In my twenties and early thirties whilst many of my friends were starting to have families I just wasn’t in the same place. My husband and I were enjoying our time travelling, eating out and setting up home together. By the time I was 34 I felt more ready and after a few months I did get pregnant naturally. Amazing, right? Well that’s what I thought, especially as I’d had what I thought was my period yet despite that up two weeks later was still getting positive test results. Turns out I was actually having an early miscarriage. This was the start of a painful and familiar pattern.
Although the first miscarriage hit me hard, I did take from it some positives. I was able to get pregnant naturally, we’d only been trying for a short time and I know a lot of people that are unfortunate enough to have a miscarriage can go on to have successful pregnancies. I picked myself up and went full steam ahead into fertility mode. I researched and read up on anything I could about how to naturally improve fertility. I found a wonderfully supportive fertility Acupuncturist, I tried meditating (but mostly fell asleep!), I did fertility detoxes, yoga, you name it I probably tired it. I even had my husband on a similar regime. He was having maca smoothies, spirulina shots, goji berry and brazil nut snacks plus handfuls of vitamins each day.
After months of giving it our all nothing was happening. Feeling frustrated I decided we should have some tests done to find out if there were any obvious issues. What then followed was a long year of tests and appointments. Patronisingly three different doctors gave me the “you’re young, you have plenty of time, it will happen” speech. For both myself and my partner basic testing suggested everything was normal. Why wasn’t it working then?!
The clinic suggested we try IUI before spending time and money doing IVF when it may not be necessary. Unfortunately, the first didn’t work and the second was a chemical pregnancy (very early miscarriage) which again was so upsetting but did give me a glimmer of hope that a successful pregnancy might be possible. We then moved onto the IVF rollercoaster.
Our first IVF cycle started well when I had 18 eggs collected but sadly by day 3 all we were left with were two poor quality embryos. The clinic transferred both embryos but didn’t give us much hope. I spent the two week wait devastated that it had all gone wrong but was shocked when I did get a positive result! Sadly, the excitement was short lived and I miscarried before 5 weeks. That cycle had been a massive whirlwind of emotions, hope, fear, crushing disappointment then the same all over again. I think this is the point I lost myself, I didn’t feel like me anymore. Infertility took over my life and was all consuming.
I found the strength to get on with IVF number 2. This time none of our embryos were suitable to transfer, they all had extremely high rates of fragmentation from day 2. The embryologist explained that whilst some fragmentation is normal high levels can indicate an egg quality issue. I was gutted to have taken all the medication and built up my hopes to then not even have a chance at becoming pregnant. It seemed like another step in the wrong direction on our journey and it was out of my control.
My way of coping was to throw myself into planning and focus on our next steps. I simply couldn’t contemplate our future without a family, it was just too painful to even think about so we went back to the clinic for more testing.
Further analysis of my husband’s sperm showed high rates of DNA fragmentation and slightly raised aneuploidy levels. This news came as a huge shock because standard semen test results were all within the normal range. We had no idea there could be other underlying issues. Both of these things could have been contributing to our lack of success and coupled with my bad eggs it wasn’t a good match. Unfortunately, after discussing our situation with two specialists there was still uncertainty as to whether a successful pregnancy would be possible for us. We were told we could continue to try but the results so far didn’t give us much hope and I didn’t know how much more heartache I could take.
At this point with no definite answers it was all still very much trial and error. Our options were:
1) to try my eggs with donor sperm,
2) my partners sperm with donor eggs or
3) double donation of both eggs and sperm or embryo donation.
We faced some very tough and emotional decisions but opted to try things in that order.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we’d have to make these decisions but I still wanted to move forward and felt grateful we had options to try. We selected a sperm donor after viewing hundreds of online profiles. I felt so much pressure to make the right choice for both us as parents and for our future child whose genetics we were choosing. We eventually found someone that had characteristics and attributes that resonated with us. As difficult as it was to come to terms with all of this it felt like we were a step closer to our dream.
Of course, like the rest of our journey things still weren’t straightforward. IVF with my eggs and donor sperm produced similar results to previous rounds with high rates of embryo fragmentation. It also resulted in a missed miscarriage at 9 weeks. Having used donor sperm this time the result confirmed my egg quality issue and going forward egg donation would give us our best chances of success.
The wait for an egg donor was long and painful, however we were eventually matched with a wonderful donor who gave us the greatest gift anyone could give. We will be forever thankful to her. After such a long wait to find the egg donor we made the decision to proceed with both donors. We had reached our limit of experimenting and couldn’t face further disappointment. We felt desperate.
Using double donors resulted in 6 great quality blastocysts. We’d never had results like this so it finally felt like things were looking up. I had one transferred and the rest were frozen. Again, I became pregnant and this time we thought the outcome would surely be different. It wasn’t. I miscarried at 6 weeks. I was beyond devastated. I started to think that as well as my known egg issue that perhaps my body just wasn’t up to the job. At the same time as miscarrying I ended up in hospital unable to walk with a prolapsed disc requiring back surgery. I was a complete mess emotionally and physically and at this point felt I couldn’t take much more. Unable to consider treatment again until I’d healed I was forced to take a break for a few months. As frustrating as this was I know I needed that time to recover.
5 months later I was ready to try again so we had a frozen embryo transferred which finally led to success!!!!!
After months of giving it our all nothing was happening. Feeling frustrated I decided we should have some tests done to find out if there were any obvious issues. What then followed was a long year of tests and appointments. Patronizingly three different doctors gave me the “you’re young, you have plenty of time, it will happen” speech. For both myself and my partner basic testing suggested everything was normal. Why wasn’t it working then?!
Donor conception is not for everyone and it’s certainly not a decision that can be made lightly. We spent a lot of time thinking about it, working through our feelings and grieving the loss of our fertility as well as the chance to parent a genetic child. I can’t describe the desperation I felt to have a family and to have the chance to hold a baby in my arms. This route was our best chance to have a family so we could move on from our struggle with infertility and looking back I can honestly say it’s the best decision I have ever made. For me there is so much more to parenting than shared DNA, of course our genetics are an important part of who we are but they are just one part. Genes don’t make a family, love does.
From my experiences I know just how soul destroying and isolating infertility can be. The fertility world can be a lonely place and a minefield to navigate. I am now passionate about providing help and support to others that may be struggling. Along with my friend Abi, who has also been on a fertility journey we have created The Fertility Circle. This is somewhere people can come to access support, information and connect to community of people that understand.
Connect with us:
Instagram and Facebook @fertilitycircle
Check out our website www.thefertilitycircle.com