The truth about conception: part II

For part II in the truth about conception, Rob and Leni discuss their experience of IVF – from being told it was a no-go by the NHS, opting for private treatment, losing eggs due to the hospital’s negligence and then conceiving their son…

He says:
We started trying for a baby after we were told it was now or never, following an AMH Test (anti-mullerian hormone). I was 29 and despite drinking too much beer my sperm was super healthy, according to the clinic, so that put us on a good standing to start with.

I felt relaxed about the process – I wasn’t sure I even wanted it to happen at points. I was apprehensive in regards to fatherhood so felt calm whichever way it went but I certainly did my best when I was called upon to do my side of the business into a pot.

We were advised to have IVF but our results were so low that the NHS wouldn’t touch us – I guess they thought it was a waste of money even trying but private hospitals will always talk up their game and take your money and we had some savings which we used.

We were prescribed IVF straight away, no hanging around. As the NHS thought the time had gone already we had to take on the decision to go privately ourselves.

We had one aborted attempt at IVF where we didn’t go the full distance due to not enough eggs being produced and instead they just shot the sperm up there to give it a bit of a leg up – we were told that the usual journey for a sperm to reach the egg is like cycling from London to Brighton and who can be bothered to do that?

Despite going through the IVF, it still felt like any other pregnancy – scary, life defining and ominous.

I think I always thought that one child would be enough so it hasn’t particularly put me off having more kids, as I wasn’t ‘on’ in the first place. It is stressful doing it the IVF way, as everything seems to be regimented in terms of appointments and drugs.

My advice for other couples trying to conceive is don’t always believe the doctors – I think we could have potentially have done it the natural way if we had persevered and taken our time but as it was we didn’t want to make things worse. It may have been fun to try. So, don’t stress, even the most unlikely candidates for getting pregnant find a way.”

She says:
“We started trying in April 2012; I was 32, about to turn 33. Ours was probably not a typical scenario. We knew I had a fertility problem before we even tried naturally – I’d had a blood test which confirmed that my levels of anti-mullerian hormone were so low that even if I’d been over 45 it would’ve been virtually off the charts low in comparison to the rest of the female population. I was, for all intents and purposes, infertile.

We had a grand total of three months of trying naturally, which were more just a last ditch ‘Oh what the hell!’ effort to save ourselves from the massive expense and physical toll of IVF than anything else. I kind of knew in the back of my mind that our chances of ever conceiving were very low so I felt quite resigned by that point, but I didn’t want to lose any chance, no matter how slim, of having a child with my genes.

I genuinely didn’t think we’d ever have a child, so I didn’t let myself even think about it

It’s one of those things that I was cross with myself for feeling because I know that love and fulfilment isn’t exclusive to relatedness, but there were a bunch of other thoughts and emotions tied up around that for me at the time. It was something I’d often joked about with friends: “Just imagine in 15 years finding out all this trying not to get pregnant was a waste of time, eh?”.

I can only speak for myself here, but I think maybe because it was all very sudden – finding out you’re infertile normally comes after what can be quite a long period of trying naturally – I actually felt a bit detached and numb by the time we were actually proactively trying. We’d only been together a couple of years and we’d had a pretty rough ride luck-wise during that time so I was riding on that wave and it probably hadn’t even fully sunk in, in all honesty I was as fearful of getting pregnant as I was about not getting pregnant.

I felt concerned that it might not happen 100% of the time. I genuinely didn’t think we’d ever have a child, so I didn’t let myself even think about it. After the first round of IVF failed because I didn’t respond to the drugs, I just assumed that was it.

We went straight in at the point people normally arrive at a few years in, once they’ve tried and tried, and they go to their GP. I’d seen the anti-mullerian test advertised on TV and thought that it’d be a great way to put off having kids for another 10 years safe in the knowledge that I had egg reserves.

I’d had previous investigations to check all the mechanics were as they should be so my GP referred me to an NHS clinic and they turned me away because my AMH levels were too low to qualify for IVF on the NHS – by their standards I was never likely to conceive. We went private from there and a consultant told us we shouldn’t even bother trying naturally and had us booked straight in to start our first cycle of IVF.

I was started on the contraceptive pill to bring my cycle in line to coincide with the treatment, and then I had to give myself daily hormone injections into the skin around my belly button. During this phase I had regular scans of my ovaries to see if I had developing follicles (where the eggs mature) and then at the point where in a normal menstrual cycle ovulation occurs, I had to inject a different drug and then the eggs that had matured were removed under general anaesthetic. Those eggs were then fertilised in the lab and the resultant embryo put back into me to implant. After this I had to continue to inject a different drug into my glutes for the first 12 weeks of being pregnant.

Everybody’s got the preconception of IVF being really taxing and making people feel awful because it messes with hormones, but I wasn’t aware of any side effects. My husband may have something to say about my mood, but it’s probably difficult to separate from the mood swings that are normal for me.

After the failed first cycle, we started a second straight away, with different drugs and this time we got lucky – five eggs were harvested and we got one viable embryo after the other four eggs were put into the wrong solution overnight by someone in the lab and failed to fertilise.

Three days after collection, I had this one little embryo put back inside me and I was then pregnant within hours on the 3rd of July 2012. We had to wait two weeks before doing a pregnancy test, and I bought a digital one so there wouldn’t be any confusion about the result. I had a feeling (although it was way too early for symptoms) but after a long time of not letting myself get my hopes up, it was still really hard to believe when it read positive. I brought the test in to show my partner and then we just kind of sat in silence with the TV on for a bit. There was no hugging or tears, I think we were both a bit in shock.

We waited a lot less time than most couples because of the unusual situation we found ourselves in, but I felt huge amounts of pressure because when you have help with fertility people expect you to be the perfect mother even before the baby even arrives. A few family members and close friends knew we’d been having IVF – I’m not a secretive person at all, the reverse in fact – so they also knew I was pregnant way before most people make the big announcement. I was very aware that I wanted to be relaxed about it, and not wrap myself in cotton wool. I’ll admit that I probably perceived more pressure than there actually was.

I’ve never really felt grown up enough to have a baby so I was never jealous of anyone else conceiving. We were the first to have a baby in our circle of friends too so we got a lot of attention, especially because of the build up through the IVF treatment.

Neither of us were truly ready to even have one child, so we never discussed the idea of having more in a serious way. People say you have enough love to give no matter how many you have but I genuinely feel I couldn’t love anyone else as much as I love our son. My mental health took a battering during the newborn stage so that put me off far more than the IVF itself.

If you want kids, just don’t wait too long – fertility really doesn’t last forever and although many women of Generation X were told that ‘lots of women have babies well into their 30s’, not everyone has that option. Also, don’t wait to feel ready because that may never come. No matter how ready you do or don’t feel, having a baby is worth growing up for.

Finding other women at the same stage of pregnancy as you are builds a really strong and unique bond. I joined an antenatal group on Mumsnet and we’ve shared everything from really early in our pregnancies. We moaned about our partners, comforted each other when one of us struggled with physical issues related to our pregnancies, and some of us even shared the labour and delivery live as it happened. Although most of us have never met, every time someone has a life event – there’ve been weddings and second babies over the last three years since we first started talking – we all contribute to making something meaningful as a gift to send. It’s meant a lot to me to have that place to talk and I can definitely see why groups like that stay friends for life.”