“It doesn’t look good”. I can feel the doctor moving his cold, hard probe around inside me. He’s trying to get a better look
I stare up at the plain, white ceiling.
My heart is beating so loudly I am surprised no one else has mentioned that they can hear the thud, thud, thud pounding from my chest.
I wish with my entire being for the doctor to take those words back. I start praying to a God I don’t believe in that I misheard the words.
I continue to lay in silence, clutching my husband’s hand so hard, my knuckles turn white.
Finally, the doctor says the words that I have spent the three weeks since my positive pregnancy test dreading to hear – “I can’t find a heartbeat.”
Happy ever after?
Our wedding day three years prior to that grey, August day in a non-descript Harley Street clinic had been a joyous affair. We, like all newlyweds, had been full of hope of what our future would bring.
We both wanted children. We had spent many of our early dates in London bars or just walking along the Thames planning their names, the family holidays we would take, the hobbies they would enjoy.
We painted pictures in our mind of the types of parents we would be. I knew I wanted to be a hands-on mum. At the time of our wedding, I worked as a Recruiter for a large Recruitment Agency. But the hours were long. Factoring in my commute, I could easily be out of the hours 13 hours per day.
I knew these days would be too long when the time came for me to be a mum. I decided to switch career before I had children to self-employment, doing something more ‘family friendly’.
So – I quit my job and started to work from home doing Beauty Therapy and Image Consulting. The hours were less demanding than my previous role, and I knew they would fit perfectly around a growing family.
Everything was set up, ready and waiting for our bundle of joy.
We had been married for about a year or so; my business was growing steadily, our puppy was fully grown – the time seemed perfect to start putting our baby plans into action.
I remember the first night we had sex without protection. Laying back in bed wondering if that was it – was I pregnant? Sex Education teachers had taught my teenage self it would be that easy to fall pregnant, so two weeks later, when my period arrived, I was devastated.
The following month my period arrived again like clockwork. We were on holiday, and I kept checking my knickers in the hotel bathroom, willing that I was imaging the blood.
And again, my period continued to arrive every month, like an unwanted guest in my knickers
We were about six months in to ‘trying for a baby’ – friends seemed to be falling pregnant everywhere I turned, gleefully telling me they had fallen pregnant their first month of trying when I decided we needed to get more serious. Maybe we weren’t trying hard enough?
I spent a small fortune on ‘his and hers’ fertility vitamins, ovulation kits and sticks, organic food, reflexology. I exercised, I stopped exercising, I only drank caffeine at certain times of the month, I thought ‘f*ck it’ and drank alcohol the whole month through. Nothing seemed to work, and every month we would start the entire cycle again.
After a year, we admitted defeat and made an appointment with our GP. She tried to reassure us it could take up to 2 year’s to fall pregnant and booked some basic fertility tests.
Everything came back normal – our infertility diagnosis was ‘unexplained’
In some ways, this diagnosis is reassuring. There is nothing physically preventing you from becoming pregnant. But in other ways, it is incredibly frustrating as there is nothing to fix. Maybe if we ‘just relaxed’ – as so many people had told us to do, we would fall pregnant. But these thoughts made me even more stressed that I couldn’t remove the constant anxiety that seemed to live permanently in my stomach.
Our unexplained infertility diagnosis meant we had to wait for two years to be referred to a fertility clinic by our NHS GP. This seemed like forever, so about five months after our ‘unexplained infertility’ diagnosis, we took matters into our own hands and delved into the sometimes murky world of private fertility clinics.
Living under a rain cloud
The first private fertility clinic we visited was a converted office block not too far from where we lived in Essex.
We both had more extensive tests. Again – everything came back as unexplained. Like our GP, the doctor advised us to wait until the two-year mark before starting any fertility treatment.
It was at this point I decided to return to my old Recruitment job. I had found being a Beauty Therapist hard. Not because of the work (although being honest, I was pretty rubbish at painting nails), but because it is so female-centred and intimate. Clients constantly asked me – ‘so do you want children’ or ‘when do you think you will have children’.
These questions felt like death by a thousand cuts. I knew working in a corporate office; colleagues wouldn’t openly ask me my baby-making plans. So I sheepishly rang my old Manager, who was delighted to welcome me back.
On a cold, wet December morning, just one week on from that phone call, I was back on the 7:00 am train to London.
The crushing disappointment to be back in my old corporate office, with no baby, just shattered dreams, was possibly one of the lowest moments of my life.
I felt so lonely
I didn’t confide in anyone why I had left and why I had returned. I was guarded and remote. I would ring my mum every lunchtime walking around the gardens outside St Paul’s Church crying, before quickly drying my eyes and heading back into the office.
A few months later, my Auntie called. One of her colleagues had fallen pregnant after years of trying for a baby. She had visited a doctor who had a theory that the reason she wasn’t becoming pregnant was due to an overactive immune system that prevented an embryo from implanting. The doctor had prescribed immunosuppressant steroids to prevent her body from attacking her baby, and now she was finally pregnant.
Could this be what was happening to us? There was only one way to find out
Could this be it?
Harley Street – one of the most expensive streets in London. Synonymous with the medical profession. Grand houses turned discreet, anonymous clinics with tiny brass plates. And that is where my husband and I found ourselves one spring lunchtime.
Yes – the doctor told us across his desk. You could have an overactive immune system that is preventing your embryos from implanting. But it will cost you to find out.
At this point, we were desperate – desperate to know and desperate to avoid a grueling IVF treatment I had read so many horror stories about.
So, I took the blood test forms and told my husband to pay the £1,500 bill.
A couple of weeks later, we got a call – yes, you have an overactive immune system. Steroids may help. We started treatment the following month.
The first month nothing happened. The second month I took a pregnancy test as instructed, and for the first time in my life noticed a faint second line. It was so faint and only visible in certain lights. The following day I took another test. This time the second line was darker. Finally, after two horrible years of trying, I was pregnant.
Three weeks later, we were back on Harley Street, in the doctor’s clinic, staring at the white ceiling. I could faintly hear him telling us how to have a ‘blighted ovum’ removed and what to do with the remains.
Miscarriage – no one really tells you about the practicalities involved. You hope it will never happen to you, and it is something women don’t openly discuss
My miscarriage was as follows – there was no pain (well, no physical pain), no blood and no warning. At the appointment where I had hoped to see my baby for the first time, I was told that my baby had stopped growing very early on and that if my body didn’t expel it on its own, I would need medical assistance. Still, the doctor couldn’t be sure, so I would need another appointment with my local hospital to confirm my baby was ‘not viable’.
The following day I made an appointment with my GP. As we had been with a private clinic, she had been unaware of our treatment and pregnancy. She called our local Early Pregnancy Unit, who had an appointment, but not until the following week!
I would have to wait a whole week, not knowing if the baby inside of me was alive or not
I confessed to my Manager what had been happening. She confided in me that she had suffered a miscarriage the previous year. And to this day, I am still grateful; she allowed me to stay off work the entire time on full pay.
So the following week, my mum and I arrived at the Early Pregnancy Unit. It was full of anxious patients. We waited for what seemed like forever. Finally, the nurse called my name.
Heart pounding, I pulled down my knickers and laid on the couch. “I am very sorry”, the nurse said softly, “but I can only see an empty sac, but as we haven’t seen you before, you will have to return next week for us to confirm.”
In total, I had three agonising scans, each a week apart, to confirm what my fertility doctor had told me that very first cold afternoon in Harley Street. That my baby had stopped developing very early on, and I had had a ‘silent miscarriage’.
After my final scan, the nurse told me to come back the following day to start the process of miscarrying my baby
The following day I was given a couple of tablets to start the process off and told to return to the hospital two days later to miscarry. I was warned I could miscarry at home.
The following evening I started bleeding – lightly at first, but it got heavier. Too heavy for the sanitary towels I had at home – my mum rushed to the supermarket to buy some incontinence pads.
That night none of us slept. We arrived back at the hospital, my mum, husband and I, as instructed. The midwife inserted some suppositories, and a couple of hours later, I miscarried our baby, our longed-for baby, in the hospital toilet.
A couple of months later, we started the steroid treatment again. We went on a dream ‘holiday to Mexico, but no matter how far we traveled, the pain didn’t leave. It lingered like an unwanted ghost on both of our shoulders.
After six months of trying and the inevitable weight gain due to the steroid treatment, we finally took a break
We moved house from our family-friendly new build estate with all the carefully planned playgrounds and growing baby bumps back to London to a decidedly non-baby-friendly home and area.
I managed to switch jobs and moved to one of the Big 4 and start my dream job as an In-House Recruiter recruiting their Consultants. My husband managed to land his dream job at a similar time.
And, slowly, but surely we pieced ourselves back together
Life really does have rainbows
So, on the outside, at least, we look like a typical professional high-flying couple.
But the yearning to become parents doesn’t leave.
So we visit a different Harley Street fertility clinic.
Thankfully the doctor doesn’t repeat the pricey tests but prescribes a less aggressive immunosuppressant treatment – an egg-white drip. We try it a couple of times, but no cigar (as they say).
And so finally, almost four years to the day of ditching our condom packets, we admit defeat.
We visit our GP, who refers us to our local NHS fertility clinic – Guys Hospital. The Fertility Consultant is straight to the point.
“You have been trying for four years – if you were going to fall pregnant, it would have happened by now. The time has come to start IVF”
He is no-nonsense. He doesn’t buy into any of the immunosuppressant theories the Harley Street doctors sell. He is also the first doctor I have ever met in my life who says, “I’m sorry” when I tell him I have had a miscarriage.
A couple of months later, our IVF drugs arrive. I buy a fridge thermometer to keep them all at the correct temperature. I confide in my Manager about our upcoming treatment. He is brilliant, allowing me time off for appointments and to recover after egg collection.
Our first IVF treatment fails, but the doctor manages to freeze my four spare embryos successfully
So after a holiday, we are back in the fertility clinic trying again. Even though my first IVF treatment had been ok (and not as brutal as I feared it would have been), the doctors tell me that a frozen cycle is even easier.
And you know what – it is. I have none of the side effects the doctors warn me about. I feel entirely normal. I continue running until the day before my embryo transfer. We have two embryos put back as this is our last go on the NHS. We are throwing the kitchen sink at this. We will have to pay for further rounds ourselves if this fails.
And despite everything, how much is riding on this, I feel relaxed(ish). I continue working and living life as usual. I go to work, I come home, we watch tv, and we wait. We wait until test day finally arrives.
I wake up early, lying in bed wondering shall I test, shall I wait, shall I test, shall I wait. Until I can’t wait any longer – the suspense is killing me.
I go into the bathroom, pull a test out of the packet, wee and wait
I don’t have to wait very long. Almost straight away, a dark 2nd line emerges. It is like it is saying to me, ‘Don’t worry – I am here’.
We call the fertility clinic and make an appointment for our first scan – which will be in 4 weeks. It seems like a lifetime away. Can I hold my nerve?
But pretty soon, my morning sickness arrives, which I find hugely reassuring.
And in between the bouts of sickness, on a cold December afternoon, my husband and I are back at the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy’s Hospital.
I am back, laying on a couch, eyes fixed on a dark ceiling, clutching my husband’s hand, a cold, hard probe inserted inside me. And then I hear the sound I never thought I would hear – the sound I have dreamt of my entire life, the gallop, gallop, gallop of my baby, MY baby’s heartbeat.
Nine months later, I am back on a hospital couch, and my daughter, my beautiful daughter, is finally in my arms
It took me five years to become a mum on a journey I never anticipated I would have the strength to make. It was a journey that changed every piece of me and undoubtedly made me a different mum to the one I imagined I would be. The journey has left a mark on my soul that will never leave.
But, despite it all, it is a journey I am so grateful to have made
Not just because my daughter is the daughter I was always meant to have, but because I have become more empathetic and aware of other’s suffering. And because I, like all my fellow IVF and fertility warriors, have discovered an inner strength and resilience I never knew I had. A strength and resilience that will serve me for the rest of my life.
And when my daughter was ten month’s old, I discovered I was pregnant again. Naturally. Dreams really can come true.
Investing in Women
Investing in Women is a brand new job board run by me, Elizabeth Willetts, to help you find your dream part-time or flexible job with the UK’s most female-friendly employers in:
- Real Estate
Our exclusive jobs board will help you find a professional and rewarding job on the hours that work for you and your circumstances
So, whether you want more time to spend with your longed-for Rainbow baby or need a flexible job to accommodate fertility treatment, our jobs site is for you!
We ask all employers to detail their fertility and miscarriage policies.
And questions about maternity pay – we’ve got you covered there as well. Employers provide details of what they pay during maternity leave and when you are entitled to access any enhanced schemes.
Because here is what I believe:
- Women shouldn’t have to choose between a successful career or time for life’s curveballs.
- Just because you had kids doesn’t mean you gave up on ambition.
- Connecting through community and supporting other women is key.
And here is what I hope Investing in Women will do for you:
Help you find the right job – one that works for you and your family, challenges you (in the best way possible), develops your skills and experience and allows you to continue to progress up the career ladder on terms that work for you.
Why? Because you are too talented for your skills to go to waste!
Are you ready? Search our website to find your next flexible or part-time job today
p.s. – I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn. You can connect with me here