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.

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.