Alex’s story – September 2019
I have always known that conceiving would be difficult. I have two hidden disabilities: a complex endocrine condition, which affects sex hormones (growth hormones as a child), cortisol (stress hormone), and salt retention; and Crohns disease, which is inflammation of the bowel. I take six medications every day including two steroids, and have had quite a bit of surgery over the years to manage both conditions.
My fertility journey started at the end of 2009 when my partner and I started trying to conceive. In 2012 I was put on the ovulation drug Clomid for 12 months, and when that didn’t work, we were referred to hospital for a series of tests at a reproductive clinic. The hospital checked his sperm and my fallopian tubes, and everything came back clear – a good result. Following several months of eager anticipation we were put on the waiting list for Intrauterine Insemination (IUI).
For me, IUI started with taking seven days of tablets and then inducing a medical menopause with a nasal spray (given to men with testicular cancer), taken five times a day. This was used to down regulate my hormones, so the ovulation drugs could be managed more effectively. Once the hospital was happy the nasal spray had done its job (after about two weeks), I started to inject myself in the upper thigh with gonadotropin (used to stimulate follicle growth) every evening, whilst continuing with the nasal spray. This was a lot to manage on top of all my normal medications and meant I ended up having eight alarms set on my phone as reminders to take everything I needed to!
The injections went on for over two weeks with early morning hospital appointments every other day. A nurse took blood and another did an internal examination of my follicles and endometrium (womb lining). The tests were okay, but waiting in a room full of pregnant women and their happy partners was not. After 19 days of injecting myself and sitting in various waiting rooms I was booked in for my first IUI procedure.
We were optimistic first time round – how could it not work? We’re putting both things in the same place; what could possibly go wrong? We were incredibly upbeat and excited about the whole thing; after all we had been waiting for treatment for over six months, and trying to conceive for nearly 4 years.
As I lay in a special chair in an undignified position, the nurse prepared to induce me with my partner’s sperm. It was over quickly and was relatively painless. We left feeling positive and convinced it had worked. Unfortunately we found out three weeks later that it hadn’t. We’ll never know whether it was a very early miscarriage because I didn’t have the heart to do a test. All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain, my bowel was upset, and my heart had been broken. It hurt like nothing else. My chance of being a mummy had been taken from me.
Not wanting to delay I called the hospital and started the whole process again, after a mandatory 21 day break. The second time was awful from the beginning; I was a wreck from the first cycle of treatment and hadn’t given myself the space to recover mentally or physically. But, being strong and having already dealt with a lot of medical problems in the past I wanted to persist, confident that my efforts would pay off and we’d have the family we deserve.
The process was the same, but I knew that it wasn’t going to work. We were rushed into the procedure because there was a bank holiday which messed up our timings. It was very painful and we sobbed as I was induced. We knew this wasn’t to be and we were right. The effect on my wellbeing was enormous; I hurt badly and was giving up on everything. What is the point I
kept asking myself? What did I do to deserve this on top of everything I’d already been through? I was unwell for about a year and problems relating to my existing health conditions were apparent. I was forced to take some time out to get better.
After a 12 month break I referred myself to see a top consultant endocrinologist who specialises in fertility. He put me on a high dose of different steroids in place of my usual steroids to try and induce ovulation. Unfortunately it made me very ill again and after 9 months of treatment I was struggling with depression, anxiety, and significant weight gain. I was a mess and on antidepressants to counteract what was happening to me. I was having breakdowns and crying all the time for no reason. The final straw was breaking down in floods of tears at the hospital pharmacy where I proceeded to collapse onto the floor. I knew in my heart that I had to stop.
It’s now 2019 and although we’ve been tempted to try again, life has conspired against us with my partner being seriously ill for several years; in and out of hospital. Sadly I have had to try and accept that I won’t be a biological parent. It’s not a decision that anyone wants to make, but I know I have to listen to my body, and try and find other things in life to give it meaning and purpose. It’s not easy, but I know I’m not alone.
If you need support for yourself or someone you know, please email the Fertility Support Group. It is a closed Yammer group for people experiencing the difficulties associated with infertility, fertility treatment and pregnancy loss. It provides a confidential and safe space to talk, and seek advice from peers. Women and men are welcome. The group is launching new guidance for managers to help them support their staff through fertility treatment, and pregnancy loss.