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.
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.
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.