I am so touched to be able to share some real stories from people who have faced difficult fertility issues that have gone on, often against the odds, to become parents.
Here, Rebecca from Scotland shares her story of her and her partners struggles with trying to conceive, the many hurdles and the magical ending.
I hope these stories raise hope and encouragement and make things a little less lonely, Vicky x
I met my husband in 2005 when I was seventeen, he was twenty two. We got married in 2011 and in between working hard in our respective careers, we were devoted ‘parents’ to our precious pooch. She was, quite frankly, our world. A couple of years later we introduced another furry companion into our family and life was good. We spoke about having children in the future and knew it was something we both wanted. Looking back, I realise it did used to leave me with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever we spoke about it and I often found myself saying ‘if we can have children’ rather than ‘when’. It was almost as if I subconsciously knew it wouldn’t be easy for us.
I had always struggled with painful, heavy periods and pain during intercourse. I had been on the pill from my early teens to help manage the symptoms. Following a referral to Gynae in my early twenties, I was told it sounded like I had endometriosis but the only way to diagnose it would be with a laparoscopy. I kindly declined their offer as the thought of surgery, however minor, terrified me. As time went on I started to develop digestive problems, particularly just before and during my period, which the GP informed me was IBS. I was given a concoction of medication and sent on my merry way.
I came off the pill shortly after we got married and we decided to just ‘see what would happen’. Nothing. Nothing happened. We weren’t ‘trying’ but we weren’t ‘not trying’. In 2015, after being off the pill for a few years but without the hint of a positive pregnancy test, I requested a re-referral back to Gynae. This time the male doctor examined me and confirmed that I ‘100% did not have endometriosis’ as he could not ‘feel anything’. He did, however, recommend that he put a referral in to the ‘Infertility Clinic’ just to get the ball rolling.
At the beginning of 2016 our beloved dog died and we were both left heartbroken. The gap she left in our lives fuelled us to really start ‘trying’. It was indeed very trying. Suddenly, at the flick of a switch, our ‘see what happens’ laid back attitude had changed. I was desperate to become a mother. And so we were thrust into the crazy world of vitamins, ovulation kits, timed intercourse, sperm friendly lube and handstands after sex to stop the sperm from escaping. If someone had told me that running around my housing estate naked afterwards would result in pregnancy I would have done it. But still my dreaded period arrived each month, usually a couple of days late just to tease us. By the time our appointment at the ‘Infertility Clinic’ arrived I knew something wasn’t right. My husband was diagnosed with a varicocele on his left testicle and his sperm sample revealed a low count and even lower motility. The Clinic requested another two samples, the results of which were even bleaker. My husband received a lovely letter in the post confirming that his samples showed ‘low count and poor quality’. Kick a man while he’s down why don’t you. Following a brutal meeting with a not so sympathetic consultant, we were told our best chance of conception would be through a form of IVF known as ICSI. We were lucky enough to be in an area of the UK where we would receive two chances funded by the NHS. For that we were very grateful.
In February 2017 we received a letter from the Assisted Conception Service informing us that we were nearing the top of the waiting list and inviting us to go in for an appointment. During a routine scan, the nurse found a ‘shadowed’ area where my left fallopian tube was. Later that day I received a phone call from the nurse saying the consultant felt further investigations were required before going ahead with our treatment and an appointment for a laparoscopy would be arranged. The weeks following the scan I began to have cramps and black spotting and my period was overdue. I rang the nurse for advice who asked if it was possible I was pregnant. For the first time in years there was no chance of a pregnancy that month as I had been away with work during my previous fertile window and I had had my period as normal the month prior, albeit it was lighter. I decided just to wait it out. One morning I woke up having dreamt I was pregnant, by that point my period was ten days overdue, so I decided to buy a cheap test on my way home from work. I fully expected a negative so did the test that night by myself while my husband was at work. Within 30 seconds there was a positive result, clear as day. The first time I’d ever seen one. Excitement rippled through my body followed closely by fear. Something wasn’t right.
That night I followed my gut and took myself up to A&E. Long story short I was told I was indeed pregnant, my HCG was nice and high, I was congratulated and sent on my way. The rather abrupt consultant told me it was ‘absolutely not an ectopic pregnancy’, I would KNOW if it was. I had obviously been one of those women who have a period in early pregnancy and was now about 9 weeks pregnant. For reassurance, they asked me to come back in a few days to check my HCG was continuing to rise and to be scanned. I trusted what I had been told and I allowed myself to get excited. It had finally happened.
Rather than go into the ins and outs of what followed, the end of the story is basically that the pregnancy was inside my left fallopian tube. After an additional two visits to the hospital where I was once again told it was ‘definitely not ectopic’, my tube ruptured and I quickly became very unwell. By the end of the week I had emergency surgery and had the tube and baby removed. The consultant who performed my surgery, the same one who told me it was not ectopic earlier in the week, also found adhesions and patches of endometriosis in my Pouch of Douglas. The months that followed were fairly dark.
Fast forward a few months and we were notified that we were now at the top of the waiting list for ICSI and invited to go for our screening appointment. I was poked and prodded to check I had healed and we could proceed with the treatment. My husband and I had bloods taken to check for scary things like HIV (and so started the ‘what if we have HIV’ paranoia!!!) and to check my all important AMH level. We both felt nervously excited. Although we were starting our treatment with sperm issues, one tube and endometriosis, we were hopeful. That is until we went for our follow up appointment.
AMH, or Anti-Mullerian Hormone, gives you an indication of your egg reserves, it more or less tells you how fertile you are. It also helps determine the dosage of injections required to stimulate your ovaries and the length of time you should inject for. At the time of starting treatment I was 29 (just!) and the normal AMH level for someone my age should have been between 13-53. Mine was 4.7. I remember squinting to read the figure before the nurse told me, thinking it said 47. Oh to be so lucky. I was devastated. We had now added very low egg reserves into our recipe for infertility. The nurse told us not to expect many eggs, three was the minimum I needed to have collected in order to be offered a subsequent round, if needed. The pressure was immense.
We were told we would begin our treatment a couple of months after our screening appointment. We used that time to get our bodies as healthy as possible, which meant no fun things like caffeine or alcohol and no processed foods. We also continued with a concoction of vitamins, I had an ‘egg boosting’ smoothie every morning before work and I chugged down pints of beetroot juice to help thicken my lining. I have no idea whether any of these things contributed to the outcome of our treatment but it gave me some control at a time when I felt everything was out of our control.
In September, we started our treatment with a Prostap injection into my stomach. This would switch my ovaries off (weren’t they already off!). We also received our bag of injections and other medication to take home and were given detailed instructions about what to take and when. I was put on the strongest dose of stimulating drugs and was on what was known as a ‘Long Protocol’ meaning I would inject for a longer period of time. My husband took control of the injections, mixing them up each morning and injecting me before work. After 10 days, we went in to the clinic for a scan to see how I was responding and I was reminded not to expect much. Imagine our surprise, and the nurse’s, when my scan revealed plenty of lovely looking follicles. I was almost ready to go in for egg collection.
The morning of egg collection was a nerve wracking one. Not only had we been trusted the night before with administering my ‘trigger’ shot at the correct time to let the eggs know we were coming for them, but I was also about to be knocked out and have needles inserted into my ovaries. It was all worth it though when I was told upon waking that they had managed to collect nine eggs. During my procedure, my husband also had a ‘job’ to do and produced his sample. This pot of gold would later be used to select the best looking sperm to inject into each egg in the hope that they would fertilise.
After a long night of worry, we received a phone call from the embryologist the next morning informing us that out of the nine eggs, all nine were mature. And out of the nine mature eggs, six had fertilised. Not only that but my husband’s sperm sample was classed as ‘normal’ with a significant rise in count and quality!
Fast forward five days and we were going in to the clinic to have one of our precious embryos transferred. Prior to going into theatre, the embryologist met with us to tell us four of our embryos had survived and were now ‘blastocysts’. Three of them would be frozen and one of them transferred into my womb that day where it would hopefully lay down its roots and implant.
We are one of the lucky ones. That tiny little speck which they so carefully transferred inside my body is now my almost five month old beautiful daughter. She is our world and every time I look at her I count my lucky stars. It could have been so different. Her three little siblings are frozen in time and, one day, we hope to build up the courage to go through treatment again. I’m not going to lie and say that it was all smooth sailing once we found out the treatment had worked. Far from it. I had been so busy preparing myself for how I would cope with a negative result without contemplating how I would cope with a positive. Those nine months were among some of the hardest, most stomach churning and anxious months of my life with various visits to maternity assessment for spotting and reduced movement. I withdrew from those I love, didn’t allow people to get excited for us and wouldn’t dare allow myself to dream, especially not for the first two trimesters. As I came closer to my due date, I slowly began to believe that our baby was coming and on 29th June, our beautiful daughter arrived safely and my god was she worth the wait.
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.