Our IVF journey began back in early 2015 after I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) the year after trying to get pregnant naturally for some time. I was 34 and starting to feel the pressure, if another person told me to "relax and it will happen" I think I would have gone mad!
We were lucky to be in a position to seek private treatment and I am very grateful as I was panicking about NHS waiting times as within my local area waiting up to 6 months for the initial appointment was fairly common. After our consultation I was grateful to have the PCOS diagnosis and we were all optimistic. Unfortunately 4 cycles on Letrozole (A drug similar to Clomid to help stimulate ovulation) and 4 IUI's (Intrauterine Insemination) were all unsuccessful it was time to move on. After 9 failed cycles of treatment (we also did a mini IVF cycle) I am not ashamed to say desperation had set in. During this time I also had a Hysteroscopy, a procedure using a narrow telescope to pump dye into your fallopian tubes to check for blockages. All was clear, which added to my frustration as to why I was not able to get pregnant. I felt like I was failing all the time.
The all or nothing outcome from IVF naturally filled both my husband and I with dread. The added issue was that my PCOS diagnosis made me more at risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation which can lead to a cancelled cycle and potentially make you very unwell. Initial diagnostic tests at the beginning of our IVF journey had revealed my AMH level (marker for ovarian reserve) was actually very high, so I would be monitored carefully during my IVF cycle.
The preparation for our IVF cycle played a major part in our story. My clinic suggests an endometrial scratch the month before you start treatment. This is exactly what it says on the tin! To be honest after all the treatments and investigations I had, this was a walk in the park! A fairly painless and quick procedure (very much like a smear) but scientists involved in various studies believe that a scrape of your womb lining at a certain point in your cycle can significantly help implantation rates. Anything that increased our chances of success!
I was mentally ready for IVF. The previous 9 cycles of failed treatment (one of which happened two days before Christmas) hit me and my husband hard. I was like a robot; expecting failure every month and after almost a year of treatment it really starts to get you down mentally and physically. There is absolutely no fun in being told exactly when to have sex and the constant internal cameras inside you! My husband was with me every step of the way and was a fantastic source of support. It’s very hard not to get bogged down with negative thoughts but the nurses at our clinic were fantastic and really supported us both, helping to lift our spirits.
I had started acupuncture before my fertility treatment through my own education in trying to help us conceive and felt confident that my body was prepared. I had read A LOT (I tend to over educate myself on most things) about nutrition and IVF and I also decided to be gluten free in my diet, this I started a few months before. It was actually through having acupuncture that the PCOS was first raised. My temp charts (another fun element of trying to conceive??!) showed there was no temperature dip (This usually happens just before you release an egg each month) and suspicions were that I was not ovulating and releasing any eggs. I'm pretty sure my husband still detests the sound of a beeping thermometer, I know I do!
My consultant suggested a long protocol versus the short due to my good AMH level so that meant the first stage; down regulation (shutting the ovaries down) would be for approximately 2 weeks. I injected myself in the stomach every day, 8 hours apart. Not fun but I never lost sight of the bigger picture. I had quite a few headaches and my stomach looked like a bruised pin cushion but I was feeling ok. I then started 10 days of stims and thankfully scan’s every 48hrs showed my ovaries were producing a good number of eggs. On 1st July 2015 and the hottest day of the year so far I went into theatre to have my eggs collected under sedation. My lovely mum was with me throughout as my husband was waiting patiently to take the collected eggs up to Harley Street to the embryologist. We were thrilled that 22 eggs were collected but boy did my stomach feel it. I left the hospital later that day elated yet swollen, sore and very emotional. We then had an anxious 24 hour wait for the phone call that confirmed 11 eggs had fertilised! Good chance we would get to day 5 and the blastocyst stage and that would mean a day 5 transfer. Another 24 hours later and we were told that 8 embryos were still going strong. We were both rooting for those precious embryos every day!
On 6th July 2015 at the London’s Women's Clinic on Harley Street I had 1 blastocyst transferred or "put home" as I like to call it. My clinic only offered us a single embryo transfer as I was under 35 and both my husband and I were happy with this decision. After the transfer I got an uber home whilst my husband went back to work and I swear I held my tummy the whole time especially going over speed bumps! From the moment I left the clinic I was so protective and prayed our little embryo would stick. I was on bed rest for 48 hours but I had trouble sleeping due to the pain and very mild OHSS. We received a call the next day that 4 embryos made it to the frozen stage and this definitely helped eased some anxiety. We now had a back-up plan should we need it.
I was told to take a pregnancy test 12 days after the transfer. On day 3 I knew it had worked. I had felt some pinching low down and just felt ‘different’ obviously I didn't say anything to anyone and then on day 9 something told me to test. I literally held my breath as the two lines appeared. I had NEVER seen them before on a pregnancy test and understandably cried and cried. I don’t think my husband and I could believe it. As I tested early my clinic tried to contain my excitement and asked me to test again on day 12 and if still positive they would book a scan 2 weeks later. So at approximately 6 weeks pregnant we saw our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. The sight of that tiny flickering on the ultrasound screen still makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world. The scan also confirmed our due date was my husband’s birthday. It was meant to be.
On 24th March 2016 our beautiful baby boy Austin James was born at 11.01am after going into labour on my due date! I'm ridiculously over protective of Austin, no surprise with everything we went through and I am incredibly grateful we had the opportunity for IVF treatment. It’s not the romanticised view of having a baby I envisioned after we married but sadly it’s a reality for many, many couples waiting patiently and I hope our experience gives them hope. IVF can seem scary, but it’s the best thing we ever did! You must never give up hope.