A GUEST POST BY NATALIE
I’ve never been much of a planner. I never really had a specific plan of what my life would be like. But I did always think that one day I’d be a Mum. I hadn’t even given that much thought though, I just assumed that that’s what would happen, and it would happen whenever I was ready.
My concrete, very clear understanding was that if you had unprotected sex, you would get pregnant. I was literally 28 before I actually understood anything about ovulation and the different phases of a menstrual cycle. How had this slipped me by? Well, on reflection, perhaps because nobody talks about it. Or, at least, nobody talked about it growing up in the 2000s.
So, in a nutshell synopsis of my life – my husband and I met at the end of uni, saved up and travelled the world for 18months (and got married in Vegas on the way home!), came back, got jobs/did further study, saved up, bought a house. You know the drill. Next up? Baby, obvs. Apart from, 18 months after coming off the pill nothing had happened. I was just finishing up my PhD and was working full time so thought maybe I was just a bit stressed and maybe that’s why it hadn’t happened.
Following several months of appointments and testing, Dan and I found out that we’d never have children naturally. Absolutely wounded.
Whilst looking through our file, the consultant said, and I quote, “A-ha! Daniel. Big problem. You will not have children naturally.” Jesus – could have worked on the delivery! It turns out, Dan’s sperm count is too low for us to ever fall pregnant. I never even once thought the issue would be with Dan. (I didn’t know anything about male infertility. Again, could this be through lack of conversations about this? I’m not sure). But then, to add salt to a very wide-open wound, we went into lockdown and the fertility clinic shut for months.
What followed was that every man and his dog had a baby in lockdown. (Not true, of course, but this is what it felt like as we sat and waited. And cried. And waited. And cried some more). In the September of 2020, we finally got added to the IVF waiting list, after further tests and appointments. “You’ll probably be at the top of the waiting list in about 5 months” they said.
So, we waited for February. February came – “Probably April”. April came – “Probably July”.
By this point, genuinely, baby showers, pregnancy news, babies EVERYWHERE. In other areas of my life, I am sincerely and genuinely so happy for my friends and family when they share their good news. But I SERIOUSLY struggle with this one. I feel like the worst person in the world for it, but my first reaction is not happiness for them. It’s sadness for us. My heart feels like it’s being shredded every single time I hear the words “We’re having a baby!”. I try so very hard to smile and say ‘Congratulations!’. But I’m so far from happy. I just want to burst into tears (and, in private, often do). Which is closely followed by ‘What is wrong with me? Why am I so jealous? I’m a bad person’.
Anyway, we finally started our first cycle of IVF in the August of 2021.
We had what’s called ‘ICSI’ which stands for intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection. Instead of the sperm and the egg finding each other in the dish (IVF), the sperm is injected directly into the egg (ICSI). When you go through IVF or ICSI, you inject medication into your body for weeks. There are lots of appointments and examinations, a minor operation and another procedure to follow. First, you supress your natural cycle. And then you try to stimulate follicle growth. Eggs develop inside the follicles. In a typical period, one egg is released, however, for IVF/ICSI, they’re trying to get lots of eggs so that couples end up with multiple embryos (i.e., the fertilised egg and sperm) so that the embryo with the most chance of developing into a pregnancy can be chosen for transfer. They hope for approx. 10-12 follicles to be developing. With this number, they’d hope for around 7-8 healthy eggs, to then result in multiple healthy embryos.
Sadly, we later found out that I have a low egg reserve. I have short cycles, so lucky me, I have a period around every 23 days. This means that I’ve used up more of my eggs, over the course of my 18 years of menstruation thus far, than other people my age that have a more typical 28 day cycle. So, I didn’t respond to the drugs as well as they’d hoped; 6 follicles grew, 3 healthy eggs were collected and just one healthy embryo developed. Sadly, that little embryo didn’t stick around and I got my period a couple of weeks later. This was, understandably, really really sad.
The NHS, where we are (West Yorkshire), funds one fresh round and two frozen rounds, i.e., if we’d have produced multiple embryos, we could have frozen them and then picked up the next cycle from the embryo transfer stage. However, our next and only available option is to pay for treatment privately.
Dan and I sit and talk openly about everything and I’m truly proud of the relationship we have. We have strong support networks and understanding employees (there’s lots of appointments!). And it was still a very brutal process. I can’t imagine going through something like this in a rocky relationship or without good friends and family or with difficult employment circumstances. It’s both physically and mentally demanding and the odds aren’t really in your favour. IVF doesn’t work for a lot of couples. It can take several rounds and even still, many couples are unsuccessful. I would really love for people to understand that IVF is a bit more of a gruelling process than what’s commonly understood. And that IVF does not necessarily equal pregnancy.
Perhaps, in part, because of the yearning and longing to be a parent coupled with the heart-ache of the infertility journey, we don’t often hear about failed IVF stories. But they happen.
I have always been quite a ‘heart-on-the-sleeve’ kind of person and I felt like I needed to write for Laura’s very wonderful website to share my story. It’s incredibly painful to want something so much and to have very little autonomy over your fate. While you wouldn’t go through IVF if you didn’t have hope, the reality is that you don’t know if IVF treatment will work. I hope with every ounce of my being that future cycles might bring us what we so desperately want.
But for now, our journey is still ongoing.