I never expected to have trouble conceiving. For me it always felt like a given; find man; buy house in country with big garden; get married; have child; have more childs and possibly dog. We diligently worked through this checklist ticking things off until eventually we knew the date we were going to start trying, had read our “How to conceive” book and I’d even removed my tummy button ring in anticipation of an ever-swelling belly; hell, we were serious about this; we were going to do it and we were ready to be parents. The excitement was palpable, it felt illicit even, that first time we took a romantic “tumble” using no contraception, and oh my goodness, how I thought that was it, that lady luck was with us and out of our passion, parents would be created.
It came as a huge shock, after months of getting nowhere, to discover that a nice steak dinner and bottle of wine, to put us in the mood for a spot of copulating under the covers, wasn’t going to get us anywhere, although had the conception book advised we’d stand more chance by doing it on top of the covers, you can be guaranteed that’s what we’d have done. Anyone who has been there knows you’ll try absolutely ANYTHING. I stood on my head; I rubbed babies on my ovaries; I drank wheatgrass; I ate millet; we tried in the morning; we tried at noon; we tried every other day; we tried three times a day; we did everything we were told to do and then some, until eventually an act, which had initially brought us so much joy, excitement and togetherness, began causing sadness, anxiety and became a chore.
And then we went to see our GP.
I won’t bore you with the details but our prognosis was grim; there was no way we were ever going to conceive naturally and thus began our first round of ICSI – a form of IVF whereby instead of being left to party in a petri dish, each egg is injected with one lucky hand-picked sperm to increase the chance of conception. At the time I felt like I took this news in my stride and coped exceptionally well, and to some extent I’m sure I did, however, when I look back I’m not entirely sure I was the rational being I thought I was. I took our first cycle incredibly seriously, I cancelled all my plans during the treatment, requested an unpaid absence from work and let IVF utterly consume me. I joined every infertility forum known to man, or woman, and researched and researched. I ate only “IVF friendly” foods, stopped working out and tried everything I could do to create a warm and welcoming, peaceful home for my new baby to reside. I’d kind of figured that we’d identified the problem, had been given the solution and bingo, science would take over from what nature hadn’t been able to achieve for us.
I’d been open about our fertility issues from the start. Friends and family knew and I felt extremely comfortable talking about IVF with anyone who asked. I’ve always felt that infertility should not be a taboo subject. There is nothing to be ashamed about, in fact I feel the complete opposite; that couples going through IVF should be saluted, praised and nurtured. Of course everyone’s entitled to handle it in their own way, to do whatever they feel comfortable with, and to be honest, I’m not sure my husband would have been as open about our treatment had it not been for me.
As you’ve probably guessed, round one failed, as did rounds two, three, four and five. We’d initially decided we’d do one round and that would be it. Then it was two and by treatment number three we were so completely entrenched on the IVF merry-go-round that we simply couldn’t get off. We’d keep on going and surely, eventually, the odds had to be in our favour, right?
One thing I hadn’t expected about IVF was how addictive it becomes. Our savings depleted and we started putting money aside each month to pay for our next round. I’d always said that I refused to take a break between cycles but after our fifth failed attempt I knew that neither myself, nor my marriage, was going to be okay unless we took a bit of time out to reconnect and heal. I was carrying around huge amounts of grief and guilt; I was becoming increasingly depressed yet venturing further and further in to my addiction. It was incredibly difficult for me to take those three months off and, at the time, I was so angry at my husband for even suggesting it; it felt like the beginnings of starting to give up. However, I got counselling, we took a holiday, I allowed myself to grieve, the pain started to heal and we agreed we had to draw the line somewhere; we decided round six was going to be our final round and if we weren’t successful then we’d, somehow, learn to live with that decision.
Infertility can feel incredibly lonely. We had a huge amount of support from friends and family and yet, at times, I remember feeling so isolated. I felt like a social pariah who could only watch from the side-lines as pregnancies were announced and new babies were welcomed in to the world. We’d watch films and tv shows knowing that couples would do the deed once and end up pregnant, yet I never did.
Following round six we were successful but sadly that pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage, however, for the first time ever we’d ended up with two little frozen embryos, so, in for a penny, in for a pound we went! Based on our history, and struggle to conceive, it was agreed that both embryos would be transferred and many fingers would be crossed. Bizarrely, for us, we’d decided to keep this frozen cycle a secret and even when POSITIVE finally, finally, finally flashed up on the screen, still decided to keep the news under our belts until we reached that all important twelve week mark. But, as it so often does, fate had completely different ideas and the news was broken early. At eight weeks pregnant I was rushed in to hospital for emergency surgery, to remove an ectopic pregnancy, whilst surgeons did everything they could to save my life and that of the baby who had managed to settle in the right place.
And miracles do happen.
Seven months later Samuel joined us.
I’ve often likened the feelings of infertility to the seven stages of grief; disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and acceptance, and I know I experienced all of those over what we now refer to as the “dark years”. I also discovered that it’s fine to feel these emotions and cope, or not cope, in whatever way feels best for you. It’s your journey.
I remember my mum saying that, whether we were successful or not, I’d always carry infertility with me, that it would shape the person I am to be and I believe that’s true. I no longer feel defined by my treatment but there’s definitely still a shadow of those emotions I carry around with me. I’ll never forget what we went through to get Sam but I’ll also never forget what a blessing he is.