Our Great Embryo Debate

{Also featured on The M Word }

Every so often I get asked ‘ So… are you going to try again for a girl now that you have two boys?’

What an odd question. Or am I the odd one? Why would people assume I have a need to have a daughter over another son? We have no plans to try again for any more babies, but if I did, given we have to do fertility treatment I would be over the moon with either sex, but if I’m honest, another boy would probably be a lot handier and more practical seeing as I already have mountains of boys clothes…!

So, no I say, I don’t feel I need to try again for a daughter.. as if my sons aren’t fulfilling enough for me! It really is an odd question, to me at least. Do men get asked if they want to try again for a son if their children are all girls? I dunno, probably. Odd!

However, the question does get me thinking about our little embryos. Every so often something will remind me of them – well, pretty much any time I hear of someone doing IVF or if I see a new baby, I think of them. It might sound ridiculous to some people, but I think of those little embryos like pre-born babies. They exist because of us, they are lives created by us. Ok, ‘lives’ may not be the correct word scientifically, but it’s hard to think of another word to accurately describe them, because ‘bundle of cells’ just doesn’t cover what it is they mean to us, and how important they are.

When you do IVF, you quickly learn that getting to the stage of embryos even existing from the treatment is very far down the line of ‘Things That Need To Go Right.’ It’s not just a case of rocking up to the clinic, producing the ingredients and job done, there are loads of things that have to go to plan first.

And I’m no scientist but it seems to me that a large majority of that is down to luck. Or fate, or whatever it is you happen to believe in. Science only seems to account for some of it, and the rest is ‘let’s just hope’.

We were unbelievably lucky to end up with seven Grade 1 embryos after our IVF treatment – at the time I didn’t really understand just how lucky we were to get those numbers, but they are fantastic results. Thankfully, out of three FETs (Frozen Embryo Transfers), two were successful and are currently almost four and almost two years old… essentially they’re twins just born two years apart! Sadly we had one failure in between the two boys, so that leaves us with our four little ‘frosties’.

And so the question remains.. what to do with them? Currently we pay for their storage at the clinic each year. They’re sitting in a huge freezer in tiny little tubes a bit like the inside of a biro – so tiny you can’t really see them with your own eyes. Four potential PEOPLE – to think of it too deeply just blows my mind a bit.

I wonder about how close they came to existing. When the embryologist opened the freezer on the morning of each transfer, liquid nitrogen spilling out over the sides of the big drum like something out of a science fiction movie, and looked at our little collection of embryos, what made her pick the ones she did? Those embryos she chose eventually turned into Rian and Alex. So I wonder, who didn’t get the chance to turn into people? And how close we came to not meeting Rian and Alex…?

The sheer effort required in even getting those embryos in the first place… how could I ever decide to let them go, or let them ‘expire’? I’m so emotionally attached to them and invested in them, I’ll never forget how hard it was to get them and what we went through, the emotional and physical rollercoaster of it, that I think I’ll still be paying for their storage when I’m 90. To think of not keeping them makes my heart skip a beat with sadness… does that make me sound a bit mad?!

 

I don’t know what the future holds.. at the moment we have two beautiful, precious little boys. Two boys we never dared to dream we’d have, the day we were told we’d need IVF to have any hope of becoming parents.

Part of me thinks am I being greedy to even consider more when the odds were already so stacked against us. We are so happy as a family of four, I don’t feel any pull or need to try for another one… until I think of those embryos and wonder, what if? Or maybe more appropriately… who if?

So I’ll tuck those thoughts away for now and pay the clinic for another year of storage, think about it tomorrow and be so forever grateful for the two little embryos I can tuck into bed and kiss goodnight.

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Living With Infertility

*Recently featured on The M Word*

I think I always knew deep down that when I decided to try and get pregnant, it wasn’t going to be plain sailing. It’s easy to say that now, knowing that did happen in the end, but hand on heart, I always knew.

Somewhere within, I could sense that we’d have to go the long way around.

We never had to have that talk, Gavin and I, when we knew we’d get married and spend our lives together. We never officially asked each other if we wanted children, we both just knew we did. And even though deep down I always sensed there’d be a problem, I still felt shocked when I found out officially – there was a problem.

And strangely, that’s when things started to improve in some ways.

The years of the not knowing, wondering, endless cycles of hoping, then hope being dashed were far worse. I’m not suggesting for a moment that going through fertility treatment is easy, or something you should take lightly, but certainly for me, knowing we needed it brought its own strange sense of relief. At least now we could make a plan. Up to that point it was basically years of mental and physical hardship.

So what is it like to live with infertility?

It consumes you. From the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep, you would think about it in some form or another. The first year or two, for us at least, we just went along, wondering, fairly casually, might this be the month? As newlyweds, we were happy to enjoy just being newly-wed – long weekends away, dinners out, regular cinema trips. Life was great! On the surface we had nothing to complain about. But always lurking was that wonder – why hasn’t it happened for us yet?

People would casually ask us when they might hear the ‘pitter patter of little feet’. ‘Ah haha you never know!’ we’d casually laugh back.

Casually laughing on the outside, silently crying on the inside.

And the paranoia was always hanging around too. Wondering if people were talking about us, wondering if people were feeling sorry for us.

It’s a strange thing really. When you want something really really badly, it’s as if you can’t admit it to yourself, or anyone else, in case you fail at it. That way you can protect yourself by casually shrugging it off and telling yourself, oh well. You can tell those that ask it’s ok, you weren’t that bothered anyway….so what do you fancy doing this weekend? And continue as if everything is normal.

One of the hardest aspects was trying to keep my emotions in check.

Every time someone announced a pregnancy, it was like a kick to the stomach. The struggle of trying to appear happy for your friend or family member or random person on the street, but also trying to stop tears from appearing and giving you away.

It’s not that you are unhappy for whoever is telling you their news, it’s really not. You certainly don’t wish your unhappiness on anyone else – mixed in with all that emotion you’re trying hard to control is genuine happiness for them – but it’s just that you’re also just so so sad for yourself. Then you feel guilty for having those feelings, and you listen to the excitement of due dates and possible names and all the while thinking, just get through this, be happy for them, you can cry when you get home.

Each month of trying would bring fresh hope and optimism. Maybe this will be it, this will be our month. You make friends with strangers on infertility forums, and every now and then venture into the sections relating to IVF, take a look at the scary looking acronyms that frighten the life out of you, and hope you’ll never have to find out what they mean.

You get to the stage of waiting to see if you’re pregnant this time. You convince yourself you might be, then you convince yourself you’re a failure again this month. And of course, it turns out to be true, another failed attempt.

It’s a horrible cycle of constantly building yourself up to get knocked straight back down again. You start to neglect other aspects of your life, for me, it got to the stage after 4 years of this continuous cycle, I started to withdraw further away from my friends and family. I didn’t want to go to christenings or birthday parties to be reminded of what it was I couldn’t achieve. I felt like I was failing as a woman, the thing that women are built to do, that I was failing my husband (who went to great lengths to assure me that wasn’t the case).

I’d see pregnant women everywhere, sitting on the bus. One day I got the strongest urge to go up to some poor woman and look at her square in the face and ask her DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE?

But that’s not healthy. It’s not other people’s fault that this was happening to me and to us. Other people shouldn’t have to hide their happiness or hold back from celebrating in front of me, and I genuinely didn’t expect that. Sometimes I could feel barriers going up, people who didn’t and couldn’t understand what it was like, who thought I couldn’t understand them and their point of view, and I couldn’t.

So when we found out eventually that we’d be doing IVF, it brought relief. IVF is a rollercoaster of a ride, it is hard, and exciting, and terrifying. But it is a plan.

We are, for reasons I’ll never understand, two of the lucky ones. From our IVF treatment we have two beautiful boys, both born from the same round of IVF but two years apart – I like to call them my frozen twins. I look at them sometimes and can’t really believe they are here, that they exist, against all the odds.

A few days after we got the news that we’d need IVF, of course it was devastating to hear, and I must have cried non stop for about three days. But then I started writing. I created a blog for myself, I named it The Scenic Route, as that was the road I knew we’d always end up taking. So I just wrote down how I felt. I immediately felt better, just getting it down in words, essentially talking to myself, helped me immensely to deal with it.

Talking to others helped a lot too. People didn’t and still don’t talk very openly about it, for various, and obvious reasons. But I wanted to talk about it! So I was very open about it from the start, with Gavin on board obviously as it affected him just as much. Suddenly, people were approaching me privately, telling me their own story. People I knew were going through this and I had no idea. I am often asked if it was hard to be open about it, for me it just wasn’t. It was good for me to talk about it and good to know that others could come to me and we could help eachother.

How should you deal with it if someone you know is going through this?

Offer support. Tell them you are there to listen should they ever need it. Don’t ask lots of questions all the time, let them come to you if they want to. But just knowing your friends are there and are trying to understand, means the world.

If you are reading this and thinking, yep I could have written this myself….. keep going. Take it in small pieces rather than thinking of the whole big scary picture. One day or one month at a time and remember that every time you try something it is a step closer. If you would like to ever talk about it, just get in touch! There is support out there, sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re definitely not on your own.

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.