy test convinced that this would be our time. It was after about nine months of trying that I started to get a bit jittery. We were young and healthy, eating well and tracking cycles – this should be working. Why were we not getting pregnant?
After a year of trying, my husband and I went to the GP to do some routine fertility tests. His came back stellar/top drawer/star pupil, but I got a call to say that the blood results indicated I wasn’t ovulating. In that moment, the bottom fell out of my world and for the next three years that phone call would be a drop in the ocean of bad news we just were not expecting or prepared for. After more blood tests and an internal scan, I was referred for a HSG scan (which flushes dye through your reproductive organs and x-rays them to get a picture of what’s going on). This procedure made me groan out in pain, and the consultant stopped it in the end as the dye was not flushing through my fallopian tubes, indicating that they had collapsed. By the end of that year, three days before Christmas, I was scheduled for a laparoscopy to investigate the extent of the collapse and see if they could open them under anaesthetic.
I woke up from that operation to the surgeon telling me there was nothing they could do, it hadn’t worked and I had a 3-5% chance of conceiving naturally. I felt weirdly okay, like I knew that was what he was going to say all along, and that IVF would be our path.
Our NHS trust did not fund any rounds, so we regrouped our finances for six months and then began our first round of IVF just after my 30th birthday. And let me tell you – I was a professional at it! I approached it like any other of my life goals – thinking this is just what we have to do to get our baby and “I’ll just plan and attack it like any other project”. I was adamant that it wouldn’t stop me living my life, so I worked in waiting rooms and cafes in between appointments and filled my diary for that summer with fun things. In my mind it would either work – in which case I could enjoy everything being pregnant or it wouldn’t, and I’d need the distraction. I responded well to the injections, and really didn’t mind them, and egg collection went well. Three embryos made it to the stage where they were ready to be transferred.
The day we transferred our first embryo, Dot, we were so happy and excited and had our first two week wait for results, which I really didn’t mind too much. I was realistic that it might not work first time, so it was the best and biggest shock when the clinic called the say the transfer had been a success and that I was pregnant. That day I felt like I was living in sunshine – even though we were only 4 weeks pregnant we told all of the people closest to us as we just couldn’t believe how lucky we had been.
The next day we went for a routine blood test to make sure the pregnancy hormone levels were rising at the right level. We got a call with the results to say the levels had not doubled as they were expecting, and there was a chance that we could miscarry this pregnancy. I was told to stay on all the medications and come back in two days. By the next blood test they confirmed that the hormone levels indicated that we would lose the baby – I was to come off all meds and wait for the miscarriage to happen.
In the week that followed I had a bleed and the clinic said to come back in for a blood test to make sure everything was ok. To everyone’s shock my hormone levels had gone up, not to the levels required for a healthy pregnancy, and I was referred to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) for an expected Ectopic Pregnancy. That day I remember going into autopilot and finishing off a few projects and emailing a few stakeholders to tell them I wouldn’t be in for a couple of days and headed off to the hospital. What came next I could never have predicted or imagined.
I was at this point very naïve about miscarriages and also the extent of knowledge that medical professionals had about them. The EPU could not find the baby either in my tubes or anywhere so they sent me home for four days and told me to come back for a repeat blood test and scan. At this next scan my hormone levels had risen again but they still could not find the pregnancy. They ruled out an ectopic but not a miscarriage and sent me away again not knowing if there was a baby there or not. After another week or so of investigations, blood tests, and slow rising hormone levels a consultant confirmed that I had what they thought was a MMC (missed miscarriage) and I would need intervention to end the pregnancy. I was offered what they called ‘a medical’, which in layman’s terms is when tablets are inserted inside you to induce contractions.
I remember vividly lying on the table while this procedure happened, looking at my husband thinking – this is not real life. How can I be ending something I so desperately want? I was sent home to wait for the tablets to take effect. That night was awful – indescribable pain of contractions, almost willing a bleed to happen so that this nightmare would be over. For the next 2-3 weeks I had a slow bleed almost constantly, at first I passed it off as ‘normal’ but when it didn’t subside we ended up back in the EPU with fears of an infection. As I was being examined the consultant started to panic as there was a huge clot in there and as she removed it (without painkillers) I begged her to stop. This felt like the last insult. In total our miscarriage lasted 8 weeks – double the age of our baby itself. I have written about this particular experience in detail as even three years later I have failed to find information which conveys the extent of what a miscarriage can be. We spoke to many consultants in that time who all gave us different answers. We were confused and heartbroken.
What I also haven’t said is that, save for a few cancellations, I carried on as normal. I worked, went to weddings, went on holiday. It was only when I was on holiday with my best friends that I had a full blown panic attack and realised that burying my feelings was futile. It was like living in limbo and the grief came pouring out of me.
It took us about six months to build up the confidence to transfer another embryo, which unfortunately was unsuccessful. And then we were dealt another blow when our consultant said the one embryo we had was of poor quality. He might as well have punched me in the face.
We took the difficult decision to go for one more round of egg collection and this time around, there was so much less excitement, so much less joy, but as always that nagging glimmer of hope that propels you forwards. We were lucky enough to have five healthy embryos at the end of that round, and we were overjoyed at those results. After what happened with our first fresh transfer we decided to freeze all five and enjoy a summer of holidays and weddings before doing another round.
The rest, as they say, is history. We have been so fortunate that our fourth round worked and as I sit here typing I have a big box of dinosaur themed party bits next to me in readiness for a first birthday at the end of the month. That day when our little boy was placed on my chest (I will save you a hair-raising birth story!) and I heard him cry, I felt an enormous wave of calm wash over me.
For the first time in four years I breathed out. There was no more bad news. No more sadness. Just living in the joy that he had brought us.