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; 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. I stopped drinking wheatgrass and started watching videos of clowns (don’t ask!). 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 heart-breaking 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 simply party in a petri dish, each egg is, directly, injected with one lucky hand-picked sperm, in order to further assist 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 to create a warm and welcoming, peaceful home for my new baby to reside in. 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.
We’d initially kept our inability to conceive a shameful secret, however, once we got our diagnosis I was able to become more open, telling close friends and family of our struggle. It’s my firm belief that infertility should not be a silent subject, there is nothing to be ashamed about, although, when living bang in the midst of grief, it’s incredibly hard to keep on having self worth and not feel broken, humiliated or embarrassed.
As you’ve probably guessed, round one failed, as did round two, followed by more negative pregnancy tests and treatment cycles over the months which followed. We’d initially decided we’d do one round and that would be it. Then it was two, our NHS quota, but, we’d become so completely entrenched on the assisted reproduction merry-go-round that we were unable to drag ourselves off; we’d keep on going and surely, eventually, in the end, 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 chance. I’d always said that I refused to take a break between treatment, because a break was a waste of time, but after a year of back to back ups and downs and more sadness than I knew what to do with, I became aware that neither myself, nor my marriage, was going to be okay. We needed to take time out; it was vital we learned how to reconnect, as a couple, and essential we tried to heal before amassing any further pain. I was carrying around huge amounts of grief and guilt. I was becoming increasingly depressed, yet venturing further and further into my addiction. It was incredibly difficult for me to take those eight weeks off and, at the time, I was so angry at my husband for even suggesting it; it felt like the beginnings of starting to stop and I wasn’t ready for that. But we used the time wisely and healthily; I got counselling, we took a holiday, I allowed myself to mourn and we came to the decision, together, that the line had to be drawn somewhere. We couldn’t go on as were. We decided to give IVF one final shot and, if we weren’t successful, we’d, somehow, have to learn to live with what that meant for our future.
Infertility can feel incredibly isolating. We had a huge amount of support from friends and family and yet, at times, I remember feeling so alone; the social pariah watching, obsessively, from the side-lines, as other people’s pregnancies were announced and new babies were welcomed in to the world. Just not for us. We’d watch films and tv shows, knowing that couples would do the deed once, and end up pregnant. Or have struggled with infertility and, somehow, overcome it naturally.
Of course we never did.
Following our self-imposed last attempt we were successful but, devastatingly, that pregnancy ended in one of the cruellest blows IVF can deal; an early miscarriage. However, as much as I was living with huge amounts of anguish, there was some hope. For the first time ever we’d ended up with two little frozen, good quality, hatching blastocysts (five-day-old embryos). In typical Caro-style, I started the medication for a FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) on the first day of my cycle following the miscarriage. Six weeks after we’d lost our first pregnancy, we found ourselves waiting for a call, from the clinic, to let us know if our hopes and dreams had thawed correctly and could be used.
Based on our history, and our recurrent failure to conceive, it was agreed that both embryos would be transferred and many fingers (and toes!) would be crossed. Due to infertility paranoia and irrational jinxing of our luck, we’d decided to keep this frozen cycle a secret, so even when the word “POSITIVE” flashed up, on approximately ten pregnancy test screens, and two lines appeared on a further three, we still kept the news under our belts, we wanted to wait until we’d reached that all important twelve-week mark and knew everything was going well. But, as it so often does, fate had completely different ideas and the news was broken early. At eight weeks pregnant I was ambulanced to hospital, where I underwent emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy and my left fallopian tube. I’ve never felt more scared in my whole life, as when I was put under general anaesthetic, leaving surgeons to do everything they could to save my life, and that of the baby who had managed to settle in the right place.
And miracles can happen, because seven months later Samuel, oh so finally, 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. And, if the truth be told, I’m still working to find acceptance. Even despite having my miracle; the pain, of everything we experienced, is sometimes just too raw.
I remember my wise and lovely 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 and how fortunate we are to have him.