‘Your best course of action is IVF.’ Surely this wasn’t real. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this. We told everyone.’: Couple advocates for infertility awareness, ‘I never lost hope’

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“It’s the 13th of May, 2018. Unlucky for some, but that number couldn’t possibly be luckier for us. The 13th was the day our son was born. The 13th was the day we found out we were pregnant. I would count myself as quite a lucky person, or maybe just hardworking and positive. Either way, I hadn’t faced too many struggles in my life. Everything I worked hard for or set my mind to came to fruition. I had met the man of my dreams, had our fairy tale wedding in Ireland, we trained and completed the London marathon together, bought our first proper home out in the countryside—life was good. We had it all. The one thing missing, to complete us, was a baby. The one thing we tried our hardest for, but the one thing we couldn’t get was a baby.

I am one of four sisters. My mom is one of seven children and my dad is one of three. I loved having a big family growing up, and consider my sisters to be my best friends. Being a mom was something I always knew I wanted to be, but also had no doubt in my mind I would become. Why would I doubt? Through adolescence and my twenties, getting pregnant was something you avoided, and something, as a Catholic, which was to be pursued after marriage. I had very strong (if a tad romantic) views that having a baby was best accomplished once you were settled financially and in your relationship. Oh, how naïve I was. Never for one second had I thought it could be a real struggle to conceive—not only for me but for so many women. I attended an all-girls school, and I loved it, but I find it crazy there was no fertility education or any extensive information on our bodies and how they work, or may not work.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

After we got married in April 2015, at Lough Eske Castle in Donegal, Ireland, we decided we would have a year of playing a happily married couple. We did an epic honeymoon trip around the world and had lots of lovely meals out and city breaks. If I am completely honest with myself, I always had a nagging feeling we may struggle to become pregnant. I had never been on contraception and had never had any false alarms whatsoever. After deciding to try for a baby, a year-and-a-half passed, and no luck. We decided because I was over 30, we would waste no time in getting checked out. We paid to have some initial tests on us both. My husband Joe, who was 28 at the time, was reluctant and was determined to stay positive, but I was following my gut. Something wasn’t right.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

The words rang in my ear: ‘Your best course of action is IVF.’ Sorry, what? Hold on, I am only 32. I thought IVF was for older women in their 40’s who had focused on their amazing careers, put off starting a family, and now fancied trying their luck at getting pregnant. How wrong was I, and the uneducated stereotype I clearly had fabricated in my head. Surely this wasn’t real. My instant thought was of shock, then slowly it turned into embarrassment, shame, and then grief. I cried so much. I was confused. My husband, feeling the same, turned to me with a look of hopelessness.

The one thing I couldn’t get my head around when we first found ourselves on the road of infertility, being the open and honest person I am (sometimes too open), is I knew no one who had gone through this. How could this be? Surely I wasn’t the only person going through this? I scrolled my social media for hours, praying someone I followed or was friends with was going through something like this or had experienced it. This was my first reality check—it was not something people wanted to share or talk about. But why? I knew instantly this was a biological thing and was out of my control, and as much as my initial feeling was blame towards myself, I did what I needed to do and got straight into a productive, positive mode. Researching, talking, and sharing every step of our journey with everyone. So many of our friends asked, ‘How could this be? Surely IVF was a drastic measure? And what even is IVF, and how does it work?’

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

IVF is a procedure that heavily relies on science, there is no doubt about that. It is very complicated, relies on so many factors, and is mentally and physically demanding on couples. There is no guarantee it will work, and may take several attempts and could cost thousands of dollars. Why would people put themselves through this? Hope. Desperation. The longing.

We approached the treatment with no doubt it would work. We were terrified. As we had decided to go private for our treatment, we were putting all our eggs in one basket. It was looking to cost A TON, and that was for one round. There was a 33% chance it would work at my age, so the odds were low. Going private gave us the flexibility and control we so desperately needed in this situation. Don’t get me wrong, we couldn’t afford it, but we trusted our instincts and put our faith in our clinic. Every time we pulled up at the clinic, my stomach did somersaults and my anxiety was out of control. Sitting in that waiting room for each appointment, I just couldn’t cope with the enormity of the situation. Every time we went there we were a bit closer to our dreams coming true, but also on the flip side our dreams being shattered—and also money, time, and energy being wasted. We decided to tell everyone around us. We needed the support—our families were incredible—but we needed them to believe as much as we did it was going to work.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

Now for the magic part. Science and luck play a huge part in the IVF treatment working, but I personally feel a lot rides on mind over matter and PMA. I am a big believer in visualizing things before they have happened and allowing the energy to encompass all around you. Some may be skeptical of this, but I needed to do it. There was no room for doubt, no negativity, and it WAS going to work. I made a vision board with images of pregnancy announcements, positive quotes, pictures of newborn babies, and happy families. I had acupuncture every week. I wrote wish lists to the moon, I bought a baby box filled with newborn toys and clothes, and I meditated every day and said out loud every morning, ‘Thank you for my baby.’

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

When the time came to start the proceedings, I was ready. Ready for my body to do what it needed to do. Ready to receive what I had asked for. The medication was working well for me, but as my egg reserve was quite low in amount and quality, the focus was to get some good quality eggs that would be fertilized and frozen for future use and one to implant back inside me. The result was terrifying. We had one viable embryo. That was it, none of the others had made it. The day they implanted our embryo back inside me, I dared not move. The anxiety to this day still feels as real as ever. That was our one chance, our possible baby in there.

Now the 2-week wait was starting. Even though the embryo was implanted, it needed to stick to make the pregnancy. Those 2 weeks were the longest of my life. The morning we were allowed to take the test we both woke at 3 a.m., nervous and excited to see the result. My husband waited for the message on the small screen. I truly, at that point, was not sure whether it had worked. But the magic had worked, we were pregnant. Disbelief. Joy. Terror. We hugged and cried, but then reality set in. This was just the beginning, we had a long way to go. We needed to sit tight and keep calm. Nine months is a long time, and so much can happen in pregnancy.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

I loved being pregnant. I felt like I was carrying treasure. But at times, the way we conceived made me struggle to relax and really switch off from the worry. I think I held my breath for the whole 9 months, not doing too much, resting whenever I felt I needed to, going to the hospital for every little twinge or worry. People sadly don’t understand if you don’t conceive naturally the difference, it can make on your outlook at being pregnant. It is no longer a lovely accident. It is a challenge you have overcome, a battle you are still fighting and anxiety you will never forget. I will never get over it. I am just so thankful we have our son, and the worry was all worth it. Sadly for some, it doesn’t always end like this.

Rafe William Gallagher was born via emergency cesarean at 38 weeks at 4:11 p.m. on the 13th of May, 2018. The birth was not how I imagined. I had high blood pressure and suspected pre-eclampsia, so they wanted to get the baby out sooner rather than later for both our sakes. My body was rebelling against me, worry had taken over, and I needed to know I had a healthy baby at the end of all of this. When he arrived and was lifted up behind the sheets in all his glory, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had done it. I was so tired, mentally and physically, not from birth but from the whole 9 months and before that.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

Bringing our baby home was surreal and overwhelming. A moment I will never forget, and that night, I cried and cried. I couldn’t take it all in. We were parents and we had a child. Going through IVF and the pain and longing for a child, while it was successful for us, paid its toll on our mental health. I have spoken to so many about the shame around infertility. At that time, there wasn’t a book out there dealing with the feelings around this, but also how life is about being resilient and how we all have different, diverse journeys to become a family unit. I had always had a dream of writing a book, and I felt stories come from experiences, whether they have been good or bad. I wanted to buy a book for my son that opened up the issues we had been experiencing and the emotions around it, and ultimately for him to know how special and wanted he was. It was then I contacted a children’s publisher and the idea for my children’s book, ‘Robo-Babies,’ came about.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

Thinking back to my own childhood, while I had beautifully-curated stories of happy endings and everything working out okay, that is not helping the children of today. If they ever come across a difficulty, they become stuck. We need them to see life doesn’t always go as planned. We may feel sad, confused, lost, or lonely, but it is how we cope and what we do that will help us get through. Many couples are now using assisted conception and adoption and almost have had to grieve the dreams created as children from society. My drive for a book like this was reinforced by the focus group I set up online. Many parents took part, with all sorts of journeys and stories, and we took a lot from their experiences with the emotions around assisted conception, infertility, and adoption. It confirmed to me it is a book parents would want their children to read.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

Having pitched the idea of this book to many of my friends who had what I would consider a ‘normal’ route to parenthood. They were excited to read this story to their children, in the hope it takes the stigma and lack of knowledge away. Why not educate ALL children on these issues? Why not prepare children and help them understand? The use of robots is a perfect way to convey the message, making it clear for children to understand. Robots have parts, sometimes they don’t work. This makes robots sad and feel different. The beauty of the book is it has many layers and can be interpreted to suit the reader or their circumstance. Ultimately, I felt this was an important book to write for children to understand in a way that focuses on the love, determination, and strength these parents go through. I never lost hope one day I would become a mother.

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

I feel it is important all children realize they are special, however they came into this world. I also feel very strongly, as a society, we need to break the fertility taboo and start having people talk about and share their experiences. Making a family filled with love is at the heart of everyone’s journey, and I hope my book reflects that. The conversation should be started early. Talking about the emotions around infertility, and also how starting a family might not be a simple ‘happily ever after’ is something that will help the resilience and understanding of the future generations.”

Courtesy of Laura Gallagher

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Laura Gallagher. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Twitter. 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.

Read more stories about IVF here:

‘You’re sure they didn’t mix up the vials?’ My healthy husband suddenly looked terrible. He developed a painful cough and couldn’t walk 100 feet.’: Woman births late husband’s son through IVF after leukemia battle

‘You are an excuse to be goofy at a time when the world is not. You are chubby-cheeked hope for the future, a constant reminder that life goes on.’: Dad shares ‘fairy tale’ IVF birth, ‘All that matters is the family we choose’

‘How is this so easy for some people?’ I’d sit in my car and cry before work. What if my dream was taken away?’: Nurse battles infertility, pregnant with IVF baby, ‘Don’t lose hope’

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