Frozen cycle round 1:
I knew this day was coming. The day when I’d have to write down all of my feelings to process what’s really happened this year…my heart just wasn’t ready. Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout our journey. Your kind words mean the world to us. Lets get started.
In September 2019 I headed back to my GP to ask to be re-referred to the Fertility Clinic. I knew there would be a wait so this was to give ourselves enough time to go through the tests, consultations etc and our big plan was to go ahead in January 2020. December came and I still hadn’t heard anything so I gave them a call. The woman on the phone said that they hadn’t received anything from my GP. I explained that I actually completed the electronic form with my doctor in September to which she said “We must have lost it.” And so we had to refer ourselves once more through our GP and then wait (again) for a further 6 weeks. Hmph. The only problem with being an organised person is when it’s left completely out of your control and you have to rely on other people.
By the time our appointment came it was already mid January. After lots of testing and discussions, we finally had our start date. March. It was quite a surprise to me when I was told for a frozen embryo cycle I wouldn’t need any injections. Yay! All I had to do was take tablets. I started on 3 a day and this was upped to 4 after a few days. Little did I know what “just taking tablets” would do. Eep! So first came the headaches…then the bloating…then the nausea. I had acupuncture throughout my treatment and 2 scans to check on my lining. In order to go ahead for transfer I needed my lining to thicken to 7-8mm. By day 10 my lining was 8.5mm which was fantastic so I was booked in for transfer. The transfer was pain free, quick and easy. Now came the two week wait…
My transfer was Monday 16th March. The same day our country went into lockdown. The same day pregnant women were considered “high risk”. I was SO stressed out. I felt so anxious with what was happening in the world, or more so, the uncertainty of it all. The two week wait is by far the longest wait of your life. I was unable to pick Zach up which I found really difficult. I needed to rest but again this is extremely difficult with a toddler.
I had to continue to take the oestrogen tablets as well as progesterone pessaries every day/night. The medication continues to cause unpleasant side effects and during the 2 week wait, they mimic pregnancy and premenstrual symptoms. Your mind can do very cruel things to you during this time. One minute you’re convinced it has worked and then the next you feel a slight niggle in your back and you’re certain your period is on its way!
At the end of the two weeks, I’d had no period. Could I possibly be?! I mean I must be; I hadn’t had my period. Unfortunately I took the test and it was negative. I didn’t understand. I phoned the clinic and the nurse apologised and said that the medication I was on actually delayed a period however I was to continue to take this and test again in 3 days as there was a still a small chance that I could be pregnant. In my heart, I knew I wasn’t. Three days later and I got another negative test. The clinic said I could stop all medication and book a follow up review appointment with the consultant. We were devastated.
Not only did we have the disappointment of a failed cycle to contend with, we now had to deal with the fact that we couldn’t plan for our future as all fertility clinics were closed. The world had completely shut down. I felt SO lucky to get to the stage we did in our fertility as there were people who were mid cycle who had their cycles completely cancelled or had to reach egg collection stage and have their transfers cancelled and embryos frozen in storage. What an unfair, heartbreaking, stressful position to be in. We now had no option but to sit and wait. All future plans for a family put on hold. We knew once clinics were reopened that we would be last in pile to start treatment again so we used our time to focus on what we could control. I took an online anxiety course and we spent time together healing as a family…
Frozen cycle round 2:
One of the most painful things about infertility is having decisions taken out of your hands. I’ve become so used to this and so numb by it, it’s something I barely think about anymore. It’s just something we’ve learnt to accept. I know I’ll never have the opportunity to surprise my husband with a positive pregnancy test, we will never really have control over choosing when we have another baby (the clinic decides when they have space available and the doctor decides what he deems to be best for us) and we will always put our life on hold (working injections, scans, transfers) around plans (weddings, holidays, life in general). This isn’t our choice. We didn’t choose infertility.
Round two came in July. I was well prepared. I had given up exercise, other than walking, I continued to take prenatal vitamins and kept my vitamin D topped up with supplements and lots of sunshine. The fertility clinic had put several procedures in place in order to reopen which included no partners at transfers or scans, two COVID swabs throughout treatment and minimal contact with doctors/nurses.
In the back of my mind I knew this was our last embryo. This was our last chance for a sibling for Zach. Safe to say this all created extra stress, worry and a lot of pressure. However, I’d been working on my mental health for some time and I knew I could get through this. A frozen transfer is relatively straight forward and having one under our belts already, we went through treatment pretty quickly. I was unable to have acupuncture due to COVID and my lining only reached 7.1. I asked for a review of this to be sure and the consultant was happy to proceed and so we had our transfer.
Not having Rob by my side during transfer was distressing. Obviously it was a sacrifice we were both willing to make but that didn’t make it any easier. Transfer went smoothly so that was a bonus I suppose. As I laid there, the doctor said, “Think positive thoughts Robyn” which made my day.
The 2 week wait was horrendous again. The toll the medication takes on my body and not being able to be as active, when my days are usually spent running round after a toddler, is hard. When our test came back negative, we were devastated once more. Rob had found this cycle particularly hard. He felt as though he had no involvement at all. He hadn’t needed to help with injections, he hadn’t needed to provide a sperm sample and he wasn’t even able to come with me to transfer our last embryo. As I mentioned in the beginning, IVF really does take away lots of things for a couple including the intimacy whilst conceiving. And obviously this is my account of things as a way of dealing with it. I can try to speak on Rob’s behalf but that doesn’t mean I know what he is feeling or how hard he is finding it.
So we decided to run away from it all. The boarders in France had opened up and we decided we needed this break more than ever. We drove to France and had a fantastic holiday, just our family of three, our own little bubble. This was cut short after just 5 days due to COVID but we were so lucky to escape and spend some quality time together. We had chance to forget about the IVF result, even just for a short time, but equally time to discuss what we wanted to do in the future as a family.
Round 3: Full fresh ICSI cycle:
The last two cycles literally seem like a long distant memory so this round is going to be quite a tough one to write. I will apologise now if things don’t come out in the correct way but this one is still very raw so prepare yourselves for a bit of emotion…
Whilst I hate to mention money, I feel it does have its place. In total we have spent £18,000 on IVF treatments. Many, many questions go through your head. Can we afford another round? Why should we have to pay? How can you put a price on the life of a child? Should we be spending this money elsewhere? (On Zach?) Will we know when to stop? When does enough become enough?
We decided we would give this one last try. One last full fresh cycle. I knew it was going to be quite invasive and I’d already struggled having Zach to care for through the last two rounds, so this was all taken into account.
We had our online nurses consultation in September. We discussed the protocol, medication (injections eek!), scans, blood tests, sperm analysis, COVID testing and isolation. The clinic booked our egg collection and worked backwards to find out start date (this was the clinics new way of working through COVID which allowed only 3 egg collections to be undertaken per day). I had a lot of trouble with the fertility clinic in the lead up to starting this cycle. It’s not something I’m going to discuss any further but it didn’t make the rollercoaster we were on any easier and definitely created unwanted stress!
I had my first COVID swab before commencing and whilst the nurse was faffing, I read my notes (they were open on the page and they are my notes so I didn’t see the problem in doing so). There was a list of reasons for IVF which stated “1. Male factor. 2. Hypo-hypog.” Obviously I was aware of the male factor but if you know me or have read my previous blogs you’ll know that I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2016/17. You’ll also know that this diagnoses made no sense to me as I didn’t fit any criteria (other than missing periods and “so called cysts” on my ovaries). After my diagnosis, every time I visited the clinic for a scan I’d always ask about the cysts. I received many different responses. “Oh no you definitely don’t fit PCOS”, “No that’s just what your ovaries look like, you don’t have cysts.” I had also been doing my own research (I know I’m a geek but I know my own body). I came across Dr Nicola Rinaldi from America. She had written a book about women losing their periods through over exercise and under eating. After reading the book, I paid for a phone call appointment with her and explained my history and she agreed that I had what was called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Again if you’ve read my previous blogs maybe you’ll remember Dr.AB (AB used for confidentiality reasons). If you’re new here, I’ll explain. I really didn’t get on with this doctor. I found him very uptight and quite rude. He told me to stop doing high intensity exercise but never fully gave an explanation. Whilst I was an avid gym goer, at the time, I certainly didn’t have the knowledge that I have now…All I can say is, he was right. SO right. I should have listened but also questioned what he meant. But I thought I knew best and I had issues. Anyway I digress. Whilst Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) is about exercising too much and under fuelling your body, it isn’t just for girls with stereotypical eating disorders such as anorexia or bikini competitors even. It can occur due to a quick loss of 10lbs in body weight which happened to me as a result of my car accident in 2006 and it can occur in women of a normal BMI, which I have always had. What I couldn’t understand was the PCOS diagnosis or why Hypo-Hypog had never been discussed with me? In terms of IVF this isn’t something that is a concern to them as the medication completely controls my cycle and with Robs infertility, it would seem that ICSI is the sensible option for us. However I feel this needs exploring for my own health and to increase the chances of our IVF being successful. The really scary thing is PCOS and HA are actually the complete opposite in terms of recovery. For PCOS losing weight and exercise is required, HA is a complete end to exercise, rest and LOTS of food. Luckily, having done my own research I knew what I should and shouldn’t be doing; exercise being the obvious. So a couple of weeks before any fertility treatment, during the whole process and the 2 week wait period, I can whole heartedly say I completely stopped training. Throughout the Summer, I also committed to what is known as “All in” and did completely cut exercise for 3 months. Unfortunately no period returned (I know I definitely needed more time but we had the opportunity to go ahead again with FET #2 so the meds took over and did their thing). Moving on…
My first injection was Friday 9th October at 9pm. I did feel very anxious but I knew once Rob had done one for me I’d be fine. Rob, like an expert, mixed the solution and gave me the injection. All was well. We’d started the process…We could do this; one obstacle at a time.
Two days in and Zach and I were full of cold. I got progressively worse and I developed a cough and a loss of smell and taste. I have had this many times before and I knew in my heat that it was just the same as before (sinusitis) but due to these being classed as COVID symptoms, I stressed out. We decided that, even though we’d had a test at the beginning of our treatment, that it just wasn’t worth it to risk treatment being cancelled; so we went for another test. Thankfully these came back negative after a long 48 hour wait! Phew!
After a few days of injections, I got my first bruise. Ouch! Then I had to add in a second injection every morning at 7.30. This one was pre mixed so I did it myself. I had regular scans throughout. The first was on day 7 which showed some good follicles measuring between 10 and 13mm. Usually follicles need to be around 18-20mm so they are ready for egg collection. My consultant moved my second scan back a day to give them a little more time. My day 10 scan showed around 17 follicles ranging between 15 and 19mm in size with a few at only 10mm. My lining measured at 10.4mm which was fantastic! Everything was looking extremely positive. And so I was “ready” for egg collection. Due to the COVID situation, this time round, we were told we had to isolate from day 10 for 12 days.
Day 11 meant an added injection known as the “trigger shot” which tells your follicles to release the eggs (ovulation). I had to take this at the specific time of 10.10pm (timing is EVERYTHING at this stage) and then day 12 was a day of no injections at all; all in preparation for egg collection Tuesday morning again at the very specific time of 9.20am.
I arrived at the clinic with Rob and I was prepared for theatre. Just before I went in, Rob was called to do his sperm sample. I was then alone and Rob was told he had to leave and be ready to come collect me later. I had Dr.AB perform my scans and egg collection this time. I actually really, really like him now. He is so knowledgable and I honestly put all my trust in him. Funny how things turn out sometimes. For egg collection you are put under a mild sedation. From my first two rounds, I remember nothing at all. This one was very different. I drifted in and out of sedation and at one point I felt a lot of pain and I could hear the team in the background. I could hear the embryologist calling out, “Egg, egg, egg”. I tried to count them. I think I remember 5 but then I was back under. Such a weird experience. As I was wheeled back round to the recovery bay, a nurse took my blood pressure and I was told to go back to sleep until the sedation wore off. I woke up shortly afterwards and once I’d eaten, had a drink and been to the toilet, I was able to call Rob to collect me. I then took it easy for the rest of the day.
We got 14 eggs! This was even better than the first and second time. Wahoo! Another obstacle overcome. A day later I got a call to say that all 14 eggs had matured and then 8 out of 14 had fertilised with Robs sperm. If I’m being completely honest, I was a little disheartened as we only had 9 eggs on the previous cycle and then 8 out of 9 fertilised. However it didn’t matter, webjust needed one good grading embryo to make it to day 5 for transfer…I now didn’t hear from the clinic until day 5 (which was also transfer day) and so the first wait began…
I didn’t remember how hard this wait from previous cycles. What if no embryos made it day 5? Treatment would be cancelled. We’d have come this far…for nothing. But I had to stay positive. I tried to keep myself busy and focused on what I could control.
Transfer day came. I was nervous. Would I even be having a transfer? I needed the clinic to call to confirm. I had everything crossed for good news. This time round, I had acupuncture before my transfer. Obviously just as this treatment started…the phone rang. Rob answered and then told me the good news. No, brilliant news. We had 4 embryos!!! Two were the top grading (just as Zach was) and two other really good embryos so we would have one put back and the other 3 freezing. The remaining 4 did look great so they were going to hold them for another day to see how they did (in the end they didn’t make it). As I had my acupuncture I literally felt the weight lifting from me. I’d been so nervous but we’d done it! We were almost there…so close!
Transfer was easy and quick minus the full bladder which, as always, is super uncomfortable. I had Dr.AB perform the transfer which really calmed my nerves and just made me feel so positive and relaxed. I then went home and had my second round of acupuncture. As I had my acupuncture treatment my thoughts were so positive. I felt so happy and I pictured our life as a family of four. I dared to imagine…I dared to dream…I spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking it easy and having a good laugh with my boys. (Laughing after a transfer is seen as a good thing. “Studies show a higher chance of success. When you’re laughing, you’re not stressed”). And so it began again…the dreaded two week wait…
Trying to be optimistic is hard throughout this whole process but it is SO tough at this point in treatment. My mind always expects the worse and focuses on the negative. You question everything. Rob really is my rock and my driving force. I had my transfer on the Sunday and by Friday I had started to bleed. This time, God had decided to give me an early period, rather than facing the heartbreak of another negative pregnancy test. Anger, sadness, disappointment doesn’t even touch the surface.
I was crying. Crying because I’m on so many drugs that turn me into a hormonal mess, crying because I’m angry that we’ve worked so hard to get to where are. Crying because it wasn’t meant to be this way. Crying because it was our “third time lucky”. Crying because I am SO sick of trying to do all the “right things”. Crying because doing this probably adds to my stress yet I’d feel guilty for not giving it my all. I blame myself for doing too much. I blame myself for not doing enough. Once again, my body had failed us. And so we found ourselves grieving something that we’d lost, but never really had.
Rob feels as though it tears a chunk off us every time we fail. He fears whilst we are trying to deal with the hard truth of a failed round, that we are not being our best selves for Zach. I have to agree, it really is hard hitting but Zach really does help us get through, every day. He reminds us how lucky we are to have him and we will never take him for granted. He is our miracle.
In most aspects of life, hard work pays off. Unfortunately that’s not true for infertility. IVF has a 40% success rate, so you’re already 60% failing to start with. It doesn’t really matter how much hard work you put in, how much effort, how much time or how badly you want it because, at the end of the day, there are no guarantees. That’s not to say you don’t give it your all or that you don’t try to have the “perfect” balance of nutrition and exercise or that you don’t take every supplement available, to give you the best chance. When I think about our IVF journey as a whole, we’ve had, pretty much, what they call “a perfect cycle” every time. Unfortunately, just without the perfect ending. The medication they use has always stayed the same (slight increase in doses here and there), the protocol has stayed the same, there are no “real” answers. Sometimes that’s what you need. A reason. Something to change for the next cycle, something to improve on, something to work towards. For us, this hasn’t been the case. So how can I now imagine it ever working again? Maybe that’s the beauty of infertility. You find the strength to carry on. The pain never goes away and the longing for a child remains. I’ve got to be optimistic. The embryos we have, sitting their with their woolly hats on, are waiting for us. Why shouldn’t they receive as much hope? Don’t they deserve all of our time and energy? Just as our other cycles have? So, no, we will not give up hope. Our desire to have another child, for Zach to have a little brother or sister. We aren’t giving up…