When Gemma sent me this account of 7 years of battling through infertility, I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. This lady and her husband have been through countless ups and downs, heartbreaking outcomes and a whole lot of pain; physical and emotional. At times I wondered how they found the strength to carry on after so many setbacks. But they did and my word, did they get the happy ending they so deserved.
On paper we had done everything in the right order and at the right time. Holidays, engagement, house, wedding, travelling and working abroad. Tick tick tick, life was good and on track. I was 29 and living in Tokyo with my husband Paul and working as an English teacher. It seemed like the perfect time to start a family, little did we know that the next 7 years would be so traumatic.
After 1 year of trying for a baby we set up a meeting with the swankiest IVF doctor in Tokyo, and even better, he spoke English. All the tests ensued, one of which was the HSG. It hurt like hell and I was devastated to discover that my left tube was blocked. However, I took comfort in the knowledge that my right tube was open. 50% less chance than everyone else I thought, I can still do this.
Next the doctor prescribed the gateway drug of Clomid for 3 months and then after that 4 months of timed intercourse with injectables… nothing worked. At this stage I started pushing for IVF so that I could bypass my tubes. Our first cycle of IVF with transfer resulted in 6 blastocysts! We transferred one embryo in a frozen cycle which was a success and we had our first pregnancy. We were over the moon! Yes, we had got away with it! My husband booked us a stunning holiday in Langkawi and we laughed and dreamed of the baby that was on the way. By the time we got back to Tokyo it was time for our first 6 week scan. But, horror struck, it was ectopic and it was implanted in my open tube on the right. The doctor ordered me to go straight to the hospital because the HCG was so high that they were worried my tube could burst at anytime. We were paralysed and in shock with horror, and I was booked to have surgery in this foreign country where the doctors and nurses barely spoke any English. It was a lonely and terrifying time being in hospital for 3 nights. I vividly remember staring up at the surgery lights and looking down at my naked body seriously not understanding why this was happening to me.
So there I was left with one blocked tube and no hope of getting pregnant other than through IVF. I could sense this would be an expensive and dangerous journey ahead, how right I was. In the midst of all this drama my husband and I were planning on moving to Chicago in the States as part of his work. Great, I thought, they have the best doctors in the world and we have 5 embryos left. We can still do this.
On we went, my husband flew our precious embryos over to America and we prepared for our second frozen embryo transfer. We had another positive pregnancy result but then were thrown back into anxiety hell because our HCG numbers weren’t rising as they should which could have been an indication of another ectopic. We managed to get to the the first scan and there was no heartbeat but it was in the uterus, ‘maybe it’s slow’ they said. We went back a week later and they confirmed it was a blighted ovum. I miscarried naturally, it was an awful experience and the bleeding started in the office toilets of my temping admin job. I was too embarrassed to excuse myself so hid in the toilets and let the baby pass and then got a taxi home and stayed indoors for the rest of the weekend. This was a very dark time.
1 ectopic and 1 miscarriage behind us, we planned for another transfer of 2 embryos which ended in a negative. Then one more embryo left, which we transferred and let to another early miscarriage.
Back to square one, no embryos left and a whole lot of money and heartache behind us. The doctors said we could do another round and this time try PGS testing. With so many high grade blastocysts they were puzzled as to why we had no successful pregnancy. We followed their advice and did another IVF cycle, this time we had 8 embryos and after PGS testing we had 2 genetically normal embryos. We transferred one embryo and got another negative. By this point we were really losing hope and feeling that the world was conspiring against us. We couldn’t believe after spending so much money we still had nothing. Little did we know the biggest shock lay right ahead of us.
We had one last PGS tested embryo, after that we said we were finished with trying to conceive. We had spent so much money. The transfer went ahead and we were delighted to receive a great positive result with a high doubling HCG number. Finally, we saw a heartbeat and had several scans to confirm the pregnancy was in the uterus and growing on track. We graduated from the IVF clinic and on to an obstetrician.
To celebrate, we booked a weekend away in Boston just before our 13 week scan. It was absolutely beautiful and I remember telling Paul how happy I was. He agreed and we had a brilliant time sightseeing and enjoying Boston… until the final night when I felt something burst inside me. I got up to go to the bathroom and then fainted three times. I managed to get to the toilet but then couldn’t breathe. Looking back we should have called the ambulance immediately but we were scared, in another country and terrified of the insurance costs. We had a flight back to Chicago the next morning so we agreed to get home and then go to the doctors. But the pain worsened quickly, I couldn’t stand up and became weaker and weaker. By 3pm the next day we called an ambulance. As soon as the paramedic looked at me, he knew. My lips were blue and face pale and I was in total agony. On arrival at the hospital they scanned me and confirmed there was no heartbeat. But they kept mentioning the word ectopic, which confused me as we had had so many scans to confirm it wasn’t. But it was, it was a rare type of ectopic pregnancy called a cornual or interstitial pregnancy. This is extremely dangerous and only occurs in 1 in 10,000 pregnancies. The baby had implanted between the tube and the uterus right next to a blood vessel and had grown so large that my uterus had burst and I was heammoraging internally. No wonder I was in pain! The doctors could not believe that I had lasted so long, I had the beginnings of sepsis and was in a very dangerous situation. In fact, I very nearly died.
They operated immediately, repaired my uterus but advised that I should not carry a baby again because my uterus was so weak. To say we were devastated was an understatement. I could not believe that lightning had struck twice and each time it had worsened our chances of having a baby. Everything we wanted was further and further away. I felt so numb, and just told myself to get through the day. We were in shock and Paul suffered some sort of PTSD. He used to get flash backs of that night, I think he felt very guilty and I know he looks at me in a different way as he is terrified of losing me. He came very close to losing both his wife and baby.
We moved back to London 6 weeks later still stunned by what had happened and with me bearing two scars now, one from the ectopic and the the other from the cornual ectopic. I had to begin life again at 33, starting a new job back in the UK. I decided to ‘fake it till I make it’. It was the only way to cope. I couldn’t see my old friends as it was too painful, by now they had all started families and I really felt it wouldn’t happen for us. How could it? I couldn’t carry a baby. We would never have a family. Even though the hormones and sadness raged inside me I carried on busying myself with running, work, friends.
But while in the midst of preparing for the Brighton marathon I started to feel strange pains, they reminded me of the pains from Boston. I instantly knew something wasn’t right. We had booked to go on a ski trip to Val d’sere the following day but no, I ended up in hospital due to a natural pregnancy. WHAT? Our HCG numbers were around 2000 and I was kept in hospital overnight. A scan showed that there was no implantation in my uterus but sure enough another suspected ectopic. I was terrified of another surgery, it was more than my body and mind could take. Thankfully the HCG numbers declined and I escaped surgery. After 3 nights, I was allowed to leave hospital because the pregnancy resolved itself. I was so angry after this, I wasn’t even trying to get pregnant. It was so confusing, I had no open tubes, how on earth could this have happened. As a follow up, I was seen by one of the infertility specialists at the hospital. Looking back, he totally changed my life. He scanned me and said that I could carry a pregnancy and that he had seen women who had been through similar trauma go on to carry healthy babies. I couldn’t hear this, wasn’t ready and was totally done with being pregnant but he was adamant! We got to the point where we were almost arguing! It did plant a small seed of hope in my mind but I buried it away, it was too much to consider after what we had been through less than a year before.
One thing the surgeons in Boston had mentioned was gestational surrogacy. Three doctors in the States all agreed that my uterus was not strong enough to carry a baby but our embryos were healthy and could result in a baby. Paul and I discussed this and decided to go for it. This was a whole other world. Surrogacy in the UK is not a transactional business like in the US. Here the surrogates claim expenses anywhere around £15k. I looked for surrogates on private facebook groups and agreed to meet with one who lived not too far away. We ‘matched’ as they say in the surrogacy world and I began doing another round of IVF with a clinic in London and she prepped her uterus. Sadly, after retrieving 8 blastocysts only 1 was genetically normal after PGS testing. Seriously, I couldn’t believe our terrible luck. But hey, we had 1 embryo and so decided to plough on. Our surrogate, however could not get her lining thick enough. We tried several times but with no luck. It broke my heart but we had to say goodbye to that surrogate, she was lovely and I know she really wanted to help us.
We quickly matched with another surrogate but had reservations which I ignored because I was so desperate to try this one embryo. Life was in total limbo and we didn’t know which way we were turning. We did get to transfer but it was a negative. After all the emotional turmoil we were exhausted, it felt like the bottom had fallen out of our world. No embryos left, no pregnancy. So much money down the drain. After some more soul searching, Paul and I decided to give it one more shot and I am glad we did.
Around Jan 2016 Paul was asked to work in Hong Kong, I decided to stay put because I wanted to continue the surrogacy project, as I liked to call it. It was so hard on our already strained relationship but frankly we needed the money and I had to stay put for my job and just in case surrogacy did work. On the next retrieval we managed to get 6 good PGS embryos after testing. I couldn’t believe it. I kept asking the embryologist to double check she was calling the right person. Finally, I knew that one day we would somehow get our family. I just had a feeling, pretty unbelievable after what had been through!
We transferred 2 embryos to our surrogate and were over the moon to discover that she was pregnant with one baby. Things seemed to be falling into place. However, disaster struck at the 10 week scan. The baby had stopped growing and our surrogate needed to have a D&C. The guilt I felt for putting her through this was immense. If I could have traded places, I would have in a heartbeat. It was a very dark time. There are some pics of me with friends from around this time and you would never know what I was going through. I hid my pain with a smile but often had to run to the toilets to have a cry at work. A few months after the D&C our surrogate discovered that she had dangerously high blood pressure, doctors said that she shouldn’t consider pregnancy again. I will never know whether the high blood pressure was the reason for the miscarriage but it was just something we had to accept.
We still had 4 embryos and so I kept trying to find other surrogates but it was such a strange and unregulated world that there are a lot of rogue figures trying to get money and frankly just acting weird. Nothing really clicked and I was losing hope and just trying to cope with my husband away and a full time job. It was very tough. The only thing that helped me to cope was exercise and it also kept me mentally strong, something that I really needed at that time. I can vividly remember running to the toilets at work while my female coworkers talked about getting pregnant. It would be so easy for them. None of them knew what I was going through, I chose to only share my struggles with very close people. I am so grateful for those special people, they really got me through it. While there were no surrogates, I started to think back to what the doctor in the UK had said, about how I could carry a baby… and I began to dream. Could that really be possible? There was no way my husband would ever agree to transferring in me, he had been through too much. However, where there is a will there is a way. I made an appointment with my IVF doctor to see what he thought. He recommended I get a private scan at a specialist in Harley street. It was Dec 23 2016 and the I recall the doctor casually saying ‘yeah I think you should try’. I was flabbergasted, really? Me, am I strong enough? I had been told ‘no’ so many times, surely it would be crazy to try again. I mulled this information over in my head through the Christmas break, trying to think how I could broach it with my husband.
But, it seemed that I didn’t need to because we were approached by a tried and tested surrogate. She wanted to carry our baby. Fantastic I thought, let’s go ahead! And so we did but at the last minute her husband got cold feet and we were devastated once again and left in the lurch. At this point I had enough of the surrogacy world, I left the surrogacy agency we had joined and decided to go ahead with a transfer to me. After talking everything through with Paul we agreed somehow to try, I think he was fed up with surrogacy too! Despite everything we’d been through we were always on the same page and wanted the same thing, a family.
We took our time and then on May 12 2017 we transferred a precious embryo into me. Lo and behold it worked, and the baby was in the right place, in my uterus. We had so many scans and sailed through everything, no morning sickness, no stress. Well, more than a usual amount of anxiety, but I was very used to that with everything I had experienced! And my body was in the best shape ever because of all the exercise. I was pregnant and we were on our way! Exactly a year after my scan in Harley street, Dec 23 2017 I finished work to begin my maternity leave.
On Jan 9 2018 I was admitted to hospital with strange spotting and the doctors kept me in overnight. Our baby was absolutely fine but given my history they wanted to err on the side of caution. Thankfully I was able to see my Grandma the next day for the last time as she was in the same hospital, then later that night my waters broke and I had an early C section at 37 weeks. We finally met our miracle baby boy on Jan 11 at 23.48 and named him ‘Casper’. I really don’t think I believed he was coming until he was in my arms but he was the most perfect thing ever and continues to be to this day. My Grandma passed away in hospital 8 hours after Casper was born. I know how much she wanted us to have him but I do think on some level she knew, it must have been her final wish on this earth. Casper is our shining light and constant reminder that anything is possible.
Please note – I am honouring wishes of anonymity where requested from my guest bloggers and none of the content or any advice within replaces the advice or protocols from medical experts. Every individual is just that, individual.