The wonderfully brave Hannah Vaughan Jones and her husband Lewis have recently suffered a miscarriage following fertility treatment.
The couple have been trying to become parents for four years and have endured seven rounds of IVF. Here, the broadcaster talks about discovering a whole new world of genetics in her journey to motherhood …
“I’m turning into a geneticist. Just like that. Having spent years worrying about every hurdle on the way to getting pregnant, I’m now obsessed with the new (new to me, at least) obstacles to actually having a baby.
I’m also a little cross with myself for having never considered the cause of miscarriages, chromosomal abnormalities and genetic defects before
Towards the end of last year, a friend I met through the #TTC community told me that I should focus not on the pregnancy bit but on the actual baby. Visualise your child, she said. It made me cry just thinking about it, but also made me realise just how naive many of us are on our fertility paths. Maybe that’s unfair.
Perhaps “many of us” is too strong a term. I’m fully aware that a lot of people struggling with infertility, especially over a marathon term, will be able to get pregnant but can’t seem to hold on to their little bean. In my case, I’m just one miscarriage down (just one, she says rolling her eyes) and so it has been a very steep – and at times crushing – learning curve to discover that it’s not just about getting pregnant. The next hurdle is having an actual baby. And an actual healthy baby at that.
Genetics. Who knew it would be so confusing.
We recently found out that our embryo was chromosomally abnormal and therefore destined to fail. I genuinely didn’t know whether to be relieved or destroyed by this news. On the one hand, we now have a plausible explanation for the miscarriage. I can get pregnant and my body knows what to do with a foreign cell mass inside.
On the other hand, what if the problem is us and the rest of our frozen embryos are all abnormal too? We have never done the PGS/PGD genetic screening, largely because of our age but also because we’ve never had enough embryos reach blastocyst stage in the past to be faced with the conundrum of which to test and which to simply shove back.
When the Early Pregnancy Unit told us I had suffered a delayed miscarriage and we booked in the D&C last month, I insisted on having some of the pregnancy tissue sent for genetic testing.
“It’s not something we routinely do, and hospital protocol is that we only consider offering it to women who have had two miscarriages or more” said the nurse, sheepishly. “Well, sorry, i’ve only had the one miscarriage, but we’ve been through quite a lot these past few years and the bulk of that has not been at the NHS’s expense… So, I’ll just have it done anyway thanks”, I replied. Couple that with tears of anguish and genuine pain when the D&C was actually performed (note to self, never ever turn down a general anaesthetic when offered) and in the end I got my way.
Three weeks later and all we can think of is Trisomy and Misonomy and X and Y and 46 Chromosomes which in the past I had genuinely given no thought to.
Once you’ve got yourself through the statistics and ploughed through the hundreds of horrendous pregnancy forums thrown up by Doctor Google, the questions and emotions really start to kick in. Are most miscarriages the result of a genetic abnormality with an embryo? Am I abnormal? Is my abnormality or his abnormality genetic? What percentage of embryos tested at blastocyst stage will be chromosomally screwed and thrown out? Why didn’t I know about this when we first started trying for a baby years ago?
I guess the moral of the rant is that this stuff doesn’t get any easier.
Every time I feel like I’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s the next wave of uncertainty floods in. Perhaps medical science is moving at the same pace as my “Genetics for Beginners” understanding and I need to dig deep once more to find that magic patience I have lacked since my own conception. At least one thing has been cleared up for us though. No longer will we consider optional extra treatments on our road to conceive.
For now, as one fertility specialist put it, we have “bigger things to worry about” than acupuncture could ever help.
So, armed with my new geneticist skills, a thicker skin (I’m basically an elephant now) and a resolve to throw caution to the wind and hope that we aren’t simply the unluckiest wannabe parents to ever walk into a fertility clinic… onward we go.
Hannah Vaughan Jones is CNN International news anchor and Lewis, her husband and fellow news anchor. Together they have been so bravely videoing their IVF journey, in real-time, not knowing how it will end . . . it’s such an honest account and too familiar to those of us who have been through the same.
Watch Hannah and Lewis Vaughan Jones as they start their seventh IVF attempt in this episode of their video diary