Written on 9 SEPTEMBER, 2016
One Friday night, January 2014 we received a call that was set to change our lives in a way we could never have predicted. Why am I sharing this? Because when we were in the depths of despair and there seemed to be nowhere to turn, I relied on people’s experiences and advice- I hung off everyone’s words and knew that I needed to share our experience somewhere- just in case it makes a difference to one couple’s life. I considered sharing on another blog- one more focussed around this subject but felt I needed to write this post from the heart, in my own way- unaltered. I’ve made reference to our journey in blogs here but today I am sharing it with you from the start. We are writing this in case it changes and helps just one couple’s life or perspective.
These photographs are taken by Fizzy Robot Photography who were aware of how precious my bump was to us and took the time to come and capture Ali and I just before we had our baby boy.
We will never be able to thank them enough for these stunning images and for capturing such a calm, special time in our lives. I will share the images first and the story is just below if you wish to read.
As a young couple in our 20s we started trying for a baby before the wedding even took place- I know- naughty! How would I have fitted into that gown if I’d been pregnant? However, all we wanted was to start a family and were so excited. We chatted through how we would be as parents, how quickly it could happen. I started thinking I could be pregnant and took false pregnancy test after pregnancy test. I had regular periods to the dot and I tracked my ovulation- I knew it all and spent hours reading forum after forum. Months later, it became an obsession. A few more months later and it became a concern- I began to get upset that it just hadn’t happened. After the wedding we went on our honeymoon and I knew I was due to ovulate. When we returned and there was still nothing I was mortified. As the year of trying approached I constantly blamed myself for being stressed at work and life.
One day I came home from work and explained that one child was having an op on his testes. I felt awful for the child and then that was when we realised that an operation Ali had had when he was a child may have had devastating affects on his fertility. We waited until after Christmas to see. That was when the phone call came and we were told there was nothing. Not a single one. A shock we couldn’t quite deal with for a long time. A second test confirmed that there wasn’t a blockage and it was another blow. This meant that a simple op wouldn’t solve the problem. We were told that it would be a simple matter of a referral to a consultant to give us the all clear to start some sort of fertility treatment.
The first consultant we met was cold, horrible and quite frankly dealt with us awfully. We were told to simply adopt. No one wants to be told that before their IVF journey has even begun. She told us my BMI was too low, my FSH was slightly too high and that she would refuse us treatment at this time. Another shitty blow.
Cue research and I decided that no one was dealing with the actual issue we were having. I found a consultant who most women/men will have heard of in the fertility world- Dr R for short in the forums. We went to see him on an NHS referral but this got confused and we ended paying for private blood tests costing as much as a holiday. We did go back and see him on the NHS but the reception was rather frosty due to the mix-up. Ali was prescribed some drugs to help and in the meantime we were still battling with my BMI.
The NHS was refusing to let us even peek inside a clinic unless my BMI was raised. I argued ’til I was blue in the face that this is my genetic make-up and nothing could change my high-metabolism, but they didn’t care. In fact they kindly reminded me that the lower limit was there because I would more than likely miscarry which actually is not a fair assumption to make. So I found a PT and spent months lifting weights. Would this make me a better carrier for a child having muscular legs and arms? No if course not. Would this mean I would miscarry less because I had a six pack- no! But this was the only way I could increase my BMI- that and switching certain foods. Meanwhile, the test results came back for Ali and things got worse.
At this point we had been on a nine month fertility journey. It was September, I’d given up full time teaching to relieve some stress and so life could be more flexible. We had been thrown from professional to professional. My weight was called into question at every appointment- even the bloody doctor told me to eat more cakes. The number of times I received this advice was quite frankly appalling. No amount of sugary foods was going to help and believe me I eat a lot of chocolate. We travelled in rush hour to London to the Guys Hospital to discuss the results. Ali has an extra chromosome which hasn’t had any impact on him but this would be different for any children. When we went to discuss the results with a specialist the whole conversation came back to my BMI- why this consultant felt she could have an opinion on my weight God only knows. These consultants deal with percentages, figures, numbers. Sitting there to be told to go through the most advanced, stressful IVF and then be told the percentages for whether your child will have, in their words ‘severe difficulties’, and then to be told that you would have the choice to abort the pregnancy if there were issues found, was not what you want to hear at 8.30 on a Monday morning. “Have you had counselling?” She asked. “No,” we replied. She explained you can receive this once you are allocated a fertility centre. “When will this be?” I asked. “When you increase your BMI.” So, I cried, I cried more tears than I ever have. Our chance of a child came down to my weight. Years of people telling me how lucky I am to be slim had no idea what my weight was doing for our future as a family. I screamed into my pillow, I stood on the scales crying. I felt helpless that I could not help Ali have children and he felt helpless because he couldn’t help. I asked my PT for her honest opinion and after months of trying and no difference she told me she thought it was unlikely I would meet the criteria for the NHS let alone sustain it.
This is when I referred back to a flippant conversation I’d had with a colleague who told me about a friend who went to a clinic abroad. I went upstairs to Ali one afternoon- about a week after the final consultant appointment. I had to pull myself out of what seemed such a dark, shitty place. I asked Ali if he would honestly like to donor. Of course we’d discussed this at length over the nine months of waiting to have any fertility treatment but this is what it had come down to in my opinion. I’d spent months reading about donors and how it works but what I enjoyed reading the most was people’s experiences of donoring.
I rang clinics here but the rules are different and the cost is a hell of a lot more than I felt was necessary for a simple job. Take sperm, insert sperm, hope for best. One clinic told me I had to import my own sperm and pay for it to be stored- I mean for goodness sake?! Import sperm?!
So I filled out the form on the abroad clinic’s website and waited for the next step. I had a (free) phone call (£250 for an initial chat here). Do you know what Penny’s first words were when she rang? “How are you darling?” I broke down. I felt instantly relieved. Not one person in the UK had asked me this question. She explained things to me without facts, figures but with biology. She explained that couples with chromosome issues had gone through rounds of IVF with no baby at the end. She advised us to donor in the first instance and to go over to Greece when I next ovulated. I finished the chat, checked the calendar and realised that it was in 6 days. I simply cancelled supply teaching bookings. I booked the flights and after one reflexology session the evening before, I was stood on the tarmac at Gatwick waiting to board my flight by myself as it was too short notice for Ali to come. What was I doing?! What a nutter!
The clinic was nothing like here. I was seen straight away- I was told how healthy everything was, how perfect my egg was, my lining. She told me the procedure and I waited in Athens with the most beautiful British ladies who took me under their wing who told me their journeys and made me look up to them with awe. Friday morning, she took me upstairs. I lay down and she did it. She showed me the sperm on the screen, swimming around “sniffing out the beautiful egg” as she put it. It was magical and the most amazing experience of my life. I was handed an envelope with our amazing donor’s reference number and age. That’s it. What more did we need to know apart from the fact that he has given us a gift we can never repay him for.
After it was done I rang Ali and asked him how he felt- “relieved” were his words. It was the right decision.
I came home that day and waited but 6 days later I knew I was pregnant. It had worked and I had the most amazing pregnancy- we felt truly, truly blessed. To me Penny is an angel and I felt her hand, her presence and her support more than you can imagine. She gave us our child. Ali can now have the chance to be a father and me, a mother.
My husband is amazing and he makes the best father.
To all you out there struggling with fertility- I wrap my arms around you and give you all my love and luck.
Lots of Love
P.S. If you’re reading this and want to know more about the clinic or just ask any other fertility questions then please do email me.