The first round of IVF was so difficult for us, emotionally, that we decided to keep this cycle a secret, even from our parents. To hear and feel other peoples disappointment and devastation was so heart-breaking for me, that I didn’t think that I could cope with it again. We felt incredibly selfish by not telling anyone, but we had to do what was best for us. The added pressure, as well meaning as it was, was just too much to bear. We struggled with answering the same questions day in, day out and repeating the same story to around 8 people every day. By keeping it quiet, we could pretend that life was carrying on as normal and that was a huge relief and stress buster!! I stuck to the same protocol in the 2nd cycle; long, buserelin, Gonal f and cyclogest pessaries. There was no sense in changing the protocol as that last one had worked; they said it was just bad luck that I had lost the baby….
The cycle went amazingly well. Textbook, we were told. Follicles were growing at the perfect rate, womb lining was triple patterned and nice and thick (11mm). Perfect. Egg collection came and they retrieved 12 eggs again, 10 mature enough for ICSI. The wait for ‘the call’ to let us know how many had fertilised was torturous after the disappointing results from cycle #1, but amazingly, 9 out of the 10 fertilised and 3 went on to day 5 blastocysts. Thrilled is nowhere near the word for it, but to us, this was a sign. It was sure to work and even if it didn’t, we had 2 frozen embryos to fall back on, right? Finally, some positive news in this nightmare!!!
We decided to have 1 blast back, thanks to the fertility staff putting the fear of God in us regarding miscarriage statistics from multiple births. We went away, happy and feeling positive that this was the cycle that would deliver us a healthy child and the frozen blasts would be his or her siblings.
Really Em?? Goodness me, had we not learnt to curb our enthusiasm and naivety from the last cycle?? No, obviously not!! But hey ho, it’s good to keep positive in all of this!!!
10 days later, I started bleeding, 2 days before the official test date. I was so utterly shocked as I was certain that it had worked. My body, and blood sugars, had followed the exact same pattern as the first round, which as you know worked, albeit for a short time. I am incredibly in tune with my body thanks to 30 years of type 1 diabetes, you have to be. I have to notice slightest changes in myself in order to catch hypos in time and to ensure good control. During an IVF cycle, this is even more crucial than usual as the high levels of hormones and vast changes to your hormonal system will play havoc with blood sugar control, so it must be kept as tight as possible and you must be incredibly focused. As a result of this, by the 2nd cycle, I had noticed a possible pattern emerging in my blood sugars at around implantation time. They would spike and I would require an unusually huge amount of insulin to bring it back down. This happened in this round and as such, i was quietly confident that it was working. However, the day I started to bleed, all of my symptoms suddenly stopped – soreness of bust drastically reduced, blood sugars returned to normal, bloating disappeared. I suppose i knew that something had gone wrong that day, so what was happening in there, what was my body up to?? This was supposedly a ‘perfect’ cycle, but I had failed and my body let everyone down for the second time.
So, the dream, yet again, was over. We coped with this one a little better though, had a little cry that morning and went about our lives as normal, or as best we could. I suppose we felt quite positive that we had 2 ice babies in the freezer. I didn’t have to go through yet another round of invasive ICSI treatment and he didn’t have to stress for 6 months over ensuring that his swimmers were as healthy as possible. We went to the follow up meeting with the fertility consultant (the WTF appointment as so many call it…) and again, we were told that it was bad luck. There was no reason why it didn’t work. It will definitely work eventually. It was just a case of how long and how far we were willing to go in our pursuit of parenthood.
I decided, following that 2nd cycle, that I had had enough of pumping my body with a load of artificial crap. I was on a metaphorical soapbox about the amount of drugs that I had had to take over the last 7-8 months, so decided that the next cycle, which would be a frozen transfer, would be completely drug free. Was that the right thing to do, considering that my progesterone levels were slightly on the low side? No, probably not, but once I get something in my head, that’s it. I’m a stubborn old mule!!! That transfer didn’t work. My blood sugars didn’t even spike, so I knew early on that it was going to be a negative. We were fine though, and just looked forward to transfer number 4.
So, we had 1 frozen embryo left in the freezer, and this would be our 4th transfer in total. Following the failure of the natural FET, we decided to have a slightly medicated cycle this time. I would have oestrogen and progesterone support. I had also insisted on having progesterone oil intramuscular injections this time, rather than Cyclogest, as I strongly believed that much of our failure was due to not having high enough progesterone levels. My clinic at that time did not test progesterone levels, so I went on my gut feeling and the hours of research that I had conducted. I also asked for an endometrial scratch, which is similar to a smear test and involves scratching the uterine lining. Evidence suggests that this procedure can cause a ‘repair reaction’, which can lead to higher implantation rates, especially in those who have suffered repeated implantation failure.
The day of embryo transfer arrived quite quickly, it is a much simpler procedure, and almost feels easy compared to the fresh cycles. We were so used to this process by now, that it almost felt like Groundhog Day. It goes something like this….
Early morning call from the clinic, confirmation that the embryo has thawed successfully, phew, hop in the car, day bag in tow, begin drinking water 15 minutes out from the clinic, arrive, desperate for a pee, put the gown on and wait, take a transfer day selfie, get asked a million times if you are who you are, feel even more desperate for a pee, beg the nurses to let me leave a tiny drop out, experience slight relief from the overflowing bladder, walk down to theatre, confirm our details a few more times, scan to check bladder is full (of course it is mun, just bloody hurry up before I pee myself!!!), watch the embryo on the screen, take a picture of it, get a ‘good feeling’ that this is the one that will become our take home baby, legs in stirrups, plastic uterus opening thingy in, catheter with embryo passed through the hatch, Doctor place embryo in uterus, embryologist checking tube to ensure embryo has indeed left the building, or the tube in this case, confirmation provided, best wishes offered, fast walk to the toilet, the absolute horrifying fear that I am peeing the baby out, sit on the bed for 10mins, receive the post embryo transfer sheet with OTD (official test date) details, get dressed, go home and wait….
Since this was now our 4th transfer, we felt like seasoned pros. We decided against going straight home and went for a lovely lunch, followed by a supermarket food shop instead. We figured that if it was going to work, it would. As long as I didn’t perform a sky dive or take up a spot of rock climbing during the 2 week wait, we figured we’d be fine. It was quite liberating to finally feel this way to be honest, I must admit. The first few rounds, I, and everyone else around me, would wrap me up in cotton wool, but not this time. I even went back to work really quickly and embarked upon the most stressful month of my career!! I was happy and confident the entire way through the 2ww…
I should point out at this stage that my sister had found out that she was pregnant around 2 weeks before our transfer. It had taken her 2 years to conceive and as a result of our new found knowledge in all things fertility related, she bypassed the GP and went straight to my clinic, armed with information pointing to a short luteal phase. If she had gone to the GP, she would have been in for a long wait!! Our self-diagnosis was proven correct and she was promptly prescribed clomid, provided with a trigger shot and lo and behold, was pregnant by the 2nd attempt. Very lucky indeed. I saw her pregnancy as a sign that it was finally my time, we were destined to have our children at the exact same time – by now, you guys know that I love ‘signs’, but you’d think that by this point I would be ignoring them all, as they hadn’t panned out to date, but I am forever the optimist.
So, there started the 2 week wait and everything was pointing to a positive outcome. As described earlier and at around implantation stage, my blood sugars went stir crazy. They spiked at the exact time as the other 2 cycles, my breasts were sore, I was super bloated, I felt slightly queasy and a terrible rash appeared at the top of my thigh. I just knew that this was it. I knew it. Of course I was right, so when I did the test 3 days early, as suspected, it came up positive.
We were thrilled, but understandably cautious. Our families figured that we were home and dry, but for some reason, I didn’t feel quite right. I told myself that it was due to our past experiences and put it to one side, but I couldn’t say ‘I am pregnant’ to anyone. It was strange and again I put it down to what we’d been through, but as the weeks were progressing, I still couldn’t say it.
At 6 weeks and 5 days, we went to the clinic for the viability scan. Petrified isn’t the word for how we felt. I was convinced that there would be nothing there, but Lyn kept encouraging me to be positive. He was scared too, but was also trying his best to be positive that all would be OK! The seconds felt like minutes, the minutes like hours, but then, there he was. Our baby. Finally!! His heart was beating gloriously and measuring perfect for our dates. Our little penguin. We called him penguin due to being a frozen embryo. I’m not usually one for pet names, but somehow this seemed very fitting for him. I also don’t know why I keep referring to him as a ‘him’ either. Mothers instinct maybe…
I couldn’t stop staring at the scan photo (I always thought he looked a little bit like a teenage mutant ninja turtle in it, due to what looks like an eye mask!!) and watching the beautiful video that we had taken of his tiny beating heart. Was this really happening, were we actually going to have a baby??
All of the stats that I read revealed that once a heartbeat was detected, it was much less likely that a miscarriage would occur, so I cautiously started to believe that this may be the one, however, I was still unable to say ‘I am pregnant’ out loud. I was able to say that ‘the IVF worked’ but nothing else. Still, I began telling a few people. Just close friends and family and a few colleagues who needed to be aware. By 7 weeks, the nausea had seriously kicked in, I had been gagging when brushing my teeth since week 4, but at this point I had to start carrying a zip lock bag around with me, just in case. But I loved it, I couldn’t believe that it was happening. I was almost willing myself to throw up in that bag!!! I suppose that’s one of the things about IVF, it makes you want and enjoy the more difficult of pregnancy symptoms. The stronger they are, the better. Every gag or hurl, every headache and every painful rash is a glorious reminder of what was happening and kept me calm, because that meant that everything was alright and the baby was still there.
My sister and I were so excited, we would talk for hours and hours about the ante natal classes that we would go to together, the maternity leave that we would share but more importantly how close our babies were going to be. I was due on February 15th 2015 and Katy was due on January 24th 2015. We were 3 weeks and 1 day apart. It could not have worked out more perfectly.
However, by the end of week 7, I started to feel very uneasy. The nausea was still there, but not so intense and the bloated feeling and sore breasts had eased. I wasn’t bleeding, but I was worried, my instinct was telling me that something was up. I rang the clinic and booked ourselves in for another scan. It was at that scan, the unimaginable happened…..
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