Clinics carry out 68,000 cycles of IVF every year for wannabe UK mums. For many it’s an emotional, gruelling journey.
In Fertility Awareness Week, journalist Punteha van Terheyden tells her story to encourage those longing for a baby to stay strong and not suffer in silence.
Glimpsing my reflection, I took in my huge bump and shed angry tears.
I was mid IVF in July 2015 and the universe was playing a cruel trick. Though I looked full term, I wasn’t pregnant.
Instead, I had Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS) – a rare condition affecting some IVF women.
Too much hormone medication leads the ovaries to become swollen and painful.
In my case, after a high number of eggs were collected, my abdomen filled with fluid, squashing my vital organs and leaving me breathless.
I had intensely painful bleeding ovarian cysts too.
Treated as an in-patient near the London clinic where my seven embryos were in storage, I penned a note to my future baby as a reminder of why this physical hell would be worth it.
“Tonight we sleep under the same stars but soon, you’ll be back with Mummy,” I wrote.
It was months before I was well enough to try again. But just 48 hours into my second cycle, I erupted with shingles.
My fertility consultant, the wonderful Vidya Seshadriat The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health (CRGH), in Great Portland Street, made me face the hard truth. I needed a break.
I’d already had four operations to boost my five per cent chance of conceiving naturally before IVF.
Two took place before my relationship with husband Andy, 35.
From 21, I’d been prepping for my fairytale. Not the big wedding, but a baby. As an only child, I had dreamt of having three.
So already knowing I had endometriosis had led me on a pre-emptive strike to salvage my fertility.
When our friendship of four years turned into something more, I warned Andy about my infertility. I didn’t want to waste my time if he didn’t want kids.
Thankfully he did, adding: “We’ll get through it together.”
But a year on we learned Andy’s fertility was virtually zero, probably due to mumps as a child.
Even with IVF, we’d need ICSI, where a single sperm is injected into an egg. It felt so unfair we were both so infertile.
I started multiple daily hormone injections, tablets, pessaries and steroids.
We called it our “baby in a box” for the sheer volume of medication delivered to our door in Hemel Hempstead, Herts.
I had daily internal scans, even a dummy run of the embryo transfer procedure, which I found extremely painful.
But I didn’t care. I was desperate to be a mum.
Friends’ baby announcements left me in despair.
As a newlywed, I also resented flippant “when will you start a family” questions.
Infertility is an unfair taboo we’re not expected to reveal until our “miracle” is here. It’s a hard pretence to keep up.
I stopped sparing those who ribbed us to “get a move on”, allowing my tears to shut them up.
Admittedly, I claimed a private victory seeing them squirm. I wanted them to feel mortified.
With one in six UK couples now needing IVF, nobody should ask this insensitive question.
I wanted to plough on in my quest for a child but begrudgingly agreed to rest, comforting myself with the idea of transferring two embryos, hoping for twins.
But Vidya urged us not to, citing increased risks to mum and babies. I had to agree.
In late 2015, I began treatment, following Vidya’s meticulous advice.
A low GI diet to decrease inflammation, high dose vitamin D to lower miscarriage risk, no anti-inflammatory painkillers or heat pads, gentle walks to boost pelvic health.
I also had acupuncture for pain and therapy for my sanity. I’d become very anxious.
After a January transfer, I got up at 5am, 10 days earlier than advised, and did a pregnancy test.
My thighs were swollen and infected and my stomach black and blue from injections but I didn’t care. I was pregnant.
By 20 weeks the nursery was painted, the wardrobe packed with tiny outfits.
I handmade my daughter’s mobile and wrote her name everywhere – in my pregnancy diary, her baby scan album, my notepad, her clothing labels… even in the daily messages to the email address I’d set up for her.
I also spent every day crippled with fear she’d die. I counted the weeks till she was viable then again till she was full term.
After nine months of joy and fear, Amelia arrived by emergency C-section at University College London. She had rabbit feet like her dad and weighed 7lb 4oz.
And just like that, a decade of heartache evaporated. Like the ocean swallowing a bubbling volcano. Gone.
A friend, also successful with IVF at CRGH, said even her baby’s explosive midnight poo felt like a miracle. She wasn’t wrong.
Last month, we celebrated Millie’s second birthday with a Moana cake and a good few mind-numbing toddler songs.
I feel blessed to know and hate Baby Shark because every moment with our girl is a gift.
We owe our happiness – and our stubborn, hilarious, fearless, beautiful daughter – to Vidya.
During this journey I’ve formed friendships with women around the world, united by our shared heartache. Their stories gave me hope.
One couple produced a single low quality embryo after endless IVF – but it brought them a girl, now two.
Another spent five years having 12 rounds, plagued with loss. But now their adorable twins thrive.
Today is the final day of Fertility Awareness Week.
So if you’re going through this, please don’t lose hope or suffer alone silently.
Reach out to others for support and take control where you can – researching your clinic on the HFEA site for example, where you can compare success rates. We chose CRGH because of their above average results.
I’m 32 now. And Millie is more than I had ever dreamt of.
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