IVF babble co-founder Tracey Bambrough tells her IVF story

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I was 40 when my beautiful mother died and although having a baby was at the back of my mind, grief just took over.

Then one morning, I collapsed on the floor in severe pain, it was so bad I almost fainted. Ben, my husband, rushed me to hospital for various tests, then the news came: I was pregnant!

I was told it could be ectopic or a multiple pregnancy and was kept in hospital just in case. Sadly, it was ectopic and after four days I was allowed home. I wasn’t offered any tests or a D&C either before or after leaving hospital, but a few weeks later I started suffering from a sharp pain in my lower left abdomen (particularly during ovulation).

I had a scan to check if it was a cyst, it wasn’t. A gynaecologist said it was probably a digestive issue and gave me a fibre drink to take, this didn’t take the pain away either.

I then reached 41 and after a conversation with Ben, we decided to try IVF. Basic blood
tests and one scan were carried out, but none of the doctors or specialists seemed to be concerned about the sharp pains I was having.

Resigned to the fact I may be too old

After the egg transfer, I went back to work the next day, but about a week Iater I felt I had to lie down. It then became obvious the IVF hadn’t worked. I felt sad, but resigned to the
fact it wasn’t meant to be – although deep down, despite what anyone said, I just didn’t believe that it wouldn’t happen. Some remaining eggs were frozen but we couldn’t face another IVF treatment at that point. My father was seriously ill too and we felt we should take additional pressure off ourselves and let nature take its course.

Over the next two and a half years though I had miscarriages and yet again visits to the doctor about the sharp pain and yet another referral to a gynaecologist. She reluctantly agreed to a laparoscopy in case it may be endometriosis or an adhesion, but felt it was a waste of time.

Sharp pains wouldn’t go away

I went onto the NHS waiting list for a laparoscopy, but I had no idea how long it would take to have the procedure and the sharp pains were worrying me. A friend recommended I see Geoffrey Trew, a consultant in London. Within 5 minutes of seeing me he said a blocked fallopian tube could be causing the pain, perhaps an uncleared tube from the ectopic pregnancy a few years before and even a touch of endometriosis.  To me it made total sense.

He sent me for a hysteropingogram and low and behold it was a blocked tube on my left side. I couldn’t believe so many child-bearing years later, the issue was found. He suggested a laparoscopy via the NHS or he could do the op for a specific fee.

While we were considering what to do, when I arrived home that day, I opened a letter I’d put to one side and found out that my NHS pre op appointment was booked for the next day and the op was taking place the following week. Unbelievable timing.

Words cut through me

I called Geoffrey Trew’s office and he kindly offered to send a note to the gynaecologist to highlight where the issue was. So the op went ahead and the tube was unblocked and some endometriosis was found, some of which was removed. I did experience an unfortunate incident with one of the gynaecologist’s trainees who came to me pre op to ask why I was bothering to have this done. “Aren’t you too old to get pregnant? There’s almost no chance of it happening, why don’t you consider adoption.” The words cut through me. I was devastated. But I suddenly realised more than ever how much I truly wanted a child. I just had to try and keep remaining positive. I wasn’t going to give in.

Three years later and there were yet more miscarriages, we finally decided to look into adoption. We had a couple of long telephone calls with social workers and attended a couple of talks about the pros and cons and generally the ages of children we may be able to adopt. We realised that it would be quite a long, drawn-out process. A social worker called to say that the next step was to come and visit our home, check our finances and, if all went well, we would be on the waiting list for a child.

It was exciting but Ben suddenly said why don’t we try IVF again? My father had passed away months before and told me before he died that a child would be the making of me. I wasn’t sure about it being the making of me or whether it was ever going to happen. Regardless, I decided to go to see a consultant with Ben and start to work towards the possibility of one last IVF attempt.

Wrong side of 45

I was on the wrong side of 45 and yet my GP who had always been so supportive, close friends and the lovely consultant we saw encouraged me to go ahead. With less than 2% chance, it did seem a tall order!

It started with Pap smear, which I was so concerned about as I had had one abnormal one a year before, but it was fine. Then I had to have a breast check. My GP said just pop in and I’ll do it now – I did and she found a lump! My mother had breast cancer so I was beside myself. I went into complete meltdown over the weekend. After the mammogram on the Monday, the nurse said she could see a lump but couldn’t possibly tell me what it was and that the consultant would need to review. I had to wait an agonising few hours, but when I returned the consultant walked in smiling: it was a simple cyst. He could leave it in or drain it and did I want to see it! I was so relieved and just wanted it gone. So that was two tests out of the way.

After more blood tests the IVF consultant suggested I have a hysteropingogram to check that the tube was not blocked again. This was fixed for the next day. Then something odd
happened. His secretary called to insist I meet him with Ben the following Wednesday. It seemed so formal. With the consultant saying I should call him any time, then suddenly wouldn’t take my call, it made me so nervous. I had seen my mum go through things like this when there was something sinister. Those few days were a very LONG wait and then the day came and the consultant explained that there was a lump in my uterus and that it needed to be looked at before IVF could go ahead.

Dumbfounded and terrified

I was dumbfounded and terrified – my mum had had breast cancer along with uterus and ovarian cancer and my body just went into shock. The consultant told he would be going on holiday for three weeks and could do the op when he returned.

He saw how upset I was and understood and said he would slot me in before he left, even though his schedule was full. We had no choice but to run up a bill on our credit cards and the next day I was having an op. I was told they had removed a polyp and it was sent off for a biopsy. Another few days wait and almost no nails through nerves. Yet the results were normal! I was beside myself with happiness.

Endless delays

When the consultant returned he decided to test me for one more thing – my thyroid levels. He mentioned that if they are over or below the 1-2.5 TSH level, this can cause infertility. I was 4.5. Another delay! Yet again, there was an issue and I had to take levothyroxine for a few weeks to reduce the level to below 2.5 TSH before he would consider going ahead.  I then had a mock transfer to see how my body would cope with
the drugs and if there were any issues with placing the embryos. Then two months later started IVF.

Those two months were filled with taking Chinese herbs which I had to boil and drink. Disgusting and like tar – in fact I destroyed endless saucepans with the stuff! But I did feel
surprisingly good either side of drinking it. I also drank kale juices with spirulina. Again, horrible, but it did seem to make me feel so much better for it. I took supplements from Dr Zhai’s website and acupuncture with Dr Bo Yang and Dr June Zhang. During my acupuncture sessions I would occasionally dream of having two little babies.

I only watched happy films

A friend of mine who was the same age had had triplets on her seventh and last attempt the year before and told me once I had had the embryos transferred to go to bed for 4-5 days, and watch only happy films and to eat everything green. She also sent me a positive affirmation CD which I felt a little silly doing, but I was going to try everything and have no regrets at the end of it.

Ben did ICSI, which basically picks out the best sperm and injects them into the eggs. Then the day came. The remaining eggs were fertilised and then after three days they were reduced to three embryos.

Two days later I arrived at the hospital and the embryologist said that only two of the remaining embryos were continuing to divide and his suggestion was to put just one in. I jokingly said I was the age I was and quite frankly needed every chance, so I was happy to have the remaining two put back in.

He laughed but said if I had a multiple pregnancy that it would be quite a pressure on my body. I was willing to take the chance. I remember sitting in Battersea Park with an ice cream after the transfer, contemplating how surreal it all was, before I was taken home to hibernate for 5 days.

£20 on the bedroom floor

I had the odd sharp ache, then a tiny bit of brown spotting after three days. Then another tiny spot after another two days and my gut feeling told me I may be pregnant. The following Sunday Ben was asleep next to me and it was not only Father’s Day but also would have been my dad’s birthday. I crept out of bed and couldn’t find my debit card or phone and looked down and found a £20 note on the bedroom floor! I picked it up and
felt apprehensive yet excited to know whether I could be pregnant.

I jumped in the car and went to our local supermarket –and bought a happy Father’s Day cup cake on and a pregnancy test. I was home within minutes and with Ben still asleep,
waited for the pregnancy test to change. Unbelievably, two lines appeared, I was pregnant!

I crept to Ben’s side and woke him up with the most amazing and miraculous news. The next day I had my HSG blood test which came back as being quite high especially as I had tested almost a week early.

At our six-week scan we were told it was twins. One of the lovely nurses came running into the room and gave me a hug and we were in tears. We are now parents to the most beautiful daughters Isabella and Grace.

I’d never thought about infertility

Looking back, I’d never thought about ‘infertility’ and ‘not being able to become a mother’ when I was young. I took it for granted that things would just happen. I remember even telling friends at school when I was about 14 years old that I wanted to have children later in life. My life story also wasn’t totally conventional. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 39.

IVF has given us the most amazing gifts

With our beautiful children, we couldn’t be happier. I am aware that it’s not short of a miracle and give thanks every day. But, at the same time, IVF was emotional, exhausting physically and mentally and financially draining.

Ben had given up smoking a long while before, but gave up alcohol for the six months prior to IVF and ate copious amounts of brazil nuts and took vitamins to improve his sperm. I equally changed my nutrition, took folic acid 4-5 months before, along with essential vitamins.

I allowed myself the occasional glass of red wine, usually one a week, which was my ‘de-stress’ moment. I had acupuncture twice a month and exercised by walking everywhere I could. I spoke to some friends about the process and how I felt and do believe being able to offload helped me a lot. I’m convinced that clamming up and internalising worry doesn’t help the process at all and may even sometimes hamper success.

Scares

We did have some scares in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy. I would sometimes suffer cramping, spotting and at these times would take myself to bed and put my feet up on a
pillow until everything thankfully seemed to calm down. From very early on I also injected myself with the maximum amount of progesterone I was allowed to take until 16 weeks, which was 4 weeks over the usual suggested time.

My advice to anyone suffering issues with infertility, or taking longer than usual to get pregnant, is to absolutely have the various essential blood tests and scans early on to ensure there isn’t an underlying cause, which can sometimes lurk without any obvious symptoms. Diagnosis really is key. By doing this, you can save yourself so much invaluable time to resolve the issue and fall pregnant naturally or pursue IVF where your chances may be greater. If you have been trying to conceive with no success within a year, I would strongly advise you to visit your doctor and have relevant tests.

Why prolong the agony of just ‘waiting to see’ and the upset that this can cause? It can be scary to address ‘infertility’ issues, I know that from my experience, but it will only benefit
you more to do this sooner rather than later.

We all need hope

My story, the stories of friends and people I’ve met (I’m often stopped in the street by strangers who notice my girls and tell me they were advised they were too old at 39 to have a family) spurred me on to set up IVF babble. I feel that it’s so important to give hope and offer honest, factual information to everyone.

Everyone has a right to a child . . . IVF babble opens up a likeminded community to guide and support people struggling with infertility or desperate to begin a family. Infertility is also absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, it seems to be a part of today’s world with 1 in 6 people finding out they are part of this club! IVF is also now not the only answer to infertility, however it does open up lifestyle choices to people who otherwise may be denied the special responsibility and privilege of being a parent.

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