Let’s start trying for a baby…

Back in December 2017, this was such an exciting albeit scary prospect for us. We had been together about 18 months and knew early on we wanted to have children. Fast forward to November 2018 and we found out that things would not be as straightforward as we had hoped.

‘We hope to get you started with IVF before you turn 40.’

I was 38 at the time and had gone for an appointment with my partner after he had been referred following some investigations into our fertility. To be told this, almost flippantly it felt, was a huge shock for us. Naively I had thought we would try for a few months and then get pregnant. Our IVF cycle was funded by the NHS and in April 2019 we signed the consent and had our information session with the nurse.

At the end of October 2019, we finally started, a delay due to my running of the London Marathon that April and then a summer holiday in Spain thrown into the mix. Looking back the holiday felt a bit like a last ‘hurrah’ as I was convinced, we would be pregnant by the end of the year.

IVF is not easy, nor is it a miracle solution if you’re trying to have a baby; its portrayal in the media does the community no favours in all honesty.

Some people’s comments when we told them about starting IVF were a little thoughtless… ‘How exciting!’ ‘Oh, so you can try for twins…’ and so on. Nothing about IVF is exciting. It is a complete emotional rollercoaster and then some. Yet we were excited, the odds were against us with a 33% chance of success given for our cycle, increased marginally using an embryoscope which would monitor our eggs closer after collection.

For our IVF I was on the short protocol as I have PCOS, this meant that I did not have weeks of injections to shut down my cycle beforehand, but I started on ‘stims’. These injections stimulate your ovaries to produce more eggs in advance of egg collection. We did stims, for 12 days which meant daily injections of Menopur initially, this is stimulate the follicles in the ovaries and then after a few days I was also on injections of Cetrotide to prevent premature ovulation.

The side effects of both these drugs and their counterparts are very personal to everyone; for me it was headaches, thirst, and a huge amount of bloating. It also involves regular internal scans or ‘a date with Wanda’ to see how the follicles are progressing. We were cleared for a ‘trigger’ shot which encourages the eggs to continue their development and then 36 hours later it was the morning of egg collection.

25 eggs later we then had the wait for the call about fertilisation. IVF is a waiting game, from start to finish, and nothing can prepare you for the anxiety that comes with the process. We had the call the next day to hear that 13 of our eggs had been fertilised through ICSI (where the sperm is injected directly into each egg). 13 was our new lucky number at that point!

Post egg collection I did not feel well at all and went on to develop mild OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome), swelling of the ovaries because of the fertility treatment. This can lead to pain, bloating, nausea and feeling/being sick. For me this was thankfully only mild and treated with another drug but for some women it can be severe and even life threatening. After some more bloods we were given the go ahead for a fresh embryo transfer on the Saturday after our egg collection had been the Monday morning.

The embryo transfer was very straightforward for us and performed without any sedation, unlike the egg collection which leaves you feeling groggy. I woke up asking why the nurse had stolen my bra?! Then the real wait started…11 days until we had to return to the hospital to do a pregnancy test. This is often referred to as ‘the two week wait’ and was quite possibly the longest 11 days we had ever experienced. The desire to test is overwhelming and you find yourself over analysing every symptom… was that twinge a pregnancy symptom or from the egg collection? Do my boobs ache because I am pregnant or due to all the drugs I am taking? You analyse every minute detail, over and repeatedly.

Our little embryo, the embryo that resulted in a positive pregnancy test. We could not believe it; we had defied the odds. IVF had worked for us. We were pregnant and we were going to have a baby. After seeing a heartbeat at 7 weeks we talked about baby names, plans for how long I would take off work, started to have some conversations about parenting and the future, we had a Christmas tree decoration with our names and bump.

In early January 2020, at 10+6 weeks we had to go to hospital as I had some bleeding, I was taking antibiotics for a water infection already and convinced the two were linked.

I'm sorry, there is no heartbeat.

In a small room in the Emergency Gynae ward we were told the words that no expectant parent ever wants to hear. Our baby had died. It would be amiss of me to try to explain that here when I am describing our IVF experience, but I will say simply it was heart-breaking. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage but never did we think after seeing the heartbeat and having gone through IVF that this could happen to us, but it did.

Late February last year we went to see the consultant to discuss our next steps, we still had two embryos frozen and any further treatment would come under our NHS funded cycle. We started to mentally prepare ourselves for a frozen transfer (FET) when Covid hit and meant that all fertility treatments were suspended. For me, this was an incredibly hard time, seeing other women who I had connected with through social media and IVF forums progressing through those pregnancy milestones, while we had nothing apart from the waiting.

When the clinics reopened in May 2020, we were one of the first in, I am not sure why I am saying we as my partner was not allowed to attend any appointments. We had signed consent for the frozen transfer pre Covid, that would have been the only appointment he could have attended. I started medication for the FET at the end of May. It was an all-consuming focus for me. My gran had died at the end of February and my stepdad in the middle of May, grief and loss were all around us, but this was hope for the future.

FET meds are a series of injections required to shut down your ovaries to prevent ovulation and then additional drugs are required to thicken the lining of the womb pretransfer. The daily injections seemed to go on forever. Thankfully I was mostly working from home at this point as I struggled with symptoms of headaches, tiredness, nausea, bloating and completely irrational hormonal mood swings. One day I cried for 45 minutes as some trays I had bought did not fit in our fridge…

In early July, the day after my 40th birthday we had our FET. Again, the whole transfer process was very simple, this time I was alone sadly due to Covid. We went to McDonalds after for the obligatory post transfer fries and then the 11 days wait started again. Second time around, knowing and remembering what had happened the first, made things so much harder for me. I caved and tested on day 7 and was then hysterical with fear and worry as there hadn’t been a line. It hadn’t worked.

Four days later, we had another positive test. There was cautious optimism, a phrase previously used by our consultant, and I started to hope and believe this was to be our rainbow baby. I continued to take all the meds dutifully, let’s take a moment here to acknowledge Cyclogest or as I chose to name it ‘bum bullets’; a pessary that can either go via the front or back entrance. I could write a whole blog post about these in all honesty… I am being a touch light-hearted as humour helps with IVF at times.

Cyclogest is messy but necessary and unfortunately it also mimics a lot of pregnancy symptoms which is a complete head f**k. Another three weeks of waiting after the day of our positive pregnancy test for the 7-week viability scan. Second time around I would be attending this alone, and it was going to be a special day. It fell on the due date of our first pregnancy, and I had convinced myself it was fate.

There was no heartbeat, no sign of a foetal pole and after two horrific weeks of back and forth for further scans, continuing all the while to take the IVF medication and have all the symptoms of a pregnancy, another missed miscarriage was confirmed. This was more or less a year ago to the day of me writing this.

A year on and we have not had any further IVF treatment. I don’t know if we will. There is one little embryo sitting there frozen waiting for us and my heart breaks a little every day thinking of it there alone. Our consultant and the embryologist have advised our best chances of future success would be another full cycle of IVF, this time it would need to be self-funded. Can we do it again? Can we go through this again in the future?

There are many lessons I have learnt from IVF and pregnancy loss:

  • IVF is not ‘exciting’, but it is a scientific miracle, undertaken by some of the most highly skilled and compassionate people I have ever come across.

  • IVF is complicated and consumes you physically, emotionally, and mentally, even if you tell yourself, you’re not going to let it this time.

  • IVF involves sacrifice, financial in many cases, but also postponing making any plans, considering everything you put into your body. For me giving up running was so very tough as it had been my sanctuary for so long.

  • IVF does not work for everyone, I have met women in this community who are absolute warriors and continue to fight and believe after abandoned cycles, implantation failure and multiple miscarriages amongst other things.

  • IVF does not equal a baby; it gives you an opportunity you would not have had otherwise.

  • IVF has not been successful for us, but it made us parents and we have two angels looking down on us and for that I must be grateful.

Elisa - @elisa_and_everything_else

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