Looking back, I always knew something was wrong. But nothing quite prepared me for the day I’d wake after a routine laparoscopy to be told that I would never conceive naturally.
Five years later I can say that infertility has changed my life for the better. I am a mother to two wonderful girls and run a fertility support business.
At the age of 32 my partner and I had discussed starting a family but before we even began trying I took myself to the gynaecologist as I was concerned about the extent of the pain I was experiencing with every period. I was immediately diagnosed with endometriosis and booked in for a routine laparoscopy.
It was after I woke from the surgery that I was told I would never get pregnant naturally. My tubes were so badly infected natural conception was impossible. They recommended that I have them removed or the infection would spread to my womb. Making the decision to have my tubes out was both a relief and so very final as I was now entirely reliant on IVF. It had to work. So my partner and I wasted no time and booked ourselves in for IVF treatment a month after having my tubes out. We were absolute elated when it worked first time! And we had two frozen embryos to defrost for later too. Our baby girl Elise was born in May 2012.
However it wasn’t all rosy. My partner and I separated shortly after she was born and we had to make the difficult decision to destroy both frozen embryos. Elise’s siblings and our future children together was yet more grief to accept and process, and mourn.
I thought I was destined for life as a single mum at that point, especially being infertile I assumed that would be a major barrier for me to ever meet anyone let alone have more children. However a year later an old friend made contact and I began a relationship with Gerry whom I married in 2015. Gerry loved children and was a fantastic stepfather to Elise, but we were very keen to have children together.
The fact that I’d already been through treatment successfully once meant I felt very at ease with going through it again, and we were both very positive and determined it would work. There was a lovely sense of familiarity and a real drive to make it happen! Gerry helped me with the injections and I managed to fit the tests and scans in and around my teaching career. We were thrilled when the first round worked! Of course it had worked! Our friends and family knew us as glass half full people, who always saw the light. We were so excited. And blessed. And two frozen embryos left over too. Pure joy.
Neither of us could quite believe it when at the six week scan no heartbeat showed up. Absolute shock. We were told to wait a week and then come back for a scan just to be sure but deep down we both knew it wasn’t to be. At that point the phrase ‘secondary infertility’ got mentioned a lot. I never realised there was a term for it, and it suddenly dawned on me that it might never work. A week later our worse fears were confirmed and I had a D&C to remove the foetus.
Something shifted at that point for me. I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy around being infertile having just married Gerry, and felt responsible for the failure of the pregnancy.
I needed to reach out somewhere, to find some kind of support so I was naturally drawn to the internet where I found Fertility Network Uk. I began attending support groups specifically for secondary infertility, where I met women who had been struggling to conceive again for years. The groups were both comforting and immensely worrying. Something inside me refused to accept that I would have to wait that long.
I also began documenting our fertility journey on instagram under ivfandproud and was blown away by the support in the TTC (trying to conceive) community. I was also blown away by the extent of people’s anonymity. Gerry and I are very open, honest people and we never really even discussed keeping things private, it was just a given that we would talk about our struggles and the cycles with everyone. For us, it is the norm. I have struggled to understand how couples struggling with such issues stay so private when the burden of infertility weighs already so heavy. Why bring an elephant into the room? I was very open online and was struck by the amount of hidden faces I was surrounded by. Ivfandproud was here to stay and I was really focused on finding as many rooftops as possible to shout from.
Looking back, thank god I had connected with the support networks at that point as devastatingly neither of the two frozen embryos worked. We were distraught beyond words, I was certain that one of them had taken, feeling all the symptoms during the two week wait. But despite testing furiously for days came still that one wretched line. I turned to the online support in a massive way, and Gerry and I made the decision that I should resign from my teaching job in order to focus on the next round of IVF.
I distinctly remember marching into the headmistress’s office and blurting out that I was leaving by Christmas. It was half way through October, the new academic year had only just begun! I was totally and utterly honest with her about the infertility, the failed IVF, the miscarriage, and lay my heart right out on the table for her to understand that my priority at this point in my life was family.
With no job to worry about, I threw myself and everything I had into making this next round work. I was amazed at the information I found in books and online about how important nutrition and lifestyle was with regard to fertility. I thought we ate healthily, but realised I needed to make some adjustments to ensure I was getting everything I needed nutritionally. I took a proactive approach to IVF treatment and felt more in control of it this time, rather than it controlling me. Crucially, I also took the time to breathe. Just breeeeeathe!
I realised I had been squeezing in the previous IVF cycles around my job, already being a mum and my marriage. In hindsight, no wonder those rounds hadn't worked, there was no space for it in my crammed life.
I like to think that all those changes made a difference as the treatment worked! We collected a record 16 eggs, transferred 2 and have a beautiful baby girl Uma who is now almost one. And one frosty to collect for later.
My infertility is who I am today and it feels odd to say this but it has changed me for the better. I am a happier person now. I am more grateful, less bitter, more honest, more communicative about things. And braver. I feel passionate about getting people to talk about their struggles more. It’s already so hard. Why make it harder?
This weekend I am exhibiting at the Fertility Show in Olympia. I am running my own fertility support business from home now, and I am determined to fly the flag!
Things I want to change? Lots. I want there to be easy access to support made available initially through clinics. It’s not acceptable that we have to source the support ourselves. There needs to be a leaflet, or SOMETHING that is handed over with contacts and support networks. The two week wait is agony, there needs to be more support offered than allowing people to drive themselves crazy online. Clinics need to adopt a more holistic approach towards their patience and not just a medical one. It is such a heavy journey to embark on. The phone calls from the clinic between egg collection and transfer are excruciatingly painfulI, that is a period where there should be counselling offered, information given, support groups set up. Couples should also automatically see a doctor to discuss quantity of embryos to transfer. These are life changing decisions that deserve more time.
I am passionate about fertility education. Why aren’t we told about the shelf life our eggs have at school? Enough with the unwanted pregnancies and STDs, let’s talk about fertility and give people more informed choices.
As I sit here typing I am aware that I am a lucky one for whom IVF worked. Both my girls are upstairs fast asleep in bed, so I can’t help but feel that this last point needs addressing more than ever. When IVF fails there needs to be more space in society to accept and help those that are involuntarily childless. Clinics have a duty to care for those for whom it fails. And annoyingly that’s more than who it works for. For they will need more help than ever to manage that empty space.