Disclaimer: This story mentions miscarriage and may be triggering to some.
“I have always wanted to be a mum. When I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome at 32, I feared my dream may not come to fruition. My husband and I had been married for a year and were trying to have a baby. After months of no success, and peeing on very stark white negative pregnancy tests every few weeks, I started to panic a little. Maybe this wasn’t going to happen for us.
Initially, I was quite shocked with my PCOS diagnosis. It turned out, I wasn’t ovulating every month, and that kind of makes it difficult to conceive a baby. My monthly bleeds were mostly down to a drop in hormone levels, and I was very shocked to realize I wasn’t releasing any eggs. We tried various less invasive drugs like Clomid and Letrozole to help induce ovulation, and that seemingly corrected the egg releasing issue. But after another 6 months with still no pregnancy, it was suggested we try IVF.
Waiting times and the post-code lottery here in the UK meant our only option was private treatment. I felt excited at the start, feeling like I was one step closer to bringing home a baby. But the excitement was short lived as administering the drugs was difficult, and I felt like crap physically. Due to my PCOS, I had a high AMH level (egg reserve), so on egg collection day, there were over 30 follicles to collect.
We were thrilled to have embryos reach day five, and we transferred one blastocyst on a very warm July day, which magically became our son nine months later. We couldn’t believe it worked. First attempt at IVF, and after a very healthy, happy pregnancy, I became a mum on March 24, 2016.
When our son Austin was ten months old, we found ourselves pregnant again naturally. Both of us were completely shell shocked. It felt like some kind of fairytale. Little did we know, our happy ending was actually nowhere near the horizon. Something just didn’t feel right with this pregnancy. A gut instinct. A doubt that weighed heavy and I couldn’t explain it. So, we organized an early pregnancy scan at 7.5 weeks.
I was right. There was a placental sac showing on the screen. But no baby living in it. They call it a blighted ovum. We were told to come back in a couple weeks in case I had gotten my dates wrong. I knew I hadn’t. Five days later, I started bleeding (on my first Mother’s day to be precise), and what was to follow was my first ever miscarriage. The pain was intense. Physically, mentally, I was hurting so much. I’ll never forget sitting on the bathroom floor sobbing as I passed the pregnancy. Scooping it up to take to the hospital for confirmation.
I didn’t just lose my baby that day. I lost a lifetime of memories that were already excitedly building in my mind. Was it a boy or girl? Did they have blue eyes like Austin?
There would be another two miscarriages to follow (both IVF) before we decided to take a break from fertility treatment. This was an opportunity to enjoy our family of three and give my body (and mind) a much needed rest. I started to blog about my experiences during IVF, and our miscarriages were comforted by such an amazing online community. It was complete strangers on Instagram who knew exactly the right thing to say at the right time. I struggled with friendships in real life as the losses and IVF changed me.
But our world changed forever in November 2018, when at the age of 38, my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. What we thought were migraines was actually an extensive tumor that had spread to both hemispheres of the brain. An MRI scan had been suggested after my husband Phil had been suffering with nausea, excruciating headaches, and some tingling sensations down his arm. Neither of us expected the news we were told. But somehow, we found ourselves with the neurosurgeon explaining to us the unthinkable. The radiology was presenting itself as a high grade tumor, and he needed a craniotomy within ten days to try and debrief some of it and take a biopsy.
Looking at my husband’s face at that moment, my heart broke. I couldn’t imagine being told that news. Watching someone you love grapple with such devastation will stay with me forever.
We had so much information to process, as well as the option of freezing Phil’s sperm before surgery to preserve his fertility. If we had any hope of having more children, this had to be done. We were beyond grateful for this opportunity. The thought that I may lose my husband, and then on top of that, no more children, broke me. I was only 37, how could I possibly cope with being a widow before the age of 40?
Surgery was a moment in time that felt like it was happening to someone else. A phone call after 5.5 hours told me he was doing ok and that I could go see him in intensive care. Remarkably, Phil came home 72 hours after his brain surgery. He had a month or so to recover before starting daily radiotherapy for six weeks. The biopsy revealed much better news than we were expecting, A grade two Oligodendroglioma, and although not curable, it was treatable. We also decided to try IVF again on the day Phil finished his last session. He raced across town just as I was coming out of surgery at our Fertility clinic in London. We collected 20 follicles and froze four embryos to use when both of us had recovered!
Phil moved into monthly chemotherapy, and in May 2019, we transferred two frozen embryos. We were thrilled to be pregnant again, and showed our little baby at the six week scan. But very sadly, a few days after our ultrasound, I started bleeding. This time I ended up in A&E, and Phil couldn’t be with me as he was in a chemo cycle.
We lost the baby. Miscarriage number four. Both devastated, we couldn’t believe this was happening to us alongside Phil’s cancer. We were dealt a further blow when a scan showed chemotherapy wasn’t working, and that pesky tumor residing in Phil’s brain was showing signs of growth. We battled on with another two embryo transfers, resulting in miscarriages both times. When we reached miscarriage number six, I think we felt defeated in every way.
Again, we took a break, and in the new year (January 2020), we changed fertility clinics and decided to have one more shot at IVF. Phil also changed protocol for his treatment, and finally his tumor started responding in the right way. We lent on family and friends for love and support, and I continued to blog and talk openly about our journey online.
I had my third egg collection, and using the frozen sperm, we were lucky to create another five embryos. This time, we transferred two on day five, and anxiously waited nine days for a blood test to confirm if we were pregnant again. When the clinic phoned with our results and confirmed we were indeed pregnant (for the 8th time), I found it hard to be excited. So much loss made any good news around this time very hard to believe.
But our miracle little baby continued to grow, and a scan at six weeks showed a beautiful little heart beating. Further scans at 7, 9, 12, 16 and 20 weeks continued to give us hope that we may actually take home our rainbow baby. A global pandemic hit the world, and that added anxiety left Phil and I feeling vulnerable. But we looked after each other, we stayed home as much as possible, staying in our beautiful family bubble. We were told we were having a girl, and Austin became excited to be a big brother.
On October 23, 2020, our rainbow, Autumn, arrived after a very swift three hour labor. The speed she entered the world proved just what a force she is, and it was the most amazing experience, especially seeing Phil hold her.
Autumn Mabel was conceived and born during a global pandemic, using frozen sperm from the week her daddy was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
If there ever was a story of hope, our girl shows it.
Phil’s tumor is now stable; he has completed all treatment and continues to have surveillance scans.
We have no idea what the future holds, but for now, we soak up every moment with our beautiful babies. But we do dare to believe in the future: a future together as a family.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kate Meakin of London, UK. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free newsletter for our best stories, and our Youtube for our best videos.
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