Breaking The Silence – Dealing With Fertility Struggles Whilst At Work

Breaking The Silence – Dealing With Fertility Struggles Whilst At Work

With the majority of those experiencing fertility struggles being actively employed, how is there so much silence about these issues within the workplace? I’m exploring what can be done to change this, drawing on my experiences from both sides of the fence…

From an employee perspective, I struggled to cope with the all-consuming nature of treatment and the prospect of not fulfilling my lifelong dream to start a family. The endless disappointments and devastating loss hugely affected my mental health and, whilst I desperately tried to maintain focus and still give 100%, it left me feeling like a burden to my employer and that I was struggling to be the person they initially hired. 

From a Human Resources perspective, prior to my own fertility struggles, I had zero understanding of the impact fertility treatment can have on an individual. Of course, I would have shown empathy to the situation, but I most definitely wasn’t aware of the reality – the time-consuming nature of frequent short-notice appointments, the impact of hormones pumped into the body, the invasive procedures involved and the inevitable emotional turmoil. In the 12 years I’d dedicated to HR, I never once had anyone ask about time off entitlements or employer support for fertility treatment. To me, the silence speaks volumes and is no doubt caused by the lack of awareness and apparent ‘taboo’ nature of this subject. With one in six couples experiencing fertility issues (the majority within the working population), how could I have worked in an area with such focus on people whilst never coming across this all too common problem? 

Using both my experiences in HR and facing infertility, I wanted to share how I believe employers could better support those going through treatment. Not only because it’s the right thing to do to be a compassionate employer, but because it would inevitably lead to a more engaged workforce, attracting and retaining top talent as an ‘employer of choice’. By getting it right, it can help to avoid losing good workers and to negate the need (plus huge cost) to replace them. It’s about facilitating and supporting short term adjustments to promote longer term engagement. 

Employees are often reluctant to disclose to their employer about the need for treatment, mainly because they’re unsure whether they’ll be supported and fear discrimination for the admittance that they are actively trying to get pregnant. Having a dedicated policy in place (or an explicit mention of fertility treatment within an existing policy) allows them to firstly know that what they’re going through is valid and recognised. A policy encouraging openness with managers (whilst maintaining confidentiality) could significantly reduce stress levels for those who may otherwise feel the need to hide their struggles, fearing that they are ‘imposing’ by asking for time off for this very valid reason.  

There are three elements I believe are key – awareness, flexibility and support. The starting point for each of these sits within a written policy. I’ve never been a fan of a policy for ‘policy’s sake’ – we can sometimes become too prescriptive and limit a manager’s freedom to ‘manage’, but with so many misconceptions and implications that infertility can cause, we cannot simply leave it down to the hope that each manager would make a compassionate judgment on what is considered fair and reasonable. We also need employees to know that it’s OK to disclose this information and not suffer in silence.

From my experience across a number of organisations and many HR contacts, I’ve discovered a range of approaches. 

  • Those with no policy or mention whatsoever.
  • Those with a mention of fertility treatment within another policy, but classing it as an ‘elective procedure’ – ignoring the fact that infertility is classed as an illness (by World Health Organisation) and fuelling the notion that IVF bears resemblance to a cosmetic procedure, for example. 
  • Those who mention discretionary entitlement within another policy. This tends to be within absence or flexible working policies but I’ve also heard of it being within a maternity policy (ironically a cruel reminder of what we desperately want).
  • Those who have a dedicated fertility policy.

In fact, in my (not so scientific) recent Instagram poll only 17% said that they believed their employer had a fertility policy.

So, from my experience, what would I suggest goes into an ‘ideal’ policy? 

  • Firstly, recognition that fertility treatment is not a choice – it isn’t an elective procedure but something many have to go through either due to illness or social reasons – all outside of our control. 
  • A summary of what might be typically involved in IVF treatment as a way to raise awareness with managers about the reality of what to expect e.g. numerous scan appointments and their ad-hoc nature and the need for invasive medical procedures requiring recovery time. 
  • Guidance as to what might be covered as paid / unpaid leave and how it would be recorded, with reassurance that this type of absence (with proof if required) wouldn’t count towards attendance ‘trigger points’. Employees are only ‘protected’ by maternity legislation once they have had an embryo transferred, and so often employees can feel particularly vulnerable throughout fertility treatment.  Workplaces will need to consider what is reasonable, but by giving employees an idea of what might be provided they can go a long way in removing the stress of the unknown.  
  • Allowances for flexible working, enabling the employee to still perform their role working around their treatment. For example, temporary adjustments such as working from home, lighter duties, adjustment to start / finish times to accommodate appointments – all around treatment cycles. 
  • The rights and potential flexibility for partners to attend appointments.
  • Any reasonable adjustments that might be considered for a role if it is physically demanding during treatment and post embryo transfer.
  • Recognition of the link to mental health – with suggestions of emotional support to consider such as Occupational Health and access to counselling services through Employee Assistance Programmes.
  • Recognising miscarriage as an experience that qualifies for compassionate leave and emotional support – another taboo subject that can leave employees unsure of their entitlements in a hugely sensitive situation.

The absolute ideal would be the introduction of initiatives to support the written policy, raising awareness and starting some conversations within the workplace. The only way we can make positive change is to open up the dialogue, encouraging education and understanding. 

I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts – through the power of sharing we can help others feel less alone and encourage positive change!

Sophie’s Story

Sophie’s Story

As a midwife, I knew that birth and death walked alongside each other. Having seen first hand the babies that entered the world with a silence, still nothing could prepare me to say goodbye to my own babies.

I had to give birth to two babies, knowing that there would be no chance for them to live. That they would be so premature that no amount of medical intervention could save them. I was giving birth to death. 

This is the story of my sons, Cecil & Wilfred.

My husband and I met 11 years ago at university. Two years ago we started trying to expand our family with little success. In December of last year, we found out that the only day 5 embryo we collected from our first round of IVF had implanted, and by some miracle I was pregnant with identical twins.

I did not enjoy being pregnant. I found the physical symptoms debilitating, and the anxiety overwhelming. I worried constantly from the second I got pregnant. Twelve weeks passed, and I was worried. Sixteen weeks passed, and I worried. Twenty weeks passed, and I started to relax slightly, although could never quite shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. I was over half way through the pregnancy, so pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind. Perhaps I was going to bring these babies home after all.

Despite niggling thoughts about nearly everything, one of the things that never crossed my mind was going into spontaneous labour at twenty one weeks. Preterm labour was of course on my radar, as I was having identical twins, but it never occurred to me that I might not make it to viability. That their cause of death, would be birth.

On Saturday 6th April, when my waters broke with a big gush, I knew it was the beginning of the end. That in fact, the pains that had been coming and going over the past two hours were contractions. That my babies were on their way.

It is very difficult to articulate how the death of your babies really does completely invert your life. There will forever be the time before, and the time after.

Not only did I lose two very precious babies, but I also lost a life time of memories. I am not invited to share my experiences of birth or motherhood with friends, because no one asks. I am not asked whether I had boys or girls, whether they looked like me or James, how much they weighed, or any other questions that most parents take pride in answering. I will never hear my sons call me Mummy, or see them playing together. James will never take them to play rugby, or tuck them into bed.

It has been six months since I last held my sons in my arms, I am still trying to navigate a world where I have given birth to two babies, but am not accepted into the motherhood club.

Not a moment goes past where I don’t think about my sons. I hope that by speaking about them, I am helping to honour their memory, but also to break down any misconceptions that baby loss is something to be ashamed of. I refuse to accept that only living babies matter.

My sons were born into silence, so I am making noise on their behalf.

Ellie’s Story

Ellie’s Story

Our first baby was conceived after we had been trying almost 2 years and I had started clomid. The first cycle didn’t work but on cycle 2 I got a very early positive pregnancy test.  I had never so much as a sniff of a second line before. I was elated. I thought we had got away with it. 2 days later however I was crunched over in pain on the sofa. This wasn’t normal. I was scared. We rang the GP who sent us via A and E to the emergency gynaecology unit. It was too early to see a pregnancy on scan, I’d barely missed a period, but they could see a massive cyst on my ovary. I had bled into it with my ovary twisted I was at risk of dying – this is called ovarian torsion. The cruel thing was that this same cyst was what would sustain that pregnancy. Operate and we would lose the pregnancy but leave it and we would lose the ovary, risking me getting seriously unwell. I guess there wasn’t really a choice and sobbing we signed the consent forms. 2 days later we were allowed home. The second line on the pregnancy test faded away and so did our hopes of a baby. 

Amazingly our daughter was born in 2012 but then we decided a couple of years later that we would like to try for a sibling. We were aware that it had previously been tricky and taken a long time so we weren’t expecting success. 8 months into trying however I felt a bit odd one day and took a test just to rule that out. I was shocked when there were two lines. Two weeks passed and I was starting to feel reassuringly sick and tired. I was working two thirteen hour shifts at the hospital that weekend. Saturday went ok but when I got home there was the tiniest amount of spotting. After some obsessive googling I tried hard to ignore it and decided that I’d go and see the GP on Monday as I didn’t want to let work down.  3 hours into my morning at work I felt a sudden pain and then the bleeding start after I’d been rushing around. I remember sitting sobbing on the toilet at work. Bleeding and in pain. I rang my (female) boss and told her I needed to go home. She asked me to stay until someone could be found to cover me. I then looked down and had bled all over my trousers and she realised maybe asking me to stay hadn’t been appropriate. Deep down I’m sure me being at work wasn’t why I bled, but I wish I had been at home with my husband and for once had put ourselves first. 

As it was the weekend I couldn’t get a scan for 2 days. On the Tuesday I sat in EPAU desperately hoping the baby would still be there but knowing deep down it wouldn’t be. I didn’t feel sick anymore, my breasts no longer hurt and I knew my baby was gone. The scan showed I was right. 

Physically I was ok within a few days so I went back to work as I hate letting people down. I managed 6 hours before a nurse found me crying at a desk on the ward and sent me home. I couldn’t breathe. I felt so utterly lost and hopeless. Why couldn’t my body keep our baby safe? 

Fast forward another 2 years and 2 failed cycles of IVF and still no baby. We were moving cities so we went to a new clinic to go and plan our next cycle of treatment. At the baseline scan the sonographer commented “you’ve ovulated from both sides this month, you could have twins”. At the time I remember inwardly cursing her and thinking what a stupid thing to say to someone in an IVF clinic. I’m sure you will guess what happened next….2 weeks later I started to feel unwell just a month prior to starting our cycle. And lo and behold the test was positive. I’d become one of the annoying people with a miracle pregnancy while waiting for IVF that we’ve all heard about while trying to get pregnant. 

This time I wasn’t excited for even a minute. I was just terrified. My lovely GP organised a scan at 6 weeks after I sat in her clinic room crying and that showed one baby in the right place with a heartbeat. I dared to breathe a little. 2 weeks later and the sickness was so bad I was started on medication and admitted with dehydration. Scanned again and baby still hanging on. Because we were about to move across the country we opted for private screening at 10 weeks as we weren’t sure I would get my dating scan slot on time. With a vomit bowl in hand I again saw our baby, this time looking like a like a little jelly bean bouncing around. We also found out from the testing that it was a baby girl. Again we breathed. The odds were now firmly on our side. Over 99% of pregnancies with a heart beat at 10 weeks end with a live baby. 

So we moved cities, away from almost everyone we knew and all our support, and I continued to vomit. Everything suggested that ongoing hyperemesis was a really good sign for the pregnancy. We met another EPAU team who looked after me and kept me hydrated. And I tried to hide how I felt from my then 5 year old who was desperate for a sibling but didn’t know we were pregnant. Weeks passed. Feeling pretty ropey we headed off to our scan at 13 weeks. In the car we were discussing how we would tell our family and friends about our baby and working out if I would be well enough to start my new job in 4 weeks as planned. 

I remember that when we were called into the room the big screen on the wall wasn’t working. But that’s ok we thought. I’m still being so sick. It has to all be fine. I then remember it just going very quiet as the sonographer did put the probe on my abdomen. My husband wouldn’t meet my eye. And I knew. I remember hearing a moan and then realising that it had come from me. I remember asking over and over – “the baby is dead isn’t it?” and it took what felt like an age for the sonographer to confirm that she thought that was the case but had to get a second person to confirm. I remember them turning the screen around and our perfect baby was there. But she was perfectly still with no heartbeat. We were told she had probably died in the last 2 days. I couldn’t believe she had gone and my body hadn’t even known. I was still so unwell. Again I hadn’t been able to keep her safe. 

We were ushered out of the way round the back of antenatal clinic into a windowless room with a box of tissues on the table and told to wait to see the doctor. We waited over an hour not knowing what was going on. The only thing I remember from that consultation was the doctor saying “I’ve reviewed your notes and it’s good that you were able to conceive this baby without IVF”. I don’t think either of us knew what to say – I couldn’t believe someone could be so callous. How was anything about this situation good? Did it somehow mean this baby meant less if we hadn’t had IVF or that it was somehow good that this had been a spontaneous pregnancy? We asked to be moved to EPAU and said we didn’t wish to talk to her any longer. 

The staff in EPAU were like a breath of fresh air. The first nurse, Steph, met us at the doors, took us to a quiet room and gave me a hug as she told me how sorry she was. They listened to us and the consultant came and discussed what choices we had. We opted to have surgical management and went in a couple of days later. 

On that morning it was like living in alternate universe. It was a beautiful sunny day but I’ve never felt in a darker place. I still was vomiting profusely. My body was very definitely still pregnant. We had had to tell our daughter that I had been pregnant and that the baby was poorly and couldn’t stay. We left her crying at a friends house. When we arrived at hospital I begged for another scan before signing the consent forms. The nurse very gently agreed to do this. I lay there praying there would be a miracle and somehow she would have come back to life. They wasn’t. She was still totally still. She had started to curl up which is apparently what happens when the baby has been dead for a few days. I couldn’t look at her. I still regret not being able to see her, even on the screen for one last time. It’s like I missed my chance to say goodbye. 

I had to take a tablet before going to surgery. I think it took me over 30 minutes to be able to swallow it. It felt like I was letting my baby girl down by allowing her to leave me. The only place she had ever known. The place that should have kept her safe and nourished her. Then when the porter came to walk me to surgery it was like my legs wouldn’t work. We got to a lift to go up to where the operating theatres were and I just couldn’t get in. We had to let the lift come and go 3 times before I could get over the threshold. The porter waited patiently and didn’t rush us. My husband didn’t complain as I gripped his hand so tightly. 

The staff couldn’t have been kinder or more gentle with me. They were all so compassionate and looked genuinely sad for us. The anaethestist who put to me sleep held my hand the whole time as I asked though tears for them not to have to do this and when I woke up the recovery nurse was holding my hand too. 

I’ve kept a list of all the staff from that day because of how kind they were. I wrote to all of them. So here I would like to thank Debbie the healthcare assistant, the nurses Lorraine, Sarah, Steph and Karen. Karolina the student nurse on the ward. Mr Hooper the consultant. Oli, the anaesthetist and the team in theatres – Katie and Leanne.  And finally Jason and Richard the porters. Lots of people complain about the NHS. I personally could not fault the care and compassion we received on the hardest and saddest of days. 

I wasn’t prepared for how physically empty I would feel immediately when I woke up. The sickness was still there but I felt hollow. I knew she was gone. I continued to be sick for another week while my body adjusted to realising I wasn’t pregnant anymore. We had some tests on the baby and it confirmed that she was perfect and again my body had failed her. We haven’t found out why. 

We had another cycle of IVF but got hardly any eggs and again it was unsuccessful. Following this I discovered that I was entering a premature menopause at age 35. That baby girl had been our last chance for a baby that was genetically related to me. That loss seemed even more cruel in the light of this information.  

We have since had a baby using donor eggs who has started to help me heal. And I know without the loss of the other babies she wouldn’t be here and I know I’m meant to be her mum. But I hold that truth in parallel with still grieving for all 3 of my babies, but most especially the last one who my daughter named Muffin (after a summer of making apple muffins). 
As time has passed the world has forgotten my lost babies.  To the outside I look like a mum with two children and on paper I have everything I wanted. But I am forever changed.  There are tiny footprints etched on my heart and my soul that have changed the person that I am. And I’ll carry those babies safely there, always with me, until we can all be back together again. 

Jade & Will’s Story

Jade & Will’s Story

24th March 2018

“The Beast from the East”; the unseasonal spring snow. It fluttered to the pavement in thick flourishes, burying the daffodils and the freshly cut grass. It was almost March, the hint of Spring was supposed to be teetering on the breeze. Instead transport creaked to a stop and street lights wavered in the white fog. We held each other and looked out of the window in disbelief. I squeezed him tight as we looked down once more at the undeniable pink lines staring up at us: “We’re having a baby, Willem.” In the coming days and weeks I began to fall in love. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never not hated my body; I’ve been cruel and unkind and treated it in ways I would never dare treat another person. But finally, aged 25, I was in awe of the wonder of it; of what it could do, how it could change, how it could create. I began nourishing my body with everything it needed, I gave up booze, chocolate, bought decaf teabags. I ate vegetables! I hugged and rubbed and squeezed it, I stared naked in the mirror and smiled with pride. I was amazing. 

Spring was in the air and we started sharing the news with close family. We began planning and dreaming: ultrasound scans, maternity clothes, my voluptuous bikini body, the big reveal, the birth, the night feeds, our first Christmas. This year was our year. Finally! And then the weather dropped. The snow was rumoured to return. “Spotting is perfectly normal”, they said; the midwives and the online forums, the doctors at A&E, and the nurse who did the blood tests, the Sonographer who showed us the tiny 6-week heartbeat. It’s perfectly normal. We breathed a sigh of relief and went home to the South Coast to escape London and celebrate my Birthday. To share our good news. Mid-March. Spring. “The sunniest town in England.” And the snow fluttered down, and the beast returned. And I knew that this amount of bleeding was not “perfectly normal”. My Birthday came and went – I turned 26 in a blur of exhaustion and sanitary towels and tears. We forced ourselves back to London and back to the hospital. But I already knew. I knew before she even said that there was no heartbeat. I knew before the second opinion that it had stopped developing just hours after last week’s scan. I knew before they listed the options that I would choose number three, the surgical procedure. And I knew before I even looked at Will that his heart had shattered in exactly the same places as mine. The Spring snow had turned to sludge; our little bubble had burst. 

And now it’s three days after surgery, and my heart feels as empty and violated as my vacuumed uterus. The morphine buzz has fizzed away, and the bleeding and the cramps have subsided. And now I’m left with the heavy, empty, sadness that dulls the colours and dims the light. I was built for this, I used to think; my child-bearing hips and my mumsy patience and clockwork periods: I was born to have children. But I’ve failed. My body, that I had finally forgiven and apologised to, that I had, after all these years finally fallen in love with, had failed. My body has broken my heart. And I don’t know whether to hold it tight or tear it to pieces. So I curl up and cling to my hot water bottle, I close my eyes and hope that I can sleep until it’s not today anymore. Because maybe tomorrow my heart will hurt a little less, maybe tomorrow the day will seem a little brighter and I’ll feel a little lighter. Maybe tomorrow.

“Snow Bubble” is the first chapter of Jade’s blog, Collected Thinks following her miscarriage and infertility struggles, which includes advice from The Miscarriage Association about how to help support a loved one going through a pregnancy loss. She also writes scripts and short children’s stories, a selection of which can be found on her website. One of Jade’s pieces about miscarriage will be featured in the female friendship anthology, ‘Let Me Know When You’re Home’, which will be published in February 2020. She’s hoping that by writing and talking openly about miscarriage and infertility it will open up conversation and make these topics a little less taboo. Say hello over on instagram or twitter (@collectedthinks). x 

Kelly & Lee’s Story

Kelly & Lee’s Story

In our seven years of trying to start our family, we’ve suffered three devastating losses. Each completely different, each utterly heartbreaking.

After two and half years of trying naturally, pleading with the GP and finally having a years worth of invasive tests and operations, we fell pregnant – our only natural pregnancy. It was Thursday 9th July 2015, 2 weeks before our first IVF appointment. We were newly engaged and planning our wedding and that day, we were the luckiest couple in the entire world.

Everything was great, no problems, no scares. Four close friends were also pregnant, we all made so many plans, had so many dreams. Life was pretty perfect.

22d August, I remember it was a really warm day. My Mum and bridesmaids had a day of wedding dress shopping hard of us and I was trying to find something cool to wear. I popped to the loo before we left, at 11 weeks this was already a regular occurrence. 

There was blood. I remember screaming for Lee.

We were shocked, terrified.

He drove me and a friend to A&E, but then like most weekend, he had to leave me to go shoot a wedding. Can you imagine how scared he was? How he got through that day I’ll never know.

After a brief checkover and internal, A&E sent us home with the promise of letting the EPU know to call us the next day. See A&E can’t really help you if you think you’re miscarrying, sadly my first but not last experience of this.

A scan was arranged for the next day, and despite being scared on the drive to Addenbrooke’s, I remember lying on the bed feeling excited that we’d see our baby for the first time today. But we never got that chance. A missed miscarriage they said, no baby to be seen. We called her Ivy, not that we ever really knew for sure.

We were taken to a room off the waiting area, past heavily pregnant women. I don’t remember much about what anyone said that day, just being handed a pile of leaflets and trying to get out of there as soon as possible. What followed over the next week was horrific. From the terminology used, to the effects of a medical management. An emergency D&C after haemorrhaging in our bathroom at home, a trauma that left us with lasting mental scars.

That loss was my first experience of isolation, both out of choice and circumstance.

I found it increasingly difficult to be around anyone pregnant. Friends who were shared their time, their experiences, there were weekly meet-ups I couldn’tgo to.

We were lucky to receive counselling from Petals, a charity that supports bereaved parents, but I wasn’t ready to talk – I let everything go inward instead. I cried for days, and when the crying became too much for everyone else, I’d cry in the shower or the car on the way to work – anywhere no-one could see me.

We tried again when we could, but nothing happened. By March 2016 we’d already had 3 months messing around from various NHS departments, before finally being declined for any IVF funding.

We self funded our first (and subsequent rounds), but by August we’d had our first failure. It had been a disaster all round. 3 eggs collected, 2 fertilised but low quality – a day 3 transfer ended in a BFN. 

Our consultant started the conversation about using donor eggs – I didn’t seem to be a good responder. Everything felt so rushed, so overwhelming, we couldn’t get our heads around it at all. We agreed to proceed with a double round of stims, freezing as many embryos we could. As October started, we suffered another blow. 4 eggs collected and just the 1 fertilised. 

This was a low point for us both, and all the pain from the miscarriage came flooding back to the surface. Both of us were struggling and our mental health was suffering. I was diagnosed with PTSD, having daily flashbacks and crippling anxiety. Some days my whole body felt like it was shutting down, I’m sure that played a part in how I was responding to the IVF drugs. Counselling started to ease the challenges, but it was a slow process. I started to blog about our experiences in the hope it would give me back some kind of control, or at least somewhere to get more thoughts out of my head. 

We had our third round of IVF in January 2017.

Maybe speaking out about it helped, maybe being in a better place mentally did too, or maybe its just pot luck how this stuff works (more likely), but we collected 5 eggs and got 5 brilliant blasts for the freezer. In March two of those embryos were transferred and in April we received the most incredible news we were pregnant with twins. I think my heart could have burst with love that day, seeing them on the screen.

It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. A series of frightening, recurring bleeds gave us sleepless nights, and by 15 weeks, although the twins were measuring fine and genetically perfect, things just didn’t seem right. I went to see a cervical specialist who diagnosed a short cervix. There would still have been time to do something about that to support the babies, but time wasn’t on our side. 

To this day, I’ve struggled to write in any great detail about what happened on Friday 30th June. I had travelled into London with a friend to watch Phil Collins perform in Hyde Park. We’d met another friend for lunch and I just didn’t feel right. I felt uncomfortable, my back was hurting and I felt heavy. I had no idea I was in the early stages of labour, and the things that happened later that afternoon I cant bear to type.

Our baby girl Lily May Allison was stillborn at just 16 weeks + 4 days. She was perfect in every way right down to her tiny fingernails. Our other little one seemed to be a fighter, but she was always at huge risk. Sadly she just wasn’t strong enough to make it. Ava Allison slipped away 9 days later, stillborn at 18 weeks.

A part of us died with them that day. 

The days and weeks that followed were a blur -agreeing to postmortems, arranging their cremation. Midwife appointments because my milk had come in and I didn’t know what to do. Consumed by grief, we had no idea what to do, what to think. In a frenzy of trying to understand or piece together how this could have happened, I remember spending two whole days trawling through every piece of paper-work I had, every test result, every scan. I created a timeline of everything we’d been through since we started trying for a family in 2013. Every test, any tiny little thing that might help someone help us, tell us why. I was out of my mind.

I look back now on my blog posts and it makes for dark reading.

26TH AUGUST 2017

So are things better 8 weeks on?

No. Not better, just different. There’s a sadness hanging over everything we do.

I still cry every day.

I still don’t sleep.

I still wake up and think they’re here.

I still haven’t seen my friends with children or friends that are pregnant.

I still don’t respond to most texts or messages because I don’t know what to say.

I still blame myself.

From Oct 2017 to Nov 2018 we transferred our remaining embryos, all of them failed.

With every failure the grief flooded back the surface. We looked at our life and knew something needed to change. We put our house on the market, the house that should have been our family home, and made plans to move to a new town. 

Jan 2019

We began to talk about the option of using donor eggs and contacted Serum IVF in Athens. We’d heard great things about them and our first Skype call with Penny confirmed everything we’d heard – there’s a warmth there we’d never felt at CRGH.

Serum thought there was still a chance to try one last go with my eggs, and that felt exciting. We felt like there was hope again after so much disappointment and we decided to go ahead. 

If we’re both completely honest though, I don’t think either of us expected it work – in many ways it felt like closure. If it didn’t work, we decided that would be the end of our ‘journey’ (ugh). Neither of us were against using donor eggs, but both of us were exhausted and wanted to live again. In a weird way, it felt like Serum had given us permission to stop.

But unbelievably, 1 of the 3 embryos transferred stuck around, and early July we were pregnant again. The most perfect news, new home, new baby. It was our time.

It was a dream pregnancy as far as any of our others had been. I loved every minute of the nausea and tiredness, it felt like a gift. Early scans went well, and aside from an anxiety ridden bleed at 11 weeks, everything was perfect. I was booked in for a cerclage operation just after 12 weeks, so we knew our baby would be safe after that. 

But our 12 week scan showed a nuchal translucency of 4.8mm, which combined with blood test results put the baby at a very high risk of chromosomal issues. After an agonising 4 day wait, we were told the news that our baby girl had a very rare mix of chromosomal conditions, so rare the genetics team struggled to explain the severity of her challenges, if in the very unlikely event she made it to birth.

We made the devastating decision to terminate the pregnancy, taking her pain away forever. We know it was the right decision, but it’s something we have to life with for the rest of our lives. 

I will never forget being asked what we wanted to do with the ‘product’, and telling the nurse that she meant our child, Molly. 

There are so many wrongs with this process and terminology, so many things we’ve had to experience that no parent should. The lack of compassion shown to us from Marie Stopes is a whole other story, one day I’ll find the words to write it all down. But not yet, its all too raw.

Looking to the future

It’s just three weeks since the termination and it’s a daily struggle to get out of bed each day. 

We’re back in the time where no-one really knows what to say to us, and we barely know ourselves. There’s a long, long road for us to get back to any kind of normality – whatever that even means.

I ask myself often if we’re destined to be the unlucky ones, if this is it, this is our narrative?

We have a good life. Both lucky to have careers we love, a beautiful home, loving families and of course Doris and Ralph, but by god we’ve had so much pain, more than enough to last a lifetime and enough to have changed us forever.

So, as difficult as it is to acknowledge, I have to remind myself that we have been lucky to be pregnant in the first place, and that in itself is a privilege within this community and one I wish for you all.

We have been lucky to witness the incredible feeling of seeing our children growing, albeit only on a screen, and to experience the elation of seeing that blue line appear and telling our parents they’ll be grandparents.

And we have been lucky to have all our children, because each of them has left us with a gift.

The gift of bravery to keep trying for our dream.

The gift of courage to speak out about our story.

The gift of resilience to pull us through the darkest times.

And the gift of undying love.

We don’t know what happens next, but I hope that hope returns to us soon.