IVF is one of those subjects I feel like people should talk about more. I don’t feel it’s a taboo subject necessarily; it's just very hard to open up about what can be a very upsetting journey. In saying that, I did find that the more I talked about our experiences the better I became at being able to deal with my emotions. When it came to talking publicly about this I wanted to comfort others as I knew how much it helped me talking to others about their fertility journey. The statistics as it stands estimate that 1 in 6 couples experience fertility problems, that’s around 3.5 million people. Not only that, only a third of couples under the age of 35 will be successful and those chances reduce as you age. There are lots of people who decide to start or extend a family later in life and this can potentially make it harder to conceive. I knew when I found the right person I would want to start a family but in my naivety hadn’t even considered investigating my fertility before this, even when I hit my 30’s. Hopefully talking more about fertility will resonate with younger people who might not be ready to have children yet but encourage them to explore their options earlier just in case.
Luckily when I met Brian aged 34 we talked about having kids on our third date, I remember being nervous when he asked me because I put it out there and said I did, so it was a bit of a deal breaker if he had said no! We started trying about a year and half into our relationship and although we were in no rush we were happy if it happened naturally. When I turned 37 it was something I knew we needed help with and I got straight on it knowing whatever course we took it wouldn’t be a quick process. My first port of call was obviously our GP and they referred us for fertility tests. We were then referred to St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.
In our region we were incredibly fortunate to receive a total of 3 cycles, had I have been over 40 I would have only been allowed one. In any case the cycles I would need had to be taken before I reached 40 so it was good I started the process when I did.
I remember our first meeting vividly. We went through our test results with the consultant and it was highlighted that my AMH was low (4.58) which indicates low ovarian reserve, in other words I wasn’t releasing many eggs each month. However my Antral Follicle Count was 18 which is quite good for my age. Up until this point I wasn’t aware that women are born with a lifetime supply of eggs that slowly declines with age. I would probably struggle to get pregnant naturally and may not respond to the higher doses of medication during IVF to collect any eggs. I was devastated with these results and I came out of the meeting feeling incredibly negative about the whole process and obviously upset. Our chances of becoming pregnant per cycle was around 10-15%.
During your initial meetings you are made fully aware of the process and also the complications that can occur throughout, as with any natural pregnancy. There are lots of things to consider before undertaking IVF. For this reason the NHS offers lots of support along the way with counselling sessions and the nurses who are with you every step of the way and are always there to answer any questions. We had a number of group and individual ‘teach’ appointments leading up to the start of treatment which basically takes you through the whole process, including showing you how to administer the injections and allows you to ask lots of questions.
As Male sperm production is a 3 month cycle we were advised prior to treatment to ‘clean up’ in order to try and give the best quality of eggs and sperm we could. So no alcohol and no vaping for Brian.
I was then placed on an Antagonistic programme with higher doses of medication to stimulate a response. The first part of each cycle is the most intense as this is when you have to inject into your tummy to stimulate egg release, normally for 10-15 days. It is very important that injections are taken at precise times and that medication is kept at the right temperature. After day 8 regular blood tests and scans every couple of days check the number of eggs you have and their size. The doctors then decide the precise time to take the ‘trigger’ injection and within 36 hours of this you are then admitted for egg collection under general anaesthetic. We were lucky enough to collect 14 eggs but then you wait to see how many fertilise with the sperm over the course of several days. The nurses update you after a few days and then at the end to let you know how many have made it through to the Blastocyst stage and are strong enough for transfer or freezing. This is quite nerve wracking as the halfway phone call told us that many had already stopped developing. We were very blessed to get 4 embryos on this first cycle from the 14 eggs collected and fertilised.
We had one embryo transferred and the other 3 were frozen for the future. Once the embryo was transferred we then had to wait for 2 weeks to do a pregnancy test and let the clinic know the result. In the meantime you take a number of Progesterone pessaries and Oestrogen tablets each day to help your body maintain pregnancy mode. This lasts until you reach week 12.
Our first test was positive! We were over the moon but a couple of weeks in I started to bleed. The bleeding was something and nothing but when I was still spotting 2 weeks later and my tiredness and sore boobs had gone away I decided to do a test. It was what I thought, I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I headed to the emergency gynaecology unit at St Mary’s for a blood test just to confirm. Everything had gone well up to this point so we were obviously devastated. With IVF you are aware of every single step along the way and it becomes an intense part of your life, when you get to being pregnant you've already been on an emotional roller coaster for months before. For me it was important to start thinking about the next transfer straight away, we had a holiday in Dubai just after the news which allowed me to a couple of weeks to take my mind off what had happened, some people need more healing time but I knew as soon as I got back home I wanted to focus my mind on the next round. I knew going straight back it would still be a couple of months before our next transfer.
On our second try we didn’t get a positive test, I had no symptoms this time so I sort of expected it. I had more of an ongoing sad feeling for the 2 weeks leading to the test because I didn’t feel like I had lost anything just that it hadn’t worked, it was different.
It was at this point we started looking into other things to help us. There are so many theories out there about what to try but we decided the logical place to start was making sure our diet was helping our fertility and that I created a hospitable environment for an embryo to grow. We were lucky enough to be recommended to Simone at Rejuv (see previous blog Dani Does Dieting for more details on what this involved).
We are now 18 weeks pregnant and praying everything goes well from here on in. Out of our 4 embryos the two left were our strongest, so I was naturally more positive about this round. However, we have kept our emotions in check this time taking everything a step at a time, although I do feel like I am allowing myself to accept this is quite real now!