A New Perspective

When I started this blog I wanted it to be a true reflection of our fertility treatment journey.  Fertility treatment is about more than going through a process of drugs, scans, egg retrievals and embryo transfers.  It is about the person as a whole, mind & body.  It is about the people we meet along the way & the relationships that come and go.  This post is about where I am with all of that right now.

I met someone new this week who has given me a different way of looking at what I have been through.  Its amazing how a few sentences can bring a change of perspective.

One of my favourite musicals is Wicked.  I don’t know why, it just is.  The words to one song always resonates with me, they always have…

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return

I’m a huge believer that people come into our lives at the right time.  Some stay for a while, others just appear and disappear again.  I find that people enter when they are supposed to and leave when they are supposed to.  I honestly didn’t think anyone could teach me something new about myself where my own fertility journey is concerned.  I was wrong.

During my very first counselling session nearly 2 years ago, after I had given a whirlwind tour of our fertility treatments to that point, my counsellor observed that I was traumatised.  All the years of treatment and embryos not implanting had meant that time after time I have suffered one trauma after another.  When she used the word trauma, I honestly thought it was a bit strong.  Yes, I’d been through a lot, felt like I’d lost something (even though I never had it in the first place), yes my heart was broken into a thousand pieces & I couldn’t see how I was ever going to feel ok again, but traumatised, a bit OTT maybe?  I have heard the word a few more times during my counselling sessions but I haven’t quite been able to relate to that word being in my world.  I have of course been in denial for a long time about the impact of infertility on me and its taken many sessions for me to truly open up about the devastation that it has caused in my life.  We have also talked more recently about the mind and body connect, both have to be in balance and it is clear that I’m not quite there yet with the balance.

And so this week, I met someone new for acupuncture.  I was reluctant to find someone new but circumstances dictate that I can’t see the person I have seen previously.  I was gutted about that because she has been an important part of my journey thus far.  I’m hoping acupuncture can help me stay balanced through our upcoming cycle, as it has done previously.  As with all of the professionals I meet about our fertility struggles, I have to go through the last 7 years with a fine tooth comb, reliving each and every cycle that didn’t result in a positive pregnancy test.  When I got to the end, she put her pen down, sat back in her chair and said something that I’d heard before

“You have suffered so much emotional and physical trauma, how have you coped” 

As she said the word trauma, I was sent back to my first counselling session.  A thought flashed through my mind, 2 people in my life saying the same thing, it can’t be coincidence, its time to take notice and acknowledge the trauma that I have been through repeatedly.  I sat there and wondered why the hell I was about to put myself through this again, why do I want to go through that trauma again.  There is a simple answer, I don’t want to go through it again but hubby and I would like a family and to have a chance of achieving that I have to do IVF.

Our conversation continued.  Talking about our IVF cycles she asked me about the outcome of FET number 5, I said, that one failed too.  She looked straight at me and said that she never wanted to hear me say the word failure again.  In her view, it brings a negativity that is hard to shake off.  In that moment I knew she was right.  In using the word “failure” I’m setting myself up to feel like I’m the one that has failed.  I have not failed because our embryos did not implant.  The reason I ended up in some very dark places previously was because I felt like I had failed.  Our embryos not implanting is not a reflection on me or anything I have done or not done.  It is what has happened.  Its not my fault.  And so as I prepare for a new cycle, I have found myself with new grief, acknowledging the loss of our embryos.  And that makes me sad.  Sad more than words can describe.  I still need to grieve for our 12 precious embryos that didn’t make it to this world, even though we wanted them so much.  Its ok that I still need to grieve.  I will never stop thinking about them.  Its probably hard to understand the position I find myself in and that’s ok.  No-one else needs to understand.  They were our embryos, part of us, me and hubby, and they are gone.

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You will never hear me say or write again that it failed or that I failed.  I can no longer use that word when talking about our fertility struggles and everything that we have been through.  I am not a failure because I can’t get pregnant.  I am many other things, but I’m not a failure.

The third moment of enlightenment came with a conversation about me not thinking treatment will ever work for us.  Why would it, it hasn’t so far?  Each time I think about an IVF cycle I relive the one before and the one before.  Its all negative.  It is the impact of suffering repeated trauma.  It is something I have talked about in counselling, that I don’t believe I will ever be able to get pregnant, and I have worked to try and understand the connection between mind and body but I’ve never really managed to understand why I feel physically tense when I think about IVF.  The person I was sat with explained that if I hold negativity about what has previously happened then my whole body will react to this negativity, it will become tense and so things may not work quite the way they should.  She said that I need to let go of the past and move forward positively without the dark cloud of the previous cycles hanging over me, both physically & emotionally.  Yep, she is right about that too.  This hit me like a bolt of lightening.  This has to change, I have to continue to change.  I have changed so much since my breakdown but I know I still have a way to go to being healed.  I need to heal physically as well as continue to heal emotionally (and I have already come along way on the emotional front).

We talked about whether I was ready for another IVF cycle.  I started to get a little angry because I’m ready and I’m committed to this next cycle, we are doing this, its the right time.  As we are doing a freeze all I explained that I know the stimulation cycle is going to be traumatic for me, both physically and emotionally.  Mainly because I’m petrified of OHSS and rightly so.  Pumping myself full of drugs isn’t ideal and I wouldn’t choose to do it, but I don’t have a choice.  After a lengthy discussion, I had my acupuncture session and I felt good when I left.  This person has definitely entered my life at the right time & is another person who seems to ‘get it’.

And so once the first part of the IVF cycle is done, it will be time for me to heal myself before we move to a frozen embryo replacement cycle, as long as we get some good quality embryos that is.  I have promised myself that I won’t jump into another FET, I will do it when the time is right.  After all, this is likely to be our last cycle so I have to make sure that I am ready for it, both physically and emotionally.

This week we also visited the clinic, got my protocol, had blood tests and we are all set to go.  My protocol has changed from Gonal F to Menopur.  I wasn’t expecting it and Menopur has made me so ill in the past that when I saw it written down I had a panic.  This isn’t going to be easy, but lets hope its worth it.  I’m starting on 112 of Menopur, which is different to both my previous cycles.  I get a blood test on day 4 of stims to see what my E2 is doing and then the dose may change.  It already feels like I’m being taken care of.  The nurse told me there are notes all over my file about being an OHSS risk and that everyone is aware of it.  I was going to ask if they knew of me because of the Twitter blocking incident, but I didn’t feel it was quite appropriate!  So, now we wait for day 1 of my next cycle and then make the phone call to ask to start treatment.

We also had a couples counselling session after our prep appointment which helped us both massively, even if it did get emotionally charged a few times.  We now know what each of us needs from each other to get through the next 6 weeks.  We have never done it before a cycle but I’m really glad we did.  We have to be kind to ourselves, to each other and most of all we have to talk.  Even if we don’t want to talk for fear of upsetting the other one, we have to say how we are feeling.  Its the only way and we are both more than ok with that.

So, for this cycle I have a new perspective and a new approach.  No more negativity.  No more doubting the clinic.  Hubby is firmly by my side, holding me whilst I grab onto him for dear life, going through every twist and turn together, after all this is as much about him as it is about me.  We also have our friends and family around us helping us to hold ourselves together as we head into something that I know is going to be traumatic.  I also have 2 people walking with me, both helping in different ways to keep me balanced and focussed.  Both encouraging me to look after myself, reminding me to be kind to myself and acknowledging that what I’m heading into isn’t going to be easy, but that I’m going to be ok.  One is new in my life, the other has been walking with me for nearly 2 years now, I know I need them both in order to stay positive and work through the inevitable melt downs that are going to come over the coming weeks.  All of the people that are supposed to be in my life right now are here.  In previous cycles hubby and I have closed ranks, tried to do this alone and I certainly haven’t let anyone help me.  I have hidden away hoping to get through it as best I can.  I cannot do it this time.  I know I am surrounded by love and that I have some amazing support.  That is all I can ask as we venture into our 9th cycle.

And as I head into another cycle I just have to remember to breathe & remember that I’m going to be more than ok…

Breathe.-You_re-going-to-be-okay

 

 

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Avocado Soup

Preparation for our 9th IVF cycle has well and truly begun.  It has been a while.  Our last IVF cycle was in February 2016 and it was all a bit last minute so I wouldn’t say I was prepared for that one at all.

I would like to think that I’m approaching this next cycle with a different mind-set.  I know going in there is a possibility of the dreaded OHSS appearing again but the clinic is trying to minimise the risk as much as possible.  We have opted for a freeze all and this time there will be no change of approach on the day of egg collection.  We aren’t having embryos replaced and I’m ok with that.  This is the bit to create the embryos only, the rest can happen sometime next year.  Which then brings me on to another fear, what if we have no embryos?  And so, as you can see, this is where the mind f*** starts.  No needles or drugs in sight and yet churning over the possible outcomes has already started.

anna kendrick mind blown GIF

And yet I feel calmer.  I’m not going into it thinking ‘this has to work’ and ‘if it doesn’t it means I’m a failure’.  I’m going into it hoping that we get some good quality embryos to day 5.  If that doesn’t happen then we will deal with it and decide what to do next.  I try to not let the air of panic set in and if it comes creeping up on me, I try to bat it back from whence it came.

In preparation for this cycle I’m taking better care of me, both physically and emotionally.  Things are different because I am different.  Nearly 2 years after my breakdown and I have changed, I have grown and I have learnt to accept that with or without a family I am whole.  Of course, with every ounce of my being I hope and pray that this cycle leads us to a positive at some point next year, but if it doesn’t I have promised myself that I will never venture to the depths of despair and depression again.

My diet has changed over the last few months.  This was partly prompted by the discovery that I had scar tissue from endometriosis which had fused my bowel and uterus together so I wanted to try to manage that through diet and partly knowing we were heading into more IVF.  The Emma Cannon book ‘Fertile’ has become my new recipe book of choice.  It has some lovely recipes, which are packed full of all the good stuff I need to eat.  I’m not a lover of food, never have been, but for the last 6 weeks I have been making soups for lunch (including Avocado soup, which sounds odd but is amazing btw), making sure I eat breakfast everyday (& not just a cereal bar and coffee) and eating as healthily as I can.  I also need to up my protein levels so I’ve turned to Dr Hazel Wallace & for some variety I’ve been using Madeline Shaw recipes too.

Of course, I’m taking a heap of supplements.  On my very first IVF cycle I struggled to take the one a day pre-conception supplement.  Now I’m on that plus things to help improve egg quality, given my poly-cystic appearing ovaries and my now older age.  I suppose you could say that my Saturday morning shopping spree on Amazon that cost me £81 is one of those hidden costs of IVF.  And that’s just a months worth of stuff.  It has been nearly 8 years since our first IVF cycle and I’m now the wrong side of mid-thirty, rather than the pre-thirty year old that I was back then.  Yep, definitely need to get my eggs into the best shape.  Hubby is also taking his supplements, the conception tablet plus a couple of vitamins in higher dose.  Lets see if any of these things make a difference.

tom and jerry drugs GIF

I’m not one for exercise, it bores me to be honest.  I do however get to walk twice a day with our gorgeous pooch.  The walking is not only good for my mental health, but it means I get an hours exercise a day.  That’s got to help…surely?  Getting the blood flowing and all that jazz.

I’ve done acupuncture with a number of my cycles.  Although I have never had a positive pregnancy test, I know that it helps me stay calm and focussed.  For that reason, I am doing it again.  I have to do whatever I feel is right for me and whatever keeps me balanced.

We have a new clinic and a new approach.  Both things were important to me, there seems little sense in keeping doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.  But that’s just my view.  The fact that we have a new set of expertise and a clinic that we are both really happy with has been important.  In putting ourselves through this again, I particularly have had to find someone that I trust to take care of me.  I hope that I have found it.  I will even forgive the fact that they temporarily blocked me from their Twitter account, but that’s a story for another time!  My quest to be a fertility warrior ran away with me.

I think the most important thing to me is how we both cope emotionally with this next cycle.  It feels like its taken us a while to get here and this time last year I would have said we would never have done it again.  And yet here we are, finding the strength in each other to give it another try.

This is the first cycle that I am going into and having counselling before we even start.  I have been seeing my counsellor regularly since April 2016 and without it I would not be going for this again.  I will continue to see her before, during and after this cycle.  I need the outlet and I need the therapy, and that’s ok.  It doesn’t mean I’m a failure, it means I’m prepared, ready & able to deal with this.  If it all goes horribly wrong, I now have an amazing support system in place.  Hubby and I will also see her together, its important to me that we can talk through what its going to be like to do this again and how we navigate whatever comes our way.  It doesn’t show a weakness in our relationship, in fact for me it shows the opposite.  For the first cycle ever we are considering our relationship and how it will be impacted.  One thing we have struggled with previously is to keep talking to each other as we go through a cycle.  I have felt in previous cycles that I can’t tell him how I’m feeling because he is also going through it.  This time we are both committed to keeping the lines of communication open.  If we don’t, I know we will struggle to get through this again.  I think we are both realistic about what we need in order to get through this in the best shape we can.

I’ve never had access to a support group before, but now I do.  In fact, I run the one for Staffordshire on behalf of Fertility Network UK.  It started as a closed Facebook group but I have just arranged our first meet up in a few weeks time.  I’m hoping that being part of a support group with those who are going through a similar thing will help me through our next cycle.  I just hope the meet up goes well and I’m not stressing about it!

I will be staying away from on-line forums.  For each and every one of my previous 8 cycles I have joined the groups of people going through cycles at the same time.  Whilst to start with I found them immensely helpful, I reached the point where my negatives were compounded by others getting positives.  I will write a future post about my experience of forums, but for me on this cycle I am choosing not to go down that path.  I am truly focussed on me and our cycle rather than the cycles of others.  This may sound selfish coming from someone who advocates supporting others, but for me, right now, for this cycle, the on-line forums aren’t right place for me.  And that’s ok.

Image result for be gentle with yourself you are doing great

So, for the next 7 weeks, I need to put me first, whatever that means.  I will not be taking on other peoples problems right now.  Of course, if any of my friends are reading this & have any major meltdowns please know I will ALWAYS be here for you.  You just may not get much sense out of me if I’m pumped full of hormones!

This IVF malarkey isn’t straightforward.  The prep starts long before the drugs start.  Its immense.  Its hard to know what to do and not to do, its hard not to worry, its hard not to think about all of the possibilities.  Most of all its hard to know that this may be our last opportunity to become parents.  We have pulled together every ounce of strength & courage that we have and we are giving it our all.  It is for that reason that right now we are number one & we are concentrating on us.

So we have a prep appointment & final blood tests later this week.  Apparently they need to teach me how to inject myself,  I think I got that one down to a fine art.  It will then hopefully be all systems go to start towards the end of the month.  Of course, it could all change, but if not, IVF number 9…lets do this.  I hope the avocado soup is worth it!

You are not alone

The puppy that helped me to heal

Hubby always wanted a dog. I didn’t want a dog, I wanted a baby.  IVF failure number 6 hit us both hard and we struggled to move on.  I struggled to get out of bed every morning, what was the point, I had nothing?  A few weeks after we got our negative result I started to look at pictures of puppies on-line, why not, I’d got nothing else to do.  One evening we were sat watching TV & I just quite randomly said “Let’s get a dog”.  I don’t even know where it came from!  Hubby nearly fell off his chair and just kept asking if I was sure.  Why not?  We had waited years for a baby that was never coming, we needed to move on.

Hubby wanted a Cockapoo so I left the research on breeds to him.  I knew nothing about caring for a dog, neither of us had ever had one.  He found a breeder and arranged for us to go and see 2 apricot Cockapoo’s.  A few days later we went to see them.  I was really disappointed, I just didn’t connect with them.  Everyone said we would just fall in love and come away with one and I kept saying no, we would know when it was the right one for us.  Neither of them were right for us, one was swinging from the curtains hanging on with its teeth and the other wouldn’t come to us, so we said we would leave it.  The breeder said they had a chocolate colour one and would we like to see him.  Yes, we said.

The first time we saw him, we fell in love with him.  As he came towards us, hubby just said “look at him, he is the one”.  We spent a bit of time with him and I picked him up and put him on my knee.  He curled up into a ball & fell asleep.  In that instant my heart melted and I knew he would be part of our family.  A few days later we picked him up and brought him home.

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I’d done as much research as I could & I became a frequent visitor to the pet shops for the next week.  OMG this was amazing, I got to buy new things, and lots of them!  The first day he was home he didn’t do much other than sleep, I think he was in shock.  Truth is, so was I.  I now had something else to think about, something was completely dependent on me.

The next few weeks were a struggle for me, my anxiety levels sky rocketed.  I was anxious when we left him.  The first time he barked, I cried & said I couldn’t cope with it.  I paced around the garden with him to get him to wee, he did nothing and then came inside an pee’d everywhere.  What the hell had we done?  I was really struggling to settle with him and not worry about him all the time.

I remember carrying him through the house, him in mid flow, a pee trail over the floor of most of the house, just to get him outside quickly.  By the time I got him outside he had finished!  He just didn’t seem to be getting the whole pee outside thing and 2 weeks in I was getting frustrated, more at myself than him. But, week 3, something clicked and he finally got it!  Yey, no more pee to mop up!

I knew I was struggling so I took some time off work to spend time with him.  This was the turning point for me and we started to bond.  I took him for a long walk every day (well as far as a 14 week old puppy could walk), I talked to him, played with him and this is when I realised dogs do have an amazing life, he slept for about 18 hours of the day.

So, our bond firmly cemented and I slowly started to heal.  Somehow the infertility stuff got pushed to the back as we concentrated on our gorgeous puppy, J.  We had something to talk about and focus on, something other than IVF & having a baby.  I had a reason to get out of bed each morning, something else needed me.  I walked every day and I think this has been a huge plus for me.  Fresh air and space to think, space to clear my head before work and after work also helped with the work stress.

On the days when I feel awful, he brings a huge slice of happiness to me.  There is nothing nicer than doggy snuggles when you are feeling down.  I have spent lots of time training him, which has been a great thing for me to focus on, something different.  Apparently our four legged friends aren’t born knowing how to sit, lie & walk by your side, who knew!  The first two J mastered quickly, the walk command took 12 months, he preferred either acting like he was part of a sled pulling team or standing like a Meerkat on 2 legs when he saw another dog.  Lots of time, patience and more importantly treats, he now walks by my side like he has always known what to do.

He has been to the emergency vets twice, both times I cried all the way there.  We had to leave him overnight the second time and I was in bits.

Our family love him as much as we do.  When we visit someone there is no “Hello, how are you?”, the first question is “Where is the dog?”  Yep, we are good, thanks for asking, nice to see you too!

He has helped me through some of my darkest days & through some of our toughest days together.  He has helped me to heal my broken heart & has made me realise that I’m not cold and detached from the world, I’m actually full of love.  Sometimes I look at him and my heart literally bursts, tears come to my eyes.  I think its a reminder of the love we have in our family and the love that we would have been able to share had we had children.  J brings a smile to my face everyday, even if he is being naughty (and he can be very naughty…or maybe mischievous).  He has me wrapped around his paw, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I come home from work & he is waiting, always glad to see me and showers me with his version of affection (mostly jumping and licking).  In an instant, the worries of the day at work disappear.

I couldn’t see how I was going to get through life with nothing.  But I don’t have nothing.  I have a family and it is our family of 3.

He is my boy & I love him with all my heart.  I always will.

I will leave you with some pictures of his first 18 months with us, just because…

 

Dear You…A Review

I was so happy to be included in the blog tour as part of National Fertility Awareness Week for :

Dear You: A Letter to my Unborn Children by Tessa Broad

Written by someone who, like me, desperately wanted to have a family, Tessa embarked on the rollercoaster of IVF and experienced the hope & failure that inevitably comes with that journey.  At the same time, normal life carried on around her and she had to navigate the complexities that come with just living, being in a relationship and learning to cope with grief and heartache.  Treatment unfortunately wasn’t successful for Tessa.  She had to grieve, heal and learn to live a life she never expected.  As part of healing process she wrote a very honest and personal letter to the children that she so badly wanted, but never got the opportunity to meet.

On so many levels this book struck a chord with me.  Entering the world of fertility treatment can be daunting and this book describes just what treatment requires of you, the impact on every aspect of your life, how we have to re-arrange our lives, put our lives on hold even.  How we hit the low points when it doesn’t work and yet somehow find the strength to go again, and again.  It describes perfectly how it wreaks havoc with who we are, our relationship, our sex lives, our diets, our careers, our friendships, well just about every aspect of everyday living.  It took over her life and it became her ultimate focus, just like it did for me and many of those that I know travelling the same road. In explaining to her unborn children the lengths that she was prepared to go to get them, the number of times she put herself back onto the treatment treadmill, she shows just how much love there is for them, even though in reality they don’t exist.  In her heart they do and always will.

As I read the book, I thought many times, she is describing me, what I’ve been through & how I’ve felt!  It is so rare to find books that hit so close to home where infertility is concerned.  Most end with the inevitable miracle baby, this book is the first one I have read where that isn’t the case.  Tessa takes her unborn children on a journey through what she hoped their life would have been like, the values that she would have tried to instil in them & explores how she would have allowed them the space to grow with confidence into whoever they wanted to be.  It is something that I too have thought about.  What kind of mum would I have been?  What would my children be like?  How would we have raised them?  It is a very brave step to write about a future that you so much wanted and yet no matter how hard you seem to try, it just didn’t work out the way you planned.

Tessa describes perfectly how it feels to be infertile in a very child focussed world.  This quote struck a chord:

“…being with children didn’t soothe me as I had hoped it might, it made the ache to have my own even harder to bear” 

I thought I was the only one that struggled to cope around other peoples children, even when I so desperately wanted to be around them, to spend time with them and to experience them in my life but yet for some reason I just couldn’t cope with it.  Throughout the book Tessa describes how it feels to want to engage in life, but somehow it is just to painful, too raw and filled with too much heartache.  And yet she managed to find the strength to keep going.

This book made me feel normal & less alone, so many times it described how I have felt throughout my own journey and yet I have struggled to express it to those around me.  She reminds us of the lasting impact that infertility can have on us & the need for it to be acknowledged:

“…infertility is life changing.  It is stressful, painful and deeply upsetting and to have it ignored or brushed aside, diminishes the experience.”

Tessa continues her story through the highs and lows of her relationships & ultimately to the point where she realised that there would be no children in her future.  It wasn’t the path she had planned to travel and yet she has managed to get to the point in her life where childlessness doesn’t define her.  In writing to her unborn children it felt like she was in fact nurturing them through the life she had planned for them and then through her love for them she let them go, in return she allowed herself to pursue a very fulfilling and worthwhile life.  I can only imagine how hard this book must have been to write and yet at the same time it feels like she allowed herself to move forward from the havoc that infertility had created.

This book is a brilliant example of life happening whilst we are busy making other plans, we don’t always know where it will take us, but that’s ok.  We may not have the life we had planned but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t still live a rich life, full of great experiences and  find passions for things that we never thought possible.  She also reminds us to put ourselves first and to try to be kind to ourselves, always.

A must read for anyone trying to navigate the world of IVF and perhaps wondering what happens if it never works.  I can guarantee that this will fill you full of hope and make you feel less alone.  Tessa managed to continually find strength through her infertility journey and beyond.  A huge thank you to Tessa for sharing her story.

Dear You is written by Tessa Broad and published by RedDoor

IVF & Me

This week is National Fertility Awareness Week which is a week aimed at raising awareness & changing perceptions around fertility issues.  This year also marks 40 years since the first IVF conception.  I never thought that would be us, I never thought we would be the 1 in 6, but we are.  I am proud to be part of a community that is starting to shout from the rooftops about the reality of fertility issues.  It has been heart warming to read the stories of those that IVF has worked for, a reminder of how wonderful it can be.  It has also been heart breaking to read the stories of those that IVF has not worked for.

IVF fails in around 70% of cases and those of you that read my blog regularly will know that after 6 embryo transfer cycles we are so far firmly in the not worked camp.  I personally have mixed feelings about IVF after a long and drawn out relationship with a process that we thought would simply give us the family that we longed for so much.

One thing that IVF has given us, that nothing else could have, is hope.  Hope that we might be the ones that it works for.  Even if IVF never works for us, we at least had the opportunity to try.  For that I will be eternally grateful.  Without IVF we would never have even had a chance.

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The process of IVF has taught me so much about myself, it has tested me in ways I never thought possible.  When it failed time after time, it sent me into a deep depression.  When I looked at my future I saw nothing, a black hole of nothing.  IVF gave me hope in one hand and yet it was taken away again each time it failed.  Yet somehow through all of it, I have found the strength and courage to keep going, to recover and to move forward with a positive future now ahead of me.

I know I am a different person than I was before I started my first cycle of IVF.  If I had known that I would have failed time after time, would I have still gone through it?  Absolutely.  The only thing I would have done differently would have been to find support from the outset.

My own experiences of going through IVF alone has now helped me to reach out to support others in any way I can.  I never want anyone to feel alone.  For me, the isolation and loneliness, feeling like I was the only one was the hardest thing to cope with.  It is one of the reasons that raising awareness is so important.  We are not alone.

And so I head into our 9th IVF cycle in a few weeks with mixed feelings.  I have asked myself countless times in the last few months if we are doing the right thing, should we do it again, have we recovered from the last failure only to plunge ourselves back in to a process that guarantees nothing.  I swing from hope to fear and back again.  IVF doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times we go through it.  The process is gruelling both emotionally and physically.   And so for me, IVF pulls me into two.  The possibility that it will help us have a family versus the possibility that it will push me into a place of darkness and despair.  Those around me watch from a distance as I pump myself full of hormones, get poked and prodded, have invasive treatment, all for a chance, just a very small chance that one day we will have a child that will call me “mum”.

I for one am glad that IVF exists, but in my ideal world, those clinics that take us through the process & give us hope, would also take better care of us when it doesn’t work.  There is nothing wrong with the process of IVF, its the before, during and aftercare that is the real issue and the thing that I feel I need to shout about.  And so to those experts, I would like to say, we are patients, we are people, we are vulnerable and we need more care.  Not physical care, but a more rounded holistic care that means we feel supported when trying to recover when the amazing process called IVF doesn’t work.

You are not alone

 

 

 

The Greek IVF Experience

It was time to start a new IVF cycle after our previous failed cycle & a bit of time out trying to recover from hitting rock bottom.  I never thought it would be me that travelled to another country for IVF.  We had very good reasons for choosing Greece, it was the home of medicine, the clinic had a fab reputation amongst fellow infertiles and it was cheaper than the UK.  I also felt that we were getting a much more tailored approach and that is what we got.

The plan was to take a high dose of Clomid, go to Greece, get the eggs removed, make the embryos and come home.  There was no pressure of a two week wait, no chance of failure.  We could get some embryos frozen and then go back for a frozen replacement when I was fully recovered from my recent breakdown.

And so in late February 2016 I contacted the clinic director to say that I was ready to start again.  Even that statement shows how different it is to the UK, I had email correspondence with the main consultant, the woman that we had met 12 months before and the person we were putting all of our faith and hope in.

Day 2 of my cycle and I started 150mg Clomid per day, plus a high dose folic acid and melatonin.  All designed to get some perfect eggs growing.  I then had to go to Greece by day 8 of the cycle for a scan.  No need for a scan before I started because I was on a low stim protocol and they knew I had lots of follicles.  She said I could fly home on the day of egg collection if I wanted so I would be in Greece for 4 days.  Sounded brilliant.  So, flights booked and hotel booked, I started the drugs.  This was going to be ok.

Transferring the money was a bit of a pain, but 4000 euros for a 2 cycle package sounded like a bargain compared to the thousands of  pounds for a single cycle in the UK.  At todays rate that’s about £3,500.  If we got more than 3 embryos to freeze then we would have to pay an extra 1000 euros for every three that needed to be frozen.

4 days in and I felt dreadful.  I was in agony on my left side, I felt like my ovary was going to explode.  What the heck was going on inside of me?  This was supposed to be a gentle stimulation.  I emailed the clinic and told them I felt unwell, she replied to say it was ok and if I wanted I could arrange a scan.  I was ahead of her and I’d managed to get a scan in a private practice for later that afternoon.  It was over an hours drive away which wasn’t ideal but I just wanted to know what my ovaries were doing.  Call me paranoid but its not surprising after what I had been through with the OHSS x2.  I went for the scan and she sent the info straight to the clinic in Greece.  The scan showed I had 34 small follicles across the 2 ovaries…eek, but there were no issues.  And so I carried on with the Clomid and the next day we flew out to Greece.

It was February but the weather was lovely, it was nice to be away from home and not at work whilst going through this.  The next day we were due in the clinic for a scan.  AthensWe made our way to the clinic through the bustling streets of Athens and then we entered the calm of the clinic.  I was called up for my scan.  As soon as the consultant saw me she came towards me and gave me a huge hug.  She said that I needed to stop worrying and that she would take great care of me, I was shaking like a leaf but I believed her.  The scan showed I had 4 follicles developing well.  She then said the words that made me shudder…I want you to take Menopur as well to help get some more follicles.  My first reaction was no, absolutely not.  It had made me so ill before I just couldn’t.  And then she explained that she would look after me and that I would be ok, but if I wanted to get a half decent number of eggs then she would advise that I took it.  So, we added in 150 Menopur.  I continued with the Clomid and Menopur for a few days, I still wasn’t ready for egg collection and we were due to fly home.  So we had to change our flights from Wednesday to Friday, which of course came at a cost.

Egg collection day and I felt ok, just wanted to get the eggs out of me and then we could get home.  I think I was more emotionally unstable than I was admitting to myself at the time.  I knew I was fragile but it was ok I would be home in 2 days.  They retrieved 6 eggs, which is a great number for mild IVF, usually you may expect only one or two.  I was pleased with the news.  And then came the bombshell.  I wasn’t supposed to have a transfer because the Clomid damages the lining so much at high doses.  For some reason, it hadn’t caused any damage to mine.  Whilst I was under they had, with hubbys permission, carried out an aquascan and found the lining to be ok, but they had also found a polyp.  She didn’t think the polyp would cause an issue but if this transfer didn’t work then she suggested that I get it removed before another cycle.  So, did we want a fresh transfer?  What, where was this coming from, how was this happening?  Hubby had already extended his annual leave and needed to get back to the UK, but it would mean a fresh transfer & that we hopefully wouldn’t have to come back.  So, we agreed.  Heck, what were we doing?  Was I strong enough to go through this again?  Well, it was too late, we were doing it.

We were aiming for a day 5 transfer which would be the following Tuesday,  Hubby booked a flight for Sunday and we moved hotels because we couldn’t stay where we were.  It was turning into a logistical nightmare, changing and cancelling hotels and flights every few days.  The good thing was that I felt really well post egg collection, no signs at all of OHSS.  I ate as much protein as possible.  We went off and enjoyed the sights of Athens, we also had to buy new clothes because we didn’t have enough with us.  We were expecting to stay 4 days and it was going to be closer to 14 days for me.

The day after egg collection we got a call from the clinic, of the 6 eggs only 3 had fertilised.  I was floored, we were both disappointed.  We had come all this way and we may now not end up with anything as we had such low numbers.  We were still hoping for a day 5 transfer & I had started the progesterone and steroids in preparation for the transfer.

Sunday came and the taxi came to pick up hubby.  There I was left in Athens on my own with nowhere to go and 2 days to wait for embryo transfer.  10 minutes after he left I got a call from the clinic.  Could I come in now for the transfer, we had lost one of the embryos, another was looking good and the second looked iffy.  I was shaking, this wasn’t sounding good.  Half an hour later I was in the clinic, alone, waiting for our precious embryos, our chance at a family to be put back inside me.  Hubby hadn’t even reached the airport when I phoned to tell him.

I don’t speak Greek, but you know when news isn’t good.  I knew by the tone in the conversations they were having that the quality of the embryos wasn’t good.  The consultant said they preferred to get embryos to day 5 but she felt it was ok to put these back at day 3 to give us a chance.  I knew in my heart that it meant we had no chance, it was over before it began.

I left the clinic, booked a flight for the next day and then packed to come home.  I had a blood test the next day to check my progesterone level & then got a taxi to the airport.  I had syringes in my case and drugs in my hand luggage.  I got stopped in Athens airport and finally got let through with the drugs after I showed a few guards the letter from the clinic.  I got through Heathrow and then had to fly up to Manchester.  This simple trip to Athens for some embryos to be made had turned in to a stressful nightmare.

We had only told our parents about the transfer, as far as everyone else knew we weren’t having a transfer and we made sure it stayed that way.  I wasn’t prepared for this and I didn’t want to have to go through another negative with everyone knowing.  I had injections of HCG to keep the bleeding away, which it did.  It also meant I couldn’t test early because it would give a false positive.

I got home and a few days later I returned to work on a phased return.  I hoped to have 2 embryos still growing inside me but in my heart I knew it wasn’t the case. I was devastated and I didn’t even know the outcome.  I lived the highs and lows of a two week wait.  In some ways I was numb to it, convinced it wouldn’t work again.  Work came as a good distraction.  Test day came.  It was another Big Fat Negative.  I was utterly devastated, we both were.  No-one else knew.  When anyone asked us we just said it hadn’t gone to plan and the embryos hadn’t developed, well they hadn’t.  I didn’t want everyone knowing I had failed again.  The Greek wonder that helped so many people get pregnant hadn’t been able to help us, there was no miracle for us.  It was starting to become clear that there probably never would be.

I emailed the consultant to let her know.  An email pinged back, she said how sorry she was, she felt it was down to poor embryo quality due to poor sperm parameters.  She suggested that we consider having treatment using donor sperm.  As I read the words my heart exploded.  I was struggling with another failure, how was I going to tell hubby this news?  I couldn’t tell him so I just showed him the email.  His face said it all.  He didn’t need to say anything, he was rocked to his core, we both were.

I emailed the consultant to say that we would need some time to recover and decide what to do next.  A donor wasn’t something that had ever been suggested to us before.  She emailed to say we had time to decide what to do next and that I could contact her when we were ready for our second cycle.  I knew that we would never go back to Greece.  We had spent about £5,000 and had nothing other than broken hearts to show for it.

The same day that we got the negative, got the news that we should consider a donor and delivered more bad news to our parents, I emailed the counsellor.  I briefly explained I had gone back to work and was struggling, oh and I happened to mention that I had also been through another failed cycle.  I hoped for a reply.  I needed her to reach out and grab me for a second time, and that is exactly what she did.  A few days later I had an appointment.  There was no judgement on the decisions I had made.  Here I was completely floored, facing a future of nothing, our relationship in tatters, me in a depression and I knew this time I needed help to grieve and heal.  All of the previous failures and treatments came back to haunt me, I wasn’t going to get through this alone.

I will leave it there for now.

We went to Greece expecting a simple cycle, it ended up being complex and gave us news that we never expected.   The care we received was second to none.  Aside from the logistical nightmare because of the unexpected transfer, it was on the whole a good experience.  I wasn’t ready for the transfer but I suppose that going through it meant I started my journey of recovery and self discovery sooner than I might have if we hadn’t gone ahead.

You are not alone

The beginning of healing…

I was at the lowest point I’d ever reached and I was now set to embark on something new, something utterly terrifying.  I had made the first step in contacting a counsellor and within a few hours I had an appointment booked for the following week.

There are some shocking statistics around the impact of infertility, according to a Fertility Network UK study in 2016, 90% of people experiencing infertility reported feeling depressed, 42% experienced suicidal feelings and 70% of respondents reported detrimental impacts on their relationship.  All of these applied to me.  The impact ran deep and through every aspect of my life and relationships.

For those that have read my previous posts, you will know that I refused counselling each and every time it was offered and yet here I was in the throws of depression reaching out desperately hoping that this stranger would be able to help me.  The day of my first appointment came.  I had no intentions of backing out, something inside was telling me that I had to do this, I needed to, otherwise I would never get better.  I had to travel an hour from home and I remember the journey like it was yesterday.  I cried pretty much all the way, thoughts of why me, why is my life destroyed, what have I done to deserve this, running through my head.  I was early so I parked up on the local supermarket car park and then the sheer panic hit.  I couldn’t do it, I needed to just go back home, I would be ok, wouldn’t I?  I didn’t need this, I wasn’t that much of a failure, was I?  I was shaking like a leaf, just like I had been for the previous few weeks.  I talked myself into going and so that’s what I did.

A cold December morning and I met the person that has truly helped me to change my life.  I didn’t know that at the time and I was very unsure what it would actually be like.  The session started and I just felt cold, freezing cold.  The room wasn’t cold, but I was frozen to the bone.  I’m not sure if it was nerves or emotion.  I was very aware that I was shaking & clearly in a bad way.  She has since said that when she first met me I looked grey, and I suppose that’s an accurate description.  I was in such a dark place, I was a shadow of my former self and a shadow of the person I wanted to be.  I hated being like this, it was time to face it, whatever that meant.  After she went through her background, some formalities and I signed a form she asked me why I had come to see her.  Where the hell do I start, infertility or work?  I explained that I was signed off with stress and there was lots of work stress, but that I was struggling after so many years of infertility.  And then I just started to talk, the infertility stuff came out first.  I talked through our initial diagnosis, our treatment history & all of the investigations.  The failure, the hope and yet more failure.  I felt the tears coming as the enormity of what I had been through started to emerge in front of me, yet I didn’t cry.  I was shaking, my voice was shaking, part of me was screaming to stop, yet I kept talking.  I reached the point in our story where we were supposed to have treatment in Greece but I explained that I just couldn’t do it.  That the thought of me sent me into sheer panic.

She listened as I spoke, she wrote things down, she asked questions as I talked about cycle after cycle, after all the story was quite complex and it was clear I lost her a couple of times but she stayed with me. Her tone was soft and caring and she spoke like she actually wanted to know this stuff about me, she seemed interested.  Everyone else in my life seemed to switch off when I started talking about infertility, she seemed the complete opposite.  When I had stopped talking she put her pen down, looked straight at me and asked me how I had survived the last few years?  She commented that it was no wonder I had found myself in the position that I was now in and that it was perfectly understandable that I would be feeling the way I did.  With 2 sentences my feelings were validated, my position was validated and most of all she made me feel that it was ok for me not to be ok.  Why would I be ok after being through so much?  In that instant I knew that she was the right counsellor for me.  She was to the point and yet she seemed to get me. For the first time ever, someone seemed to understand the complexity of what I had been through and acknowledge that of course this would be having a huge impact on every aspect of my life.  She didn’t brush my feelings to the side, she didn’t try to tell me I would be ok or that what was meant to be was meant to be, all of those things that those closest to me had said in the years leading up to this point.  She had simply listened, she had listened to the actual words, she seemed to understand and most of all she showed compassion and empathy.  For the first time in along time it felt like someone actually got me.

The hour passed and she asked if I wanted to see her again.  I made another appointment.  I left the appointment and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me.  I knew I had a long way to go, but I had made that first vital step, I had asked for help and it was there.  I think those around me thought that I would have 5 or 6 sessions and I would be fixed, whatever that even means.  When people asked me how it had gone, I said that it had gone ok and that I was going to keep going, I needed to keep going.

The next session we talked about work, after all that was why I was there.  Being off work sick had triggered me to seek help.  Yet, as I talked about work, infertility stuff came into the story again.  It was here again and it wasn’t going away.  None of it was going away.  I left that session feeling lighter but now a little scared of how long this might go on for and where it might end up taking me.  A huge can of worms had truly been opened.

Christmas 2015 came and went, I remember very little about it.  I was due to go back to work on Christmas Eve but another GP signed me off for a month.  We were due to go to the Maldives in January.  I begged the GP to write me a letter to say I was too unwell to travel so that we could cancel, she said that couldn’t be further from the truth and the holiday may do me the world of good.  I suppose it just highlights the depths that depression sends you to.  I lost all perspective.  Who in their right mind would not want to go to the Maldives and Dubai, it was the holiday of a lifetime.  And that’s exactly what it was.

Dubai            Maldives 2

I didn’t have any more counselling sessions before we went away and whilst we were away my next appointment got cancelled.  I said I would re-arrange when I got back home.  She could only offer a phone appointment for the next few weeks.  It gave me the perfect excuse not to go back, I didn’t really like the idea of a phone appointment but maybe I was just too scared to keep going.  I knew would go back when I could have a face to face appointment.  We came back from the holiday, two weeks in the sunshine and I felt much better.  I was due to go back to work and felt ok to go.  I contacted my boss to say I was coming back and she said they were going through huge changes so it may be unsettling.  I made an appointment with the GP and she signed me off for another few weeks.

So, time off work, no stress from work.  The perfect time to do another IVF cycle.   Writing this now I just want to scream at myself, what the hell were you thinking?  But the truth was I felt ok, I felt like I could cope and of course the new approach in Greece was going to work.  I wouldn’t have to wrestle with work for time off.  There wasn’t going to be an embryo transfer because the drugs I was having meant I would have to be a freeze all, so I wouldn’t have to contend with a two week wait, this was just the technical part of making embryos and I was ok with that.  2016 had to be our time, didn’t it?  Surely we deserved a break…surely we deserved a positive outcome.  And it was done, the wheels were in motion and we embarked on an IVF cycle in Greece.

I will leave it there for now.

I know lots of my fellow fertility warriors have not been to counselling so I hope that this post gives some re-assurance that its ok to ask for help, it really does help.  My first session was a really good experience.  When I walked in I felt like I was at the bottom of a pit that I would never get out of.  When I walked out I felt like I was at the bottom of a pit but it was no wonder I was there & I had hope that I would be ok.  It was such a relief to talk to someone who wasn’t emotionally involved with us and someone for me just to talk to.  That’s all I wanted to do, talk and not be made to feel like I was a burden or that the person listening wanted to give me the answers.  The truth is no-one can do that.  I suppose I have been lucky that my first counselling experience was very positive and I knew instantly that I had found the right one for me.  If I hadn’t then I would have kept looking.  I needed it and I was no longer afraid or ashamed to admit it.  Yes I had a wobble after a couple of sessions but as my story continues it will become clear that counselling has truly helped me save myself.

You are not alone