The Babymakers – Thoughts

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Last year, around the time I was preparing myself for our third Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) in an effort to have our second baby, I read online somewhere that TV3 were looking for couples to take part in a documentary series they were going to film about IVF. Last Monday we watched the last episode of the four part documentary, and I have to say I have mixed feelings about the show.

My good friend Will and I had a lengthy discussion about it at work the other morning. He and his wife have been through IVF as well – something that he has openly written about on his own blog. Chatting about it with Will was great as I realised we both had similar feelings about the show. See his thoughts on the matter here.

When I first heard they were going to do it, I was delighted. Obviously I have an invested interest in the topic, but it was more than that. At first I wasn’t sure why, but when I sat and thought about it, I realised I was happy that people might finally get an insight into what it was like to actually go through IVF. It’s a very lonely thing to go through because generally, even though there are two of you going through it,  people don’t want to talk about it. So when you are actually open about it, and people ask you about it, it’s very hard to get across just how tough it actually is. I mean not only tough physically with the injections and drugs – but my biggest issue with IVF services in this country is the shocking lack of mental and emotional backup and support and that’s something that is very much glossed over. So when I heard about this show I just thought, at last, people might understand now just what exactly it was we went through. It also just made me happy that the topic was going to get some coverage if nothing else.

The series focused on a handful of couples attending the SIMS fertility clinic in Dublin. I was under no illusion that the main aim of this whole thing was essentially one big ad for the clinic. It featured a couple from the various basic fertility issue aspects – IVF itself, ICSI, a case with Secondary Infertility, a same-sex couple (IUI with donor sperm), and a couple doing IVF using a donor egg. In other words they were showcasing the various procedures and services that they offered. Fair enough.

BUT.

At no point did they actually explain what is involved in each treatment. Not even a basic overview of IVF. So I was able to understand everything because I had been through it. But chatting to family and friends who had never done it, it just seemed to portray it as something simple you can choose as if you were at a restaurant.

Another inaccuracy if you like, was the timeline. One of the hardest things about IVF is the constant waiting for things to start, things to end, things to try, things to test. Realistically, one standard cycle of IVF would take at least two months to even get going by the time you meet your consultant, do some tests, start preparing your body for the treatment. Depending on what your exact issue is, they decide a plan of action, and these vary from around 10 days to a month or maybe more. This is just the prep, assuming you have had all the basic pre tests done like blood tests, checks on your womb and ovaries, sperm analysis etc. And then you start the actual IVF treatment – egg collection, fertilisation, embryo development, then (hopefully) they replace the embryo and it’s the horrific two week wait to see if it has worked. The impression from watching that show was that things happen much faster than they do in reality.

This moves me on to that two week wait. Without question, the worst six weeks of my life were each of the waits to see if our embryo transfers had been successful. And this is probably where I felt most let down by the show. I wanted I suppose for them to acknowledge what a challenge this really is. If you’re going to do it, at least do it honestly and accurately and as raw as it really is. It was sort of touched on, mentioned once or twice about the fact it takes two weeks but nobody, in my opinion, really was able to convey just how torturous the wait itself is. I don’t want it to seem that I’m critical of the couples taking part, because that took amazing courage to do in my opinion, but I still felt that this just wasn’t portrayed in a realistic way. We saw people getting the results of their tests but not much about the pressure of the lead up.

The thing that constantly surprises me about my experience with IVF is how it has never really left me. It has had such a deep impact on me, it’s something I feel passionate about, something I still get very emotional about. It might be easy to assume that because we were one of the unbelievably lucky ones who had success with it, that I would move on and sort of forget what it was like. And sometimes I think I have forgotten, but then watching this show I found it incredibly hard at times. Despite the things I didn’t like about it, I was glued to it. Parts of it were hard to watch and I found myself in tears when something happened and the same thing had happened to me – when our initial cycle was cancelled was my absolute lowest point in my whole life. Not just because it was cancelled but because I had learned how it felt to really have lost all hope for something that I had really believed in, and the heartbreak that comes with it. So I identified with parts and re-lived things and I think I realised that the experience will never really leave me at all.

In some ways, I think the fact that is was vague in some areas is maybe good. If you are new to IVF, I think in one way it might be good that ignorance is bliss. Less to worry about going into it, and less stress is clearly a good thing. It was great to have the coverage on such a topic that for some reason I don’t quite fully understand is so taboo. Infertility is a medical condition, in my opinion nothing to be embarrassed about. I don’t understand the shame sometimes surrounding it – if I had a kidney or liver or heart condition I wouldn’t be embarrassed. So the coverage was great. But I just wish, seeing as they were going to do it, they had spent that bit more time on the topic and experience itself rather than a showcase of what one clinic can provide which for me, this ultimately was.

 

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Do 1 Thing that Scares You

They say you should do one thing every day that scares you. So I did! Well I didn’t scare myself every day but still, you get the idea.

If you’ve been following the blog at all you’ll have seen that recently some of my articles have been shared on The Journal  and on HerFamily.ie . It has been so exciting for me to be asked to write those posts and have them featured on such widely read platforms and I have loved every minute of it.

But the most surprising thing to come out of having written a piece about my experience of IVF for The Journal, was the reaction to it. I received emails from people thanking me for speaking out about it, and I was contacted by The Ray D’arcy show on RTE Radio 1 to come into the studio to discuss the topic, and also by Midlands 103 to do the same.

So, rattled with nerves, off I ventured to the RTE studios to speak with Ray. Once the nerves settled down, it was so much fun! It was fascinating to see behind the scenes, one or two familiar faces, how it all works, and how many people it takes to make it all run smoothly.

I sat nervously outside the studio with the other guests for the show that day, and then all of a sudden it was time to go on air and I was ushered into the studio, introduced to Ray, and it was down to business.

They told me in advance that I would be on air for about 20 minutes, and I thought,  Oh God how am I going to keep talking for that long? But the time just flew by. Once I managed to forget that I was essentially talking to hundreds of thousands of people, I was fine. It felt like I was just chatting to a friend about it all, Ray was so lovely and made me feel really comfortable about discussing such a personal thing.

RayDarcypage

That’s me!

The reaction to my interview was amazing. I received messages and emails from people all over the country and even further, thanking me for speaking so openly about the topic. Women sent me messages telling me of their own stories and the struggles they’re facing, some told me of their success stories and some told me of how they’re wondering how they’ll ever manage to overcome it and get through it. It was heartbreaking but also full of hope. I was so glad I spoke up.

The following morning I was invited to speak with Midlands 103. As the interview came to an end I was asked, Do you regret being so open about your experience?

Not a bit. I was a bit scared of it at the start, speaking about something so personal and so challenging to both of us, I did question if it’s something I needed the world to know about. The blog was started as a form of self help, a way for me to deal with what we were going through, and it was only after Rian was born that I began to really get into the blog and the posts were leaning more towards parenting and my adoration of him more so about the fertility, although it’s a topic that will always be very important to me. So when I was approached to write for The Journal about it, I wondered, do I need people to know this level of my life? Of OUR lives?

But I am so glad I did. To read the messages from people telling me that hearing my story has given them hope, and helped them speak up about their own experience to their families and friends… I don’t care if I sound cheesy or if I sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but I’m proud of myself. And I’m proud of everyone else who has found the courage to face it in whatever way they choose to deal with it.

I hope that the benefits of all this continues to help other couples and that we can get to a point where fertility and infertility are not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about and if you want to talk about it, you can.

You can listen back to the interviews I’ve done here for Ray Darcy (Wednesday 9 March ‘The Scenic Route – An IVF Story) and here for Midlands 103.

 

And the Results are IN

They call it the Two Week Wait. It’s a LIE. It’s a Two Month Wait. Or, Two Decade Wait. Or.. well you get the picture. Time slows down, actually slows down. Forget about those days at work where it seems to be 3pm on a Friday for about a year, that’s nothing in comparison. It was a mentally tough time, no question about it.

Eventually though,the time did pass and test day arrived. They say you should do the test first thing in the mornings. I spent the night beforehand lying awake convinced that it would be negative. I’m not just saying that either, I was so absolutely sure. So I lay there thinking, listing out positives in my head of things I can do again like console myself with loads of wine, and…. well that was all I came up with. Eventually I fell into a sort of half sleep while hubby blissfully snored beside me as if it was any other normal sort of night! That fella could sleep on a washing line through a nuclear explosion though in fairness to him.

I woke up at about half 7 and thought right, lets get this over with. I was shaking with nerves. It was a fiddly sort of test involving a turkey baster type of thing which required the ‘sample’ to be put on a section of the test. I did it. The whole strip turned pink. Seeing as I knew what it would say, I handed it to himself who at this stage was sitting up in bed, excited as a child on Christmas morning. I went into the bathroom to avoid seeing the negative evidence, and 30 seconds later I heard ‘Jen? This yoke has 2 lines on it, what does that mean?’

It couldn’t be.

‘Sorry, what? Are you sure? That can’t be right.’ I rushed back in to see if he was seeing things. Sure enough, there was one line plus another slightly faded line. Surely not?? After a few minutes the line got darker and darker. I checked the little packet it came in. It had a picture of the test with two lines with a big fat tick mark. It was positive.

I stared at it for ages. The test was positive. That meant….we are PREGNANT. I’m pregnant. This is really happening! It took a long time for that to sink in. My first instinct was to go and get another test and do it again, just to be sure. I mean, this is something that we have been trying to achieve for 4 years now, without success at any point. Four years of failure trains you to expect the worst, but against all the odds, there it was, in bright pink evidence. Two big fat positive lines!

It hit me then and I started to cry. I felt like we had won the lottery, like I had just climbed a mountain. Dramatic yes, but this was what it felt like! Over the moon doesn’t begin to describe it, it was one of the best moments of my life.

The other overwhelming feeling I had was gratitude, towards whoever or whatever made this happen, to the family and friends who prayed and hoped for this result with us, to the staff at the clinic who were fantastic (and one girl in particular who was nothing short of amazing). We are so grateful for all the support we received.

The next step is a visit back to the clinic in a few weeks for a scan to check for a heartbeat. So another nervous wait, but oh my God what an exciting time this is.

I made a nervous venture onto a pregnancy website yesterday. I’m considered 4 weeks pregnant, (which I don’t fully understand but they said they time it from the day of your last bleed. I’m not gonna argue!) It says that embryo is the size of a poppy seed. We have a poppy seed! We are still cautious about it now, it’s very early days still and we’re not out of the woods yet by a long way, but we are most definitely officially Pregnant and there is nobody happier than us in the world right now! Hopefully little Embryo will stick around, to us he’s the most wanted Embryo that ever was.

The Two Week Wait

I remember my first venture onto a fertility web forum. This looks nice, I thought, other people in the same boat as us. I started to read the posts and the first thing I noticed were all the various acronyms for fertility world – things like ttc (trying to conceive), tww (two week wait), 5dpo (5 days past ovulation), and I thought, what the hell are they on about. There was a sub forum called TTC with Assistance. One day, with the confident knowledge that I would never need this section, I decided to have a peep in and see what was happening. The acronyms in here were even worse and scared the life out of me. ICSI, 5dp5dt, OHSS, PCOS?? I legged it.

And what do you know, here I am, 7dp5dt in the middle of my own TWW. That’s ‘7 days post 5-day transfer’ for the rest of you. ‘God this week is flying isn’t it?’ a friend said to me on the bus to work this morning.  ‘It’s Thursday already!’ Thursday Already?? ONLY Thursday more like! Flying in? If by Flying In you mean every second is crawling past in torturous slow motion then yes, I suppose it is!

The transfer itself went very well. They said the quality of the embryo after the thaw was as good as the day it got frozen. Great! They showed it to us on a screen before they did the transfer. It looked like a side view of an eyeball. Lovely, it’s the best looking eyeball I’d ever seen. They do the transfer which is like a smear test, and using an ultrasound the doctor can see where he’s putting it and they explain each thing as they go along. Overall it’s a fascinating process. Once it was done I was instructed to take it very easy during the next few days especially. No housework, no cooking, no exercise, no nothing. Jackpot!

At first I was afraid to move in case I disturbed embryo, or knocked him out of position. The first day or two of total relaxation were fun but after that it got a bit…quiet. I won’t say boring because I know the days I’m stuck at work I will be dreaming of duvet days again so it would be against my religion to say otherwise. I started to feel a bit protective of embryo, I know it’s only an embryo, but it’s our embryo, we fought hard for him to even get to this stage. I hope he sticks around.

The wait is nothing but torture. Every twinge I get I wonder does it mean something? I am trying to resist the urge to Google everything and cracked a bit last night under the pressure of it all. I swing from being positive that this might have actually worked, to the next hour being convinced that it hasn’t. I can feel the usual signs that usually crop up when that time of the month is near and that doesn’t help the positivity effort, although I have also been told that cramps can be down to the progesterone medication I am taking.

In a weird way a strange calmness has replaced the total panic of the thought of a failure though. It’s like my mind is gone into autopilot to prepare for a negative test result. It’s impossible to guess your way through this – some women have loads of symptoms, some have none, everyone is different. I know this. I’m trying to tell myself I’m not getting alarmingly fat all of a sudden, I’m bloated from the medicine. It’s a bit like that actually. When you eat a load of crap and know you are putting on a few pounds, but you tell yourself, don’t be silly, sure didn’t you walk up a set of stairs last week, that counts as exercise, you’ll be grand. Eventually you convince yourself of what you want to believe.

Is that what I’m doing? My head says it recognizes these symptoms as my period being imminent, and my heart says that the signs can still mean it has worked, to hold on to the hope that it could end up being a positive result. I wish I knew who to believe. I think the head is winning because it always won in the past.

In the meantime all I can do is wait – after all, why am I surprised – this is what this whole thing has been this whole time, waiting for things.

We’re halfway there now, and all I can do is hope for the best and get through the torture that is the TWW until test day arrives on February 26th. At least, whatever the test says, this torturous wait will be over and some sense of normality can hopefully resume.

Transfer Day Approaches

Well the time has almost arrived for my first FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) which is scheduled for tomorrow. I’ll be honest, I can hardly think about much else at the moment but people at work keep giving me work to do so that’s good. Ish. Stupid work.

Since my last post things have been fairly uneventful as Januarys tend to be. I did reach the grand old age of 33 though last week, which pretty much feels the same as 32 did so far although in fairness we’re only a week in. I’m sure me and 33 will get on much better though, 32 was a bit of a narky cow.

I started the meds for this FET a couple of weeks ago and haven’t felt too dodge for the most part. A bit dizzy at times (what else is new – there I said it first), a bit nauseous in the evenings and lately fairly tired but otherwise grand. The worst drug I’ve had to take overall is definitely the Clomid so after that everything is a bonus!

A visit to the clinic for a scan last week went well and all is looking good so far so the transfer was scheduled for tomorrow. I don’t think there’s much to the actual procedure itself. I’m fairly nervous of the whole thing, not of the actual transfer but of the waiting that will follow and then taking the test at the end. I’ll be honest, I’m scared of how I will get my head around it if it doesn’t work.

The hardest part of all this is keeping yourself sane. People tell me that I shouldn’t be negative but I have to be a little bit.. maybe not negative but realistic. I can’t allow myself to imagine us shopping for baby clothes or choosing names. Of course the thoughts cross my mind but generally I don’t entertain them. I think all the disappointments and constant failures up to this point have taught me that but that doesn’t make them any easier to cope with, they did teach me to be more prepared. I’m excited at the thought that it might work but wary of the possibility that it won’t. Realistically Cautious.

The thought of doing the test at the end of the two weeks is agonising to me. I know some women test after the first few days out of impatience and excitement but I couldn’t do that, I don’t know how they do! I’d be too scared. Plus the tests are often inaccurate too early, so I just feel it would be way too headwrecking and I definitely don’t need any more of that.

But we’ll see I suppose!

Maybe I am naturally a negative person. I also think I might be superstitious – is even writing this tempting fate?  Even if it is, there is nothing I can do. Perhaps our little embryo is already in the thawing process – like a rollercoaster, once you’re on there’s no getting off.

We have decided to transfer one embryo on advice from the clinic and we’re happy to do this. They say there is more than 92% chance that the embryo will thaw as it should so hopefully that will be the case and we’ll still have 6 other embryos if we ever need them.

But the best part is that I have two days off work and I have been instructed not to lift a finger. Who am I to argue? I plan to lie in my favourite PJ’s and watch Season 5 of Breaking Bad ( I think we’re the only two people on the planet who haven’t seen it yet).

For anyone reading I would really love if you could cross your fingers and anything else crossable for us! We’re at the business end now.

Project:Fertility

Well that plan went well! I’m gonna start a new blog and I’m going to update it every day! Or maybe every week. Defo every month or so.

Turns out I meant every year by the looks of things.

When I started the blog initially it was going to be all about the IVF because at the time all I thought about was IVF. At the start, I woke up and it was the first thing I thought of, and the last thing I thought of at night. And not in a good way.

And then something changed, I realised that I was relieved. No more wondering, when will it happen, why isn’t it happening? News of other pregnancies had been like a kick to the stomach. Why not us?

But then I felt relief. At least now we know! The worst was the not knowing. Now we can make a plan, we know where we stand. I started to relax, and enjoy life again. I was no longer consumed by it all.

The first big decision we had to make was which clinic to go to. The main clinics in and around Dublin all have very good recommendations. So we based it on how it could work around my job and the hours I do. Then a news headline came along telling us that one clinic in particular had some new technology which hugely improved the success rates, so our decision was made. We chose the Beacon CARE clinic in Sandyford.

At this point I was almost excited about the whole thing. Off we went to meet the doctor and get the show on the road at last.

That meeting was a bit of a shock. I had naively thought it was a straightforward process – get the ingredients and mix them together for us basically! I was shocked to hear that the success rate  of ‘taking home a baby’ as the doctor put it – getting pregnant, staying pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby –  was about 30-40%. My jaw actually dropped. I wouldn’t bet on those odds. The doctor looked at me as if I was a bit mad. Apparently those odds are excellent. She then told me that a normal couple without any issues have about an 18% chance a month of conceiving. It made me wonder how any of us are here at all.

From the start I didn’t care if people knew we needed to do IVF and neither did Gavin. Close family already knew so at that point we started telling our close friends. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t posting all about it on Facebook and ‘checking in’ to the clinic whenever we went, but we just didn’t hide it. The response was interesting, people started telling us about their own personal stories, their struggles getting pregnant, their failures and of course their success stories. Infertility affects so many people and a lot of us never know.

I was glad that we were open about it, I was able to tell people my side of things, how I deal with it and Gavin was able to do the same. People seemed happy to talk to us about it. It helps to talk. It helps me anyway. I noticed that most of the time it was me people were approaching or talking to about it. Ok, so I obviously have 99.9% of the physical work to do, but Gavin is affected by it all just as much.

The more I started to learn about the IVF process the more interested I became in it. It’s fascinating. We did all the pre-tests and scans and all that jazz, and we were going to start the process at the end of October. They decided on what plan to put me on, we bought the drugs, I had to go to the clinic and learn how to inject myself with the drugs. Starting off on one injection a day for a while, then moving on to two.

I was a bit nervous getting the first injection ready on the first night. I lined up the stuff, watched the video on you tube of how to make sure I measure correctly, pick a nice spot on my tummy (they say the fattier the area the better – not a problem!). Gavin being the sweetheart that he is was there with me and had brought me home a little present for the first night of injections. Aww.

So we were off. I felt like a walking pin cushion, but mainly I didn’t feel any big side effects. I had to go to the clinic every other day or so for a scan to check how things were going.  The first day seemed fine, the second day the nurse warned me that things weren’t going as good as they should be. Wait a couple more days and see if there’s any improvement. By the 3rd scan, it was confirmed that I wasn’t responding to the injections and so the cycle was cancelled.

They warned us at the very first meeting that this could happen, but I didn’t think it would. I was really upset, it hit me hard. I’m not sure why – it was better to have it cancelled at this stage rather than go through the whole process and then have a failed cycle, but I had let myself get my hopes up. They were so high that the crash just hurt more I think.

We had to wait for another couple of months then to give my body a chance to rest in between cycles. The waiting is the worst bit. Wait for an appointment, wait for your cycle to start, wait for scans, wait for everything. After a few days I got over it, and looked at the chance of a break from it all as a welcome thing. Normal life could resume again for a few weeks.

Of course, when we started our second attempt, I was a lot more wary. There was no question of my hopes going up this time. Constantly having them raised and dashed is a hard thing to get used to, but I felt sort of steeled against it this time.

This time I broke it down into stages in my mind. Stage one – start the drugs. Go for scans, hope for good news. What if the new dosage still didn’t work? This was the first hurdle. However, it did this time. It was going great, in fact it was going too great and I over responded. They said there could be a chance of not doing an embryo transfer until a few weeks later. Thanks to my new outlook, I didn’t care. I was just happy to have passed stage one.

Egg collection day came, hurdle 2. The next thing to hope for is that there are actually eggs in the follicles that the drugs stimulated. This was a great success – they collected 18 eggs! The downside was that I developed something called OHSS which meant that it would be dangerous for me if they did an embryo transfer, so they were going to freeze any embryos instead. Of course this was disappointing, but at that point I was just relieved they got the eggs at all – it was progress.

Hurdle 3 – hoping the eggs fertilise and develop as they should. The clinic ring you up every morning and update you with progress. It was good news all the way, in fact, it was a huge success. Out of our 18 eggs, 12 fertilised. We were told that we should expect roughly a 50% drop off at each stage. By the 5th day we had 7 top grade embryos eligible for freezing. 7!! An absolutely fantastic result and more than I had even hoped for. We were over the moon. I was already proud of them, clearly the smartest little embryos in the whole lab!

So because of the timing of that cycle and with Christmas approaching it was looking likely that any transfer would be in the New Year. At first I was full of impatience –  another wait. But then I was happy about it. 2013 was not our year, I was happy to put it behind us and start fresh.  We were happy to forget about it again for a while, it’s like a little holiday. We were free to enjoy Christmas, I was free to enjoy as many bottles of wine as I wanted! It was the right decision.

2014 is here and the rollercoaster is about to start again. We are due to start our FET soon enough… lets see where this road takes us.

And So We Begin

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for ages, and I finally got round to it.

I’m Jen. I’m in my early 30’s, an age area I like. I thought I wouldn’t when I was in my twenties, but I prefer it here. I got married in October 2010 to Gavin and we have two dogs who we love a lot.

Life ticks along nicely which we are happy about, we have nothing to complain about really in the grand scheme of things. There is just one hole which needs to be fixed for us at the moment which comes in the shape of a baby!

So we are fairly new recruits to the process of trying to get pregnant. What an eye opener it’s been so far. I’ve had a few tests over the last year which originally started out as tests for other things but somehow along the way we ended up here. Which I’m grateful for because it may have saved us months and months of trying unsuccessfully.

After months of fertility drugs, then a few more months of various tests, it still never dawned on me that there would be anything found, I just assumed all would be ok and off we go. So it was a big shock to hear that both of my tubes are blocked. It still didn’t dawn on me that this would be a major problem – just unblock them then?  – but it seems that this isn’t always the case. We were told that IVF is likely to be our only option to conceive.

So that’s where we are today. It took a good few days to digest that news. I always would have described myself as optimistic, but as it turns out, not so much. They may as well have told me I’d never have a baby. Luckily I’m married to The Most Optimistic Man Ever who really believes that it will work for us, no doubt in his mind.

I’m at the stage now where I’ve accepted that this is now the road we’re facing, and I wouldn’t say I’m excited about it but it doesn’t fill me with the cold fear it did at the start. I’m hopeful at least, bordering on optimistic at best!

Let the games begin