This week is Fertility Week. It has triggered a lot of things within me. Anger at my infertility. Sadness at the loss of my babies. Also a lot of anger at the lack of information I was given. But mostly a desire to change things for other girls and women. There is still so much secrecy around fertility and infertility.
I was always aware that my fertility was ebbing away. I had learnt as a teenager, via a documentary, that biologically the ‘best’ age to have children was around 23. So I knew I was counting down after that. Nothing however, prepared me for being single during close to a decade of my fertile years, with nowhere to turn for support or advice. When I spoke to my GP about fertility treatment he simply asked me if I didn’t like men. Rather than help or discuss options he chose to ridicule my situation. I walked away from his office ashamed of my failure to secure a relationship, although I had been trying so hard! I was angry that my desire for a child was so strong, that I was having to take the step alone.
This could have been an opportunity for my doctor to explain my options, maybe freezing some eggs? Or at least having some checks on my fertility so I could make an informed decision. I didn’t get any support, I was simply referred to a fertility clinic who seemed happy to take my money for a round of IVF without providing options also.
My blood tests came back as all good, hormone levels fine. I thought I was on track for a baby. However there were still assumptions I made based on my lack of information. I assumed that hormones showing as normal and still being in my mid 30’s, that IVF would simply work. I didn’t know I had Endometriosis. I didn’t know that Endometriosis could impact my fertility. I didn’t realise that you didn’t need to be menopausal to have a low egg count. Then, when I met my boyfriend, and was pregnant within 3 months of starting trying, I didn’t realise this could still mean I was infertile. People kept telling me “at least I could get pregnant”.
I knew people could have a miscarriage, it often seemed to be a first pregnancy and I convinced myself it was the body just warming up, or if something was drastically wrong with the baby. I didn’t know it could happen again, and again, and again……and again. I didn’t know that infertility wasn’t just not being able to get pregnant, but also, not being able to stay pregnant.
At no stage of my life was fertility ever a topic of conversation. Not at school, not with doctors, not even when I went to ask about IVF with donor sperm and most importantly not at the fertility clinic I was referred to, who seemed more interested in taking my money than discussing options. Even more, I remember feeling quite pressured as they went through success rates at my age and then the rates at which they fell over the following 3-5 years. Then, when things went wrong, when I was found to have liquid in one of my fallopian tubes during my first round, which I later found out could have caused my first miscarriage, I was not given any information on which to base a decision. I was not given the option of freezing my egg. I was not given the option to heal and improve my chances. My options were go ahead or abort the cycle. It was a no brainer, I’d invested so much time, strength and money to this already.
After I had lost 3 babies and needed to have surgery following the 3rd miscarriage which didn’t complete, no one said a word to me about what happens next. I was in a state of shock (as well as having gone into actual shock from loss of blood) and so lost in grief, I didn’t think to ask. I went in to see a doctor with regards to something else a couple of months later and saw a different doctor. When he heard about my 3 miscarriages he referred me to a recurrent miscarriage clinic. Had I not gone in, I would not have been referred at this stage. This should have been automatic once my third miscarriage was recorded.
The Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic also did not explain my options. They told me they tested for everything and I trusted them. Its only later I found out how much they do not test for. I not only found out later, but too late. Otherwise I’d have had other tests privately. In hindsight it may have changed nothing at all, but I am still trying to forgive myself for not having done more. For not knowing I could do more.
If I could achieve something this week, it would be that Fertility is discussed more. That girls and women of any age and at any stage in life are aware of their options at that stage and supported. By this I include young girls, before they’re even thinking about having a family but also for those who have hit the end of the fertility road, whatever the cause. Support could make all the difference.
I’ve had two heartbreaking conversations which spring to mind as I write this. One consultant who told me I was unlikely to ever carry my own child, after having one miscarriage and one failed round of IVF. He based this on opinion only, since they’d not done any investigating into what happened. He offered no support, no point of reference, no testing, no recommendations. Just sent me on my way to absorb this, without realising the impact it had on me. I fell apart.
The other was following losing my twins 3 years later. We went in expecting to discuss how we move forwards, expecting to move to donor eggs. He gently let us down. I would apparently continue to miscarry every pregnancy, regardless. He could do no more.
In complete denial I wanted to be pregnant again. Mostly I think because I missed my twins so much and wanted to somehow find them again, I felt so lost without them. I got pregnant again and lost my 7th baby almost a year after the twins. The miscarriage clinic told me nothing, other than that there was no heartbeat. Their view was, get back in touch when you are next pregnant. They didn’t recommend any further tests. Over the years, they didn’t recommend I try to keep hold of my baby for testing, nor suggest ways of doing this. They were essentially of no help and at no point offered any after care or support.
Infertility has been traumatic. The lack of information around fertility and options has made this difficult journey horrendous. This needs to be talked about. This needs to change. Women need to know, not have to scrape around and research themselves. When I started IVF I didn’t know a single other person who had been through it. I had no idea of what I didn’t know in order to even ask the right questions.
Fertility is not promised, it is fragile and finite. For most it does work and does lead to a baby, although not always without help, but for others it’s a devastating journey through infertility which no one has ever prepared you for.
Had I been aware of options, choices and facts earlier, I would have done things differently. It may not have changed the outcome, but I would have felt less lost at sea. I'd have felt less like I was a rabbit in headlights. I’d have felt I had more control and had choices to review. I didn’t need to go through this feeling so ashamed and alone and no one else should have to!