One of the key motivations for starting my blog was to share our happy ending following years of fertility challenges.
I do so in the hope that we can extend a huge fertile hug to anyone who needs one. If it can work out for us when it seemed impossible, then it can work for others too.
Our fertility journey started in 2006 when we got married. I remember overlooking the Mediterranean Sea as David and I exchanged our vows. Anticipation and excitement overwhelmed me at the thought that we would soon be a family. I’m growing up, I thought: me, a mummy.
I was so happy for our future children to give them David as a Daddy. David and I were embarking on an exciting, magical new chapter in our lives and I couldn’t wait.
And then it happened, a tidal wave of infertility that lasted for over 6 years and changed me forever. During this time we lived a monthly rollercoaster of emotion in tandem with my monthly cycle. One of absurd hope and loss, on repeat. Somehow, still being hopeful, only to feel like a fool for having had hope when my period arrived.
Every month we weren’t pregnant was a loss: a monthly cycle of hope, loss and grief. My maternal yearning for a baby occupied my waking thoughts and permeated my dreams. There was no escape, but ultimately this is what drove me on. I would not give up. Thank goodness my husband and I were able to talk to each other. David was, and is, my best friend. I loved him as my husband. But, I wanted to love like a mummy does, to give and to care like a mummy does, to celebrate my children like a mummy does. I wanted to share the wonder of parenting with David.
I just wanted to be a mummy.
A key lesson I have learnt through the challenges of the last few years is to be grateful. Life will always throw challenges at you, but there is always something, or lots of things, to be grateful for. Sadly, I have found, there is always someone worse off than you. As such, I have learnt to be grateful for the problems I don’t have. Through challenge I’ve learnt an intense appreciation of the simple things in life, and the not so simple.
Gratitude to David
Infertility can put a huge pressure on relationships. Not all relationships survive infertility, which is so sad. However, through this time of challenge I was to discover even more so what a special man I have married, for better or for worse. David never once made me feel responsible. He’s never been blaming in any way, though it was my low egg reserve that was causing our fertility challenges. David made it clear that that I must never feel at fault and that ultimately he wanted me – for him, a family would be a wonderful bonus. He was very protective of me. As a result, I’ve never had to carry the burden of blame – he shielded me from it, though I’ve had my private moments.
I would beat myself up that I must have done something to be punished like this. For years I thought it. And then I realised: all sorts of people get pregnant. Some not so nice people, unfortunately. For me, this was just something physical. I was born with a low egg reserve. It is as simple as that. It wasn’t because of anything I had or hadn’t done.
I look at where I am today and it’s clear that our fertility challenge was not a punishment. It brought me four beautiful children. I admired and respected David’s kindness to me in not blaming. It could have been very different. And for that I am grateful.
I learnt to value David in a way I hadn’t had to before because I hadn’t known this challenge before. With challenge can come the beautiful gift of a deeper recognition and appreciation for all that you have.
For years David was my umbrella, and I learnt to trust that he always will be when I need one. The support he provided and the protection from blame, made the challenge much more manageable than it could have been. Through this challenge my trust in his love and friendship to me, for better or for worse, was cemented.
That’s not to say we didn’t struggle. Shortly before we fell pregnant we both got really sad. After more than six years of repeated failed IVF and monthly disappointment, we were emotionally and financially exhausted.
We went to a close friends wedding in the April of 2012. It was a beautiful event in a very special place. David got very drunk and I had to lie down with a migraine. I wasn’t sleeping well. I felt so frustrated that our lack of wellbeing due to our fertility challenges was impacting on every part of our lives. I worried we were letting our friends down and that people would lose patience with us.
The fact that David had unusually got so drunk showed me he was struggling, and that made me sad. I didn’t have the energy to be his umbrella and I felt guilty for that.
Being IVF Ready
The always being prepared for IVF or fertile ready dominated our lives, this included not drinking too much alcohol: another reason I was upset David had drunk too much at the wedding. In hindsight his lack of practice at drinking alcohol was probably the reason he got drunk so easily. But we were approaching an IVF treatment a couple of months later, so at the time I felt he was being neglectful of our priority. Little did I know we’d get pregnant two months later, despite David’s temporary alcohol indulgence.
Please Be Gentle On Yourself
During our infertility years, I forgot to live. It was like being caught in an Infertility Purgatory. We couldn’t book a holiday or anything in advance without questioning where would we be with treatment. We couldn’t go to the pub to meet our friends without having an agreement on how much we were allowed to drink, often not going because David felt uncomfortable not drinking if his friends were. Our focus was always about caretaking ourselves to be fertile ready and financially able.
This got boring. It also lasted for years. That is really boring.
We lost friends who didn’t get it or only wanted to see us in the pub. Fortunately I made some very lovely friendships during this period. I wear my heart on my sleeve, always have. I talked about our fertility struggle. In doing so, I created my own infertility network who I could share with. This is even easier to do now with a variety of social media groups sharing information and support online. I was to find Facebook groups really vital in the second stage of my fertility journey, but that’s another story.
Striking a Balance
When you are so desperate for a baby you will do anything to be fertile ready. Conversely, when you feel sad most of us will want to put our feet up with a glass of wine and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. The two do not compliment each other. Infertility makes you sad. If it lasts for years, it makes you sadder. I ate a lot of Ben & Jerry’s. If you are a person that finds it easy to apply the ‘perfect’ lifestyle to be IVF ready, then that’s great. I’m full of admiration for you. But if you are a person – like me, who found it a struggle and constantly felt like a failure, which only adds more stress to the situation – please be kind to yourself.
Just do your best
If you want to indulge in a treat and its not fertile greens, then do it. Don’t beat yourself up. Unfortunately, this journey can last for years – as it did for me. I put our life on hold. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on us because in the end it probably made me less healthy; certainly in my headspace.
People get pregnant at various ages in various stages of health, some in very negative circumstances. I am not suggesting that it is pointless to be fertile ready through lifestyle – there’s many people a fertile lifestyle will help and be right for, but ultimately I found that it was the changes I made to my mindset that most helped me to get pregnant.
I say this only to try and lighten the load for the people that will be putting huge pressure on themselves physically, particularly if it adds to their anxiety. But it’s worth trying whatever works for you. Just don’t beat yourself up – please be kind to yourself. I wish someone had said this to me. I wish I had said it to myself.
After all, infertility is tough enough to deal with. I remember reading about a woman who had committed suicide because of the pain of infertility: it frightened me that I understood her. But I knew I would never be her. I knew this because there are many ways to be a parent. There is always a way.
There Are Many Ways To Be A Parent
I started to think that maybe we’d have to accept we weren’t going to be parents in the way we’d thought. There were several options to consider. We started to consider fostering as an outlet for our paternal love with the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life. We started the process and met with a social worker. We also considered adoption for the future, but again, that’s another story.
Due to my low egg reserve, we knew that one option was egg donor treatment. We had joined the NHS donor egg waiting list: It was over two years long. David even suggested using an embryo donor if it would speed up the process.
David was so invested in me becoming a mother that he was willing to go for donated embryos if it helped my dream come true earlier. That is kindness. You becoming a mother is the most important thing, he told me. Actually, it was me who found it more important that it was his sperm, though I was willing to try donated embryos too.
The reason this option could be quicker then is that some couples donate their embryos from IVF rounds once they have completed their family. Therefore, the embroyos are already there, rather than having to wait for someone to donate their eggs.
A Time To Stop
We also had to consider what we would do if we did not get pregnant. At what point would we stop trying. I’ve talked earlier about not giving up. One way or another we were going to become parents. I knew that. It was just about coming to terms with the various options.
Though we would not stop until we became parents, I want to acknowledge the very brave people who have the strength to make the decision to not continue with their fertility journey.
I have already mentioned how exhausting and emotionally debilitating the process is. For some people, the right thing for them is to accept their life is taking a different route. I cannot imagine having to make this choice, and I am full of admiration for those who have the strength to make that decision.
Meanwhile, as we approached our fifth IVF treatment our wonderful neighbour Alison, had started training to become a Hypnotherapist. Alison asked if she could practice on me. We did hypnotherapy sessions that I could listen to regularly, including visualisations relating to my fertility.
As I prepared for IVF, Alison and I worked on specially tailored hypnotherapy sessions. I diligently completed my homework and listened to the sessions daily.
As I did so, I felt a weight lifting. I remember feeling as if I was getting me back. I felt an inner peace as if I was letting the pain go and opened myself up to the possibility that our next treatment would be successful. Through the process of grief and learning a new skill, I’d acquired a new language, a new way of thinking.
I started to feel more in tune with myself. I was kinder to myself physically and made friends with my body: the body that I’d disconnected from and chastised for failing me each month.
Discovering My Strength
Rather than being fearful and scared of failure, I started to trust more that I could find my happy ending. After all, my track record of surviving the pain was 100% so I had to open myself up to the possibility.
Previously I would hold back from believing in success because I was so frightened of failure; a self defence mechanism to protect myself from the intense pain of loss.
I used to think that if I was ‘realistic’ about the outcome I would have less of a fall if it failed. But with time I was learning that I could survive, whatever the outcome. In doing so, I opened my mind and body to the possibility of success. I started to believe.
And then I had a dream.
On Friday 15th of June 2012, I had a dream in which I chased David around the house. I will spare the details. My dream was telling me it was time. David came home from work on the Saturday afternoon and I grabbed him. There was no time for lunch. As many fertility challenged folk will tell you, sex can become a ‘must’ rather than a ‘want’. This wasn’t, it felt different. And we got pregnant.
Preparation for IVF
Meanwhile, we had arranged a holiday in the days leading up to our fifth IVF so we could relax and mentally prepare ourselves. As always when going on holiday, my period was due, but on this occasion it was all planned to sync with the treatment. The one thing that worked very well was my 28 day cycle. Off we went on holiday at the beginning of July.
My period was late. As day 29, then 30 arrived, David started trying to persuade me to take a pregnancy test. I felt pre-menstrual in every way and told him not to be silly. I had already been advised by our consultant that, whilst not impossible, it was unlikely I would get pregnant without an egg donor.
As it got to day 32, David asked me again and I said I didn’t want to, as I wanted to pretend I could be pregnant for a little longer until the usual disappointment happened. This was following six years of monthly disappointment. Let me dream for a few hours longer I told him.
The Pregnancy Test
Towards the end of day 32 , David managed to persuade me to take the test. We huddled together in our holiday cottage bathroom and I did a wee into a glass: I was frightened of missing the stick and having to wait. David did the test: I was worried I’d do it wrong. I’ll always remember the look on his face as he said “Well, according to this Boo, you’re pregnant “. If it is possible to laugh and cry at at the same time, we did. We held each other in amazement. We’d done it.
We were pregnant.
We found out we were pregnant, nine days before we were due to start an IVF treatment using donor eggs. This truly felt a miracle. I barely slept a wink that night. For years I’d longed to be pregnant just for a moment. And here I was, pregnant: nine months later our healthy baby boy was born.
The picture of David in my contacts is still the one of him holding that glass of pregnant wee. I will never change it. Every time he calls me, I am reminded of that magical moment. Who’d have thought a glass of wee would mean so much.
A Unicorn Mummy
The fertility challenged constantly hear about this mythical creature: A Unicorn Mummy. Everyone seems to know of one, but you never actually meet her. You know, the woman who’d been trying forever and then adopted and fell pregnant. Or the one who stopped trying, went on holiday and came back pregnant.
Well meaning folk will tell you tales of a woman they know who miraculously got pregnant and in doing so tell you to relax, just be positive, go on holiday, stop trying so hard because my aunties best friends daughter got pregnant when …………
In the circles of the fertility challenged we call her a Unicorn Mummy.
And then, I became her.
I will never stop being surprised by this. Me, a Unicorn Mummy. Me, a mummy.
It is no exaggeration to say that when I gave birth to Felix, I felt reborn. I felt alive to my core. I lived in a joyous bubble of Mummydom. I’d made it. I’d found my rainbow after the rain. It was everything I imagined. I adore being mummy to Felix.
Felix was nearly five months old when we decided I should stop my breast milk so we could try for baby number two. We had so much hope. My body had conceived once naturally, maybe it would do it again. Anything felt possible.
It would take us ten years to complete our family.
A part of me will always be that person. The scar is still there, but the wound is closed now.
I think of her often. I don’t want to forget her. Why would I? It is thanks to her courage and determination that I write this today as a mother to four children. It is through her vulnerability and tears that I discovered my strength and an intense appreciation of all that I have in my life.
I Wish I Could Tell Her
I wish I could tell her that there will be a happy ending. That I would be a mummy. That she would make David a daddy. That the feeling would be impossibly magical because we had waited so long for it. That I’d never take being a mummy for granted. That every time I am called Mummy it feels like an added blessing. That David and I would trip over each other to comfort Felix if he stirred in the night because it meant we were parents, nothing was a chore. That every day, several times a day, I would look at my children and think ‘We did it’, and feel an overwhelming intense joy. That regularly when we are with the children, I will stop and say to David “Look, just look”, and he knows exactly what I mean.
That because of my fertility journey, we have four children, including triplets. It’s highly unlikely that this would have happened if we’d taken the conventional path.
I embrace our fertility journey. It taught me who I am today.
Sometimes the things you want most are not meant to happen at the time you want them to. Because there’s something much more beautiful around the corner.
My Unicorn Family
We searched for you and you found us.
Mummy and Daddy love you limitlessly.