Em, Lyn and a whole lot of IVF… Part 2

Part 2….

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.

Second test 8-6-14

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…

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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…..

Please follow my blog, to get an e-mail notification for when I publish part 3, the hardest and most painful element of our journey to date.

Em, Lyn and a whole lot of IVF. Part 1

My name is Emma and my husband is Lyn. We are both 36 and live in a little village at the foot of the Black Mountain in South Wales. We have been trying to conceive since 2009 and to date, we have undergone 4 fresh cycles of ICSI, 3 Frozen Embryo Transfers, suffered 3 miscarriages and made a clinic change, for support in reproductive immunology. All of our ICSI cycles have been poor, with low fertilisation rates, however the last cycle resulted in a massive 26 eggs collected and an impressive 12 top quality blastocysts to freeze. All thanks to various changes to diet, lifestyle and mind-set.

I’ve learnt a lot along the way and I’m going to share it all with you. However, before I properly launch into this blogging thing, I want to give you the background on what, where, when and how in relation to me and Lyn, our relationship and our IVF/pregnancy loss journey. There is so much to say, so I will spread it out over a few posts!!

Here is the beginning of our story….

Lyn and I met when we were 20 years old. I was living with my 2 best friends, in a house that could have taken the Young Ones’ residence on in a battle of pure student filth. Uurrgh!! I look back and shudder, but crikey, we had fun. Life was all about our enjoyment, too much booze, dancing, clubs, and of course men! Until, that is, I woke up one Sunday morning to find a handsome musician asleep under my kitchen table, along with his 3 band mates. He was a drummer, with stereotypical long hair and gorgeous big brown eyes.

We began dating and things moved very quickly for us, progressing to the ‘I Love you’ stage within a few months. Goodness he was (still is!!) gorgeous. He had long jet black hair, skin as olive as an Italian, beautiful big brown eyes with eyelashes to die for and a bum as peachy as, well, a peach. His strong muscular arms, thanks to hours of drumming, were glorious to cuddle into and just made you feel safe from the world and to top it off, he was kind, funny, thoughtful, and treated me like a princess. I had found the one, without a shadow of a doubt. We had so much fun together, we were party animals and loved the music scene. We were always the first to turn up at a party and the last to leave. I became a fully-fledged groupie and went to all of his gigs.

Lyn and I dated for five years before we finally bought a house together and got engaged a year later. A further two years after that, in August 2009, we jetted off to the beautiful Amalfi Coast in Italy, and got married in the 14th Century San Francesco Cloisters in the heart of Sorrento . Adjacent to the baroque San Francesco church and with gardens filled with vines and bougainvillea, it is one of the most tranquil spots in Sorrento. We married in front of 49 of our nearest and dearest and to add to the beautiful atmosphere, a stunningly talented Italian opera singer, sang me down the aisle to Panis Angelicas. It was magical.

 

 

We proceeded to an open air, terraced restaurant, situated in one of Sorrento’s most panoramic settings, complete with stunning views of Vesuvius, the Sorrento bay and a long stretch of the Amalfi Coast.

We ate and drank like kings and queens, with flowing prosecco, caprese salad, ravioli to die for, a sea bream main course and the most mouth-watering fresh lemon cake I have ever tasted. It was our very own little corner of paradise. I remember sitting at the top table, looking out at all of these wonderful people, who had travelled so far to be part of our special day and I was overwhelmed with love and emotion. We were so happy. We were so lucky. We had it all. What a wonderful life we were going to have. Jeepers, if only we knew what was coming….

We began trying for a baby almost immediately after getting married and 18months later, we found ourselves in a hospital waiting room, wondering how this could be happening to us?! We are nice people, we would make good parents, so why is it so difficult for us, why is this happening??

We were ‘lucky’ that we were seen so quickly and that was due to me having Type 1 Diabetes and having been part of the Pre-Conception Diabetic team at our local hospital for the duration of our time trying to conceive. After 15 fruitless months of trying for a baby, hundreds of pounds spent on Clear Blue products and countless tears wept on the bathroom floor at ‘that time of the month’, they whizzed us up to the top of the list, bypassed our GP (thankfully) and following a series of tests, we were told that we would need IVF if we were ever to conceive a biological child. We were devastated, but hopeful. At least this wasn’t the end of the road, we had a chance!!

And so, my obsession with all things IVF and infertility begun. I needed to know everything I could, take everything I possibly could and do anything and everything I could to ensure it worked first time. I was determined to get success first or second go, as I didn’t think I was capable, emotionally or physically, to undergo 5, 6, 7 rounds. Hmmm, turns out, we really can surprise ourselves….

I found so much confusing information online – Maca root powder, goji berries, zinc, royal jelly, bee pollen, coenzyme q10, selenium, asparagus, dark chocolate, walnuts, brazil nuts, pineapple, avocado, kiwi fruit, cutting out smoking & alcohol (obvs!!), acupuncture and more! We incorporated all of my findings into our diets and promptly found a Chinese Dr who specialised in fertility. The amount of information out there really stressed me out, and I convinced myself that if I didn’t take it all, it would fail, and it would be all my fault. Over the years however, I have found that I really didn’t need half of this crap!! I was so vulnerable and desperate for success, that I would take the word of every single woman on these fertility forums, who had gotten pregnant via IVF and taken it as gospel that it would help us. The truth is, all you really need is a healthy Mediterranean style diet, a good quality pre conception vitamin, folic acid and vitamin d (I use all Zita West products and they are fantastic). Acupuncture is also key.

During this time however, the NHS had told us that in order to have treatment with them, I had to lose nearly 4 stone! They wanted my BMI to be under 30 and mine was 34. Now, I was obviously overweight at the time, but I was a size 16/18 and ‘heavy set’. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, that every other fat woman claims to be just heavy set, but my entire family weigh so much more than they actually look. I don’t know why, we must have lots of muscle or heavy bones or something. Haahaaa. When I met my husband, I was a slim size 12, flat stomach, the lot, but my BMI was 28!! My sister was size 8-10 and looked seriously ill, but her BMI was 27 and advising her to lose more!!! So, with my type 1 diabetes a factor and knowing how long it would take to lose that much, we decided to go private. Although, I was still doing everything I could to lose as much weight as possible, and I did manage to lose 2 stone before the first round!! Chuffed.

So, in May 2013, we finally begin the ICSI process. I was on a long protocol and down regulated on buserelin, followed by Gonal f stimulation treatment, and all was looking wonderful. Considering I had had pockets of endometriosis and a huge ovarian cyst removed just 12 weeks before, my ovaries and womb were in tip top shape! I had read all sorts of horror stories relating to down regulation and the stimulation process, so naturally I was incredibly nervous, however I actually found them both, physically, fine. I had a constant headache, but I was so used to that thanks to my diabetes, that it didn’t really affect me day to day and I ensured that I was drinking up to 3 litres of water a day to help with it. I did have a lot more hypos than usual, but that was easily managed and I kept on top of it thanks to being on an insulin pump. However, it was the emotional stress that I really struggled with. I felt like I was completely out of my depth, I didn’t have a strong enough grasp on the ins and outs of IVF, and the lack of experience and understanding was freaking me out and causing untold stress and anxiety. You see, I’m the kind of person who needs to be in control all of the time and I partly attribute my control freak like personality to my diabetes and the absolute necessity to be in control of my condition at all times. I’ll credit my Mother with the rest. Heehee, sorry Mam.

And so we arrive at the clinic for egg collection, after 4 years of trying for a baby – it’s D-Day. Panic started rising rapidly, have we done enough to ensure success? How many eggs will we get? How many will be fertilised? Is this going to work? Arrrggghhh.

They retrieved 12 eggs from me, but sadly, many of them turned out to be soft or not mature enough, but we managed to get 2 fertilised and they did so to the best quality possible. Grade 1’s. I had them both put back on Day 3 and we called them Zippy and George, after our favourite TV programme as children!!

Our official test date was 6th June, however, thanks to my acupuncturist telling me that my pulse had ‘changed’ and that she knew it had worked, curiosity got the better of us, we tested early and got our very first positive pregnancy test! I wept with pure joy at seeing those 2 precious lines on that test, after nearly 4 years of feeling like this day would never come, here it was!! One day and 7 pregnancy tests later, I began browsing all of the very best baby furniture websites available, making beautiful plans for a nursery, thinking of potential names, excitement at the thought of possible twins and so on.

How naive, how very very naive….

2 days later, I started losing a small amount of brown blood. I descended upon Google hourly and was half reassured that it was old blood, so nothing to worry about. Then it turned red. Again, I turned to Google and read so many positive stories where people have gone full term following some red loss. I was desperate, I had to believe it.

A few days later, we went to the clinic where they scanned me and although they saw nothing, they assured me that it was too soon to see anything anyway. I was told to call them back if I started to lose more heavily and was given an indication of a full sanitary pad as a point of concern. That calmed me down, as I hadn’t needed to use one to date. Looking back though, I was spending every 10-15 minutes in the bathroom, frantically wiping the gushing red away, thereby telling myself that it wasn’t a significant loss. I think back to that time and feel so much pity and deep deep sorrow for the woman in that bathroom. The utter desperation to keep the dream alive had made me go a little bit insane. I was a mess. The reality was that I had started a full period days before, I just couldn’t accept it. The clinic finally told me to do another pregnancy test at what should have been 5weeks and 3days in our desperately longed for pregnancy, and it was negative, a bio chemical pregnancy they said, very common they said, but the dream was over. My baby was gone, and so was I.

The days and weeks that followed the early miscarriage were incredibly difficult. Lyn was devastated. I was devastated to see him in so much pain. Of course, I was in pain too, terrible pain, but I couldn’t allow it to come to the surface. I’m good at that, keeping things bottled up, at focusing on other people’s feelings and pain, pushing my own to one side. It’s easier that way. I don’t know how and can’t deal with the feelings and emotion that comes with this kind of desolation. It’s easier to forget and concentrate on others, on organising something fun, like a dinner party, someone’s wedding or a holiday with Lyn. Although, we have now been on way too many consolation holidays!! It has cost us a small fortune over the years!!

The breaking point for me however, was upon sorting out my spare bedroom one afternoon; I happened upon my wedding memory box and found our speeches. I am such a sentimental shmuk, so felt happy to be reading through all of the lovely words that our family and friends wrote and later spoke about us. It made me feel so good, until I came to the last speech. I was sitting on the bed, re reading my own wedding speech, reading about how excited I was to start a family with my new husband and how we would strive to be the kind of parents that our own wonderful parents had been to us and I began crying at how naive and happy I was back then. Angry at myself, in a way, but in reality I was just angry at the situation that we found ourselves in. So angry. It wasn’t fair. I was completely oblivious to the traumatic journey that we were about to embark upon. Would I ever feel that happy again? I cried and cried and cried. My husband found me a while later, still crying and in a mess. He just hugged me, couldn’t do anything else for me. That was a dark day.

After that, Lyn was so concerned in relation to my emotional well-being, that he said he wasn’t prepared to see me go through that again. I begged and begged, and he finally gave in. So we began preparing for cycle number 2 in the October….

Part 2 coming soon.