Reading between the lines

Infertility – it’s a term that has become a buzzword in the media – ticking clocks, career over family, women leaving it too late, freezing eggs for later use, etc. Yet, it remains a taboo subject amongst families and friends. Something whispered about like some disease, something too awful to fathom. I felt reluctant to write this post and even more reluctant to press that ‘publish’ button.

Very few people think they are going to have to deal with infertility, a lot of us had some panic ‘what if I’m pregnant’ moments in our 20’s and even 30’s. I remember the absolute relief when my late period arrived because there was no way I was chancing taking a pregnancy test in case it was positive – strange logic but it made sense in my head!

Roll on a few years, newly married, and everyone around you is having a baby or many babies – my career choice probably doesn’t help there. You are trying to give the impression that you are enjoying life too much to have time for babies whilst desperately hoping this month will be the one where that the blue line will appear (on one of those many pregnancy tests stocked in the ensuite cupboard that no houseguest will ever happen upon).

What to do when you are sitting there 6 months, a year or 2 years later trying to put a brave face on when you hear of yet another joyful pregnancy announcement? You have googled fertility supplements, signs of ovulation, how long to wait before seeking help. You have sought alternative help – you name it – reflexology, acupuncture, homeopathy, etc. You then see your gp and then a fertility specialist to see if you can take some drugs to help things along. Blood tests, scans, more tests. You spend a colossal amount of money long before you are confronted with the dreaded term IVF. Not to mention holidays, weekends away, nights out to make it look like you are having the time of your lives on this extended honeymoon you are looking like you are enjoying.

IVF. In Vitro Fertilisation. What my mother and her generation still refer to as ‘test tube babies’ – images of a lab full of babies in test tubes comes to mind. The reality is far from this, it’s a long haul to get to the embryos in a lab stage. You learn all about hormone levels, follicles, uterine lining, egg retrieval, embryo development – I swear you turn into an actual scientist. You think it’s normal to be mixing up drugs to inject into your stomach while trying to keep your stash hidden from visitors in the bottom of your fridge covered in broccoli or something. Even as a midwife, I found starting the injections awful but it’s amazing how it all becomes normal after just a couple of days. You tell yourself it will just take one go. What they don’t always tell you is that the first go very seldom works and is just a trial to see how you respond to the drugs. The second time is far more likely to be successful – except it wasn’t – not for us. And of course, all this time you can’t drink, so everyone thinks it’s because you are pregnant.

We were extremely fortunate, on our second round of IVF (see post here), though unsuccessful, we had 2 frozen embryos left. So we could go back for them without going through all the stimulation drugs or egg retrieval. It would be a relatively straightforward process of just thawing them and putting them in and hoping for the best. We were planning on doing this but 2 months beforehand, my period was late. This was following a weekend away where we cycled 50km in a day (I hadn’t been on a bike for about 10 years so it was a big deal), not to mention the copious amounts of wine consumed. When we got home, I went to my trusty stock of pregnancy tests just to see and yes, you guessed right – it was positive! The first, and only, time in my whole life I ever had a positive pregnancy test. Shock is an understatement as you can imagine. Someone asked did I do a second test to double check – NO WAY. What if the second one was negative? I couldn’t risk that (my unique sense of logic again!).

The anxiety in pregnancy following infertility, even though it was a natural conception in the end, is ongoing. I mean if my body/uterus had failed me for so long, how is it going to support a developing baby? It’s a constant worry, every twinge, every flutter, every kick comes with a mix of joy and tension in equal measures. However, the pregnancy continued, to our amazement, and a perfect baby boy arrived just over a week late. Our 2 frosties (what we call our frozen embryos) are still chilling out in a lab. The question is do we go back for them or try again ourselves or maybe one perfect baby is enough? Who knows what the future will bring. For now, we are only delighted with our little miracle.

Statistics

  • 1 in 6 couples are affected by infertility in Ireland
  • Success rates for IVF are 20-35% per cycle
  • Factors affecting fertility include age, BMI, lifestyle (eg smoking, alcohol, diet), medical conditions (eg endometriosis, polycystic ovaries).

Have a read of my post about where we went for IVF, costs and more detailed information.

Why not pin this for later!How to cope with infertility when it feels like everybody around you is getting pregnant.

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