This Mother’s Day, I will be celebrating in more ways than one. Not only as a daughter appreciating the amazing woman who gave me life, but also as a new mum to a beautiful baby boy.
This is the first in a 4 part series of blogs; Getting Pregnant, Being Pregnant, Giving Birth & Entering Parenthood. It is an open and honest account of the journey that we embarked on. Writing down how I felt became my therapy, helping me to celebrate the highs and cope with the lows. The reason that I’m sharing this so publicly is to help those that may be going through something similar, who may know someone going through something similar and for those who know very little about the subject.
I hope that readers will take comfort in my bumpy ride and will remain hopeful that dreams really do come true.
Part 1 GETTING PREGNANT
Three years ago we had the chat, whilst we were happy playing the role of favourite auntie and uncle to our beautiful nieces and nephews, we were ready to embark on the journey of parenthood, to take our relationship to the next level and to fulfil our desire to create and shape a life.
After just a month or so it happened! We were thrilled, ‘that didn’t take very long’, we thought. This was it, I was already planning how we would announce it, picturing our parents’ reactions and picking out baby names. We had two solid years of marriage under our belts, our careers were established and we’d settled into our home, it was the natural next step.
After several online baby due date calendars, I concluded that 16th April 2016 was my due date. Maybe if I was overdue, we could have a Taurean baby like me I wondered as I let my thoughts carry me to what felt like another dimension. We’ve always thought finding each other had been our life’s truest blessing. A baby would be the ultimate bonus.
This was it, I was going to look after myself from here on. Walk more, eat more greens and cut out the caffeine. I was housing another life, the hospitality gene in me had well and truly kicked in.
Just 6 weeks into the stay though I felt a terrible pain. I rushed onto google, I’d heard spotting was common in the early trimester. It’s normal I kept telling myself, even though my body screamed otherwise to me. After calling my doctor who just a week before I had informed I was pregnant, I found myself in distress. He urged me to go to A&E as soon as possible, so I left the office with tears running down my face and my arms wrapped tightly around my stomach. I wasn’t ready to let go.
Several hours of cramps and consultations later, I found myself on a bed ready to be scanned. I know miscarriages are common, I had googled it and the nurse confirmed the stats too. One in four pregnancies result in miscarriages she told me, sometimes you don’t even realise you were pregnant to start with. Well that didn’t really reassure me, but theoretically the odds were in my favour. I had a three out of four chance this could still be a successful pregnancy. But with an inconclusive scan and bloods drawn, I knew then what they would confirm in two days. I knew my body, I felt it all happen. I had miscarried.
It was a tough few days, weeks and then months to follow. As I tried to reset my body to be ready to start trying again, the one thing I couldn’t reset was my brain and the thoughts that weighed heavily on my mind. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw what could have been, how it could have felt, what life could have been like. And each month that passed, with each negative test I threw in the bin, I felt less and less like me.
The months would go by in cycles. Disappointment when ‘Mother Nature’ arrived, excitement mixed with hope in trying again, followed by the nerve-wracking waiting game. But each month without fail, just when expected mother nature would arrive again; unwelcome, uninvited and uncomfortably.
Whilst I was going through these rollercoasters of emotions it seemed that everyone around me was getting pregnant, inviting me to baby showers and announcing their births. I was happy for them all, of course I was. But I was sad for me, I was sad for us. Each morning on my commute into work I would see baby on board badges, pregnant bellies and parents with their prams. Was I becoming obsessed? Was this happening for everyone but us?
I decided that I needed to take action. I’ve always been so in control with what happens in my life, the direction it takes, the heights it reaches. But this, this was out of my hands. I researched, I hoped and most of all I prayed that there would be light at the end of this deep and dark tunnel I now found myself in.
Of course there was a light that shone brightly in my life each and every day. He kept me strong, he kept me positive and he made my worries go away when he held me. I know he felt the pain too, but he wouldn’t let me see it, one of us had to be stronger for the other, so he stepped up and held it together for the both of us.
Doctors, referrals to specialists, appointments and some scans later I was told that I polycystic ovaries. This wasn’t anything to be too concerned about, it was very common and didn’t mean that I couldn’t fall pregnant, just that it could take a little longer than most. Whilst waiting for appointments I looked up homeopathic and dietary remedies. I had 6 months of weekly acupuncture, cut out caffeine, introduced more veg into my meals. But I still wasn’t pregnant.
Over a year had passed and my patience was wearing thin. I’d been referred to a specialist and it seemed only medical intervention could help me now. I knew time wasn’t necessarily on my side, my thirties had just crept up on me. The next course of action would be IVF, a huge step and one that I was hoping it wouldn’t come to.
The referral could take another six months to be processed, none the less this was a step in the right direction and perhaps this glimmer of hope is what I needed to de-stress and be more relaxed about what the future holds. I’d heard a few stories of people falling pregnant whilst be referred to IVF, talking of how the positivity had helped them fall pregnant naturally. Maybe we could be one of those stories.
It didn’t get easier though, we were running out of months. With each monthly cycle that went by with negative results, we were another step closer to our first IVF consultation.
In October 2016 we had our first meeting at Guys and St Thomas Assisted Conception Unit. Our NHS funding had been approved for one fresh and one frozen cycle of IVF. Suddenly it felt real, it felt overwhelming and it felt scary.
As we sat in the waiting room, I watched the couples come and go. I looked at them and wondered how similar their stories was to ours, if they felt the same pain on a daily basis and what their journey to this treatment stage had been like.
As our names were called we were taken through all the necessary paper work with the team. We spent a few hours going through our medical history, taking blood tests and recording our personal information. I looked around the unit, took it all in and realised that over the coming months these would become very familiar surroundings to us both.
Of course as all this was happening in the background, life went on…don’t get me wrong whilst I am focusing here on the darkest of times, there were times of real joy during the year and half between miscarriage and IVF. There was the MBE of course, an incredible experience and life changing moment, just the distraction I needed. There were also plenty of trips abroad, including a women’s delegation in Malaysia, anniversary celebrations in Vegas and an incredible Sardinian wedding to name a few. During this time, I became an aunt three times and honorary aunt to a few of my friends’ children too. It was tough to be around all the happiness, I know I had plenty of happiness of my own, but being around the kids made it all seem so insignificant in comparison.
I would often need to remind myself, I had a loving husband, a beautiful house, a great job, financial stability, good health, a wonderful family and some really supportive friends. Those were more blessings than perhaps I deserved and deep down I was thankful each and every day.
A Taboo Subject
The one thing I found during this whole ordeal was the frequency of flippant comments, many by some of my closest friends, family and colleagues.
None of them said in malice of course, but they still made me feel alienated nonetheless. Perhaps my sensitivity was heightened because of everything that was going on, or perhaps people just didn’t and don’t realise how much sub-fertility can eat away at you.
Infertility is not something that is very widely discussed, certainly not in my culture or friend circle. People often asked me how long I’d been married, hinting at the fact that surely children should be on the cards by now, others would advise me not to focus so much on my career as time was not on my side and most would watch me play with my nieces and nephews saying ‘isn’t it time you had some of your own?’
All things I just didn’t need to hear and that had me questioning myself. Had I left it too late? Had my career taken the forefront? Was this ever going to happen for me?
My IVF treatment began over the 2016 Christmas period with a month on the oral contraceptive pill. My forehead was not a fan; it came out in spots, it was painful and my body was struggling to cope with the hormone imbalance. This meant falling pregnant naturally was now off the cards, I know people have mixed opinions about assisted conception, badging it as playing God and science interfering with Mother Nature, but I’ve never thought of it like that. To me, it was just using the advances in technology to improve your life, no different to all the other gadgets we so heavily rely on.
Over the Christmas period 4 big boxes of injections arrived in a sealed bag clearly marked to be refrigerated. I wondered how I would hide these in my fridge, they practically took over an entire shelf. I knew lots of people would be in and out of that fridge over Christmas, many of whom had no idea I was going down this path. I wasn’t afraid to talk about it, just at the time I felt talking about it made it feel that much more real.
In addition to the refrigerated boxes there were 10 other boxes to stash under my bed too. How was I going to cope with all these different meds in me I wondered, when my body couldn’t even handle the pill?
Soon enough January 2017 arrived. Injections started tonight. In 6 weeks from now I could be pregnant. Who knows I could be having twins… again I found my mind wondering off into the abyss of ‘what if’.
I knew I had to stay positive and envisage the amazing feeling that a positive treatment cycle could bring. But the statistician in me knew the odds were just 33% in my favour. None the less this was a real positive step in the right direction, I would need to pluck up the strength and courage to endure the flurry of needles that was to follow, but hopefully it would all be worth it in the end.
Round 1 – Fresh Treatment Cycle
I always thought IVF was a straightforward and quick fix. But in fact, it’s a complex and intense process. A combination of hormones are injected into you to boost egg production, eggs are then extracted when they are the right size and composition, they are then fertilised outside of your body and finally put back in if they grow successfully within 5 days. All the while your body is prepared through more medication to house a life. It is emotionally, physically and mentally draining.
As I held a roll of my stomach tightly, my hubby who was appointed to be my nurse for the duration of these injections gently poked the first of many Gonal F needles into me. It actually wasn’t too bad. It was over quite quickly. Maybe this would be easier than I thought.
Day two was a little more painful, day three a little less and so it continued. Each day I would give him a pain score. It was mostly psychological and I dealt with it in the only way I know how, I took photos each and every day to capture the moment and banked it in my photographic memory. It wasn’t just the initial prick that I had to get used to, Gonal F gave me headaches, and it made me really bloated.
By day five, I was due back at the hospital for a blood test and was told my second injection needed to start the following morning. Just as I had got used to one, I now had less time to psychologically recover from the needles. The cetrotide injection looked scarier, it arrived in powder and liquid form and required mixing before injecting. This one hurt, it itched and it made me bruise.
Between day 5 and 10 I was too-ing and fro-ing from home to work to hospital. Luckily, I had explained to my boss that I had lots of upcoming hospital appointments that I would need to work around my schedule. He was really supportive and didn’t press me for more information, he told me to take the time I needed. It made this whole process that much less stressful knowing I wouldn’t have to constantly explain my movements.
On my day 10 scan, I was convinced that I was ready for egg retrieval, I was already trying to manipulate my calendar to free up days to go in for the procedure. Again, getting a little ahead of myself. Turns out my egg follicles in my ovaries needed more time to grow. By this stage I was completely fed up of being poked and prodded but I would return in two days for another scan hoping that this time my body was ready.
Day 12, another cold train commute to the hospital for a scan and blood test. For the last few days I’d felt really bloated, it’s almost like I could feel my ovary follicles growing inside of me. Surely today I was ready?! I had full sight of the sonogram screen today, there were a lot of follicles, surely this was good news. Apparently still not the news I wanted. They weren’t big enough. After discussing how much medication I had left and how much more I potentially needed with the nurse I made my way home. As after every blood test I would get told what I needed to do next and when I would need to be back.
Later that afternoon I got my first ever call with good news. I could stop my evening injection! I’m sure I felt my heart do a little celebratory skip. Could this mean it was nearly time for egg collection? This would mean fertilisation and embryo transfer was in sight too! I was to return the following day for another scan to check progress and hopefully get a date for the procedure! One step closer.
The next morning as I made my way to the hospital it was eerily quiet. The trains, the walk, the reception area and the even waiting room in the unit. The same nurse that checked me in at reception then took my bloods and said she’d be with me shortly for my scan. Talk about multi-tasking! The blood test hurt, I’d been poked so many times in the same arm that week that my skin seemed to have needles holes all over it. But it was over before I knew it and hopefully there weren’t many more of these left.
I was called into the scan straight away and as I lay down I felt discomfort. My ovaries hurt. I don’t know how to explain it but I could feel it. Surely the follicles were big enough now?! The nurse took a look and saw plenty of follicles, many of which were above the 18mm diameter that was needed! Woohoo I was finally ready for the next stage. I would need one final injection that evening and then Egg collection was scheduled in for Monday!
The hospital called me that evening and advised that I would need to take the buserelin injection, my final one at 2.30am! So, we set the alarm and had a restless sleep trying not to sleep through the alarm entirely. The timing of this trigger injection would be crucial to effective egg retrieval so mid sleep I got up and endured the pain. This one really hurt, although the needle was short, there was a lot of fluid. I took comfort in knowing that soon I would be through the most uncomfortable part.
Monday morning arrived so quickly. I was asked to fast for up to 7 hours before the procedure which would be carried out under general anaesthetic, which meant I could have snuck in a 6am breakfast, but I was way too sleepy and full from the previous night’s dinner to do that.
I’d had many bruises, bumps, twists and sprains in my life, but never a full blown procedure like this. I was scared. As I walked into the theatre I was greeted by the anaesthetist, the doctors and some nurses. I felt quite manhandled initially, my legs were on either side of the bed, my left arm being used to take blood pressure, my right arm being poked for blood and right hand being fitted with a cannula, this was all a bit much I thought. They couldn’t draw any blood, I explained I had been really cold in the waiting room and so that could be why. The nurse was literally milking my arm to try and get the blood out! Through this entire IVF process I must have given blood about 10 times, never facing any issues; was this a sign of what was to come I wondered.
“Owwww”, I screamed, what was that? The anaesthetic had been injected, it was a cold fluid making its way around my body. I knew that this would mean I’d be out soon. So, I pictured God and prayed for Him to remain with me as I slept.
I woke up about 30 mins later… dazed, thirsty and cold. My husband looking at me asking how I was and the nurse smiling at me as if we were lifelong friends. I didn’t feel much pain to be honest, I was tender of course, but nowhere near the pain I was expecting. After some drowsy talk, a few glasses of water, a biscuit, a hot chocolate and a visit to the ladies I felt a little more myself again. The nurse explained the next steps to me and as she did, the embryologist came over and said they had retrieved 29 eggs !!
“29?! Blimey”. She then went on to explain that on average they collect 12! No wonder I had felt so bloated and tender the days before. She explained my ovaries would have gone from the size of an almond to the size of an orange! The following day the embryologist called to say 21 eggs had fertilised and explained that this was very encouraging news.
After two days of rest and being very looked after by hubby, I was due in at work, my tummy region was still sore, but I put on a brave face which I’m sure many saw through. I was due back to the hospital on day 5 for the embryo transfer. For this I wouldn’t be put to sleep, it was described to be a little uncomfortable, but not painful. Technically once planted I would be pregnant.
It was a Saturday, again the hospital was deserted. We were called in straight away to the procedure room. We put on an apron and hat and made our way to the lab like room. Greeted by the embryologist, we were informed that they were really pleased with the development of one embryo in particular. My face lit up suddenly, they also said there were at least five embryos good enough to freeze.
This was good news, well done ovaries! As I was asked to lay on the bed, I could feel my palms sweating. I knew this would be rather uncomfortable. So, as I tried to distract myself and clenched through the pain, I thought about how the journey had gone to date. I was proud of myself, this is something I had never imagined I would be able to handle physically or emotionally. After some uncomfortable prodding I saw on the ultrasound screen that the embryo had been injected. This was it. Technically, I was pregnant! Now the waiting game begun. Would I stay pregnant? I was about to experience the 10 longest days of my life.
I tried to keep myself busy, mostly I tried to stay away from googling symptoms. I took it easy and was so well looked after by my caring hubby. I had to take 3 pessaries a day and 3 tablets each night, not forgetting my daily folic acid tablet and was asked to consume at least 3 pints of water a day! I often felt uncomfortable, and spent a lot of time loo hopping, but I knew it needed to be done.
The days went by and the 15th of Feb drew closer. This would be the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift for us both.
Even though I had taken the day off work, I was awake at the usual time. I turned around and hubby was awake too. This was it, the moment of truth. As I squinted my way to the bathroom, not bothering to find my glasses, I had a quick scan of the instructions and did the deed. I couldn’t face waiting for the results, our past few months of turmoil would depend on a few blue lines! I left the stick on the window ledge and asked hubby to confirm what deep down I had prepared myself for.
The test was negative.
My heart sunk, deeper than I’d ever imagined it could. Partly for me, but mostly for him. I was strong, we were strong but how much more of this disappointment could we cope with?
Most of the day we spent distracted, but I know we were both hurting. We took comfort in each others company, but it took a while for it to truly sink in. I’d prayed harder and more sincerely for this than anything else in my life and just couldn’t comprehend this result.
I googled all the scenarios, false negative, testing too early, late implantation. It could be any of these things? It wasn’t until I was home alone that it hit me. Like a gale force wind, it knocked me for six. I was tired. Tired of being let down by my body, tired of having to work so hard for this and tired of putting on a brave face. I felt anything but brave. I felt like my heart was bruised.
The next few days were hard, uncomfortable and painful. Back into the monthly cycle of pain, a hot water bottle constantly attached to me and tears from the severe stomach cramps and back pains. I felt a dark cloud of sadness raining over me, at some moments It would be fine, other times it would pour down. I was offered counselling from the hospital, but I opted out. I would grieve in my own way.
I was given an appointment to see the doctor to discuss the next and final free cycle, in a months’ time. A month seemed like a lifetime away.
Round 2 – Frozen Treatment Cycle
The month had dragged, but our appointment to discuss the frozen cycle options had arrived. It was a slow commute for me into the hospital, I had sprained my ankle the day before. So slow in fact that my 10 min delay meant I would have to wait 2 hours to get seen! When I was eventually called in, the doctor began with an apology. An apology for keeping me waiting and another for the failed IVF. But she seemed so hopeful, she began talking about the quality and quantity of my frozen embryos, apparently some top rated embryos meant my chances were better than most. Thankfully this round wouldn’t need any injections or blood tests. My heart did a little kart wheel of joy when I heard this. Tablets, nasal sprays and pessaries I could handle… needles not so much.
I asked the question that had been playing on my mind so much, if this is indeed my last try on the NHS could we transfer 2 (at the risk of having twins?) The doctor insisted that one healthy baby should be the aim.
Twins would be amazing I thought, double the joy, double the blessing and from a timing perspective my life back on track. But I knew there were risks associated with multiple pregnancies, I’ve always taken risks in my life to much avail, so perhaps this was another such moment. I promised the doctor I would speak to hubby and discuss this before we came to a conclusion, even though I knew he would be thinking the exact same as me.
Another cycle came and went and 21 days later it was time to start the buserelin nasal spray. four times a day it wasn’t too bad, I got used to it in a few days; remembering to do it was the challenging part. I’d have one more bleed before the embryo transfer and hopefully pregnancy would then follow.
Over the months more friends were announcing their pregnancies, getting their babies christened or celebrating first birthdays, steps, words etc. I was surrounded by reminders that my time had not yet come.
In this time though I had gained a true appreciation of the strength of my marriage. This made our bond, love and respect for one-another that much stronger. The important thing was neither of us had lost faith. There was plenty to keep us distracted in the coming months; if it wasn’t to be extending our family, it would be the massive extension to the house!
Before long, although a little delayed, Mother Nature struck. This time she seemed particularly violent. I felt like her prisoner, I sat in bed tightly hugging my hot water bottle wondering what I could have done to upset her so much. Perhaps pumping my body with all these hormones was the reason I was in so much pain? How I got through days 1 and 2 in particular remain an absolute blur. I really hoped for more reasons than one that this was my last period for 9 months.
Rushing from a meeting in town, I made my way to what was once almost a daily visit. When we arrived at the ACU I stood at the door waiting for it open, not realising that I had to buzz myself in. It really had been a while. After a few minutes in the waiting room, we were called in to the room for my scan.
It was a very friendly nurse that scanned me, she made a rather impressed ‘oooh’ sign behind the curtain as she scanned me! Triple layered 13mm lining meant I was ready to be scheduled for embryo transfer. This was great news. She took our forms, made us an appointment for 6 days time and sent us on our way. In 6 days time I would be technically pregnant again. I felt my heart smile a little.
Those few nights in between scan and embryo transfer my mind was in overdrive. I had dreams preparing me for both the best and worst outcome. I was imagining what I would do if it went to plan and dreading how I would feel if it didn’t. Most of all I was scared of test day as all I could remember was how broken I felt last time around.
Transfer day had soon arrived (18th May 2017) and I had taken the day off work to focus on what mattered to me the most. I was less nervous as I knew what the day would entail and I was thinking positive thoughts. The sun was shining, 18 was one of my lucky numbers and it was my favourite month of May! I was hopeful that this was our time.
The embryologist explained that they had successfully thawed 2 embryos as per our request and that they were really pleased with their quality.
Just as I remembered, although pain free the process felt quite uncomfortable. As the doctor inserted the thawed embryos into me I held my hubby’s hand that little bit tighter. We watched on the screen as they were dropped into my uterus. This was it. Round 2, two embryos and double the chance for our dreams coming true.
The Waiting Game
I was advised to take it a little easy for the next few days (which I attempted to do as best as I could). I tried to avoid google, blogposts and forums and kept my mind occupied on positive thoughts in the two week wait.
This time it felt different though, less pressured. Perhaps it was because I knew my odds were greater, perhaps because I hadn’t gone through the trauma of egg retrieval, perhaps because our time had finally come? Only time, patience and prayer would tell.
I felt twinges, cramps and pain as I always did around the time Mother Nature appears, I didn’t know if this was a good sign, a bad sign or no sign at all. One thing I had read from the official hospital papers was that there was nothing I could do that would help my chances at this stage. It all depended on my embryos and my lining. I was hoping that this time they would implant and stick!
The night before the morning of the test we were out quite late at a games night with our cousins. As we got home exhausted and all laughed out, I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep, but my mind kept wondering into an abyss. Tossing and turning, I didn’t get much sleep at all. At 5am I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to go to the loo and I knew I’d have to test now. As I woke up hubby and told him my plan, he held my hand and said ok.
The moment I had been looking forward to and dreading both at once. With my eyes still trying to avoid the light, I squinted to check the stick, I saw a hint of a second line.. I couldn’t bare doing this alone. I called hubby and asked him to confirm……. Two solid lines! This was it. WE WERE PREGNANT!
I’d always imagined just how thrilled I would feel at that sight, but it was hard to be too excited. I had been here before and had my heart broken. So we decided we would take each day as it comes and save the celebrations till we had our happily ever after.
So here I am celebrating my first Mother’s Day as a mum. It’s been an epic journey and one that has tested my strength in ways I couldn’t imagine. There were more challenges to come throughout pregnancy that I will discuss in Part 2 – Being Pregnant but for now I’d like to leave those who are thinking about starting a family or that are struggling to conceive with a few tips.
- Check things over
Making babies is a miracle and can take time even if there is nothing medically wrong with you. That’s why it’s important for both of you to visit your GP and get things checked over even before you are ready to start a family
- Don’t suffer in silence
Struggling to conceive can be very stressful and draining. It’s important to talk openly to your partner and perhaps a close friend or family member. Airing your emotions will help you to de-stress and I truly believe that a positive mindset will reap a more positive outcome.
- Trust your resilience
You may doubt how you’re going to get through the days and weeks; whether you have the energy or the fight within you. But, you have deeper reserves of strength in times of adversity than you’re even aware of. Prayer and faith helped me to build my emotional resilience. It’s important you find your purpose and use it to guide you through the journey.