Our journey began way back in September 2015. I can’t explain to you how magical it was. We were newly married, blissfully happy, on honeymoon and we were finally trying for a baby! A BABY! Our own little human! Part Joel and part me. It was without a doubt the best time of my life. We were both twenty-five and just knew we were ready to be parents. We’d been ready for a long time.
Time went so slowly those first few months of trying but we kept ourselves busy. In February 2016 we moved into our new house and at the time, I was late on my period. I worried because I was lifting heavy boxes and inhaling paint fumes. I didn’t want to be dramatic but I felt I was pregnant. I remember that time feeling like we’d been trying for ages. Suffice to say, I wasn’t pregnant. If only I knew back then how the long journey ahead would be.
After 6 months of trying and still no baby I stopped drinking alcohol, opted for a heathy diet and started practicing yoga and meditation every day to help me stay calm. My biggest obstacle right now was stress. I regret letting this time affect me so much. I regret not opening up to people more. I regret thinking trying for a baby was some big secret. I regret feeling so angry at anyone who was pregnant and not me. I regret staying put in a job I hated for so long in the hopes I’d “just get pregnant and go on maternity leave.” I’d find myself breaking down at work, watching TV, driving in the car… any thought or mention of a baby was really tough for me to handle at this stage. Looking back, I was really hard on myself and the mean girl in my head was starting to take over.
I had never been pregnant. No miscarriages. Nothing. My cycles either ran exactly on time (28 days) or I’d get the odd few a year that were slightly early or late by 2-3 days. Then there are certain cycles you never forget and June 2016 was the hardest of them all. I was around 10 days late on my period. I had two doctors appointments (crying hysterically in both) and several negative pregnancy tests. My Mum and I were due to go to Australia and I told her I thought I was pregnant (which was a big thing for me) because I had all the symptoms, every… single… one. Except the positive test. We’d be on a long flight and I didn’t want to keep it from her. I hoped I would be okay flying and keep the (non-existent) baby growing inside me but a few hours before we were due to leave, I came on my period. It was the cruelest moment of my life. Not only did it finally show up but it was one of the most painful, heavy ones I’d had since before I was on the pill as a teenager.
It’s hard to really explain it in words. It just feels like a physical punch in the stomach when you see blood after thinking “this could be it.” Every emotion swirled in my head. I felt as if this wasn’t my body. Like it was an invader, determined to not give me what I really wanted for so long. I was doing everything right. Everything. I wasn’t drinking alcohol or smoking. I’d never taken drugs. I was eating right. I was taking the vitamins. I’m a good person. I did everything I was supposed to. Why would my body do this to me.
I kept thinking maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. Where would I be now if we had got pregnant in 2015? Would we be happy? Am I forcing this? I doubted everything so much. Our mantra became “we go again” and at first it gave us comfort but once we hit the 1 year milestone it lost it’s charm. We had been beaten down.
I started opening up to people a little but if anyone asked me on the spot if we were trying I would instantly say “not yet” and laugh it off. I hated myself for saying that but I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it for fear of making me upset or not wanting them to feel sorry for us. It was the loneliest time of my life. The support we got from family and friends eventually was incredible but no one close to us truly understood and I’m honestly glad they didn’t. I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone.
Throughout 2016 I’d been to the doctors a couple of times. On the back of any other appointment I would mention to my GP that we were trying without success and like always, they just said that because of our age and the fact we’d been trying for less than a year there was apparently no need to worry. In December 2016, I saw my doctor again and pleaded with him that I be checked out. He finally agreed and I had my very first blood test a week later to check if I was ovulating. The results came back all good, which was amazing and a huge relief but my thyroid and liver then needed to be checked again. So I went back in for another blood test in January 2017. Thyroid all good but this time my liver needed checking one more time to see if it was regenerating properly, so I had to wait until April. All the while… still no pregnancy. All the symptoms every month. All the worry. The unbearable 2-week wait over and over again… but nothing.
I worried and stressed about my test results every time. I googled everything (as you do). Thankfully, my liver was clear. I should have been happy. I was completely healthy but it felt like we were back at square one. I wanted so much for there to be something wrong. I know it’s terrible to say that but it’s how I felt in my confused and heartbroken mind at the time.
Now, it was Joel’s turn. Up until this point we had both assumed it must be me. I took on a lot of the burden. This hasn’t been anyone’s fault, it’s just the assumption you make unfortunately in those early days. He was very anxious about the process of submitting his sperm for analysis but stepped up to the challenge and his results came back okay, not great, just okay (we can’t even remember exactly what they were so I won’t guess) and we were given no reason whatsoever why we couldn’t get pregnant by his doctor. I then had an internal ultrasound scan in September 2017 – on our 2nd wedding anniversary (sigh*) – but that was all good as well. We fully became apart of the ‘Unexplained Infertility Club’ and my researching and anxiety went into overdrive.
In late 2017, we took our foot off the accelerator and gave ourselves a break from seeking help. I started a new job which kept me busy, we worked on projects around the house, had nice holidays and lots of weddings. Our lives were full and we were happy again. We even added two lovely cats to the family, which was the best thing we’ve done throughout all the heartache. We love them so much. We of course, kept trying. I learnt more about the ‘Fertility Awareness Method’ and tracked my basal body temperature (BBT) every morning. I went vegan and followed a very strict regime of vitamins. I even started having (stupidly expensive) acupuncture sessions once a week and the specialist became my therapist (whether he liked it or not). I became a walking, talking, self-taught expert on everything fertility. You name it, we tried it in 2017! We had moments of sadness, grief and anger that it still wasn’t happening but looking back, I remember feeling a little more content than in the first year.
I remember thinking at the start of 2018, “this is it, we’re going to have a baby! The odds are in our favour now!” I was very healthy, not stressed and loved my now new job. Everything was good! So I called up the GP and confirmed we were ready for our fertility treatment referral now and you know what, they may as well have laughed in my face… I was a little naive it would be THAT easy. They said that because both our tests were now out of date we’d need to do them all over again. I broke down. I couldn’t believe we’d have to go through what we went through in 2016 all over again. I’d spent a year building myself back up after all that. After more researching and realising the wait and journey would still be long, we started the process to get tested again.
It wasn’t until the June that we got the ball rolling and I had another blood test and Joel provided his second sperm analysis. The results came in and again, I was okay but Joel’s was misdiagnosed as “post-vasectomy” with a count of 10,000 and “0% motility” (the average sperm count is between 40 million and 300 million). Long story short, his sample wasn’t tested until several hours later when it should be immediately for a fertility referral. The hospital confirmed their human error and Joel was called back in for another test. In the August, Joel provided another sample and his now new correct results confirmed “sample is highly viscous (thick) – extremely low sperm concentration (count) and poor motility.” The count was 700,000. We were devastated. No more so than Joel that after all this time it was looking likely that his sperm weren’t the optimal quality and count. I mean, it wasn’t terrible and he was very unwell with extreme food poisoning in South Africa only a few months before which can affect sperm count but for right now, it was an answer (even amongst speculation) and we had to do a lot of soul searching to come to terms with this news.
At the end of the month, we received a letter confirming our consultation at the hospital for a fertility treatment referral. The only problem was, we had to wait until October which felt like a lifetime away.
On the 15 October 2018 we finally had our initial consultation. I brought along my little notebook in preparation to tell them my cycle length, what my periods were like, my basal body temperature patterns, our health history… I was prepared to fight for some kind of fertility treatment to help us because I had heard so many stories of couples not being able to get funding on the NHS. The consultant called us in and immediatley confirmed Joel and I would need Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), a more advanced type of IVF in order to conceive a baby. She told us the likelihood of conceiving naturally was very slim and the NHS would fund us one round of ICSI and another frozen transfer (FET) should we not have success the first time (depending on if we had more than one embryo to freeze from the first cycle). So there it was, after all this time. After 3 years of trying, we were told this is going to most likely be the only way. I remember feeling so relieved but very sad at the same time.
Joel and I held each other a lot over this time in our lives. Coming to terms with your infertility is heartbreaking. You never once think that having a baby will be hard. It’s instilled in us that it’ll just happen. The amount of times we were told to “just relax”, “have more sex”, “are you sure you’re doing it right” is offensive and I know we are not alone. Relaxing has no affect on people conceiving in war torn countries and if anything, you should have less sex but at the right time in ovulation. People never understood that we tried everything for our baby and the chances for everyone are so different.
We are very different people now. Infertility changes you in ways you couldn’t imagine. I’ve learnt so much about fertility and the creation of life with science. It’s incredible what we can do. I’ve learnt mindfulness, patience, accepting the present moment and that my anger doesn’t define me.
Most of all, I learnt I already had a mother’s heart. I told myself everyday that I may not be carrying a child right now but the moment we decided to bring life into this world we were already parents. Our baby was just waiting for us. Waiting for the right time. I wonder who they will be. I dream that they will be amazing, courageous and beautiful inside and out. That they will learn everything about the world and figure out all of life’s lessons.
They are so loved already. I will cherish every moment with them. Every. Single. Moment.
We never gave up hope. We’re sharing our story now in the hopes it’ll help more people figure all this out too. We know that our years of waiting were not nearly as traumatic as many others around the world. I’m so thankful that I was physically healthy. There was no doubt in my mind I would one day carry a child. It was just how we were going to get there that we found the most difficult. Like all IVF journey’s, it wasn’t easy sailing. It was the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, not only the physical for me but the mental for us both. We knew, whatever the outcome, we were ready for this next chapter of our lives.
P.S. I anonymously wrote all about our journey on a separate Instagram account – @mother.heart.ivf – which gave me a huge amount of comfort during this time. I would recommend anyone going through a similar experience to reach out and join a community of like minded people. They are part of the process that brought me out of darkness. It’s also so lovely to look back on and see how far we’ve come.