The couple of minutes that tick by as you wait for your pregnancy test results are like a massive fork in the road. You could be pregnant. Would would change the next 9 months of your life, and certainly beyond. Completely! Am I ready? Would it be ok? Hopefully it would be a very smooth sailing pregnancy and labour. Maybe the labour this time would be really easy after the first traumatic one. Would I be a much more chilled out mum second time around?
My results were negative. I didn’t need to plan for the next 9 months and beyond. I had wondered whether I would turn into a sobbing mess on the bathroom floor clutching the stick I had peed on. Strangely I didn’t feel the urge to cry. Maybe it was because my period hadn’t arrived the same day. I rang the nurse to tell her my results and was even fine as she passed on her sympathies. She explained there was still a very very slim chance I could be pregnant and to do another test in two days if my period hadn’t started by then. A gut feel told me I wasn’t pregnant. I had seen all the PMT symptoms on the days leading up to test day and, whilst they could well have been pregnancy symptoms, they reminded me very much of my usual cycle.
Luckily we had planned a big day out for this very reason, just in case. And there was no time to sit and mope about whilst a very excited 3 year old wanted to go watch Paddington bear. It made me realise how utterly lucky we are to have one.
Over the next couple of days I blamed the stupid eggs and the stupid sperm and the stupid embryos and I sat with a hot water bottle as my period started with a vengeance. It was like being a teen again when it was painful and long. By the end of the couple of days I came to realisation. We had done everything we could and it just wasn’t meant to be on this occasion. And it was a big relief to accept it.
On the week leading up to peeing on a stick I had read about the girl who had gone through 5 rounds of IVF and still hadn’t had any success. And I’d read about the girl who was on the verge of early menopause and had somehow miraculously got pregnant on her final round of IVF that looked like it was destined for failure. A big lesson for me is that you can do everything deemed “good” for fertility and pregnancy and it’ll still only happen when it’s meant to happen.
We’ve decided to have another attempt in a few months time but for now another small part of me has accepted that our little family may well be destined to just be the three of us.
The days that followed the egg collection were slightly exciting. We would get a daily update on how the eggs were doing and the lot would be monitored for cell division and would be graded accordingly; grade 1 being the highest. Ideally we wanted all 7 to be Grade 1 all the way along so that we could freeze a bunch of them and have one implanted.
The morning after the egg collection I got my first update from the embryologist. Out of the 7 embryos one had degraded overnight and was suspected as being “fragile” and 2 had decided to float about doing nothing whatsoever. So we were left with 4 out of which 3 were Grade 1 and 1 was Grade 2. My hopes deflated slightly as I realised this could very much be the nature of the updates each day. It hit me that not all eggs are destined to survive and over the coming days they could whittle down to a very minimal number. Possibly even 0.
3 more days of updates later and had 1 Grade 1 and the remaining were Grade 2. I could only hear positivity in the embryologists tone of voice and I searched for even a fractional pause to decipher whether we should feel like we had actual hope in our embryos or whether it was all destined for doom. It was all very interesting to hear but daunting too as you didn’t want a call to say none survived overnight. I was somewhat relieved on the morning we were told they would be doing the transfer. It would apparently feel very much like a smear test, so no sedation. So no snooze and I would get to meet that duck faced clampy thing I hated. Oh joy. Still, it had to be done and I was glad there would be no woozy feeling afterwards.
I found myself back in the theatre where I’d been just days earlier having my eggs collected. This time there was only 4 people buzzing about me as well as the Other Half who was told he could watch the entire transfer on the monitor in front of him. Not being one for any kind of medical procedures he folded his arms firmly and nodded. The embryologist showed us both a photo of the embryo they were going to transfer. It’s slightly bizarre as you’re looking at one very round, very divided cell that the embryologist looked excited about. To us it was mass of cells that may or may not become a baby. Statistically speaking we had a 37% chance. My age, previous pregnancy and blood test results bumped that up slightly. It felt very much like the toss of a coin.
The implanting procedure involved them transferring the embryo, under microscope, into a very thing spaghetti like catheter and implanting into me by “flushing it in”. I have no idea how really, I assume there was some liquid involved but I couldn’t really feel anything. The embryologist then rushed back to her microscope to double check it had indeed transferred and wasn’t clinging on anywhere inside the catheter. I didn’t see any of this as my own view comprised of the ceiling, the nurse scanning me whilst the Doctor did the transfer, and the Other Half who looked ever so slightly pale but not like he was going to throw up thankfully.
It was over much quicker than I expected and we were given a lot of advice on what to do and not do over the coming weeks. We had agreed to let the remaining 2 eggs culture further, to the blastocyst stage if they could get there so that we could freeze them further. We went home feeling like slightly different and like we were still in the surreal little bubble. This was it. In a few weeks we would know one way or the other if it worked.
A couple of days later the embryologist rang and I heard the fractional pause I had been listening out for. The other two hadn’t survived to the blastocyst stage. So the only egg we had left was the one implanted in me. Our 37% chance, plus a bit on top. Suddenly it didn’t feel surreal.
The day finally came after about a million self administered injections (ok, about 10!) when I arrived at the crack of dawn for my routine scan. The scan that was monitoring my ovaries and the number of follicles, and potential eggs, I could have. It wasn’t my normal lovely consultant but the examination was just as quick and thorough and I even remembered to pull the blind down when getting changed. He umm’d and ahh’d whilst he did all the necessary measurements and announced “You’re ready to have them harvested!”. Eek! Time to have the procedure I was dreading. I knew the next stage would involve sedation to numb the pain. Or general anaesthetic if I was of a particularly nervous nature. I opted for sedation. I wanted to be awake through it all and if I wasn’t going to feel anything then that would be perfect.
Three days later we arrived at the entrance of another hospital. Tiny but a very pretty listed building which evidently specialised in just fertility matters. I swung my bag containing my gown and slippers over my shoulder as I took a deep breath and walked in with the hubby I’d just accidentally whacked with my swinging. We composed ourselves for the receptionist as she took photos of us both and gave us ID cards. It was highly secure. Our ID cards had both our photos on it with a bar code that would tell them precisely which embryos were ours. We would always have to present them as well as answering all the countless security questions we’d already been asked numerous times over the phone.
I was instructed to go for a last wee before gowning up ready for the operating theatre. As with all these things the time waiting felt longer than anything else. I was visited by nurses to do my blood pressure and weight, the anaesthetist who promised she would look after me and give me the good drugs (Woohoo!) and finally the Doctor who would be taking out my eggs. The Other Half would stay upstairs whilst I’d go down on my own and get ready for sedation. I wasn’t too nervous thankfully and walked down to theatre preparing myself for the next very big step.
The theatre was buzzing with people. About 8 of them. All there to take out my eggs. There were more security questions, scanning of my ID tag and then the sticking of electrodes, an oxygen mask and those little gadget things that you were on your finger to take your pulse. I was slightly wide eyed with the hive of activity but fairly at ease with it all. I was also aware I was very hungry from being nil by mouth since midnight.
The anaesthetist with the good drugs then got to work. Ooh I was going to be numb soon wherever it had to be numb and they would get to work. She stuck in the very large looking needle into my hand and injected two lots of what I presume was the good stuff. “You’ll fall asleep very soon” were her reassuring words.
What the what? How was I going to watch it happen if I was asleep? Was that Sitar music playing? Ahh must be the Doctors choice of music. I thought sedation just meant sedated. Hmm I was determined to….
And that’s the last thing I actually remember. I was out like a light about 90 seconds after the good stuff was injected into me. I have no recollection of what happened after that or even waking up and my eggs were harvested whilst I was sleeping. Apparently it happens to some people. Huh! So I had a very nice snooze for about an hour and a half and was taken back to my very nice little recovery room once I came round. I was brought a nice lunch visited by the embryologist to tell me the procedure was successful and they would ring me within 24 hours to tell me how many eggs they had stripped out of the follicles. I was reminded a follicle didn’t mean eggs. I had come to know protocol very well by now. Every positive was backed up with the risks and stats. Just to prepare the patient. At that point, however, I was a bit star struck meeting the embryologist. The work they did on a daily basis was amazing and they were pivotal to the whole process and this huge milestone. These were the people who would now be monitoring my eggs. They weren’t the stereotypical lab folk with a cold technical heart and nil personality. They were all caring individuals who got excited at good embryos and I wanted them to get excited at mine. I think I was as star struck as if I’d just met George Michael. (What? He’s still awesome when he’s not driving into photo shops!). I didn’t hug them though. I am slowly realising social etiquette towards medical staff may not include hugs. Plus I was a bit too woozy still from my epic nap.
I was asked every 30 minutes if I was in any pain. Luckily I seemed to have escaped any major soreness and other than some very extreme tiredness I was feeling fine, to the point where I reminded the hubby that he was taking me for steak, as promised. I sleepily made my way through some of it, before admitting defeat and almost having another snooze against the hubby in the restaurant. Suffice to say I spent the rest of the day sleeping the good stuff off.
The embryologist rang the next morning as promised. We had 7 eggs out of which a few were looking good. We had a few good eggs. So far so good.
“You can get changed in here”.
After over a week of injections to stimulate my ovaries in order to produce more eggs it was finally time to have my first scan. After the short stint of pretending I was in Breaking Bad I quickly realised it was more like being back at school every day, mixing solutions together to the right level in order to self administer the drug. It was a lot easier than I expected. Except the time when I jabbed myself wrong and ended up with a bit of a bruise. Spending the day attempting to rub your thigh discreetly whilst at work is a lot harder than you would think! After a couple of days it was fairly straight forward and besides the side effect of feeling queasy it wasn’t too bad after all.
I had been so nervous about the first scan. It was just to see how I was doing more than anything. I double and triple checked with the nurse on how much clothing I needed to take off.
I was already 99.99% certain it was just my bottom half but I definitely did not want to be the one getting up on the table and hearing the words, “Well, this is awkward” as a result of them having some super duper scan that didn’t require all clothing shedding. I kept picturing the scene in Friends where Chandler walked into the steam room completely in the buff, being corrected by Mr. Geller Senior. Definitely better to keep checking.
As far as scans go I have had regular smear tests and that’s exactly the type of thing I was picturing. I was pretty sure nothing could beat the time when the GP had left me clamped up for 15 minutes whilst she went looking for some gauze. I’ve avoided her like the plague since and really hate the sight of that duck face looking speculum. And its stupid wheel.
I nervously waited in the waiting room with the Other Half as he watched the early morning news and yawned for the 500th time announcing how he needed a cup of tea. I did suddenly come up with a brainwave on how to make money for the NHS. They should have a gift shop. With “I Heart My Consultant” and “I Heart My Nurse” on them. They would make an absolute fortune. Maybe. There could be T Shirts, Mugs, Calendars, the works! It would be such a big hit. I should write a letter to the Minister of Health about it. I reckon it would make them millions. Or hundreds at least. I would definitely buy a mug. And maybe even a hoodie. I’m not sure whether it would be creepy to wear it any subsequent appointments, especially if both the Other Half AND I wore matching ones, but I am guessing it would at least be good for patient / doctor rapport. Sort of.
How cool is this?
It turns out the scan was one of the smoothest and quickest, painless scans I’ve ever had and I really didn’t have any need to worry. The little gadget scanning you is able to detect how many eggs you’ve produced and the screen attached to the little gadget shows them up on the screen. The size of each one is calculated and the doctors can decide how well you’re doing and whether anything needs to be changed in your drugs. It’s pretty impressive seeing not just your insides on the screen in front of you, but part of your reproductive system in full action! A lot of numbers were taken down and I carried on trying to arch my neck awkwardly to see what they were seeing full of interest on seeing my insides. Each egg is ranked with a number indicating how mature they are. At some point they will be “harvested” and the process can really begin.
So far so good. There will be more appointments to carry on the monitoring until the point we’re ready for IVF. There were positive encouraging faces all round as well as my slightly frozen in shock face wondering whether I should get my hopes up. The feeling that we are nearly there is a very surreal one and naturally I have no intentions of getting too excited just yet. Despite myself I found myself getting warily elated. There are so many hurdles at which this whole process could fall down but, just for that day, it felt like a massive milestone had been reached.
I have eggs.
Oh and the top tip for having an IVF scans?
It was when I was getting changed into my gown. I was almost done when the nurse popped her head in telling me it was nearly my turn. There was a pause in her voice before she pointed out I could pull the blind down if I wanted.
Blind? What blind?
Sure enough, behind me, a 10 x 6 foot window that I had somehow failed to notice. Unfrosted with the blind up, room fully lit up, looking straight out onto the car park. Oh crap. Oops!
Thank goodness for very dark mornings and appointments that are before the crack of dawn.
I blame the 5am start that day.
Last week I attended my “training” session with the fertility nurse. I’d met the nurse once before and liked her instantly. A tiny power house of a woman with a friendly warm face. The kind of lady that may give me my hug through this whole thing. She greeted me with a massive bag of medical paraphernalia and chuckled when she saw the gob-smacked look on my face. “Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks!”
As always, we went through “protocol”. As repetitive as it all is I love that this clinic is so thorough. Each detail checked again and again and again. Has anything changed? Have you changed your mind? Are you feeling ok? A nice touch to what could be a daunting couple of months.
She was right. It wasn’t as bad as it looked. She went through all the injections methodically, explaining everything clearly in detail, repeating it whenever I had questions and putting me at my ease completely. There was tonnes of it. Vials, different vials, more vials, sterilised solutions, big needles, small needles, sharps bins. It all felt a bit like Breaking Bad. All I needed maybe were the safety goggles to complete the picture. And maybe a bald head. And possibly a Jesse.
There were more forms to fill out and instructions and contact numbers for all sorts of situations. She pointed out the big needle was just for mixing the solution up. The injection itself should always be administered with the smaller needle. Which was a relief, the big needle looked humongous! She assured me she hadn’t had anyone call her up yet saying they’d accidentally jabbed themselves with the longer one. So apparently it was impossible to get mixed up.
I relayed it all to the hubby when I got home who instantly threw his head back in laughter. I knew exactly what he was implying as he went on to re-enact the situation:
[Whilst lifting his top up to demonstrate] “Excuse me, Can you help me please? I got mixed up and now can’t get it out”.
During the course of umpteen visits to see the consultant I’ve had to recall various bits of both my pregnancy and labour. It’s a combination of some wonderful memories that I love waffling on about, and some tough ones that I tend to avoid talking about. In fact, for a while I thought the reason behind my fertility issue was some kind of mental block. I know now that’s not the case but it took me a while to come to terms with it.
I had an amazing first pregnancy and I simply went about my normal hectic life as my bump grew. We even saw the whole of Petra when I was five months pregnant. I have no real idea how I did it but I was told throughout that I should do lots of walking and that “pregnancy is not an illness”. So where better than a lovely Egyptian resort followed by a 4am day trip across the Red Sea to Petra? We had actually been intending to see Jerusalem. It was pretty peaceful at the time but at the last minute I chickened out when presented with the “types of people” that would be pulled aside by the authorities to potentially question. I found I fit into most categories and was petrified I would somehow end up in a shoddy cell, eventually giving birth shackled to the bed. Petra was pretty fantastic nonetheless.
In stark contrast, I ended up having a difficult 40 hour labour which ended up in a crash section. I was put under very quickly and Z whipped out. There were inflation breaths and a lot of days in hospital recovering. It had snowed really heavily and there was a severe lack of midwives. There was also an extremely noisy girl on the bed next to me who insisted on talking on her mobile to someone through the whole night. I left the hospital in a bit of a daze making good intentions to find out why my labour had gone all a bit wrong.
I’ve read my own notes countless times over the last few years but never did go back for an explanation. I didn’t know what had caused it back then but I know now, through the appointments that it was a number of factors that caused it all. Something that’s taken a few years to completely accept and reach closure on. It’s made me realise how many things I would change the next time, if there is one.
For one thing, I’d definitely have a birth plan. Or at the very least, a vague wish list. I didn’t have one the first time round. All I knew was that I was going to be Earth Mother. I didn’t need or want any painkillers whatsoever. I was going to push it all out naturally. I didn’t need a plan other than that. I was going to breathe and push through that pain.
I lasted till about 9 centimetres before grabbing the midwife by her uniform lapels, with both hands, screaming at how she “Had To help me!!!”. I remember repeating “epidural” a number of times. Of course, at 9 centimetres, an epidural is far too late. I think she saw the utter horror in my eyes and came back with diamorphine pretty quickly.
I also remember eating my way through anything with fat throughout my entire pregnancy. I loathe fat on a non-pregnant day but just could not get enough of it. The fattier the better. If it had a rim of day on mine then it was mine. Mine. All mine! And throw in some donner and I would be in heaven. It’s probably no wonder it took me well over 3 years to shift the pregnancy weight. If I’d actually written a plan back then it may have included lamb chops as a required aid to give birth. One in each hand.
If we graced by a second pregnancy, then this time a plan is definitely being written. With lots of requests for pain relief. Or epidurals. Or both.
Maybe I will lay off the lamb chops and donner too. *Shudder*
Before we considered IVF I think I went through a pretty big phase of just hoping for a small miracle and thinking “it may happen next month”. It was the same cycle month after month, after month, after month…after month. I got to a stage where I would absolutely dread the “When are you having a second?” question. Since having Little Z I had a somewhat rude awakening to the world that form the self appointed parenting police. This academy has no tact whatsoever but somehow feel they possess the expertise to dish out advice freely. When you should have another, how much of a gap to leave, how you may be doing it all wrong. Pretty much every aspect of raising a child is ok to comment on. Every circle has one (or more if you’re extremely unlucky!). It got to a point where I would gear myself up to expect someone to say it. We’d decided early on not to be open about our conceiving troubles and only say something once there was something to tell. I.e. If I ever got pregnant. Unfortunately, one incident had me in tears in public and the truth eventually tumbled out. It was a rubbish couple of days where I hit a big low. As much I would never want a repeat of that situation, it lifted a huge cloud. It was only somewhat out in public but it gave me the courage to stop thinking about what others thought about *our* situation. It had also shamed people into stopping with their polite but tactless inquisitions about our procreative intentions in life. We had been left to get on with it all and the relief of that was immense.
IVF has brought a huge ray of positivity into our lives. The journey is full of ups and downs, mostly through waiting, but the amount they can do is astounding. A 50 year old friend recalled her journey to me recently. After her first daughter she eventually found out she wouldn’t be able to conceive again naturally. That was it. End of. Nothing more they could do. Times were different. Medical interventions were different. The situation had to be accepted as is. Life went on.
A couple of weeks ago our lovely consultant described a process where monitoring could now take place to the blastocyst stage (about 7 days after the egg is fertilised with the sperm). They have a better chance to pick out the best fertilised eggs this way, ones that have a higher chance of becoming a zygote, and eventually, hopefully, a foetus and baby. Its only been available a few years.
We are going to be lucky enough to take advantage of this process. I’ve realised how many intense ups and downs there are on this roller-coaster journey but one we’re very grateful to be on. I can now openly say to people that we are going down the IVF route. Only to very close people mind. But I can do it without bursting into tears and genuinely speak about IVF as a positive experience. This is not a chance available to everyone and this roller-coaster is then worth every bit of the injections.
And the waiting.
And all the bazillions of blood tests.
This week I chatted to the nurse from my local surgery as she took my blood for my final blood tests. She told me not to look at the needle as it made some people faint and I told her about the IVF injections that I’d have to administer myself. She amazingly offered to do them for me and I could have thrown my arms around her. Its probably not practical for me to take her up on this offer but the gesture was a really lovely one.
For every slightly (and not so slightly) difficult stage of this process I am always reminded of the positives. The highs that counteract the lows and the necessary emotional journey that we do need to go on in order to mentally prepare and ready ourselves for what’s coming.
So here’s hoping we get off the roller-coaster only slightly queasy, laughing our heads off with relief and with lots of windswept hair! Oh and with a baby. Not that I’d actually take a baby on a roller-coaster. But you know what I mean.
So far….So good….Ish…. Hurry up blood tests!!
I must have read about the whole IVF procedure approximately 200 times so far. Just to prepare myself and let it all register what we will be going through. I’ve read so much on that and the people that work within the field that I could rattle off some of the breakthrough findings over the last 30 years and the names some of the specialist consultants that work within the field (not in a creepy stalkery way you understand), including one of the first scientists that pioneered IVF. He was one of a team of 30. There are now over a 1000 throughout the UK and it has been engineered so effectively that its now accessible to people that need and want it. There are still breakthroughs happening every day, improving the precision and success rate all the time. One of which was only brought to the masses a couple of years ago and one we will be taking advantage of. Its all very interesting and amazing how much its been developed over the course of time and how far IVF has come.
Despite all of that, it still hit me like a tonne of bricks today whilst the consultant talked us through the entire procedure in detail today. The ovaries will be stimulated to produce a number of eggs, rather than the one regular monthly egg your body normally produces. All the eggs will be harvested once they reach maturity and then extracted via “a small procedure” (Ouch). Sperm is then introduced to the eggs and monitored under the right temperature and environment to see which ones develop into good eggs. The good egg is then implanted back into the womb and then monitored for a number of days. The result is a pregnancy. Or not. There are also several potential complications along the way. Miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, side effects from the hyper stimulation. Optional extras such as the choice to freeze your eggs. Or additional monitoring. It was all so detailed. It had to be.
We listened carefully and whilst I had already read all about this at least 30 times, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by it all. It was going to happen and it could be soon, very soon. What optional extras did we want? Should we freeze eggs? How much was it all costing? Side effects? Pregnancy…miscarriage…baby….wow. I knew I needed time to let it register but I also knew we need to get a crack on with it. It occurred to me what I would really like as an optional extra. A hugging service!! Where was the person that would hold our hands through it all? The one that would hug us and tell us everything would be fine. Obviously it should be free. I guess it would never be appropriate to hug either the consultant or the nurse after each appointment so a firm handshake would have to suffice. I suppose it could be worse if the hubby and I both simultaneously threw our arms around them to hug it out. In the absence of such a stress relieving service we continue to giggle and snap our way through the appointments.
The consultant mentioned “self administrating the injections” would be part of the process. One of us would have to be taught how to give it to me, we just needed to decide which one of us would have the honour. I glanced at the hubby and could see a flicker of grimace in his face and in the split second of visions that followed, knew what my decision would be….
The split second vision….
Me: YOU do it!
Him: No YOU do it!
Me: I can’t do it, it’s weird.
Him: Its so gross I can’t look at it, urgh!!
Me: Don’t be such a wimp, just do it!!
Him: You know I can’t look at needles.!!!…..Ok ok I’ll do it, hold still….
Me: Why are you holding it like the guy in Psycho…
Him: Do you want me to do it or not…close your eyes….
Little Z: Can I do it?
Me: “I’ll get trained for it”.
It was decided. We could start IVF in a few weeks as long as our last remaining blood tests came back ok. I believe that makes it approximately 93 blood tests so far…ish.
As we waited together for all our paperwork to be photo copied, the Other Half leaned over and chuckled, “I could stab you like that scene in Pulp Fiction”.
During the whole process of having bloods done and countless scans I’ve contemplated whether we should have started a family much much earlier. We’ve been together a long time and have both loved children forever. It was never a discussion about whether we would have kids, it was always a given. He better than me at holding and playing with little babies and I with my best intentions who could entertain babies really well until I awkwardly held them in my un-experienced arms and they would bawl for their own mummy.
Over the last 10 years I got wrapped up in seeing the world and having adventures. Countless trips with friends and experiencing new cultures. Seeing historical landmarks and eating my way through each country’s cuisine. Road trips full of bonding and talking into the early hours of the morning in the gardens watching the sunset come up. Working hard at work to climb that ladder. Taking on new challenges that scared the life out of me but always taught me something new.
Did we make a mistake? Should we have thought about children a lot sooner? If we’d started our family earlier its possible everything would have been a lot different. Maybe there wouldn’t be the complications there are now and maybe there never would have been a crash section or the repercussions afterwards. Its possible we would have had a sibling for our little boy by now. Maybe they would be around 5 and 7. With maybe a third too. If we had the energy. Maybe we’d had have just settled for two from seeing our house upside down every single day.
There is a part of me that will be absolutely gutted if the IVF fails to work. I think I already know in my head how many rounds I’m prepared to go through. I’m not sure yet whether that plan will come to fruition but it helps to plan. I’m not sure I would change anything about my past either. Everything that has happened led me to where I am today. The trips, the lessons, the problems, the family and friendships.
Its very possible it will always be just the three of us. Just the one child with no sibling. He is an amazing only child though. Someone who turned our lives upside down and put our countless plans on hold, throwing us new equally exciting plans in the process. The child that never shuts up and will sing all day long. The one that frustrates us with his little smart mouth but has us wrapped around his little finger with his cute little 3 year old wisdom. Maybe we have an extra special one. If things we were different we wouldn’t have had him. So there’s no way we can regret anything really.