I have written this in two parts as it’s quite a lengthy story. I hope you enjoy reading it…
It’s taken me a long time to sit down and write about this. Mainly because I felt like I had no place talking about infertility being as I am a mother now and no longer living through that hell day to day. I was one of the lucky ones – my baby came. But for countless other mums (and dads), their arms are still yearning, and their hearts are still aching. National Fertility Awareness Week seemed like the perfect time to share my story.
I still remember the agony. The pain, the jealousy, the anger. Those feelings don’t just disappear as soon as your baby is born (you then have to deal with the anxiety of it all being taken away from you). When you go through something as traumatic as trying (and failing) for years to have a child, and when you are told by doctors and consultants that you will never conceive naturally, it changes you. I became bitter and depressed. Suicidal at one point. I hated anyone who was pregnant. I couldn’t even look at a picture of my newborn nephew. It really was the worst period of my life, and it took over everything.
This is why I feel it is important for me to talk about it. There are thousands of couples out there at this very moment starting their own journey. They may be at the very beginning having all the initial tests done, or even years down the line, faced with one failed IVF treatment after another. No doubt they feel completely let down by the NHS (their strict rules made everything one hundred times worse), and are trying to find the money for one more go. Because that’s what it does to you. You always believe that the next time will work. You never give up hope because if you do, what else is there? Hopefully my story will do just that – give you hope.
The journey begins…
John and I began trying for a baby in 2010. He already had a child from a previous relationship, so after a year with nothing happening, I knew that the problem was with me. The initial tests proved me right. John’s sperm count was fine, and after all my blood tests came back showing that I was ovulating normally (I had regular periods, you could pretty much pinpoint it to the hour), it was time for deeper investigation.
The first step was the HSG test (hysterosalpingogram), and it was one of the worst moments for me. If you’ve never had the misfortune of having one it’s basically like having a smear test, only worse. They inject dye through the vagina and cervix and then into the fallopian tubes to see if there’s any blockages. You are awake for the whole procedure, and I’ve never felt pain like it (and I’ve given birth). I leapt up from that table in agony, crying and bleeding. Then after I had calmed down and got dressed, the doctor came to see me to tell me the bad news – both my tubes were blocked. That was why it hurt so much. I walked solemnly out of the room, collapsed into John’s arms and cried for the rest of the day.
The waiting game…
We were then referred to the infertility team at Birmingham Women’s Hospital to discuss treatment options. As with most NHS departments though we had to wait weeks for this appointment. It was decided that I would be sent for a laparoscopy and dye operation where they would basically have a good look at my tubes to see how blocked they were and if there was any other damage. They couldn’t tell me why they were blocked. I could have been born like it, or it could have been an infection I never knew I had. The cruel irony of it is you don’t know you’ve got blocked fallopian tubes until you start trying for a baby – all those years of being so careful and it didn’t bloody matter!
The laparoscopy at the start of 2012 showed that as well as blocked tubes, I also had mild endometriosis (this explained the painful periods and sometimes bleeding in between), so there was no wonder I wasn’t catching. Again, we were given another appointment weeks later to see our consultant to discuss the next steps. It was around this time that my sister fell pregnant with her second child and I was absolutely gutted. As much as I wanted to be happy for her, I couldn’t muster any other emotion apart from sadness at my own situation. I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into depression. I was so sensitive, would cry at any little thing and had frequent angry outbursts (mainly directed at John).
More bad news…
At our next appointment we saw a different consultant who told us that they might send me for another operation to unblock my tubes. She said that they don’t like to perform this operation anymore as it can cause more damage to the delicate tubes. She then said that our best bet was to go down the IVF route. After giving us some leaflets and explaining that in Birmingham they offer one free cycle, she then delivered the ultimate blow – we wouldn’t qualify for this as John has a child from a previous relationship (who doesn’t actually live in this country by the way). The cost would be over £4000 for one cycle, which obviously wasn’t guaranteed to work. There was no way we could afford it. Again, I just broke down in her office. I begged her to send me for the operation but she said that she would have to discuss it with my actual consultant who she was just filling in for.
Another three months passed before our next appointment. During this time I did so much research into IVF funding on the NHS. Basically, each part of the country have different Primary Care Trusts who decide where to spend the money. Some give couples a free go regardless of whether they’ve got other children (we would have been fine back home in Wales), and some don’t. It all depends on what the major health issue is in that area. In Birmingham at that time it was obesity, so that’s where the majority of the money was being spent. I was absolutely incensed at this. There was a woman I worked with at the time who was clinically obese and had already had a new hip operation purely due to her weight. The doctors had warned her that if she didn’t lose weight then she would need the other hip replacing. And did she? Did she hell. I used to see her at her desk laughing and joking while stuffing cream cakes in her mouth. Lo and behold, she had to have another hip replacement, which cost the NHS in upwards of £15,000. I was sick with the injustice of it all. Why did she get treatment when she’d brought all her problems on herself? It wasn’t my fault that my tubes were blocked.
I appealed their decision to not give us a free go, but it was rejected. I looked into going abroad for IVF treatment which was actually cheaper, and also started to research alternative treatments for unblocking fallopian tubes. I found everything from intense tubal massage, chinese medicine and even going to see a spiritualist! To be honest I was just pinning my hopes on our consultant agreeing to go ahead with the operation though. John and I fought a lot during this time. He shut down emotionally, began drinking more heavily and didn’t seem to care as much – it was me doing all the work. He admitted one day that he didn’t want to go through IVF as he couldn’t cope with the heartache of it not working. Every month my period came, more painful than the last one as if to taunt me even more, and every month I grieved.
When our next appointment finally arrived, I was shocked to see yet another consultant as mine wasn’t available. She barely spoke any English, had lost the results of my blood tests and didn’t know anything about the operation to unblock my tubes. It was a complete waste of time, and I have never felt anger like it. I had waited months for this appointment in torturous limbo, eager to find out their decision, and I was just back to square one. I stormed out of the hospital in floods of tears and shaking with rage. I just couldn’t believe it – I had worked my entire life, paid my national insurance and now when I needed help I was refused it.
The worst part of all these appointments apart from the waiting was the fact that the infertility clinic is directly next to the maternity ward. Pregnant women and babies were everywhere I looked. I glared at a heavily pregnant woman smoking outside the hospital, and it took all my strength not to say something. It was all just so cruel.
A glimmer of hope…?
I received a letter a few weeks later to apologise for how I had been treated, and to confirm that my tubal catheterisation operation would be going ahead in late October 2012. I was so relieved, and for the first time in ages I felt some pressure being relieved, and that we might actually get somewhere. I tried not to be, but deep down inside I was really optimistic that this would work.
Tubal catheterisation is a surgical technique that involves inserting a guide-wire through the womb cavity and then through the fallopian tubes that are blocked. It is done under general anaesthetic and performed using an endoscope (a small camera) inserted into the womb cavity. Unblocking the fallopian tube then allows sperm to be able to meet the egg released from the ovary in order for fertilisation to occur. In theory this sounds quite simple, but, as was explained to me on the day, there is a high risk of further damage to the tubes because they are so tiny, and it is only successful in 27% of cases. I didn’t care though, I signed the consent form on the morning of the operation as quickly as I could.
I came round from the anaesthetic in a blurry, painful haze. My consultant came to see me straight away to tell me the news – the operation was unsuccessful. His words to me were, “you will never conceive naturally, and your only option to have a baby is through IVF”.
I was almost physically sick. All I could do was cry. As we drove home I remember feeling so alone and lost, no clue as to what would happen next, as if we were driving into an abyss. I was off work for a week in recovery from the operation and I don’t think I got dressed once. All my friends and family were as supportive as they could be, and my mum came to stay for a bit. But all I could do was rant and rave at the unfairness of it all. Why was this happening to me?
I couldn’t watch anything on TV that involved babies. If there was a story on the news about parents abusing their children it would send me into that much of a rage that I would feel physically ill. Why do these vile people deserve children and I don’t?! What have I done that’s so wrong?
Then my nephew was born a few weeks later, and I couldn’t even look at a picture of him. Everything was dark. There was no hope. We couldn’t afford the IVF. John and I were constantly arguing. I started to resent my step daughter because if it wasn’t for her then we would have been able to have one free cycle (it wasn’t me thinking this, my depression was changing me into a bitter, selfish angry person), and I lashed out at anyone who was close to me. Things were just spiralling out of control and I had an urge to run far, far away and never come back.