Below is a snapshot of my journey to motherhood. Words can’t express how truly devastating infertility is and how much it has affected my life. Anyone who has experienced the grief of infertility will know the pain and appreciate that some things are better left untold. I promise though that this story has a happy ending. I’m one of the lucky ones.
It was 29th December 2010 and I was sat in my consultant’s office waiting for the news. Most of the words are a blur although the feelings of sadness and anger feel like it was yesterday. I often get flashbacks of a nurse with very bad eyebrows handing me tissue after tissue and the words repeating over and over, “you are infertile” in my head. I’ve never cried so much in public and it was huge struggle to walk to the car. I went to bed for the rest of the day and each time I woke the realisation of what I had been told emerged and then I cried myself back to sleep again.
We had been trying for a baby since 2009 but I had always thought I was going to have problems conceiving. It must have been intuition as from the age of 13 I’d had agonising mid-cycle pain. I was told time and time again it was ovulation pains but my kind of pain affected me walking, sitting, standing, running. It was like I was bruised internally for a week every month and then my period came and I felt normal again. The cycle then repeated. The contraceptive pill took the pain away, so for 11 years I was pain free. When I got married in 2008 I wanted to try for a family as soon as possible but my husband wanted to wait and I was happy to have our first year of marriage just him and me.
I came off the pill in 2009 and my periods were surprisingly regular, but the agonising pain returned. In 2010 I hadn’t conceived and the pain was overwhelming so we decided to go to the doctors and start the process for fertility tests. My husband had his tests and I had blood tests, but everything came back normal. Due to my symptoms they wanted to check if I had endometriosis and I was booked in for a routine laparoscopy. I was so excited that I was finally going to find out what was wrong with me after years of suffering. After speaking with the consultant, it was revealed that when I had my appendix out in 1991 it had caused an infection in my tummy. My fallopian tubes and ovaries were stuck together by adhesions but unfortunately due to it being a diagnostic operation, they hadn’t been able to do anything about it. My tubes were clear but they didn’t know and could never find out the quality of inside my fallopian tubes.
After changing consultants various times and booking operations that were then cancelled I finally had a consultant that I liked and he agreed to remove the adhesions and put me on clomid, a tablet that increases your chances of conceiving by making you ovulate multiple eggs. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen for me and surprisingly it stopped me ovulating completely so I was referred to the IVF clinic CARE.
Within a month we had our first appointment and within 2 months we had a start date. I went on an intense health kick, lost 20lbs and had acupuncture weekly. I wasn’t in charge of my fertility so I had to find something I could control and my fitness seemed the logical choice. After multiple scans, on the first day of my cycle we started IVF – I called the clinic and they gave me a date that I had to start injecting hormones into my leg. I had a lesson on how to do this but nothing can prepare you for the first time you are in control of administering a needle. I had to do it on my own and all I could hear was my heartbeat. I was so nervous. What if the drugs made me put weight on? What if the needle hurts? What if the drugs make me into a crazy person?
The main question throughout the whole cycle was What if it doesn’t work? I decided that I had to have a plan B. If I can’t have children, where do I want my life to go? After many melt downs, I decided that I would leave my job, get a dog and be a full time make- up artist. I didn’t know how I was going to cope if the IVF failed and I thought that the best way of coping would be to tell myself that it wasn’t going to work and that I was never going to be a mother. It was heart-breaking and people couldn’t understand why I couldn’t have positive thoughts. I believed that I was setting myself up for disappointment if I thought it was going to be successful and the fall would be harder and much more painful.
The funny thing is, the needles didn’t hurt, I didn’t go crazy and I didn’t gain weight. The drug I was injecting shut down my ovaries so it tricked my body into menopause, which was called ‘down regulation’. I had to do this for approximately 21 days and I had a scan of my ovaries to see what was happening. I was given a date to start injecting a second drug that stimulated my ovaries to create eggs, so each evening I had to inject my leg twice as I still had to trick my ovaries to switch off.
Five days later I had to be scanned every other day as there was a risk of over stimulation. At my second scan I was given a date of when my egg collection would be and that is when it gets serious. 12 days after starting the second hormone I was sedated and taken into theatre to have as many eggs collected as possible. The next day I had to wait for a phone call to tell me how many eggs had fertilised overnight, if any. After a sleepless night I got the call that out of 9 eggs, 6 fertilised and 5 matured. I had to wait another 48 hours to find out if 5 of the eggs had developed into at least 8 cell embryos.
On Monday 7th January 2013 I got the phone call that all 6 had developed and I was given the quality of each embryo. I was told I had to choose which one I wanted and if I wanted multiple eggs put back in. After a lot of consideration we decided to only put one embryo in. It was a level 2, which is very good and had 8 cells – a perfect amount of cells for a day three embryo. I went back into the same theatre that I had the egg collection in, I wasn’t sedated and it was a very exciting experience. I even got to see on a screen the embryo being put into my womb and I got a photo of the embryo that we had chosen.
Now came the longest, most awful two weeks of my life. The dreaded two week wait.
The first week was fine as I was at home. The second week I went back to work, which I’m not sure was the best decision. I couldn’t concentrate, I googled the most ridiculous things like, “where is the egg on day 11 of IVF cycle”. You won’t believe what comes up in these searches, which also tell you what symptoms you should be having. It’s a minefield and does not help with the anxiety.
You are told to test on day 16 unless your period arrives. By day 12 I couldn’t handle the wait any longer and in the end I persuaded my husband to let me test, afterwards he took it from me with the box and stood still, staring at the stick. Finally he passed it to me. I was expecting it to say not pregnant. But it didn’t. It said PREGNANT 3+ weeks. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was the most surreal situation and I was in a huge daze. Afterwards I did what any normal mother-to-be would do… I went down to the kitchen and made lemon drizzle cake, all the while imagining what my baby would look like. Our beautiful son, Felix, meaning ‘lucky’ was born on 13th September, 2013 at 10.52pm.
Images and words by, Laura Johnson.