I’m an only child and I grew up alone. My parents were there, I never wanted for anything, I was never lonely but I was a solitary, bookish child and was left pretty much left to my own devices. I was self-reliant.
At school and at university I was much the same. I had friends but I didn’t need friends. I studied languages and so travelled around the world and became a travel writer. I pleased myself and did as I pleased. I fought fiercely for my independence and was proud of the feeling that I had not settled. I was approaching 40 and had got into the habit of being alone.
And then came Mike and I broke the habit.
We met through work, he is a freelance picture editor, and we took to each other almost immediately. He comes from a large, family, enormous really, with 5 brothers and a sister, untold aunt and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. Home and the idea of family have always been important for him: I was away for work often and barely recognised my flat whenever I was back in Bristol. But whenever I was back, I found myself giving him a call and we would get together and we slowly drifted into a relationship.
About six months in, there was a leaving do my work and we were going together. Mike had never really met the girl but arrived with a gift-wrapped photo collage of everyone from the office as a leaving present. It was then that I fell.
Everything came so organically, the engagement and then the wedding. Having a family was, not unsurprisingly, more important to him than to me, and while we had had the conversation about starting a family, it hadn’t been not our intention to get pregnant right away, it would happen when it happened.
Dropping a Bombshell
My periods have always been somewhat irregular, rather heavy and often quite painful and so when I was a few days late, I wasn’t overly concerned, but as that stretched into a week, I sneaked in a home pregnancy kit, half hoping, half worried about what it would mean for our lifestyle. Negative. Despite my rising panic, I didn’t say anything to Mike, but booked an appointment with my GP, who referred me for an ultrasound for the next week. Mike offered to drive me to the doctors for a “routine appointment”. Make a day of it, go for lunch, garden centre on the way home. No big deal.
We arrived in plenty of time for the appointment, and as is to be expected, things were running late, so we sat and we waited, and as we were waiting, a silence descended. And it was then that it hit me. Something was wrong. I blurted out the whole story, about the pregnancy test and the late period and how scared I had been. At that point the receptionist said I could go through and, obviously seeing my distressed state, said it would be ok if Mike went in with me. I said no. I would go it alone.
When I got back out, Mike had left. The receptionist told me that he was waiting in the car. It was only when we got home that he asked what had happened. I told him that I had to go back for more tests and that they suspected polycystic ovaries.
I went to the follow-up appointments by myself and after a battery of tests and waiting and further tests the diagnosis was confirmed. I wasn’t going to get pregnant.
We went to the follow-up appointments and after a battery of tests (my AMH was low, Mike’s sperm was good) and waiting and further tests the diagnosis was confirmed. I wasn’t going to get pregnant.
I felt somehow responsible. It was my fault and I was taking it out on him. Mike later confessed that he had been devastated that I had insisted on him being excluded from the initial meeting with the doctor. This was our situation, together, not mine alone. It was really only at that point that decided we were going to start a family and that we would fight to make that happen, but we agreed that if it all become too much, we could take a pause, regroup and continue the fight. We looked at all the options, fertility treatment, IVF, and, as a last resort, adoption.
Let Battle Commence
I was prescribed a cocktail of drugs, metformin for my cycle, clomid and metformin for the fertility and regular check-ups, a diet plan and a regular course of exercise. We also given a schedule on when to have sex and what to do afterwards, to increase the chances of conception. At first it was fun, a little game, but as my periods started to become more regular and easier, and as we passed the 13 month mark, intimacy had become a chore and sex an exercise in disappointment. The harder we fought, the less sure we were of what we were doing. I still wasn’t getting pregnant.
The strain on our relationship was mirrored in the relationships with our wider families and friends. However well-meaning, we were questioned endlessly about our progress. At social gatherings we were told not to worry: our time would come.
You have to be strong and fight for what you want. Children’s birthday parties only served to remind how easy parenthood was for others and how much of a strain parenthood was for us. So, little by little, we withdrew. We had been reduced to a single thing, a problem couple, a thing to be pitied.
We began to withdraw from each other too. Slowly, moving away from what we had and so we decided to take a pause, regroup and move on to IVF.
Once More unto the Breach – an IVF treatment abroad
First IVF attempt
We made a conscious decision to go private, the waiting times were a factor but also the cost. We chose an IVF clinic in the Czech Republic and at the first IVF+ICSI attempt we obtained 3 eggs and one B1 class embryo. The transfer came on the 3rd day of embryo culture but the bHCG tests showed no signs of pregnancy. We returned home, bitterly disappointed.
Second IVF attempt
Another year, another attempt at the same clinic. My response to stimulation was weak, so neither of us were surprised that from the 4 eggs obtained there was no viable embryo. Disillusioned, we returned home and fell into a life of avoidance.
Third IVF attempt
On the 3rd IVF+ICSI attempt we were able to harvest three eggs, with one B1 class embryo, successfully transferred on the 5th day. Pregnancy was confirmed and cautiously, hopefully we began to feel that we were moving together again. I miscarried three weeks later.
We held a ceremony for the loss of our child and tried to grieve together but little could hide the cracks that had opened up.
The fight had gone out of us. I took time off and I reverted to my own solitary habits; he was desperate, frantic and in his desperation insisted we attended grief counselling.
It was after one of the sessions, Mike asked me what I wanted to do. And the thought came to me, fully formed, unbidden, shocking even me.
“I want to try again.”
Sticking to our Guns
Successful Egg Donation Program in Spain
Egg donation had never been part of the plan, but somehow it felt right. We chose an IVF clinic in Spain, partially because I’d spent time there while at university, and partially because Mike had family there and we would have some support.
It was June 2014 when I was given 3 high quality embryos, two of which were transferred and the third was frozen. At 12 weeks we were given the news. I was pregnant. Our daughter, Laura was one year old in 2016.
The emotional toll and near break-up of our marriage, the isolation from friends and family, the crippling self-doubt…
Overall IVF costs – summing up
Adding up the costs, not only the financial cost, the diagnostics, IVF cycles and trips to the Czech Republic the IVF egg donation program in Spain, the hotels and flights all amount to about 21 thousand EUR but the emotional toll and near break-up of our marriage, the isolation from friends and family, the crippling self-doubt, the endless fight to keep it together and the terror of it all falling apart.
And then we look at our daughter.
Nothing we went through over the last eight years was easy. We fought for this every step of the way, sometimes more bravely that at others, sometimes against insurmountable odds. But looking back, I can genuinely say that neither of us can remember how hard it must have been. We are planning a return trip to Spain to have our remaining frozen embryo implanted early next year. And so the fight continues.