My partner and I met in the summer of 2017. I was 28 and he was 32. It was a typical whirlwind romance; we holidayed and moved in together fairly fast. He quickly became my comfort, my best friend, and supported me through a nasty divorce.
Like most new relationships, we spent our time laughing, eating, drinking, and socializing. We were so excited and swept up with love, which resulted in me foolishly forgetting to take my birth control pill here and there.
After a few mistakes were made and nothing happened, we agreed I should ditch the pill and see what happened. Looking back, this was a very dangerous test and very out of character for me, especially whilst in the throes of a new, exciting relationship.
After a year passed, I reluctantly contacted my GP. I felt really silly and kept apologizing. I felt the need to keep reassuring the doctor, ‘I’m not even really ‘trying trying’ for a baby.’ Looking back, I was attempting to emotionally protect myself; surely this was a problem for older, married, more established couples! I actually felt embarrassed to be in this position.
I did once fall pregnant in my teens which resulted in a fairly late termination. After the procedure, I suffered a seizure and was rushed back to the hospital. I stayed there for 2 weeks and had more surgeries to remove all remaining tissue. I was a young 19-year-old, alone and not really aware of what was going on. It was, to date, the most traumatic and scary experience of my whole life. I had always feared this ordeal may have somehow impacted my future fertility, and here I was now, potentially embarking on my worst fear.
Months passed and I heard nothing more from the doctor, so I called them to follow up on what our next steps would be. The doctor bluntly delivered the news that we did not qualify for further investigation or treatment as my partner had children. I had disclosed in my initial consultation my partner had two children from a previous relationship. I was in total shock and my whole body started to shake with anger. I could not understand why the system I relied on, and paid towards my whole life, was rejecting my physical concerns based on who I had fallen in love with. It seemed so unfair and unjust. I completely fell apart. It was the first and only time I’ve ever cried and screamed at a stranger…soberly.
It was at this point I slowly started to descend into depression. I went from enjoying my new life and being excited about the future, to realizing I now potentially faced life without children. I didn’t know where to start. I felt at sea without a paddle. I didn’t know the first thing about fertility treatment; it was a completely new and terrifying concept to me. I certainly didn’t have the thousands of dollars I assumed fertility treatment would be. Was that even a world I belonged in?
I started spending a lot of time on fertility forums. I asked total strangers’ advice on what to do next. I was pointed in the direction of a clinic where I could have a ‘fertility MOT.’ We paid $950 for an hour’s consultation, blood tests, an internal scan, and a Hycosy (dye) scan to check my tubes and uterus. We also booked a free IVF seminar with them to learn more about the process.
Frustratingly, all the results came back as normal. We were told if we didn’t have a positive test naturally by Christmas, then we should look at IVF. I found this result was surprisingly upsetting. I was so desperate for a problem to fix or a magic pill to take to make all of this go away and for our lives could go back to normal. Ideally, if there was an issue to resolve, we could potentially have the option to wait and plan a child in our own time.
Christmas came and went. We discussed our next steps, but we just didn’t have the money for treatment, nor did I feel mentally ready to take on such a leap. We decided to keep trying naturally. My life suddenly revolved around inputting my cycle data into two fertility apps. I took my temperature the second I woke up in the morning, checked cervical mucus, and obsessively took ovulation tests. Every positive ovulation test felt like a small victory. I ovulated; I knew something was working!
We often had sex every day of the month. We enthusiastically tried all the old wife’s tales; I would lie down for up to an hour, knees bent in hopes gravity would work wonders. I took every supplement and miracle remedy available.
Each month became a tiresome cycle of firstly feeling optimistic, then full of dread to finally the rock bottom of another failure. We started to drink more and socialize less. I stopped looking after myself and we started to argue. I was irritable at work and home and felt personally attacked every time someone mentioned pregnancy or children. I carried sadness around with me all day and when I drank, I let it all out. I was no fun to be around anymore.
To top it all off I had 2 work colleagues, a best friend, and a sister all announce pregnancies at the same time. I felt so unreasonably betrayed. I couldn’t escape it; infertility now completely consumed my entire life. I was jealous of women who were pregnant or had children, I was also jealous of women who lived carefreely and had no infertility worries. I was stuck in a life limbo and there was no certain way out of it.
We decided IVF had to be the logical next step and I began to research a slew of clinics. I came across a low-cost clinic in London and we booked our first consultation. Our clinic was happy with our general health and seemed confident we should have success in the form of embryos to freeze or at best a positive pregnancy test. Although they were low-cost, they had fantastic success rates and were extremely popular.
We decided if we were going to take the leap, we may as well move heaven and hearth to make this work. We quit drinking alcohol, caffeine, smoking and changed our whole lifestyle completely. I started running again and went to the gym religiously every day. Our relationship and my mental health slowly started to improve once we had our game plan.
We started treatment in June 2020. There was a lot of information to take in and at times it felt overwhelming. I searched my clinic on Instagram and that’s when I found the world of fertility warriors. I started my own Instagram page to connect with other people going through IVF or facing infertility and it was a huge turning point for me.
I nervously sat alone in the clinic waiting room for the first time. Due to Covid, my partner could not come in with me. I tried to take in every little detail – the magazine choice, the box of tissues, the bouncy upbeat music. Across the walls were pictures of happy families and beautiful babies. I wondered how often I would find myself sitting nervously in that waiting room.
We somehow muddled our way through our first IVF cycle. It was a long month of excitement, disappointment, nerves, traveling, and making endless excuses at work. When we committed to treatment, I had high hopes of an abundance of healthy embryos so I was certainly apprehensive on the drive to our transfer, knowing we had only gotten one lonely little 3-day embryo to transfer. Sadly, our dreams were shattered when my period arrived before we had even made it to test day.
We knew we wanted to go again and go again soon. IVF gave us much-needed control and the process was hugely addictive. We booked our next consultation and started injections in September. This round was much more exciting. We felt like professionals and thought we knew exactly what to expect this time. We paid £1000 extra for ICSI, a process in which the embryologist injects the sperm directly into the egg on retrieval day, rather than let the fertilization happen naturally in a petri dish. This would hopefully increase our numbers of fertilized eggs and embryos to freeze.
I waltzed into the clinic on the first scan day with naïve confidence. As soon as the nurse inserted the scanning probe to check my follicles, she noted a large ovarian cyst on my left ovary. They did a blood test to check if the cyst was producing hormones and told me someone would call me later with the results, the worst-case scenario being our cycle gets canceled until the cyst had gone. The nurse called later that night and confirmed our worst nightmare. I was told to stop all medication and we officially had a canceled cycle.
We were reassured ovarian cysts usually disappear on their own and I was prescribed birth control pills to help speed up the process. The clinic provided a number of complimentary follow-up scans, but each and every time the cyst had only increased in size. By Christmas, it was the size of a lime.
There was no other option. I had to have the cyst surgically removed.
I called the hospital almost every day for updates. If I ever actually got through to anyone, I would be told my referral hadn’t been put through correctly or my case was deemed ‘non-urgent,’ therefore I could be looking at years wait, at least. After waiting 7 months I ended up going to A&E and spent a whole day trying to convince someone to arrange the procedure. I finally got my surgery date in April 7 months after I had put in the referral.
I was terrified of going into surgery alone. The only thing that kept me brave was the thought that we could continue our journey once this was over. The surgeon explained there was a chance, I could lose one or both ovaries during the procedure, if there were complications. I had a panic attack as soon as I was wheeled into theatre, but I kept thinking about our end goal.
As soon as I woke up, I anxiously asked if my ovaries were okay. The nurse said I had asked that question 3 times already and my ovaries were fine, the cyst had been successfully removed. However, the doctor needed to speak to me. A few minutes later, and still drowsy from the anesthetic, the surgeon re-appeared and delivered the news that both my fallopian tubes were blocked and needed removing.
He then attempted to show me photos and explain once they are removed, I would have better chances with IVF, but I was completely inconsolable. I could barely breathe. All the feelings of relief I had longed for were so quickly and cruelly snapped away. I was told I needed to wait around 3-4 hours to be discharged, but the idea of being in such despair and being surrounded by strangers, all with their own issues, was too much to bear. I got up, got dressed, and left without being discharged.
I spent recovery researching blocked tubes and learned when tubes have been blocked the egg and sperm cannot meet. Therefore, natural conception is likely impossible. Often with blocked tubes, there will usually be a fluid-filled sac present called Hydrosalpinx. This sac could potentially leak into my uterus and create a toxic environment for an embryo and implantation would likely fail.
All was not lost yet – we could still do IVF, however I struggled quite a lot with the idea that such a major part of my reproductive system was being taken away from me. Those tubes once worked. They once got me pregnant and for a short while, I was a mother. I was frustrated I didn’t have any answers as to why, how, or when this happened. It was suggested I must have had an undetected pelvic infection or it could have been an infection caused by a previous cervical procedure. I kept thinking back to my horrific termination in my teens and wondered what part that had to play in this. Whatever the reason, I would officially be clinically infertile. I finally had an answer, but it didn’t make it any easier to swallow.
I thought a lot about the aesthetic shape of my uterus and how it would be different from everyone else’s. For an organ I never actually see with my eyes, I was surprised by how much it meant to me that it looked a certain way. I couldn’t help but feel like I would be less of a woman.
While waiting for the surgery, my clinic suggested we do a ‘freeze all’ cycle. We went through the familiar rigmarole of egg collection, freezing any viable embryos, ready for transfer after my tubes were removed. We started this cycle in June 2021 and ended up with 4 viable embryos for the freezer. Finally, a bit of good news and something to focus our energy on!
We were simply not prepared to wait another year for the surgery, so reluctantly we decided to go private. I had the surgery in June which, thankfully, all went to plan. I finally had no cysts, tubes, or leaky fluid standing between us and our baby!
We had our first frozen transfer in September 2021. The frozen cycle process is a lot simpler and only included two trips to London, one scan, and one transfer. We really thought it would work, we had put everything in place to ensure it had! But it wasn’t meant to be. Another negative test stared up at me. Our clinic suggested further investigation is only necessary after 3 fails. We started our current frozen cycle in November and we will find out later this month if we will end the year with our miracle.
I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and false marketing surrounding assisted conception. I, like many, assumed treatment would equal a baby, ‘just do IVF’ is a phrase I’ve heard many times over the years. Some marketing can lead people to believe IVF will easily bring you, your baby but it’s so important to know it does not work every time for everyone. It sometimes can take several attempts, thousands of dollars, a change of clinics, and surgical procedures before you get your positive result. The sad reality is sometimes it will not work and there often isn’t enough counseling to help deal with the grief.
Let’s be honest, IVF is a business and clinics need to make money. Luckily there is a fertility regulator called HFEA where you can find a wealth of information on assisted conception in the UK. They have an easy-to-use website and a useful traffic light system for ‘add on’s’ that certain clinics offer. IVF Is a medical minefield and it’s easy to get lost in a sea of expensive treatments but some may be unnecessary or not recommended. Lots of clinics offer phenomenal success rates, but they can be misleading as they will only reflect positive pregnancy test rates and not live births. The HFEA website gives you a much more realistic overview of statistics.
The best way I’ve coped during the dark times is through connecting with people on my Instagram page. I love speaking to people who fully understand what I am going through, mentally, physically, financially. It reminds me I’m not alone and helps me express my true feelings and emotions with like-minded people.
Infertility has brought me to a place I never imagined I would be. I compare myself to other women every day. I wonder if strangers in the street have fertility issues or if the woman on the reality show has undetected tubal blockage like me.
I question myself every day:
- Would I even be a good mother?
- Is my relationship strong enough?
- Will we have any money left after all this treatment to look after a child?
- Do just want this so badly because my ovaries are a ticking time bomb?
- Am I selfishly just craving a small part of my childhood back?
- Will we ever be able to accept a childless life? What would that even look like?
These are things I would not be asking myself if I was not fertility challenged.
The trauma of infertility is something I’m not sure will ever totally go away. I feel like an element of infertility and my experiences will always be with me in one way or another, but I remind myself I am stronger and braver than I’ve ever been. On good days, I’m determined and committed, and on bad days I’m learning how to nurture myself and how not bottle my emotions up.
For now, we are not giving up. If one day we decide to move on with our lives, I just hope we can take our strength into our next chapter. My only wish is this experience will bring our family closer, however big or small that family may be.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alice. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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