Words by Mel John @genejeannie7 | 

Hi, I’m in the middle of IVF right now. I just need to point out that the community I’ve discovered online is fantastic, caring and genuinely lovely; the best support I could ask for.

I was always the one who rejected conformity. I was never getting married – just legal paperwork that would ruin a perfectly good relationship, in my teenage opinion. And I was NEVER having kids!! Why would anyone want to bring more people into an already overpopulated and totally ruined world on a crash course for self-destruction??

Evidently, that all changed. I’ve been married to my best friend for 5 years, and we decided that we’d love to have a family together.

Easy, right? We didn’t want to be pregnant for wedding or honeymoon, so left my hormonal contraceptive in place until the week before the wedding. I really thought we had a chance. I’d never been particularly careful with contraception (I know – SO stupid for so many reasons) but there was that one time in my early 20s when a HPT came out positive… Hence the coil going in, and staying for a decade or so.

I got a letter from my lovely fertility clinic eight months after our wedding telling me that my AMH level was lower than the lowest level of clinical sensitivity, which indicated that I was at the end of my ovarian reserve and was consistent with the high FSH detected in my blood and a diagnosis of a premature menopause. (The clinic recommended I have this test, which is not available on the NHS, because the ovulation stimulation we tried initially yielded basically nothing.) I was told that “we would not recommend that you have further ovulation induction or IVF using your own eggs and would advise you that unfortunately the way forward for you is to use donor eggs.” I had so many “At least…” phrases going round my head. …my AD genetic condition wouldn’t be passed on. …my kids would be my husband’s. …I could get pregnant somehow. It took a while, but we got our heads round this huge detour in our path. We started waiting for our donor. Husband aged 38, me aged 37.

We got a match after four months. Her characteristics were just like mine, but 6 years younger. We had to coordinate cycles as it was to be a fresh transfer – cue a million emails between Lovely Donor, Fertility Programme Coordinator and myself, with the added fun of international holidays for everyone. I think in the end she was doing her injections and meds on a cruise with her family! What a woman. Seriously. I’m still in awe. Egg collection was scheduled 3 months after being matched. My husband went into the clinic to do his part, all good news on that front. Three good embryos. We went in and had our first transfer, so excited! We waited the requisite 12 days before doing the test – positive!! YAY! More scans at the clinic, learned about neural tubes and cardiac cells, saw a tiny thing pulsating. Heartbeat! So many drugs, slowly decreasing and all stopped at 10 weeks. That was scary – how was I supposed to trust my menopausal body to gestate a baby with all the hormones I didn’t have? Placentas are astounding things. Goodbye to the lovely private clinic, released out into the wilds of the NHS for midwife led care.

Our 12 week scan was lovely, we went in and saw a baby moving around!
Got photos, sent texts to friends and family. So exciting! The booking appointment with the midwife came round. So much paperwork, family history of everything and the fun of explaining that my family history was irrelevant. After all the admin we’d get to hear our baby’s heartbeat, I got up on the bed and the midwife did the gel and pressed the Doppler all over my belly. A lot. Apparently it’s not always possible to detect a heartbeat this way, or this early, so a call was made to the early pregnancy unit and we drove straight over for a scan, just to make sure. The words.

I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.
All good feelings gone. I remember looking over at the picture on the screen, seeing our baby lying sleeping. Looked fine to me.

We were taken into a separate little room where a consultant came in to speak to us about what happens next. I swear she must have been half my age… Brilliant woman she was. We decided to take the pill, a room was booked on the maternity ward for the following day and we went home to wait. And cry. A lot. (Actually crying writing this. It never goes away. 4 years ago now. Only 4 years.)

We were on the ward for a day and a night, in our private room. I had no real idea what we were in for, the pain I was about to experience. I was drugged into labour, given all the pain relief because there was no baby to protect. Started with paracetamol, then gas and air, then oral morphine, then IM morphine. It all stopped abruptly as soon as our baby was born. 16+2. I pulled the cord in the bathroom and a lovely night shift nurse came in. I asked her to check everything was ok, and she calmly and quietly sorted everything out. I managed to sleep with a cannula in the back of my hand, expertly administered when we arrived by a lovely doctor who again I could have sworn was about half my age. Incredible people. We had to wait for an appointment with the consultant before we could be discharged. She took us gently through all the paperwork. We decided to leave our child’s body with all of its fascinating cells and tissues for research and training, and we wanted a postmortem. Answers, please.

What now? I had no idea that local authorities arranged funerals in this situation. We had an appointment with the chaplain in our local hospital, I was ready to disapprove but she was so lovely. She gave us a standard order of service to look over and make notes on and left us alone in her office for a while. We basically crossed the whole lot out and when she came back in we discussed what we did want. Humanist, science based readings but we didn’t really have much in mind. What she produced for us was perfect. We attended the funeral alone. This was our grief, our thing to go through. Together.

I emailed the clinic, we got ready to start again.
More drugs, more scans, frozen transfer this time so much more straightforward. Five months after losing our first baby we had our second transfer. Not so exciting this time. Actually terrifying. Constantly thinking it will go wrong. We got another positive pregnancy test! Terrifying. Scans at the clinic, terrified. Surprised to see a heartbeat, scared it would go away. Leaving the clinic and the drugs at 10 weeks felt like wandering into the abyss. Our 12 week scan was fraught and anxiety filled, exacerbated by busy scan lists and waiting rooms and car parks and an inexperienced and stressed sonographer that wouldn’t wait the two minutes it would take for my husband to arrive. I was in tears, beside myself, but the baby was fine. My husband arrived, breathless and silent as he’d misinterpreted whatever rubbish I’d hurriedly texted. Happy baby. All good. Still terrified. Our booking appointment with the midwife was again fraught and stressful. Two inexperienced midwives still training, the trainer failing to realise the importance of getting the Doppler on straight away so we could hear a heartbeat, even though notes had been made on my records that this appointment could be a traumatic trigger for us. But we heard it, there was a heartbeat. Temporary relief! More waiting. Now we were in uncharted territory. Waiting to feel something. Convinced there was nothing. I remember thinking, writing, saying so much that I felt nothing. Our 20 week scan was better, calmer. We’d allowed hours to find a parking space. Still numb and terrified though. But she was fine. We were having a little girl.

The pressure of being the only one who could  feel our baby moving was pretty intense, I got scared one morning. Hadn’t felt her. I called the number and was told we could come in straight away, so before breakfast on Christmas day I was in tears in the waiting room, then we were scanned by the kindest, friendliest doctor and she was fine. Things progressed, there were complications but the NHS delivered our perfect little girl by caesarian, 10 days early. One embryo left frozen. Not much thought needed on that decision, right?

Just weeks before our third transfer I had a call from the clinic.
A baby born from another pregnancy that had used eggs from our donor was not ok. There was a rare genetic disease. We had an appointment with medical genetics, after months of waiting and not knowing anything about our donor’s genetic testing. Was she the carrier? We still didn’t even know if she’d decided to go ahead with the test. This severity of symptoms from this condition varies widely, so the fact that she and her family had no symptoms didn’t mean anything. We eventually decided that we’d go ahead with the transfer of our daughter’s last true sibling and just carry on through whatever was thrown at us as a family. There’s a 50% chance our daughter has this condition too, incidentally.

More drugs, more scans, got the transfer in just a couple of weeks before the first Covid Lockdown. More confident this time, but still scared. Got another positive. Yay! We jumped through the health and safety hoops to get to the viability scan at the clinic. Nothing detected yet, but apparently this can happen at such an early stage so another scan was booked the following week. 7 weeks in and we’d decided to tell everyone much earlier this time, that it would be better to have people know and be able to support us through everything. There was no heartbeat. Still measuring at 5+3. I was angry. Surely she’s seen that measurement at the first scan!!! We went home and waited, no pills this time, just stopped taking the hormones. My second miscarriage started on the morning of our daughter’s second birthday. Again I had no real idea what I was in for, thinking it would just be like a heavy period, right? Not even 6 weeks. How bad could it be. Well it was like labour, again, but at home in my bed. Isolated. It was all over so quickly it hardly felt like anything had happened. Gone. Unnoticed. Crushed. No funeral. Nothing but freshly broken hearts.

We didn’t want to give up. We weren’t ready for our little girl to have no siblings.
Just one more try. Let’s see what bridges we can get to before we decide to cross them. So in the midst of the global pandemic we waited for fertility treatments to be allowed to start up again, and to be matched with a new donor. Surprisingly there were actually more donors than usual, so we only waited about 8 weeks to be matched, only to be told 6 weeks later that she’s decided not to  go ahead with the procedure. Fair enough, it’s a lot to go through without a killer virus tearing up society. In the same email we were offered a second donor though, which we accepted happily. Procedures had changed in the years since our first donor, and all embryo transfers were being done frozen. Egg collection went well, as did fertilisation. 7 embryos frozen! Amazing!! Our fourth transfer was done in the middle of the second Covid Lockdown, I had to go in alone since our daughter wasn’t allowed inside. She and my husband waited in the car. Beyond terrifying, since we now had first-hand experience of things going wrong at two really different stages of pregnancy.

The two week wait (TWW, I now know it as) was torture.
We got another positive pregnancy test. Oh god. How long will this one last? Every day, every hour thinking it’s all for nothing. Taking the drugs. Feeling nothing. We arranged for our daughter to attend nursery on viability scan day, went in together and our favourite sonographer greeted us. She knew. She’s one of those unbelievable people who remembers people, and personal details, and what they’ve been through. Got to it straight away and said within seconds that there was a good heartbeat. Temporary relief. Next scan booked in, same again. Stopping the drugs as 10 weeks approached again. Still feeling nothing, empty. Self-referral to the NHS midwives and maternity now, and phone or video appointments. Weird, detached, surreal.

Our 12 week scan came round and I had to go in alone. My husband stayed in the car. I texted him as soon as I was told the heartbeat was good, then was allowed to do a video call to show him the screen image. Our baby was alive and moving happily! Temporary relief. Constantly, only temporary, then the fear settles back in. I think this time round I’ve been subconsciously blocking everything out, feeling nothing much, thinking nothing much. I don’t think I’ve been allowing myself to feel anything this time, to the point that I laughed off the possibility of a growing bump, saying I’d eaten loads over lockdown and Christmas (true). It still doesn’t feel real sometimes. We’re together in this, asking each other so often “Are you ok?”  knowing what we’re really asking is more along the lines of “ How’s the trauma affecting you today?”  We had our 20 week scan a month ago. It’s a boy. I can feel him moving now, we both can. We’ve told our daughter, she’s got a book about talking to Mummy’s tummy, she’s really excited. It should start to feel real soon, right?

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