This is the post I never thought I’d be lucky enough to write. James and I are thrilled to announce we’re expecting a baby in November.
My heart aches knowing this pregnancy announcement may bring pain to some. However I am also aware sharing experiences can bring hope to others.
I have deliberated how much to share as part of this post wondering whether to save for a later date, but infertility, IVF and loss are part of the story that has led us here today. While assisted conception will not define me, my husband or my offspring, I think it’s extremely important to talk about what has previously been a taboo subject.
To some, reading this may feel familiar as I have blogged anonymously for several months as Jane over on RMF. James and I both send heartfelt thanks for the support so many people gave us during this time. It is testament to this wonderful community that you welcomed a stranger into your fold and the advice was absolutely invaluable. While it’s slightly odd to refer to myself in the third person, my alter ego Jane is braver and more self-aware than I, and I found writing as her to be extremely cathartic. I have explained my reasons for blogging anonymously and hope you understand why James and I chose to take that route.
In 2014 we began to talk about starting a family. I came off the pill in May 2015 and while everyone around us seemed to easily fall pregnant, we unfortunately joined the 3.5 million people in the UK affected by infertility, that is the inability to get pregnant after a year of trying.
In December 2016 I headed to my doctor to begin fertility investigations and in February 2017 we were dealt a devastating blow when our GP informed us biologically it would be impossible for us to conceive, even with the use of IVF.
The diagnosis was the condition azoospermia – the absence of sperm. We had already read up on the condition and thankfully had more knowledge on the subject than our GP. The condition can be genetic or as a result of illness but some cases are due to blockages which means sperm can be retrieved through an operation. We pleaded with our GP to refer us to a urologist and he finally agreed. However when I called to check on the progress two weeks later we realised no referral had been made.
At this point it really felt it was James and I against the world.
I had always thrived on managing two roles; one for Rock My Style and my job in the corporate world. However towards the back end of 2016 my role in the office shifted significantly. Throwing the diagnosis into the mix I no longer had the brain capacity or emotional energy to juggle the responsibilities. Painting a smile on my face in the morning became exhausting and I felt as though I was drowning. It became clear that I needed to prioritise one area in my life over my career, and that was my husband, our relationship and our family.
When I handed my notice in the relief was immense. My acupuncturist later analysed the results of my infertility investigations she concluded the significant drop in my hormone levels from January to March were no doubt due to the reduction in stress levels. At the start of the year I would not have qualified for IVF funding as my hormone levels were too high but by the spring they had dropped to a level where we could be assessed for funding.
James underwent a series of genetic tests and in June it was deduced the azoospermia was likely to be due to a childhood illness such as mumps. The urologist asked my date of birth at the appointment and when he realised the next day was my birthday, his face fell, as he knew we weren’t going to have much to celebrate. We left the appointment with the knowledge it was highly unlikely a surgical sperm retrieval operation would reveal any sperm, with odds of less than 10%. We began to research the donor route and on the advice of the urologist James cut down his caffeine intake.
The week I left my role in the corporate world we filled in all the paperwork required for IVF. Six weeks later James headed to New Zealand for work and while he was on the other side of the world we received a letter to confirm we had been approved for one cycle of funded IVF. I met him at the airport to share the news and as you can imagine it was a very emotional reunion.
In Northamptonshire, a funded NHS cycle is actually carried out by a private provider; Care Fertility. Our August appointment rolled around and James was asked to provide another specimen. Great, we thought, another opportunity to be told once again that our only route was donor sperm. The consultant leafed through all her paperwork running through the information she had on our file and then she dropped a bombshell casually into the conversation; ‘And so, yes we found a small quantity of sperm in your sample’.
James nearly fell off his chair and I burst into tears. We have no idea if sperm had been present all along or if the drop in caffeine was a factor. We were told private providers spin and wash the sample, but the NHS unfortunately don’t have the resource to do this. While we would still need to use IVF and the ICSI procedure (where sperm is injected into the egg) to get pregnant, we wouldn’t require a donor.
In September we flew to Italy to celebrate our friends’ wedding and amongst a suitcase filled with fancy frocks and high heels I carried needles, medication and a sharps bin. In a hotel room in Turin we started our first cycle of IVF and I began the nightly injections to take my body into a medically induced menopause ready to artificially stimulate my egg production.
The first cycle sadly ended in a chemical pregnancy, the term used to describe an early miscarriage before six weeks. Our embryo stopped developing at four and a half weeks turning our positive pregnancy test to a negative. Eight days later our little lost soul finally left my body in a painful bleed. We were heartbroken.
We were advised to wait for two more bleeds before beginning another cycle. January was quite an eventful month what with breast screening and international interest in my bookcase. In fact the night I published my response to the backward book trolls, James called me upstairs to hand me my first injection. Our second round had started.
Nearly 50 injections later I found myself back in theatre where the medical team removed nine eggs from my ovaries. Legally, only mature eggs are allowed to be injected with sperm and so only five of the nine were able to be introduced to the sperm.
The next day we received the call to say just three of the eggs had fertilised. To say the next few days were tense were an understatement and by day five, only one embryo remained. In February I had a grade-one, top quality embryo transferred and waited two weeks to see if the procedure had been successful.
We were due to test on the Tuesday morning but as our parents and siblings knew the date of the official test day we decided on a whim to test on the Monday night. I had been very nauseous for the past three days and so we were pretty sure we were going to get a positive result. (Well James was, I’m a born worrier and was convinced it would be negative!) For 12 glorious hours we were the only two people in the world who knew we had a little one on the way. We put Fleetwood Mac on the record player and twirled around the kitchen in a euphoric bubble.
I’m still utterly terrified every day, scared we will lose our little miracle, but overall I feel like the luckiest person in the world and am marvelling at my changing body and the new life within it.
I’m sure I’ll take up some of our Monday and Wednesday family slots at some point to share my experience of the first trimester, (let’s just say whoever came up with ‘morning’ sickness needs a good talking to), my capsule summer maternity wardrobe and all the nursery plans. For now though I’ll leave you with the words that have given hope during the last cycle; ‘When nothing is certain, anything is possible’. And I truly believe that’s the case.