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. We 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.