The sunlit corridor - A story of success with Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome
Walking down the long sunlit corridor to Leeds Fertility, we had high hopes and low expectations. My husband and I wanted a baby but four years after meeting (at age 30), having tried to conceive naturally for a year and a half, we were realistic. Even at this stage we were steeling each other for a negative outcome.
We had started our fertility journey soon after our wedding day with the ‘let’s just see what happens’ approach to conception. Fast forward eighteen months and I was no longer casual about the whole thing. I was taking my temperature daily, peeing on ovulation predictor sticks and making dietary modifications in a desperate attempt to make things happen. Frustratingly, all we had to show for this increased activity was a heavier weight of despair with each passing month.
As a result, our local had GP referred us to Seacroft and here we were.
Over the coming weeks we were processed through a number of tests. The tests ranged from simple blood tests to the scary sounding hysterosalpingogram (where an iodine-based dye is placed in the cervix while X-rays are taken to evaluate the uterus and tubes). It’s worth noting for anyone starting out on treatment that none of the tests, including the dreaded HSG, were painful.
For me, the gruelling part of this initial process was not one or a number of physical pain points. It was the mental stress of the unknown hanging over us. I had many questions: How long was all this going to take? When would we get to speak to our consultant, Mrs Hayden? Various doctors and nurses reassured us – quite often through my tears – on a regular basis. As thirty-something millennials largely in control of our lives, patience was not a virtue we were particularly practised in. It was tough.
Eventually, after all the results were gathered, we had our first consultation with Mrs Hayden. There was a reason why we were struggling, she told us. It’s because I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a common condition in which the ovaries malfunction. At the point of testing, I had plenty of eggs, my body just didn’t want to release them.
This diagnosis made sense to me, given that in the time we tried to conceive naturally my periods had been unpredictable, sporadic and up to ninety days apart. Similar to many women, I had taken the contraceptive pill since I was fifteen years old. It had masked my symptoms for almost twenty years.
Given my condition, Mrs Hayden suggested that the best course of action would be to start with Clomid tablets. These were taken during each cycle, supported by internal ultrasounds at the unit to determine whether I was developing mature follicles and if so, how many. I spent six months shuttling backwards and forwards for multiple internal ultrasounds. I didn’t enjoy this period, which dragged on. I found the ultrasounds invasive initially but they quickly became routine thanks to the warm and friendly nurses (particularly Suzanna - thank you!).
For me, Clomid did not work. Out of six cycles only two cycles produced the optimum large follicle required to give us the green light for intercourse. The other four times, there were too many follicles to risk fertilisation or the follicles became too large and cyst like.
At review stage, my frustration had reached fever pitch. Mrs Hayden’s preferred option was for us to continue a month by month process of injections (rather than continuing Clomid) before considering In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). There was still a chance in our case that encouraging egg and sperm to meet in the right place at the right time would result in success.
I clearly remember feeling desperate and demoralised. I wasn’t sure that I would cope very well with another six months of toing and froing. I was also conscious that time was not on my side and was keen to move to IVF straight away, so that at least I would have closure one way or another. After talking things through in detail, Mrs Hayden was sympathetic to our needs and agreed that we could start IVF as the next course of action.
IVF for me was actually the easiest part of the process. Leeds Fertility runs an excellent online course and an evening session, meaning we were completely prepared for what lay ahead. In comparison to the previous two years, IVF was also a very short and set timescale. The relief of knowing exactly where I stood and when I would have concrete results was overwhelming.
A series of injections later (uncomfortable at most, generally painless) some adjustments and additional injections to ensure I produced the optimum follicles and we arrived at the trigger injection that stimulates the eggs to release prior collection.
On collection day we were taken to a waiting cubicle. A very nice anaesthetist inserted a cannula and explained what would happen. I was taken into theatre and aside from noticing the neat serving hatch through which the eggs would be passed, the next thing I knew I was coming around in the waiting area, where I was offered a cup of tea and a sandwich before going home the same day.
The team collected fifteen eggs. When combined with my husband’s sperm, which was produced on the same day, and monitored for five days via embryoscope (a time lapse video in the ‘oven’ that removes the need to manually remove and check the embryos) at an additional cost to our NHS treatment, two embryos remained and were ready to transfer.
The transfer procedure was even more straightforward. This time, my husband was able to join me in theatre (unlike the HSG, internal scans and collection, where it was necessary that he stay in the waiting room). To this day, he refers to it as one of the most incredible things he’s ever seen. We both agree that it’s the first time he really understood exactly what I’d experienced behind closed doors.
The embryo came back through the hatch and the impressive all female theatre team talked us through the transfer while we viewed it on two screens in real time. One screen showed the magnified embryo and the other my uterus as the embryo was transferred (complete with embryo glue at an additional cost to NHS treatment). I was relieved to find that the transfer procedure was completely painless and over in just five minutes. At which point I was given the OK to hop off the bed and go home.
I’m pretty sure that anyone who has undergone IVF treatment would agree that the two-week wait between transfer and pregnancy test was the longest of their life. We kept ourselves busy and carried on as normally as we could. We opted to do the pregnancy test at home and the incredulity we felt at looking down together at a positive test is something I will never forget. It worked first time!
Seven weeks later, as we walked down the long corridor away from our last appointment with a scan of our developing foetus, it was difficult to come terms that our positive time as part of the Leeds Fertility family had come to an end. We were discharged back to the care of our local GP.
Our one remaining embryo remains on storage at Seacroft. Eventually we would like to transfer it and we are realistic that it may or may not work. Either way, Leeds fertility has allowed us to believe in the possibility of a positive outcome.
I read this week that the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, is only forty years old. It’s incredible to think that we’ve been helped in such a meaningful way by a scientific field that is so young. There were so many highs and lows during our journey through assisted conception – it’s safe to say we are definitely more patient as a result. One thing that remained constant throughout our own personal struggles, for which we will always be grateful, was the unwavering support offered by Mrs Hayden and the Seacroft team.