It all started the morning the world woke to the news that Oscar Pistorius had shot dead his girlfriend through his own bathroom door. That was the day I came off the contraceptive pill – February 14th 2013.
Fast forward to September 2016, and we’re nearing the end our first round of IVF.
All young girls fantasise about that fairy tale life – and I thought I had achieved it. I had met my prince, lost my virginity to him, married him and bought a beautiful first house together. I had a car, a job I enjoyed and no money worries. It was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The first six months of trying to conceive were happy times. Exciting times. Daydreaming of what our future would hold.
Yet, in December 2013, the seeds of doubt began to enter our heads – why wasn’t it working?
We started living a life fragmented into three weeks of hope, sex, sex and more sex, positive ovulation tests, and perfectly timed sex. Then on to the “two week wait” of symptom spotting and soul crushing hopefulness: “my breasts are sore, I need the toilet more, I feel a bit run down, my emotions are all over the place” – anything that would give me that glimpse of what I desired the most. Hours spent obsessively Googling symptoms, and clicking on any link which offered that slight possibility of hope within a title of “early pregnancy signs” – and what I learned was that absolutely anything could be an early pregnancy sign, if you really want it to be
I started to think that my body was just fucking with me, “let’s make her five days late for her period this month.”
We became experts in conception, but never got there. People have no idea what goes into conceiving. People don’t even call it conception in everyday language. “I fell pregnant, and I’m having a boy” – put that way, it seems so simple.
I peed on tiny, expensive sticks (until I figured out I could bulk buy them on Amazon for a fraction of the price). I kept away from the smiley faced ovulation predictor kits. I didn’t want to see a patronising, less and less appropriate smiley face each month when the “right” hormones were present.
I’d try to trick myself into not feeling disappointed when I saw the negative pregnancy test or the first spots of blood: “it’s ok, because now I can drink at that wedding/hen-do/party/holiday/night out”. But it never truly worked; it never fully curbed that heart-breaking sense of disappointment.
What were we doing wrong? All those years of worrying about getting pregnant, how fucking ironic.
Women I knew (and didn’t know) started falling pregnant all around me, as if they were mocking me. As if everyone was mocking me, laughing at me.
I’d watch them announce their pregnancy, and I’d have to put every ounce of effort I had in to being seemingly happy and excited for them (or not as the case often was). I’d then watch their bellies grow, and watch them blossom into the beautiful silhouette of a pregnant woman that I so sorely wanted to see in my mirror. Then, before I knew it, they’d given birth, and the child they had (seemingly) so easily conceived began to grow into a miniature adult, passing their first, second and even third birthday – all the while, we were left holding nothing.
The pain I felt when I saw other women with babies, with children and with the family we so desperately wanted was consistently devastating.
I tried to remind myself that I didn’t know what this stranger went through; the challenges she may have overcome to achieve the dream that I seemingly cannot – but it didn’t help. The envy I felt. The vial thoughts that sped through my head before being quickly and consciously followed by guilt; “this is why I can’t naturally have a child, because I am a bad person for thinking these things.”
After a while of being married, the go to question from family and friends always encompassed us “starting a family”. We became quite good at lying. “One day? Sure.” Or, if I was feeling particularly depressed about the whole situation, I would parrot the line boasting about our double income, no kids lifestyle (“DINKS”) and fantastic holidays and evenings out that would mask the truth. All the while, I’d be crying inside, begging them to stop asking me why we didn’t have children yet.
Nobody forgets to have children.
After our fourth wedding anniversary, the questions from those who knew us stopped. Assumptions had been made, rightly or wrongly. “Well, she’s very career driven.”
Yet that didn’t stop those who didn’t know us from asking. I have often thought of being totally open to the stranger who asks why we didn’t have children yet, “well actually, we have been struggling to conceive for quite a while now – and we’re not sure why”. But I couldn’t willingly put someone through the awkward response which would have to follow, “Oh, um… sorry?”
Top things not to say to a couple struggling with fertility:
- Think positive.
- It’ll happen.
- Just relax, don’t stress about it.
- You sure you’re having enough sex?
- At least you can have fun trying.
- It’ll happen one day.
- Don’t rush to into it.
- You’ll have giving birth to get through when it works!
- Your whole life will change forever.
- Exercise more.
- It was the best thing we ever did having kids.
- Don’t leave it too long.
- …..At least you know you can get pregnant.
June 2014. It happened. Positive. We’d done it. It had finally happened. It was our turn. It had taken a bit of time, but we were there. We were so happy. So happy. Sure the line was a bit faint, but it was there. The day of my sister-in-law baby shower, which I had organised to be held at my mum’s house, was the day we would tell those closest to us. We had only taken the test a few days before, and that morning’s positive line was a little fainter than yesterday. But it was there! Mum and Dad were so pleased. Kevin’s sister and partner were so happy for us. We were happy for us. Relieved that the struggles of conceiving were now over, and it was on to the next challenge, which had a bright silver lining to it.
We both tried our hardest to keep shtum. To muffle our excitement and not tell too many people. Because that’s what you do. Just in case. My sister-in-law told us to wait until week seven to tell Kevin’s mum, which we agreed with. She had the experience to safeguard us from what could happen. What would happen.
In the early hours of a particular date in July (which I have made an effort not to remember), something unconsciously made me get out of bed and go to the toilet, to find my knickers soaked in blood. That was it. We had had 11 days of the happiness we so sorely wanted. And then, it was gone.
….At least you know you can get pregnant.
Time continued to pass and nothing happened, at least not to us. We seemed to be surrounded by people who only needed to look at each other to get pregnant. Couples who hadn’t even met when we first started trying were already lapping us. I got to a point where I wouldn’t put Kevin through the disappointment, and I wouldn’t tell him I had taken a pregnancy test, and that it was negative. Again. I would handle it on my own.
Infertility is a deeply private experience. From the outside, our life probably looked the picture of perfection. We had cars, a mortgage, good jobs, expensive holidays, and expensive taste. But no one (aside from each other) to share it with. What was the point of working hard if there was no one to provide for? What was the point in having a four bedroom house? I wondered what people thought of that. “Surely they plan on starting a family with a house like that?” “They can’t live in that huge house with just to two of them”. I even felt the EDF Energy man was silently asking the same questions to himself when I said we had a four bedroom house, with just two adults living there. I went through phases of feeling as though I didn’t deserve my home. What’s the point in having it if we were just going to clatter about in it by ourselves?
I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. Surely the purpose behind life is to procreate. To give birth to new generations. Without that, what’s the point?
Spending time with pregnant couples or their new babies became unbearable. Sharp, inescapable jealousy. I felt guilty at first, then, as the time past, I became bitter. Family get-togethers and time spent with friends left me bruised. At a friend’s birthday party, a couple announced they were pregnant. I tried to keep it together, but I just couldn’t. I had the overwhelming need to escape, so I hurried out of the kitchen and out the front door, trying my hardest to keep the tears back until I was free. Kevin and his sister followed me out. They understood, for which I was grateful. And yet, they could do nothing to help. It was what it was.
I became master at holding tears back, screaming inside, swallowing the ever growing lump in my throat, and portraying a calm, strong exterior. However, I would often lock myself in bathrooms, cry uncontrollably, and then go and get drunk.
I began to ignore my friends who had children. These friends mistook my distance for disdain. “Maybe she doesn’t value our friendship anymore”. Kevin and I on the other hand had to grow up quickly together, and through all of this have become incredibly close. And yet, in doing so, we became somewhat isolated from family and friends.
I myself changed, as a person. I used to be fun loving and fancy free – but now, there’s an under lying sense of darkness which I seem to be unable to escape from.
I want infertility to be more openly discussed, along with miscarriages.
44% of women who have IVF are aged between 18 and 34 years. The idea that only older couples need IVF is out of date. Less than 20% are over 40. I was 28, Kevin was 31. In about 30% of cases, the man is the cause of a couple’s infertility. Kevin’s sperm and my blood had been tested and cleared, and because of infertility was still explained, we eventually got referred. My ovaries and fallopian tubes were checked, (the brutal indignity of it all: the stirrups and the dildo-shaped camera, wrapped in a condom, covered in lubricant) and Kevin’s sperm was checked again, showing that his count and mobility were fine. We both eventually assumed that the problem was with me; most people assume that infertility is a female problem.
After copious amounts of doctors appointments, we were given the news that we may qualify for NHS funded IVF. News that I wasn’t expecting from that particular appointment. We sat in the car afterwards and I cried. IVF? Really…?
But before we would be given the go-ahead, I had to have one final blood test. A blood test which would look at the quality of my eggs. If the results showed low quality, we wouldn’t qualify. And that would be it. Self-funded IVF, or nothing.
The results were to be sent to me in the post. Two weeks I anxiously drove on to our drive way, and slowly push the door open, hoping to see the “private and confidential” letter on the door mat. Eventually it arrived. All normal. We would qualify for NHS funded IVF, two rounds.
The first round was planned for August 2016, with injections starting at the end of July – once I had started my period and started the contraceptive pill (I know, right!?). The end of July came, with the needles and vials of medication ready in our fridge, and once again my period didn’t arrive. Typical. I was going to be late coming on, meaning the set dates for injections, scans, and ultimately egg collection were going to be pushed back. But, once again, there was nothing I could do about that. A week past with still no sign of my period (which had happened multiple times before), yet of course the niggling thought in my head got louder and louder. Could I be? Surely not. “Positive”. Seriously?! I had reached the cycle where I was to begin IVF, and I was pregnant.
Kevin was overwhelmed with relief and happiness. I was terrified. I tried to be happy, but I couldn’t. The thought of losing this one petrified me. And I think a part of me knew that this wasn’t the end of our story. That evening, spots of blood. Every time I wiped. I must have gone to the toilet every 15 minutes, in 24 hours. And every time I wiped, light brown discharge. Google – “could be a good sign, could be a bad sign”. Why aren’t there just straight answers on there!?
The next morning, Kevin was up and getting ready to leave for work. I pulled open my pyjama bottoms and knickers as I lay in bed. Bright red blood spots on the liner. I knew it. I called down to Kevin, and took the few steps to the bathroom and sat on the toilet with the door open. That was it. Over. Again. Our happiness didn’t even last a day.
We should have stayed off work, but we didn’t. I put on go to brave face (after hysterically crying once Kevin had driven out of the drive way to work), and headed to Billingshurst for a meeting. As I sat there, I could feel my sanitary pad filling up, and I started to feel ill. I reassured myself that it’s just like the first day of any normal period. Don’t be overdramatic. I stood up to go to the toilet, and quickly realised this wasn’t normal. I hurriedly left the meeting, and told myself I just had to get to Horley. Go to mum’s. I’ll be safe there.
The drive was horrific. But I safely made it to my mum’s front door. “Brave face, brave face”. Nope. I think that was the day where mum accepted that I wasn’t going to have a normal conception, and the day she got an insight into the tormented thoughts my infertility was creating.
I’m not a bad person. Am I? Am I being punished? Why is this happening to me?! This had to be a joke right? Hours before I start my first IVF cycle and I fall pregnant. Then I miscarry. Again. Are you kidding me?! What sort of sick joke was this?
I searched for something that would make all of this less hurtful. Google. It was a “chemical pregnancy”. Not a miscarriage. It was too early to officially miscarry… Does that make it better? Or worse? Why didn’t it work? What was happening? Am I to blame? Is it something I did? All that weed I smoked when I was younger? All the Jack Daniels and Coke I drank? Staying on the pill for so many years? Is it my fault….?
The questions continued. What was wrong with me? I wanted and I needed answers. But there were none.
Kevin and I talked. I didn’t think I could handle it happening again. I knew that my emotional state was so vulnerable. I didn’t feel strong enough. “Two more times”, Kevin said. That’s all we have to do. Two failed attempts at IVF. Two miscarriages. Then we would call it quits.
Through-out this time I toyed with the idea of attending infertility support groups, but knowing that there are couples out there “worse off than us” isn’t what I needed, nor was hearing success stories. People think it helps to know there is hope, but for me it really didn’t. I used positive quotes to try and keep myself strong: “your current situation is not your final destination.” Did it help? Who knows.
….I don’t want advice. Just listen. Just be there for me.
Fertility clinics are strange places, the hushed, sterile centre of your universe. I would look around the waiting room: how many of us would this work for? I would wonder what their stories are. Lesbian couples waiting seemed to be excited and cheerful. This was where they wanted to be. It was a positive experience for them. The other straight couples were not going through the same journey as theirs. Theirs was much darker and much less full of hope. And these couples all looked so normal. All different ages, and all walks of life. It wasn’t written across their foreheads – infertility isn’t obvious.
“That person you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
One morning at the clinic we sat in the waiting room, and I watched as a couple entered one of the scan rooms, holding hands. About 20 minutes later, they reappeared, their faces stained with tears, their eyes puffy and full of heartache. They weren’t holding hands anymore. They walked out of the clinic.
Please don’t let that be us.
At the end of August, Kevin started injecting the hormones into my stomach. I would congratulate myself on handling the injections so well. He did himself proud. There for me, as he always has been.
I have often thought that it would be easier if someone told us it was never going to happen, that we’d never naturally conceive or carry a child. Because then, I would move on. I’d refocus my energies into giving a child who needs a home the unconditional love and safety I had to offer. If someone told me I couldn’t conceive or carry a child, things would be easier. All that worry would suddenly disappear. No more stress over anything. Because if the IVF works, the anxieties through-out the entire pregnancy will be there. “What’s that twinge…? Oh god, please, not again.”
Did I just hope that I won’t be able to get pregnant?
Once the injections were done, it was egg collection time. I thought that this was the most nerve wracking part of the whole process, being sedated, hoping there were eggs ready in the follicles – little did I know the intense level of anxiety that was to come in later months. Under sedation they managed to collect six eggs. I thought this was a good number. But I then read that other women had more than 20 collected. I kept telling myself that we only needed one. The six were sent off to the lab. Over the next few days, the phone calls would come through from the clinic. Four out of the six had fertilised. Three out of the four were developing. I couldn’t help but feel as though my chances were dropping away, day by day. Had it all been a waste of time? Had it all been in vain?
It was strange to think of the embryos “doing their thing” in a lab down by the coast – “on a window sill” as Kevin joked.
The success rates are significantly higher if the embryos are transferred on day five. But now they may transfer on day three. What does that mean? On day three, there was one embryo that was looking good – so day five transfer it was. Saturday morning: 1st October 2016.
It just takes one egg.
Off we went, down to Hove for our egg to be transferred. It was a quiet journey down, but a positive one. The clinic was empty, with only two transferred planned for that day. Kevin and I sat in the waiting room together. It was dark; they hadn’t turned the lights on. Then in we were called, for us both to change into gowns and taken through to the same room where the egg collection happened, with the adjoining room where all the incubators and science lived. All dignity was left in the changing room again, as I hopped up onto the bed, spread my legs, and in went the egg.
They gave us an enhanced photo of the egg they transferred – something I kept with me for the next three weeks, holding on to the hope that the photo was that of our future child, wherever I went.
Then came the wait. One week before taking a home pregnancy test. Kevin insisted on a digital test, one which said “pregnant” or “not pregnant” (no faint line spotting this time). On the morning of the 10th October I carried out the well-known routine of dipping the stick into the cup of urine. I handed the stick to Kevin and crawled back into bed, shaking. Two minutes later he said it. “Pregnant”. Kevin was pleased. I had a sense of absolute dread – not that I wasn’t happy, but the fear of the trials to come cast a dark shadow on me.
Three weeks until the scan. Three weeks until we would know whether the egg had successfully implanted and continued to divide. Three week to see a heartbeat, and have the risks of miscarriage drop considerably. Three weeks of indescribable worry. Every time I went to the toilet and pulled my knickers down, every time I wiped, the slightest ache, “that” ache, the sleepless nights, the horrific dreams, the sensation of something wet down below: “is this is? Is it over again?” And the courage required to take myself to the toilet and check. I was the longest three weeks of my life.
I can’t imagine the despair of couples self-funding IVF – to see the results of a failed cycle in your knickers. £10K literally down the toilet.
As the days past, it got harder. Google (my now arch enemy) managed to fill me with hope and despair on the same page. I tried not to think about the possibility of it being a success; I tried not to acknowledge that maybe it could work. I hated talking about the now “embryo”. What if I jinxed it? I needed control over something. I needed to keep my hopes under control – in order to ease the agony I would feel when it failed. This was the one thing I could control. The positive thoughts of hopes quickly silenced by realistic scenarios playing in my head. I wished I could do this for everyone who knew – protect them from the pain of when it would fail. Restrain their hopes, quash their optimism.
Almost every evening, I would tell myself that the ache I felt down below was the beginning of the end, and not to be too disappointed to wake in the night to blood soaked knickers. It would be easier to accept it if I did this. I needed some form of control. Or at least a sense of control.
But maybe this would work? Maybe this was it? Can someone tell me? Someone put my mind at ease, please. Once again, I searched for answers that weren’t there.
Three weeks were up. Tuesday 1st November. Kevin’s 32nd birthday. Seven week scan down at the clinic. This was it: the best or worst day of our lives.
In the waiting room I began to shake. I had to hold my breath repeatedly to keep back the tears.
My name was called. This was it. The moment of truth. We went in to the now familiar internal scan room (and the same room that was used by that sorrow filled couple I had seen months back), and the nurse asked me how I was. “What a stupid question” she quickly replied to herself, “let’s get this over with, up you hop”.
Within seconds of the probe being inserted she swung the monitor around and showed us the little blob with its fluttering heartbeat. “Congratulations!” the nurse said. We both began to cry. It had worked. It had actually worked.
And that was it. We were signed off by the clinic, and added to the “normal” population of pregnant couples.
You may have thought that knowing the fact that seeing a heartbeat considerably drops the risk of miscarriage would quash my anxiety, but no. It continued, with heart stopping moments and times of utter despondency. But the days and weeks continued, with all the textbook symptoms and no sign of any bleeding at all. Did it get easier? I guess it did. But my need to control my hopes remained, and very rarely would I want to talk about the now growing “foetus”. And when I found myself being outwardly positive, I would follow it by an internal strict talking to, in order to suppress the hopes and prepare for the worst.
The days leading up to the 12 week scan were difficult. Horror filled scenarios filled my thoughts. The knowledge of “missed miscarriages” haunted me. The embryo/foetus stopping development, but hormones continue and keep you “pregnant” with nothing alive inside.
But all my worries were unfounded. The morning of the 12 week scan arrived, and off we went to Crawley hospital. And there it was. A perfect miniature human.
So, when does this story end? The 20 week scan? The birth? I suppose it could go on forever, but this chapter in our lives is drawing to a close. It may have to be re-read in the future, but hopefully not.
“Some journeys are not as simple for everyone – you never know what people go through to achieve their dreams. Due June 2017”