My husband and I had been married for 3 years before we started trying for a baby.
We both always wanted children and used to talk in depth about what they’d be called and what they’d be like. The excitement was electric. We almost wanted to wait to start, not just because of our careers, but so that we had something to look forward to.
Circa May 2015 we thought: right, now is the time to get going! Feelings of both excitement and anticipation about whether we’d conceive that first month.
We celebrated our 30th birthdays; secretly knowing we were trying for a baby. Had anyone guessed? I used to Google ‘ways to surprise your husband you’re pregnant’.
Months went by and I started tracking my cycle, thinking every time my period was delayed, THIS WAS IT! I would work out the baby’s due date with excitement. At the six-month mark of no pregnancy, I was panicking. I was inconsolable every time my period reared its ugly head. Friends and family started to guess we were trying because the anxiety and stress became apparent in my face. My husband was horizontal about it. He would say ‘just relax, it’s only been 6 months’. I’m a worrier and I knew we wouldn’t get very far going to the NHS doctor because you have had to have been ‘trying’ for over a year. So, I said to my husband: ‘let’s have a fertility MOT’. Neither of us had been tested and although everyone said, ‘you’ll be fine’, that wasn’t making me pregnant. The day of the test arrived. I remember everything about that day, like it was yesterday. It was November 3rd 2015 and we went to Care Fertility in Wimbledon. We had to go in for our checks at different points in the day due to sample testing and work schedules. Nervously, I got on the bed for an internal scan. They confirmed straight away that my uterus looked ‘normal’ and my egg reserve was ‘in line with my age’. PHEW. So off to work I went, really happy that all was fine. I thought: worst case scenario, we have IVF, right? Lunchtime came and I knew my husband was being tested, again why would anything be wrong? I looked at my watch and thought how weird it was that I hadn’t heard from him. Eventually I did and bam, just like that we knew there was a problem with his sperm and our world came crashing down. My heart started racing a million miles a minute and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
During the ‘fun’ lead up to Christmas, that year Father Christmas was definitely not coming. After weeks of testing it became clear that my husband would need to undergo a very painful surgery for sperm extraction, known as Micro Tese. I needed to undergo IVF in tandem to retract my eggs, ready for fertilisation. With a date in the diary I wrote a very detailed timing plan and kept busy preparing. I went to see a nutritionist at Zita West in London and started exercising and gave up drinking. I wanted to make sure my egg quality was the best it could be. We also spent two agonising months picking a sperm donor (in case his operation failed).
IVF stimulation started, all looked good. My husband was clearly very anxious about his impending operation. His operation was determined by my egg retrieval, for the day before. The morning of his operation I had to be at a different part of the hospital for 6.30am for my pre-op, so I said a fleeting goodbye in the taxi. I raced over to his hospital wing but had missed him going under. I burst into tears, I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye or good luck and I knew how nervous he was. They were the worst few hours of my life. My father-in-law and I sat in a dingy room whilst time stood still. The surgeon had said that it would take roughly 2 hours but it took 5; you can guess the outcome: the surgeon came in with his head hung low (like in the movies) and removed his face mask to confirm our worst fears that the operation hadn’t been a success, although they were watching the sperm overnight (just in case). He was obviously crushed and devastated, having been so optimistic, determined and strong. He was also in considerable pain. I was so proud of him and tried to comfort him as much as I could. I was also terrified about the egg collection scheduled for the next morning. We didn’t know until 10 minutes before I was sedated for my egg collection that my husband’s sperm wouldn’t be viable and that the route we needed to pursue was with the donor sperm.
After the egg collection, I was in considerable pain but pleased to have had 12 eggs retrieved. Understandably, that evening we had very mixed emotions.
The next morning came and it was confirmed that 12/12 had fertilised, ‘WOW’, I thought, that guarantees a baby, right…? Fast-forward 2 weeks after the transfer of two three-day-old embryos and it was Easter Sunday. The perfect time to test, when you’re confident you’re pregnant? My husband and I snuck into the bedroom (we were staying with lots of family who had no idea when we were testing) and despite the nurses having said to wait for the blood test, we tested that afternoon, early. We sat nervously watching the flashing icon, waiting for the result… then it popped up: ‘NOT PREGNANT’.
Our worlds came crashing down once again. All that physical and emotional pain, plus expense and yet no baby. I then started to panic that there may have been an issue on my side.
Over the next couple of months I found it hard to socialise and we both felt depressed. The only thing keeping me going was the prospect of trying again with our two frozen blastocyst embryos. I went back to the nutritionist at Zita West and continued to be as healthy as possible, taking all sorts of fertility boosting vitamins and powders (more expense). This time, I underwent expensive specialist genetic and immunology testing, (they took over twenty syringes of blood; I was black and blue). These tests revealed that I have high natural killer cells and a blood clotting genetic condition called Factor V Leiden. Excellent, more concern and complication! Despite mixed opinions on whether immunology makes a difference to conception and carrying a baby, the cost to undergo treatment seemed reasonable in comparison to the overall treatment costs, so we went for it.
Second Attempt: with our frozen embryos. I was totally convinced it wasn’t going to work and kept saying so to my wonderful specialist (who had the nicest bedside manner) and she kept saying, ‘We’ll see; no reason why it won’t’. We transferred both frozen embryos. The two-week wait was such a dark time. I went to see a hypnotherapist to help with my mental state, which truly made me feel more relaxed… Fast forward a few weeks and it’s testing time again. My husband banned me from doing a home pregnancy test because the first failed attempt was so awful.
Test day came and after having my blood test at 7am that morning (in tears – I was so terrified), I had to wait 6 hours for the results via the phone. I answered the phone shaking and immediately blurted out: ‘It hasn’t worked has it’ and the nurse replied, ‘YES, IT HAS’! Total amazement! We then had the pregnancy confirmed by a scan at 6 weeks and that it was not twins. On 26th February 2017, our first daughter, Poppy was born.
Towards the end of my maternity leave, we decided to try and make more embryos, as we had none left. I spent the 4 months leading up to this fresh cycle of IVF, getting back in shape, not drinking and seeing the same amazing nutritionist, to prepare my mind, body and soul. Somehow, this time I felt even more nervous, maybe because I just feared we wouldn’t be lucky a second time and having a child already, I knew how much I wanted to give her a sibling.
January 2018 and the IVF stimulation started all over again. I went nervously into my first consultation, excited about seeing my specialist, who almost felt like a friend by this point! I was greeted by a man who did not have a nice bedside manner, he also told me I had fewer follicles than he’d hoped for and to quote him ‘probably because you’re older now’. I was only 33! I did not feel I had luck on my side.
Transfer day came and miraculously 3 out of 8 fertilised embryos were looking great by blastocyst stage, Day 5. Woo-hoo, transfer time! Again, I assumed it wouldn’t work ‘fresh’ because it didn’t the first time before Poppy. Our specialist had called and advised we transferred two embryos because one was doing better than the other. She said the chance of twins was around 20%. We agreed to take her advice (deep down I was really hoping for twins because I knew this was my only shot at having 3 children). The next 10 days waiting to test were a complete blur: I was raging with hormones and couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t decide whether to wait for the blood test or do a home pregnancy test early. I woke up one morning at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was 3 days before I was due in for my blood test. I don’t know what happened but I just ran into the bathroom and grabbed the emergency pregnancy test I had lurking in the cupboard and tested. My heart was pounding, especially as my husband was fast asleep and had told me he didn’t want to know if I tested early because of the first home pregnancy test drama. BANG! Two VERY strong lines appeared immediately, so I did it again with Clearblue and it came up with ‘Pregnant’! I spent the whole weekend buzzing and retesting every few hours. Same result. That following Monday my blood tests confirmed I was pregnant. This time I felt different, my HCG hormone levels came back four times higher than when I was pregnant with Poppy and I was being physically sick from 4.5 weeks, as well as waking up in the night starving. There we have it: after 9 long and extremely hot months during the peak of last summer’s heat-wave, on 24th September 2018 Charlie and Hettie were born at 37.5 weeks, both healthy and perfect. I still pinch myself as if this isn’t real.
We never take for granted how lucky we are with our three children. The bond and love between them and their father takes my breath away – any apprehensions or concerns we had about my husband not being biologically related to them are no longer there. No doubt, there will be difficult times in the future when they may or may not want to meet the biological donor but we have agreed on a united front of honesty from as soon as they can understand. We picked a donor whom they can contact at 18, if they so wish because we feel this is a decision the children should be able to make, not us.
Donor sperm IVF has changed our lives and we couldn’t be more grateful.
Therefore, having experienced this difficult road to motherhood first-hand, I decided to set up ‘Fertility Help Hub’, an email newsletter offering fertility tips, support, guidance and inspiration, all in one place, for people trying to conceive. I want to help break the fertility stigma, so people don’t have to suffer in silence and spend hours on Google feeling overwhelmed and alone.
If you or anyone you know is struggling to get pregnant, please do share my site, where you can sign up for free: