This is us ... Sam and Alan, a couple in their 40s who have faced numerous battles than most in our journey to starting a family.
I will share our journey through infertility and the emotional toll it takes. I write this with the hope of providing comfort, support, and education to others who may be facing similar struggles.
Like many young women, I spent my youth avoiding pregnancy, never considering that it might be difficult getting pregnant when the time came. After a failed marriage, I met Alan, fell in love, and we built a life together. As the questions about starting a family began to surface, I focused on my career, not allowing myself to feel the pressure to rush into having children. Almost repelling the tradition society was forcing upon me!
After 18 months of trying to conceive, we were faced with the frustrating news of "unexplained infertility" it was at this point we were told the shocking statistic that our chances of getting pregnant naturally were only 20% and so our best option was to consider IVF. With the deadline of my 35th birthday fast approaching and our eligibility for one round of IVF funded by the NHS, we decided to give it a shot.
What followed was a journey filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, but through it all, we tried to remain optimistic and hopeful that our rainbow would appear. I want our journey through infertility to serve as a reminder that hope is never lost and that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, but that sometimes that light isn’t the one we were expecting.
Our first round of fertility treatments held so much hope, excitement and positivity. Despite the grueling process of daily injections, pessaries, tablets, and more, we were convinced that it was our time and the treatment would work. But after around two to three weeks of treatment and the dreaded two-week wait, we received the news we had been eagerly awaiting. The pregnancy test came back positive. The line on the test was faint, but we were overjoyed nonetheless.
However, the hardest part was yet to come. After confirming the pregnancy with blood tests at the clinic, we received devastating news. The clinic informed us that my HCG levels were not where they should be for this stage, and it looked like it was a chemical pregnancy. The next few days were filled with uncertainty as we went back for more tests and a scan, but the results were inconclusive. We were referred to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) for further specialist knowledge and scan techniques.
Over the next ten weeks, we went back and forth to the EPU for tests, scans, and more. Despite experiencing pregnancy symptoms and rising HCG levels, the final consultant confirmed that the pregnancy was not viable, there was no longer a heartbeat.
I was given two options: to wait and see if my body would miscarry naturally, or to opt for medical intervention. At the time, I chose the latter as I was afraid that a natural miscarriage would occur while I was away from home due to the nature of my job and having to travel a lot at the time. However, before the procedure could take place, I experienced a natural miscarriage in the early hours of the day. The pain and trauma of this experience are something that will live with me forever.
The days that followed were difficult. I became quite ill and signed off from work for two weeks. My boss was extremely supportive, but the emotional and physical toll of the experience was devastating. I shortly after collapsed at my parents' home, and was rushed to the hospital where they discovered that I had become septic due to a closed cervix with embryonic tissue backed up behind it. It took me a long time to recover from this ordeal both physically and mentally.
The journey of a lost pregnancy is not an easy one. It is filled with uncertainty, heartache, and unimaginable pain. However, it is important to remember that we are not alone in this experience. There is support available, and it is okay to reach out for help. If you or someone you know is going through this, know that you are not alone and that there is hope on the other side.
Following our miscarriage, we faced a long road of treatments and surgeries in an effort to grow our family. Despite multiple rounds of IVF, my body stopped responding to medication and my ovaries were no longer functioning properly. After our third failed round of IVF, we were informed that I could no longer conceive using my own eggs. This news was devastating and left me feeling immense regret, heartache, and despair that my genetics wouldn't be carried on.
After taking time to heal both physically and mentally, we faced a difficult decision: adoption or egg donation. The latter came with its own set of challenges, including a long waitlist in the UK of 6-12 months. I turned to social media groups and research to help me make a decision. I came across some promising articles and research from clinics in Spain, which were leading the way in IVF, egg donation, and frozen transfers. The laws around egg donation in Europe were also more favorable. This research, which explained that the baby carries three lines of DNA (the male sperm factor, the egg donor, and the birth mother's bloodline), was the turning point for me and made me feel more comfortable with the egg donor process. We had ruled out quite early on that Adoption was not for us, I have huge admiration for those who do adopt, but it was just not something we felt we could do.
However, the prospect of traveling overseas for treatment was a challenging hurdle. While our UK clinic was working with a sister clinic in Spain, which would have allowed us to have treatment quicker without a waitlist, the stress of traveling overseas and the added costs of extended stays outweighed the benefits.
During this time, I underwent further tests following my first cycle and something kept appearing in the scans. It was unclear if it was an ectopic pregnancy or not. I sought the advice of a local specialist, who turned out to also be a consultant at our IVF clinic. After a few examinations and scans, he recommended a Hysteroscopy to determine if it required removal, as it may have been causing issues with implantation after embryo transfer. I was nervous about the procedure, but it was a necessary step. These procedures picked up that I had an amount of endometrial tissue which explained some of the issues I faced each month of my menstrual cycle and the almost at times crippling symptoms, the endometrial tissue was pushing and eating into my bowel but didn't appear that it would cause complications with implantation of an embryo....Some good news!
So we decided to give the Egg Donor process a shot. I will share more on this process in later blogs, but we were given hope when we found out that we had 8 top quality embryos ready for freezing from this process.
Fast forward to November 2019, and I had lost 4 stone in weight on my weight loss journey, having gained so much through the previous treatment cycles, this had a significant impact on my physical and mental well-being. With the knowledge that our embryos were safe in the freezer, we decided to take some time out and enjoy the Cheist as season, since we had put so many things on hold in the past. To make it special, I surprised Alan with a big holiday to Las Vegas and New York, as a Christmas present.
However, as we were traveling, news of the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to spread around the world, and it was only a matter of time before it would affect us. When we returned from our trip, we were eager to start our treatment but were devastated when we were told that our cycle had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. We had no idea when we would be able to start treatment again, and the constant thought of my ticking biological clock was deafening.
In May 2020, our clinic called us to inform us that they had established a way to deliver treatment under the government guidelines and offered us the chance to start again. We were told that I would have to attend all appointments alone, even the day of the transfer. It was a difficult decision, but we felt like we had to go for it.
Starting treatment for the fifth time felt normal, and the fact that I was working from home made it easier to manage. After administering daily injections for a few weeks, our little embryo was transferred back into my uterus on July 2nd. The next two weeks were filled with anxiety and anticipation as we waited to see if it had worked.
To our amazement, two strong lines appeared on the pregnancy test, and as the weeks went by, I noticed more and more changes in my body. Finally, at 6 weeks, we were able to have a scan to see how things were going. The emotions leading up to that appointment were overwhelming, but we were overjoyed when we saw our little baby growing inside of me, with a nice strong heartbeat.
In conclusion, our journey to parenthood has been full of ups and downs, but with determination, perseverance, and a lot of love, we were able to overcome the odds and make our dream a reality, even during a global pandemic!
Our daughter was born in March of 2021 and we can truly say she is the best thing to have ever happened to us, worth every painful moment, every tear shed, every injection, every disappointment......holding onto that hope made our dream a reality.