A few months ago, my clinic counsellor asked me to be part of an ‘Evening for New Patients.’ The talk was last night. It was pretty scary. But I wanted to do it – as I know how much it would have helped me if I had attended such an event before we had started IVF. Me and another girl (who had really been through the mill – but now has a 15 month old son) shared our IVF stories with a roomful of people then opened it up to questions. It went really well. I decided to share my talk on here too (I did deviate from it a little in places – but I’m glad I typed it out as I feared I would just lose the plot/my thread if I tried to just do it off the top of my head). As it happens, I included one sentence about the miscarriage (as it’s part of our story) and I lost it a bit emotionally. I was so glad of my piece of paper, water, my husband sat across the room and deep breaths to recompose myself. It’s one thing talking to friends and family about something so emotional and writing about it – it’s quite another to tell a roomful of strangers about your lost little baby.
Anyway, here’s my talk – it’s a bit long so congratulations if you make it to the end…
“As you may or may not be able to tell, I’m currently 17 and a half weeks pregnant (I haven’t just been eating too many pies). I’m not going to tell you one of those stories where I was on the list for IVF and I found out I was pregnant just before it started, or I ‘relaxed’ or went on holiday and came back pregnant. (I’ve heard plenty of those stories over the last few years…) My husband and I have actually had 2 rounds of IVF here at the clinic and I’m going to tell you a little bit about them. Apologies for reading off this sheet – I’m scared if I don’t that I’ll forget to tell you all something or I’ll just waffle on!!
We started trying for a baby in 2011. I was naïve enough to think just coming off the pill would mean I would be pregnant in a few months’ time. Each month came and went, some months I was convinced we had managed to get pregnant – I symptom spotted like crazy – yet either I ended up staring at a blank test or my evil period would show up. After nearly a year of this, we went to the doctors. I convinced myself it was because of reason X, Y or Z and there was nothing wrong; we just needed to try again the next month. I put it down to stress, being unlucky, timing or just not being healthy enough and denied to myself that there was an actual ‘problem’. In short, I was completely in denial. During this time, it seemed that everyone else was able to get pregnant just by looking at their partners. Everywhere I looked there was bumps, small babies – in Tesco, around town, absolutely everywhere – also Facebook announcements of ‘surprise’ pregnancies. One friend managed to pop out three babies in the space of time we have been trying to pop out just one. Because of all this going on, there was a certain amount of ‘it’s just not fair’ going on before I was prepared to get practical about it all.
After finally going for blood tests at the doctors, we were referred to our local hospital, which I’m sure is the same for everyone here. More blood tests, sperm analysis and the very uncomfortable HSG (ouch) progressed us to the point where we were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’ and then referred for IVF. The consultant bypassed other less invasive treatments like clomid/IUIs due to our age and the fact that all roads lead to IVF anyway. In other words, he felt we were running out of time, with the IVF cut off age in our area being 40 and he thought that we might as well just get on with it.
To cut a long story short, it was now 2014 and we were due to get married in the November. We had (obviously) still not got pregnant the traditional/natural way, and we found ourselves in the clinic for the first time 3 days before our wedding for the initial blood tests and scan (due to the wonderful timing of my period). Exactly a month after our wedding to the day, we had our second appointment where we signed an overwhelming amount of consent forms and received what I felt at the time was an overload of overwhelming information. What I say to you now is, do not worry about how much information is given to you early on. You can read everything later and also ask questions as you go along so that you can take everything in at your own pace. All the nurses and other staff are lovely and won’t mind repeating information.
So, come January 2015, I was ready to get started big style. Unfortunately, the clinic was full that first month I rang up for treatment (since then they have taken on more patients though and if I’d rang up now, I believe this wouldn’t be the case). I remember this time as being the hardest time – waiting to get started – all the anticipation and fear and different thoughts going through my head – would it work, would it hurt, how on earth would I jab myself with those needles, would I be a hormonal mess?? Then I had to wait another cycle. I rang up again in February. They accepted us for March. This was the beginning of a lot of lessons I learnt about patience…
In the meantime, they sent us out our drugs and booked us in for Teach. The Teach was really helpful in that it went through all the different needles/drugs etc. and went through possible side effects etc. I came out of there though thinking “how on earth am I going to stick a needle in myself though?” I do remember feeling really excited however about those drugs arriving and being shown how to use them. Afterall, those drugs could make our Baby!!! However, we still had to wait for ANOTHER period to arrive and also 21 days after that to start injections. The time from the start of January (when I had psyched myself up to start) to finally starting injections on March 29th (which happened to be Good Friday) seemed the longest time ever. I willed us so hard to get pregnant in the meantime so we wouldn’t have to go through it – but each month, my body let us down again. I had given up caffeine in the February, cut down on alcohol, was doing more exercise and generally was eating a fairly healthy diet in preparation.
Husbands or Partners of jabbers, I talk to you directly at this point. Having done two rounds, and having the ability now to look back – I can now appreciate how hard your job also is. My husband, although he didn’t want to give me the injections, had his part to play. Find a way to be involved somehow. You may or may not want to help with the injections. My husband didn’t – and that was fine as I preferred to do them myself. It’s just a matter of personal choice. My husband did attend every single appointment with me (barring the ones where they just needed my blood) and we kept on talking throughout, even if it was just him admiring my bruises after blood tests or the ones on my stomach after injections. It can seem like all the emphasis is placed on the lady who is injecting and it can seem like a little bit of an isolating experience – to both parties.
To this end, we had to decide who we were going to tell and how open we were going to be about the fact we were doing IVF. We took the ‘sod it’ route and just before injections started, decided to be entirely open about what was happening to us. In my eyes, we had nothing to be ashamed of and consequently the amount of support our family and friends gave us was overwhelming and totally got us through the events of the next year. People did say some silly things – but not because they didn’t care (and this was something I did have to tell myself a few times) – but more out of a lack of knowledge on the subject. But the fact that people knew meant I didn’t have to constantly lie about my whereabouts and why I was constantly disappearing off to Big Town AGAIN and why I was not drinking/eating particular foods and not eating cake. Telling people is a personal choice and some people choose to keep it entirely in their couple bubble or just tell family only. As well as talking, I also wrote a lot of stuff down, both in a notebook – the really private stuff – and in an online blog. This helped me tremendously with what we were going through as I personally find it easier to write down my feelings than to speak aloud sometimes. I am so proud of how this baby was ‘conceived’ and all the hard work of the lots of different skilled people that went into the making of him or her and I can’t wait to tell them about it when they are old enough – and tell them just how special and wanted they are.
As well as support from our friends and family, I also attended a fortnightly group that the counsellor ran every second Wednesday. After my first IVF round, I have also been seeing the counsellor on a 1:1 basis, either weekly or fortnightly.
Anyway, finally I took my first injection on the Good Friday. I was fine all day – then about 5pm I started crying (I was due to take my injection at 7pm.) Thankfully I had asked a friend to do the first one and I was surprised at how small and fine the needles were and how easy it seemed. Thankfully she offered to sit with me the next night while I did my own injection. Which I managed just fine. They stung a bit and my tummy was a bit red afterwards but I wasn’t bothered as I was hoping these minor inconveniences would lead us to our much wanted baby.
The Buserelin which down regulated my system and shut down my ovaries gave me quite bad side effects. I got headaches and was so overwhelming tired and ever so slightly over emotional and cranky. (My husband may tell that story a little differently). The nurse had advised us to drink 2L of water every day – which if I didn’t, the headaches were certainly more noticeable. The Buserelin also made my period a little late which worried me as my period needed to arrive before I could go back to the clinic for a blood test. Thankfully it arrived just in the nick of time and my blood test went fine, giving me the go ahead to start on the Stimming phase (I was given the Gonal F pen on my first cycle which was so easy to use. All I had to do was twist the dial to the correct dose and inject with a needle that twisted on). I was a bit daunted because the Gonal F pen needle was a bit bigger than the Buserelin needles but it was fine. So now I was on two injections each evening. One to keep my ovaries from releasing eggs and one to stimulate the ovaries into producing follicles. Finding a space amongst the bruises was sometimes a little tricky!
After 6 days, I went back to the clinic for a blood test. I remember at this point feeling lots of twanging in my ovaries and I was convinced I had loads of eggs in there. What I will say to you now is ‘Don’t get fixated on numbers’…I wanted loads of eggs, but loads isn’t always good and your body will do what your body will do. Everyone is different and don’t put expectations on yourself or your ovaries.
2 days later, I went for a scan and what I thought was going on in there, was so different to what was actually going on in there. I had 3 follicles of a noticeable size and six teeny ones that had potential to grow. I remember being a little disappointed – especially after reading stories on the internet of people having numbers of eggs in their teens, twenties and even thirties…
In the end though, I stimmed for 14 days before they told me I was ready for the trigger shot. Some people take longer than that, others don’t take very long at all. The trigger shot itself was a little tricky and made me feel a little bit like a chemist but after that was done and dusted – all there was to do was wait for egg collection – which had me fairly angsty in itself.
Egg collection day, we got there bright and early having been nil by mouth from midnight the night before. I have to be honest, I was scared stiff about egg collection. I’ve never had any medical procedures done before or been under sedation and I was petrified. Thankfully all the medical staff were lovely and reassuring and although I was last to go down to theatre – I managed to keep myself occupied with books, magazines etc. (Top tip, take plenty to keep you occupied and your mind busy)…
When I woke up from egg collection, I was told that I had managed to get 8 eggs. I was wheeled back to hubby and then given pain relief, toast and tea. I seriously think it was the best toast I have ever tasted…after the pain had died down and I’d managed to have a wee, I was allowed to be taken home.
I spent the next day on the sofa with a hot water bottle. Make sure you have nothing planned for the day of or after egg collection. I laid on the sofa and watched films all day. It was a bit like having really bad period pains. We also got the news the next day as well that out of the 8 eggs, only 3 were mature but they had all fertilised. We called the embryos Ellie, Ernie and Elvis.
On day 3, we found out that all 3 were still doing well and they wanted us to hang on until day 5 as they were no strong ‘leaders’. Day 5 we received the phonecall asking us to come in at midday and telling us that they would transfer 2 today and let us know the following day if the other was fit for freezing.
Midday we arrived. Transfer itself was uncomfortable, I won’t lie – it was a little like a really uncomfortable smear – but at the same time it was amazing watching our little embryos being placed inside me on the screen. (I cried…)
Then we waited…unfortunately our third embryo wasn’t fit for freezing so all was resting on the two inside me.
After a week, I caved and tested. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a faint line. Over the next few days, I neurotically took quite a few more tests (I don’t really want to tell you how many…) until it got to official test date when I took yet another test and it was still positive. And a nice strong positive at that.
I had been taking progesterone pessaries since egg collection and was told to carry them on until week 12 of pregnancy. We were over the moon to finally be pregnant after all this time and couldn’t believe it had worked the first time!
However, unfortunately, when I was 12 weeks and 2 days pregnant, I started bleeding heavily. My husband took me to hospital but I miscarried our baby the next day.
Throughout the next few weeks, I sought help from the counsellor who I had weekly appointments with and friends and family and our local church were also a great support to us.
The clinic wanted us to wait 3 months after the miscarriage to try again. This is normal protocol but at the time seemed like forever to wait. After I had done all the usual and predictable things like crying, overeating, getting pissed, more crying – I vowed I was going to do everything in my power to get pregnant again and stay pregnant. In the end, the three months were needed for me to feel I was at peak health and to get my brain back into the right place.
So, I researched loads, we saw the Dr for our follow up appointment and asked a million questions, I bought Co-Enzyme Q 10 to help with egg quality, majorly changed my diet to a paleo one, upped the exercise and just got myself as ‘clean’ and fit and healthy as I possibly could – both in body and mind. This helped the time pass, as when you’re waiting for something like this – 3 months can seem like such a crazily long time! During this time, I didn’t even mind getting my evil period as each one was just another tick closer to being able to start again.
Our second IVF cycle seemed to go a lot faster and just went smoother in general. I think it’s because I knew what was coming up. My drugs had been changed slightly (the Gonal F was now Menopur to stimulate the eggs) and my trigger shot was doubled to try and get more mature eggs this time. I was also told to stay on the progesterone for longer if we got a positive pregnancy test this time. To help myself, I also drank more water this time round – upping it to 3L a day – which seemed to help with the side effects (especially the headaches) that I got last time (although I was constantly using the bathroom!).
I think what helped me the 2nd time round was to compartmentalize the process and mentally split it into boxes. I split the process into down regulation, stimming, egg collection, transfer and 2ww and tried to mentally tick each part off as it was done – not jumping ahead to the next bit and staying in the moment. It helped me to stay in each part and not angst about what was coming.
This time, we got 8 eggs again – but 6 were mature! All 6 fertilised and made it to day 5. As it was early December, we named these ones festive name of Holly, Mary, Joseph, Carol , Frosty and Gabriel. I had 2 transferred – and 1 made it to the freezer. I again tested early (I know I’m bad…) and again found out I was pregnant. I did at this point start bleeding and had painful cramping which obviously sent me into a complete tailspin after our miscarriage. I mention this only so you know that this implantation bleeding and pains can happen and to try not to panic if it does! The bleeding stopped when I was 5 weeks pregnant thankfully but the EPU looked after me well, taking blood HCG levels and scanning me until they located the baby in the correct place and with a heartbeat. Me and my husband have our fingers firmly crossed that this wriggly little monkey in here is our take home baby and I wish the same for each and every one of you here. Good luck and stay positive. It really does work and I hope you can take something positive away from our story.
If I could give you some top tips, it would be these:
- Try not to get upset about the injections stinging/bruising/marking etc. Each one is one step closer to that ultimate baby goal.
- It is all consuming – try and take time off work/reduce hours/take holidays if you can. It’s more or less impossible to just carry on as normal and as if nothing is happening.
- Get into a routine early of giving up things like caffeine and alcohol (or at least reduce it). The last thing you want is side effects from the drugs and also caffeine withdrawal headaches at the same time!
- People will say really crap stuff to you. Take it with a pinch of salt and chances are these people love you and are saying it out of ignorance rather than going all out to upset you.
- Try not to Google. I was a pain for doing this (in fact I still am) but it’s never a good idea! But at the same time, do be as informed as you can. Read books, articles etc.
- Take hope – it does work. Babies are born every day via IVF. It’s an amazing process and without it I would never have been pregnant once, never mind twice…
- Try not to test early (says the girl who tested early twice) as the trigger drugs can give you a false positive and also you can drive yourself nuts with the whole “is it a line or a shadow” thing.
- Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself, go out on dates (you can always do your injections in the toilets, I did this loads!) and keep talking and communicating and looking after your relationship.”
I hope somebody out there finds this helpful 🙂