My husband and I had been married for three years before we started trying for a baby. We both always wanted children and used to talk in depth about what they’d be called and what they’d be like
Circa May 2015 we thought: right, now is the time to get going. We shared feelings of both excitement and anticipation about whether we’d conceive that first month. I used to Google ‘ways to surprise your husband you’re pregnant’.
Months went by and I started tracking my cycle, thinking every time my period was delayed that this would be our month. I would work out the baby’s due date with excitement. After six months I began to panic. I was inconsolable every time my period reared its ugly head. Friends and family started to guess we were trying because the anxiety and stress became apparent in my face. My husband would tell me to relax as it had only been six months. I told him I’d like us to have a fertility MOT as our GP would not refer us for tests until we’d been trying for a year.
I remember everything about that day, like it was yesterday. It was November 3 2015 and we went to Care Fertility in Wimbledon. We had to go in for our checks at different points in the day due to sample testing and work schedules. Nervously, I got on the bed for an internal scan. They confirmed straight away that my uterus looked normal and my egg reserve was good. So off to work I went, really happy that all was fine. But my husband didn’t get the same results, we were told there was a problem with his sperm and our world came crashing down.
The next few weeks were a blur. After weeks of testing, it became clear that my husband would need to undergo very painful surgery for sperm extraction, known as Micro Tese. Having done our research, we soon discovered a surgeon at Weill Cornell in New York who has the best success rate, having pioneered the surgery. I needed to undergo IVF in NYC to extract my eggs in tandem with my husband’s surgery, ready for fertilisation. The whole process would take three weeks. With a date in the diary, I wrote a very detailed timing plan and was kept busy by huge preparations for the trip to the States. I went to see a nutritionist at Zita West in London, to make sure my egg quality was the best it could be. We also spent two agonising months picking a sperm donor, just in case my husband’s operation failed.
Touching down in New York, I had mixed feelings. Having become engaged there, it felt fitting as well as sad that we were back there to try and make a baby. IVF stimulation started. My husband was clearly very anxious about his impending operation. His operation was determined by the date of my egg retrieval, as it needed to be the day before. The morning of his operation I had to be at a different part of the Weill Cornell hospital for 6.30am for my pre-op, so I said a fleeting goodbye in the taxi. Afterwards, I raced over to his hospital wing but had missed him going under. I burst into tears: I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye or good luck and I knew how nervous he was.
The worst few hours of my life
The surgeon said it would take roughly two hours but it took five. Our worst fears came trues, the operation has failed. We were obviously crushed and devastated, having been so optimistic, determined and strong. My husband was also in considerable pain. I was so proud of him and tried to comfort him as much as I could. I was also terrified about the egg collection scheduled for the next morning. We didn’t know until ten minutes before I was sedated for my egg collection that my husband’s sperm wouldn’t be viable and that the route we needed to pursue was with the donor sperm.
My father-in-law had to escort me to the hospital for my retrieval because my husband was bed-bound. We semi joked in the waiting room about what people might think with me sitting next to a silver fox when everyone else was with their partner. After the egg collection, I was in considerable pain but pleased to have had twelve eggs retrieved. Understandably, that evening we had very mixed emotions.
The next morning came and it was confirmed that all 12 had fertilised. Fast forward two weeks after the transfer of two three-day-old embryos and, back in the UK, it was Easter Sunday. My husband and I snuck into the bedroom (we were staying with lots of family who had no idea when we were testing) and despite the nurses having said to wait for the blood test, we tested that afternoon, early. We sat nervously watching the flashing icon, waiting for the result, which turned out to be negative. Our worlds came crashing down once again. All that physical and emotional pain, plus huge expense, and yet no baby. I then started to panic that there may have been an issue on my side.
Genetic and immunology testing
Over the next couple of months, I found it hard to socialise and we both felt depressed. The only thing keeping me going was the prospect of trying again back in New York, with our two frozen blastocyst embryos. (We weren’t able to ship them back to the UK due to donor consent not being available). I went back to the nutritionist at Zita West and continued to be as healthy as possible, taking all sorts of fertility boosting vitamins and powders (more expense). This time, I underwent expensive specialist genetic and immunology testing in London. The tests revealed that I have high natural killer cells and a blood clotting genetic condition called Factor V Leiden. Despite mixed opinions on whether immunology makes a difference to conception and successfully carrying a baby, the cost to undergo treatment seemed reasonable in comparison to the overall treatment costs, so we went for it.
Second Attempt: with our frozen embryos
I was convinced it wasn’t going to work and kept saying so to my wonderful American specialist. We transferred both frozen embryos. Once again back in the UK, the two-week wait was such a dark time. I went to see a hypnotherapist to help with my mental state, which truly made me feel more relaxed. My husband didn’t want me doing a home pregnancy test because the first failed attempt was so awful.
When the day came for my blood test, I had to wait six hours for the results via the phone. When the nurse said it had worked, it was total amazement. We then had the pregnancy confirmed by a scan at six weeks, with just one embryo implanting. In addition to progesterone, because of my blood clotting issue, I had to inject blood thinners the whole way through pregnancy until 12 weeks postpartum. And February 26 2017, our daughter was born. She recently turned two and completely rocks our world.
Towards the end of my maternity leave, we decided to try and make more embryos, as we had none left. I spent the four months leading up to this fresh IVF cycle seeing the same brilliant nutritionist to prepare. Somehow, this time I felt even more nervous, maybe because I just feared we wouldn’t be lucky a second time.
January 2018 and the IVF stimulation started all over again, back in snowy, stormy NYC
Miraculously three out of eight fertilised embryos were looking great by blastocyst stage. Again, I assumed it wouldn’t work ‘fresh’ because it didn’t the first time with our daughter. Our specialist had called and advised we transferred two embryos because one was doing better than the other. She said the chance of twins was around 20 percent. We agreed to take her advice as deep down I was really hoping for twins.
The next ten days waiting to test were a complete blur: I was raging with hormones and couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t decide whether to wait for the blood test or do a home pregnancy test early. I woke up one morning at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was three days before I was due in for my blood test. I ran into the bathroom and grabbed the emergency pregnancy test. My heart was pounding, especially as my husband had told me he didn’t want to know if I tested early because of the first home pregnancy test drama. Two strong lines appeared immediately.
That following Monday, my blood tests confirmed I was pregnant. But this time I felt different, my HCG hormone levels came back four times higher than my previous pregnancy and I was being physically sick from four weeks, as well as waking up in the night starving.
After nine long and extremely hot months during the peak of last summer’s heat wave, our twins were born at 37 weeks, both healthy and gorgeous. I still pinch myself as if this isn’t real.
Having experienced the difficult road to motherhood, I decided to set up Fertility Help Hub an email newsletter for fertility tips, resources, guidance and offers for people trying to conceive. I want to help break the stigma, so people don’t have to suffer in silence.
You can follow me at www.fertilityhelphub.com and @fertility_help_hub