I am the professional who worked hard to achieve her goals in her twenties and thirties, climbing the ladder, grafting at post-graduate exams, working long hours thinking that these career dreams would be jeopardized with time out child-bearing and realistic about the gender gap in career progression.
I started trying to conceive at 35, not realising that 85% of my lifetime egg supply had already been lost. I was patient and made the necessary lifestyle changes and ‘effort’. I did not obsess over ovulation sticks and, for the most part, managed not to let trying (and not succeeding) interfere with my marriage and my psychological well-being. I am determined and knowledgeable on the science and convinced myself there was no reason it should not happen, so we gave it two years. Then I started to become a bit concerned and sought advice. We had tests which didn’t show anything more dramatic than minor and variable sperm variation and polycystic ovaries which I already knew about - my periods were pretty regular too.
My first IVF cycle went well generating a clutch of decent embryos. The fresh transfer didn’t work. I managed to take the preparation and procedures mostly in my stride and worked right through them. My worst memory is of the progesterone pessaries and the constant sense of damp underwear…. Awful…
I took the negative result quite pragmatically as hitting the jackpot first time is pretty rare. Within a few days of the negative result, we were trying to relax, forget about it and have some fun when I had a burst ovarian cyst, left over from the stimulation treatment which ruined a sunset cocktail and desert island dinner! Fortunately, nothing more than pain relief was needed.
There followed two negative frozen cycles, and another fresh. In the latter, I produced more than 30 eggs and all the embryos had to be frozen. This was really frustrating at the time but, looking back, was the safe choice and recommendation of the clinic.
I did not get OHSS and was able to get on with another FET soon after. It is fair to say that my husband was losing faith and beginning to think we should accept our fate and stop. I felt that I still had stamina and determination. I received a school report aged 10 that described me as ‘stubborn, sometimes to the point of being pig-headed!’ My father taught me to work hard at things and not to give up, so, without any obvious reason for the failures, other than the IVF numbers lottery, we plodded on.
In my fourth transfer attempt, I saw the pregnancy testing kit do something I’d not seen before: I had encased myself in armour-plating in anticipation of another negative when I saw two lines appear. Like many women before me, I didn’t believe it and did umpteen more!
It is fair to say that I was in disbelief when I found two heartbeats. It was hard to enjoy the pregnancy until I got far enough to know that they would be OK if they came early, although I was remarkably well and worked up to 36 weeks.
I never looked forward to being pregnant in the past and was pleasantly surprised that I felt well and even enjoyed it. In the end, I was induced at 38 weeks and laboured (under pain-free epidural) to natural deliveries just 12 minutes apart! There were no complications for me or my gorgeous boys. Their delivery was the most extraordinarily overwhelming moment of our lives. We have not looked back - the anxiety that it would never happen and the frustration have palled into the far distance. The thought of life without them now and the joy that they bring day in day out is worth the hardship.
There were 13 further embryos in the freezer. In due course, we had to decide what to do with them. I wanted to give them a chance, my husband was not so keen. In the end, we worked through them all and there were no more hints of positive tests. They did not thaw very well and I think it was probably meant to be this way: a family of 4.
One thing I struggled with was the idea of donating them. In the end, I could not make a decision on behalf of my existing children, to perhaps enable them to have a true sibling in another family. Others do and I give them credit, but I could not.