The journey to Sophie
My period never really kicked in as a teenager, which caused me a lot of anxiety at the time. I was recommended a course of hormones when I was sixteen which induced my first bleed. From there on I did have occasional spontaneous periods but they were very sporadic and unpredictable- waiting six months here, one year there. At eighteen, I started taking the birth control pill so I could feel an element of control and normality but I think I always knew from an early age that I would probably struggle to conceive when the time came. When I was at University aged twenty, an internal scan confirmed my ovaries were polycystic. Coupled with my history, the doctor said that, although I didn’t display all the symptoms, it was very likely I had the common hormone disorder, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), and that it’s effect on my fertility wouldn’t be known until I was actively trying to conceive. When I was in my mid-twenties a well-meaning nurse told me that with my condition, if I wanted to have a chance at having my own family, I really shouldn’t delay. I had just started a new job in London and was so far from being ready to settle down.
In my life, above all else, I had always wanted to be a mum - but with the right partner to share parenthood with. The question of my fertility was never far from my mind and had always caused me anxiety. How old would I be before I had met the right person to start a family with? Or before I could afford a stable home? Or before I felt settled in a career?
I finally stopped taking the pill in my early 30's and my periods remained scarce. During this time I was busy changing career and retraining as a teacher. It wasn’t until I was thirty-two that I finally met the person with whom I wanted to share my life with. We were married two years later. With my age and fertility weighing heavily on my mind, I didn’t want to wait any longer. We followed the recommendation of trying for a year before seeking advice. There followed various hospital tests to rule out other fertility issues, including a HyCoSy scan to check the Fallopian tubes, and my partner’s sperm analysis. Thankfully those tests were all fine and it was reasonable to assume that I simply wasn’t ovulating because of PCOS, and there were no eggs for the sperm to fertilise. I felt hopeful that after almost eighteen years of uncertainty, I was finally active on this journey to parenthood and would have the required treatment for it to become successful.
Months of Metformin and Clomid followed and along with it months of disappointment. I started to feel very bereft, very depressed and tearful. The strain and deep sadness I felt with each passing month began to take its toll on every area of my life - my relationship with my partner, friendships with other people, my rewarding but stressful career in teaching. I felt time was not on my side and I was also becoming very concerned about the potential for spiralling costs of fertility treatment if we embarked on IVF. Above all, I felt fearful of never becoming a parent.
After another year, we were eventually transferred from our local hospital to Leeds Fertility at Seacroft Hospital. This was a game changer for me. I felt a renewed sense of hope, having access to treatment from specialists with all the fertility science on hand. I felt confident and guided by Dr Catherine Hayden’s knowledge and experience but crucially I also felt she listened to me with a level of empathy that was so helpful when I felt at my most low and vulnerable. Having previously tried unsuccessful Ovulation Induction (OI) with Clomid the year before, we agreed a course of treatment that included OI with injected gonadotropins and regular follicle scanning using internal ultrasound. This was a fairly intensive treatment as it included several rounds (roughly months) whereby I would self-administer the injection of ovulation hormones every day over several weeks and also travel regularly to Seacroft Hospital for scan monitoring by the lovely nurses. This was to check the maturity of the follicle to know when best to administer the trigger injection, releasing the egg in order to conceive. For that time, I became I regular in the clinic and the friendly and knowledgeable nurses really put me at ease and accepted me in all my emotional states.
At this stage, I’d also taken the decision to leave my teaching role. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that the school could support me in my treatment and there was no fertility policy in place. I knew the stress I was experiencing in my day to day role was hindering my chances of conceiving. I was in a lucky position that my partner and I could afford to do this. It meant that I could focus all my efforts into treatment, without feeling compromised by the stress of work. It also meant I had time to connect with other people who were also experiencing infertility. This had a hugely positive impact on my state of mind. For the first time in ages I felt understood by others who were also experiencing similar emotions. I also learnt that there were many routes to parenthood and also support groups out there if it never happened. I felt empowered to research every aspect of PCOS and lifestyle and dietary changes that might help us conceive. I listened to seminars on PCOS from Professor Adam Balen and others. My husband and I also accessed the counselling service at Leeds Fertility and we found it really helpful to talk through the challenges we were experiencing. I’m sure all these aspects contributed to our positive result.
After several unsuccessful rounds we had decided to consider IVF as the next route. Dr Hayden still felt OI was worth continuing because I was responding so well to treatment and indeed ovulating. I’m glad I agreed because on the next round (round 4) we finally got our incredible (first ever) positive pregnancy test.
Fast forward 20 months and we have just celebrated our Sophie’s first birthday. She has bought so much joy to our lives and that of our families. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful for her being here. We are of course incredibly grateful to all the staff at Leeds Fertility for all their care, knowledge, professionalism and hard work and for ultimately getting my ovaries to ovulate in order to conceive Sophie!
She is everything we could have wished for.