I remember it so clearly. My husband and I were both taking a day out from work back in 2015 and were hanging out in East London at a cafe. Which incidentally, makes us sound much, MUCH cooler than we are. I mean he did have a beard then and everything mind you. Anyway, this was when I took a call from the doctors clinic to confirm and discuss my first ever fertility blood results.
Even writing that; ‘fertility blood results’ takes me back to then and how I felt hugely separate from the situation that was going on. I couldn’t believe ‘investigations’ were starting. How had it come to this? Why wasn’t my (um, or our) stuff working? Was I ‘infertile’? Did that mean there would never be hope or was it a temporary thing to simply be fathomed out and fixed?
Despite the crazy assumptions and worries going on in my head, I felt utterly distant from it like it wasn’t really something unfolding before us. That it would all just clear up soon and it would be dealt with. Sorted.
I had initially opened the results and stared blankly at the numbers and symbols on the paper in front of me in a supermarket car park a few days before our London jaunt. Having done a bit of homework I knew roughly what I wanted to see. And ‘low’ wasn’t on the list. I didn’t know what to tell my husband, not least because I didn’t 100% know what it all meant myself.
On the line reading ‘AMH’ (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) it indicated the figure ’15’ which was hand in hand with the word ‘LOW’. Now back then I didn’t have much of an idea if that was really, hopelessly low or not. Or how low it had to be to declare infertility. So I immediately turned to Google and scared myself for a good 25 minutes before deciding that the frozen goods in the boot needed to get home. And I needed a hug.
I called the doctors surgery to ask them to please let me know what it all meant and they promised someone would call in a few days time. By which point I had completed Google and determined that we were most probably FUCKED. And it was all my fault.
I followed up the call with an email. Here it is. Can you sense the panic?
I really think there should be a protocol for doctors surgeries to follow if anything is showing as LOW in fertility blood results. It can absolutely floor you to read that word, on your own, in Budgens car park, your eyes darting round the paper for an explanation, an answer, some reassurance. Oh and FYI, HIGH could mean polycystic ovaries. So you probably don’t want that either. You want boring old NORMAL please and thanks.
And what in merry hell is AMH anyway? I’m no medical expert but it’s a test for a particular hormone that is secreted to show levels of ovarian reserve. It shows up when there’s some activity in developing egg sacs, AKA follicles, where little eggs like to reside before being released during a fertile period each month of a woman’s cycle. We didn’t learn this in school right? Ovaries and wombs, I think that was the extent of it. I don’t even remember being told a woman is born with all the eggs she’ll ever have.
So back to East London. While we were sat waiting for our food to turn up, the doctor on the other end of the phone explained that my AMH was at the high end of the low bracket, which made me feel marginally better, with a dose of side eye. But I was 32 and healthy, why was the test that essentially indicates, albeit not precisely, your ovarian reserve of eggs coming out as low?
This was roughly two years prior to my endometriosis diagnosis which could go some way to explain my low reading, possibly due to damaged ovaries.
My mind started to spin. All I could see were two empty ovaries. Closed for business. I felt wretched and guilty that my body was possibly going to stop my husband and I from achieving biological parenthood. And in all my desperate searching for answers and help, it seemed that your AMH is sort of set in stone. There isn’t a supplement or therapy you can have to really move the dial on that blood result, that bodily function specifically.
Before being diagnosed with endometriosis, the AMH thing consumed me. It was clear to me that this was our fertility issue. Each month that went by with no positive pregnancy test would mean even less eggs left inside me. Even less chance. I was desperate to know how many actual eggs I had inside me (impossible) and my mind worried so much about the number of cycles left before I was clearly going to go into early menopause. It took a while for me to get out of that fog and to start seeing what I could do to boost my fertility and calm my scatty brain. I needed some control back.
‘So ok, not a lot of eggs left, maybe, but there are some in there and they need looking after’. That’s what I would tell myself. And then once the old endo was added to the mix I went all in on changing my diet and as much as I could, my lifestyle. Now was not the time to hate my body, it needed the exact opposite.
There’s more too. I can’t remember it all. But I went in. I refused to let my remaining eggs suffer in any way that was my own doing. I didn’t want to be owned by some numbers on a bit of paper anymore.
In hindsight, now that I have been on the infertility journey and have so gratefully emerged the other side with a beautiful baby girl thanks to Create Fertility, I realise that the tests themselves for ovarian reserve are just not that accurate and while your results are plonked on a scale, I have had many a conversation with women in and outside of my circle who were triumphant in becoming mothers despite low, sometimes alarmingly low, readings. One woman I know, was categorically told she was a ‘lost cause’ but she decided to keep trying via IVF and her dreams came true because of one amazing egg that was retrieved.
Because that’s just it. It just takes one healthy egg if all other things are equal.
I recently opened up my blog for others to share their fertility stories as a means of raising hope and belief in those struggling to conceive. This story alone touches on the subject of low AMH and has a beautiful happy ending.
I really think more has to be done to educate both sexes as to the female reproductive system. Had I known years ago that my egg reserve was low or dwindling quicker than the norm maybe I would’ve looked into fertility preservation methods.
Low AMH does not mean no baby, either naturally or via assisted conception. It could however mean, a longer road to motherhood.
But women know how to dig deep don’t we? We just do. We dig like no other fuckers. Even on the days when we feel like we haven’t got what it takes or we feel so alone or scared. We pick up that shovel and we shove it in and we keep moving.
I’ve said this before so I’ll say it again.
If you are reading this and are feeling hopeless with regards having a baby, so much can change in a year. A year from now might seem an age away I know. Every time I was set back 3 or 6 months due to complications or the ectopic pregnancy that I suffered, it felt like a lifetime. But that ectopic happened in April 2017 and I honestly thought it was just never going to work.
In May 2018 I had Elodie.
This really chimed with me, as low ovarian reserve was a major factor in my subfertility diagnosis back in 2002 – such a horrible chilling time, but like you I rallied, got some perspective, did everything to give us the best chances – older daughter was result of 3rd IVF, hers was the only embryo transferred, born Dec 03; 2 more IVFs then conceived naturally & 2nd daughter born Oct 06. I know from experience there is always hope & a way forward, it just has to be found.