I’ve touched on this in my bio but here’s where you can find out more about my experience of infertility. These were some of the most difficult times of my life, and my heart goes out to anyone going through something similar.
I didn’t expect infertility to be an issue for me and my husband. I was 30 when we started trying, we were both healthy and deeply in love, what could possibly go wrong?
Months passed. My sister-in-law fell pregnant. Then another year passed and my other sister-in-law got pregnant and had her baby. Over 30 people we knew had babies, and we were still empty handed.
We took pills and potions and powders, changed positions, tried fertility apps, went on holidays, and tried to stay positive. The tests started and the results were bad – both my husband and I had issues affecting our chances to conceive naturally.
Meanwhile, a toxic mix of anxiety, fear, shame and worthlessness was causing me to sink into depression. Every month my hope literally went down the drain as my period arrived. Baby announcements became triggers, so much so that after two years of trying I had to step away from Facebook altogether, especially given the adverts for baby items that cropped up on my feed, handily served up by unfeeling algorithms.
Not everyone’s emotional journey through infertility will be the same, but there are potent emotions that arise from the struggle that can be hard to understand if you’ve never been through it. There can be a sense of shame and failure – that your body isn’t doing what comes naturally, that everyone else around you seems to be in working order.
There’s a deep fear of the future and the questions you may have to confront – what if we can’t have children at all? Can we afford more treatment? Are we suitable to adopt?
There’s terrible awful envy – of the sonogram pictures, the baby showers, the bump reveals – when you’re happy for your friends and family for their news but desperate for it to be you next. There are moments when you sign the next congratulations card and wrap the next baby gift weeping into the gift bag wondering when it will be your turn to be on the receiving end.
It starts to get harder to be genuinely happy for others and this is where not only are you barren in womb, but you start to feel barren in your soul – and as you contemplate the extent of your own bitterness and anger you then have to deal with the fact that you are not handling this as well as you thought you could, your faith is shakier than you realise, and perhaps you are actually a bad and wicked person and infertility is some kind of punishment.
Add to those emotions all the hormonal crap you’re dealing with each month when your period arrives, and it’s one big toxic emotional mess. It’s no surprise that infertility can be a trigger for depression.
Eventually the test results meant we were eligible for IVF on the NHS and we were scheduled to begin in May 2018. I knew I had to find a better mental place in which to go through the gruelling hormonal treatment, with all its possibility, pain, and potential for failure.
My first novel was the escape I needed. If I had a bad day, I wouldn’t have to dwell on it. I would cloak myself in my characters’ trials and tribulations instead. I poured my heart into that book. It was like having a little bit of therapy on hand, every day.
Our IVF cycle seemed to last forever. Weeks of injections, followed by weeks more of additional injections. We were told the treatment wasn’t going well and we would not proceed to embryo transfer. I wept and the consultants patted me sympathetically on the knee as I lay there, legs akimbo, dignity abandoned, brave face discarded.
Not many people knew we were going through IVF, but I called on my church friends for prayer. I then called my mum and cried down the phone – not for the first time during the process.
Egg collection day arrived and I was sedated and eggs removed. As I was rolled out of the theatre the consultant said to me that everything was looking perfect for embryo transfer in a week’s time. Having taken sedatives I really wasn’t sure what I had heard, but it was true – somehow all the problems had resolved themselves in a matter of days. The embryo transfer could go ahead! To this day, I believe it was the power of prayer that did it.
11 eggs removed. 10 fertilised. 3 survived. 2 ready to freeze, 1 ready to implant.
We arrived early at Bourne Hall fertility clinic on the 7th July for our embryo transfer. Our embryo was rated BBB. I felt irrationally disappointed – I had always been one to go for straight As – and I was worried that a B-rated embryo wouldn’t be good enough quality to implant.
Embryo transfer is where they put your embryo back into your womb in the hope that it’ll implant and grow. Even at this stage, there are very few guarantees and very little anyone can do to make the embryo implant. I was tilted practically upside down in a chair while several nurses and a consultant oversaw the embryo transfer. My husband saw it on a screen. I’m glad he could be there at the conception of our child, along with four other people in the room (romantic!)
We went home, embryo on board, which we fondly nicknamed “Eggbert”. My husband watched the England v Sweden World Cup game with a friend while I lay upstairs listening to music – not wanting to become over-excited!
I made plans of what to do if/when the treatment didn’t work. I was going to lose weight after taking all those awful hormones, I would buy some new clothes. I added tampons to my next shopping list. I had never had a positive pregnancy test and I didn’t expect to get one now. I was carefully managing my expectations.
When I took a pregnancy test ten days later, as instructed, it was positive. I took a test every day, twice a day, for another week. Seeing the lines still there, I still didn’t let myself believe it – it could be a chemical pregnancy or maybe there would be nothing there on a scan, I reasoned.
At the 6 week scan, we saw our embryo and a tiny flickering heart beat. As I write this, I am currently 6 months pregnant and awaiting our much-longed for “Eggbert” in March 2019.
I am extremely fortunate. IVF worked for us the first time, but for other couples it can take much longer, more cycles, some will also experience the devastation of miscarriage.
If you are going through something similar, please know that you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, contact Fertility Network UK. If infertility becomes a trigger for mental health issues, then please seek help from your doctor. Get support from where you can, from those who love you the most, and try to stay hopeful that “this too shall pass”.