Last week was national fertility awareness week. I’ve not posted about it as I was enjoying a little break following my month long #captureyourgrief project.
Today though I was thinking about the awareness week and realised that whilst people know we needed IVF for our boys, not many knew the whole story. So here it is. Apologies for the odd style, I wrote it down just after Toby was born, I’ve adjusted it a bit but it may still be wonky in places.
Our journey to having a baby started in July 2006, Matt and I were so full of excitement and expectation, dreaming of the baby we would hopefully have in 2007, how wrong we were! After six months of trying we started to get a bit downhearted, but hoped that we would be lucky soon. As the months went by the nagging doubts and stress crept in. Would we ever be parents? How much longer would we have to wait? Was there something wrong?
After a trip to the GP and a couple of blood tests which showed a bit of an abnormality with my hormones, we were referred to the NHS. After a year of waiting for appointments and various tests, we were told that I was fine, but Matt had lazy sperm and that we would need IVF. At the time I was too young for free treatment so we went for an appointment at a private clinic. A morning of tests and a consultation in July 2008 (two years after we’d started trying) confirmed that we could go ahead with IVF whenever we wanted – hurrah!
We scraped the money for treatment together and in September 2008 we started. I was fearful of the injections, but they were fine and I got quite good at doing them painlessly! Midway through treatment a scan showed that my ovaries had overreacted to the hormone injections and there was a high risk of OHSS if we carried on. Our hopes had been dashed, but we did get a partial refund (every cloud and all that).
In January 2009 we started our second attempt at treatment, my drugs had been adjusted because of how my ovaries had reacted last time; we were well and truly back on the IVF rollercoaster again! I was nervous about the egg collection process (google it, it ain’t nice!), but it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined as I was very heavily sedated throughout and dosed up on painkillers afterwards. They managed to get some eggs, slightly less than they had hoped, but some were better than none. The next day we had a phone call to say that not many eggs had fertilised and they would call the next day with an update. The phone call came and I was told to come to the clinic as soon as possible for embryo transfer as only one had survived so the best course of action was to put it back where it belonged! A panicky phone call to Matt and we were at the clinic an hour later. The doctors were trying to be positive, but I knew we were on the back foot already. However, we tried to take a positive view as this was the closest we had ever got to being pregnant.
A week and a half later my period arrived, we didn’t even make it to the testing day. Our dreams were shattered again. At our follow up meeting we went through the why’s and wherefores of what had happened and decided to have one more go before moving on to another clinic. We had built a good relationship with the doctors and they had got to know how my body reacted to the drugs.
Our third attempt was in the summer of 2009 and by this time I was a dab hand at injections! Everything went according to plan with a good number of follicles showing at each scan, and about 30 eggs collected. Before going home after the egg collection we were advised that our embryos would have to be frozen as I was again at risk of developing OHSS due to the high number of eggs collected. If they were put back and I fell pregnant, I could end up in hospital. We were disappointed, but looked forward to coming back in a few months time to continue our treatment.
We went back at the end of October 2009 and had our embryos defrosted to start the process again. A few didn’t make it through the first day, but there were two looking good for a day three transfer. About an hour before the embryo transfer appointment I had a phone call to say that the embryos had failed to develop overnight, they had defrosted two more, but they weren’t looking good either. We were in the same position as last time. We had two embryos put back and the waiting game commenced. This time we made it to the test date, but it was negative and there were no more embryos in the freezer. We were destroyed again. It was early December so we threw ourselves into Christmas and hoped that 2010 would bring more cheer.
At our follow up appointment, it was suggested we go to a clinic who were doing a treatment aimed at ladies with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), although I didn’t have any outward symptoms, the way I had reacted to the hormone drugs suggested that this could be another factor. Matt and I talked things through and decided that we’d give in-vitro maturation (IVM) a go. This treatment didn’t involve hormone injections to grow eggs; instead, immature eggs were collected and grown in the lab before regular IVF was carried out.
Mentally and emotionally drained after three and a half years of trying for a baby I needed a break from treatment for a while. We went to lots of concerts and shows, had a chilled out holiday and generally tried to forget the past three years. All the while, friend after friend had happily announced their pregnancies and we were running out of excuses for not going over to see the babies, it was all just too painful.
At the end of summer 2010 I was ready to start again. We contacted the clinic and commenced the various appointment and tests that they required. The egg collection day arrived and they collected a fair number of eggs, Matt did his bit and we were sent home. The clinic had a policy of doing transfers on day five, this allowed the best embryos to be picked and thus a better outcome could be hoped for. We had daily phone updates and things were looking okay for a couple of days until I had a call to say that all of our embryos had stopped developing, there was nothing to put back. I was crushed. I remember getting angry at the doctor for not putting them back inside me sooner and saying something grumpy when he asked if I had any more questions. The doctor said I had poor quality eggs and confirmed my suspicion that donor eggs may be our only option. A teary phone call to Matt followed and we spent the afternoon consoling each other.
At our follow up appointment, the doctor explained our results and went through the egg donor process. At the time, in the UK there was a wait of up to two years, possibly longer as the number of donors was so low. The use of a clinic abroad was mentioned as it would shorten the wait considerably. We weren’t so sure about that at first as it seemed a strange thing to do. After digesting the information we decided to book an appointment at our local clinic to hear about their egg donor programme. We were advised of the massive wait for UK donors and again the use of a foreign clinic was suggested. We had already done some research into this and found that waiting times for treatment abroad were practically non-existent and the screening/treatment process was of a similar standard to here in the UK.
We went away with some information about a clinic in Spain that had an arrangement with our UK clinic where they handle the initial appointments before couples travelled out to have treatment. We were reassured that the Spanish have a culture of giving, and many donors have had families already or just want to help others. Under Spanish law there is a limit on the number of children a donor can ‘produce’ and donors remain completely anonymous. Some more research followed and the clinic in Alicante had an excellent reputation, good results, and their international department meant that we would deal with English speaking staff during our treatment.
From my own family experiences, I have always believed that ‘family’ is who you live/grow up with, not who shares your genes, so the choice to use donated eggs was easy. I know it may seem selfish to some people to have a baby through donor gametes when there are so many children seeking a loving and caring home, but we both wanted the chance to raise a baby that was ours, and I desperately wanted to be pregnant. I wanted the morning sickness, massive bump and painful labour! It is what I was designed to do. Our UK clinic had put me in touch with a lady who had gone through the process already and she answered my many questions – does your baby look like you, does she feel like she is yours, do the clinic staff speak good English, etc, etc. My fears and worries were set to rest; this was to be our path to parenthood.
We were assigned a nurse at our UK clinic and a member of the international team at the clinic in Spain, and between the three of us (and Matt) we corresponded and arranged blood tests, scans, medication (no injections for me, hurrah!!). We had to supply photographs of ourselves and complete a questionnaire to tell the clinic what we looked like (height, weight, hair/eye colour, etc.) so they could match us with a suitable donor. We were given a window of possible travel dates and these were only confirmed the day before we had to fly out, the donor had to be checked and if they were ready for egg collection then we were ready to travel (not good for a control freak like me who likes everything to be booked and planned well in advance!). We decided to treat ourselves to the posh five star hotel in Alicante as they gave clinic patients a discount – we thought that we may as well have a nice holiday too!
On our second day in Alicante we went to the clinic and met with the doctor and a lady from the international team. I was scanned and checked all was well for the embryo transfer later in the week, and hubby did his bit. The clinic was stunning, and the staff were brilliant, very caring and welcoming. There were two British couples attending appointments at similar times to us which in a way was reassuring. We had regular updates about the number of eggs collected, number of embryos and likely day for transfer. In amongst all of this we managed to have a nice holiday and chilled out in the sun – much needed!
The embryo transfer day arrived, we were nervous and excited and were shown to a room which looked more like a 5 star hotel room rather than a hospital room. The head doctor came and advised us that we had two embryos left, not ideal as there were none to freeze for future treatment, but we had a B and a C grade – more than enough to make a baby. The doctor outlined the tests that the donor had undertaken prior to being selected, explained what would happen during the transfer, and the icing on the cake was a photograph of our embryos! We went through for the transfer and I was wheeled back to our room for a rest before leaving. The last words the doctor said before saying goodbye were, ‘see you in a few years for your next baby’. The plane journey home was quite fun as we kept looking at the picture of our embryos!
I had to wait about ten days until I could have a blood test to see if it had worked. Halfway through the waiting period I had convinced myself that my period was on its way and that yet again we had failed. I had even started looking at how the adoption process worked, convinced that was our next step. On the morning of 27th May 2011, I went for a blood test and had to wait until the afternoon for the results. When they eventually came I couldn’t believe it when the nurse said we were having a baby! All our hopes and dreams were about to become a reality! We had a further blood test to confirm everything and a scan was booked for two weeks later to see how many babies were in there.
The day of the scan came and we had one perfect heartbeat – amazing! That little dot turned into our beautiful boy!
5 years, too many blood tests to count, too many hours spent waiting to see a doctor, a hycosy, a lap and dye, 3 egg collections, lots of samples in pots, 5 treatment cycles, numerous transvaginal scans and £23k and we’d finally done it!
Roll on to 2014 and we arrive at our IVF cycle that made Rory and Henry, that’s a story for another time…