Lisa spent her thirties undergoing relentless fertility treatments in an attempt to have a baby. Here, she talks honestly about what a decade of IVF was really like. Name has been altered.
“After my thirtieth we decided we were ready. I always knew I wanted kids,” Lisa recalls. To begin with, she thought nothing of the fact that she had not conceived, even after trying with her husband for two years. Suffering from endometriosis, she was more focused on solving that issue.
“I had a couple of laparoscopies, where they clear out the lining of your womb.” It was after the second procedure that she began to get concerned.
Diagnosed with unrecognised infertility, the couple were referred to an IVF clinic. Lisa was by now thirty-three. Her doctors were hopeful; she was young, and without any obvious cause for infertility. There were daily injections, which she administered to herself, weekly scans, and luckily, few side effects.
“The first run was really smooth. They could take dozens of eggs, but then it’s a matter of how many survive. We had thirteen eggs.”
A five day wait followed.
“Those days were absolute torture, waiting to see how many embryos we would have.”
The couple were left with five viable embryos, two were used on this first attempt.
“The two of us went in like kids on Christmas morning; nervous, excited. They have a scan, and you can see the catheter going into your womb. In my memory it’s like a shooting star. It’s really just the fluid you’re seeing, not the actual embryo.”
Ten days later they took a pregnancy test at home.
“It didn’t work. It was such a low feeling; an absolute shock. I just thought it was going to work. But I had three embryos still. The second time I was really hopeful as well. And it didn’t work. It was absolutely devastating. The first time, I had saved the money to do it, so that wasn’t a pressure. And when the first round didn’t work, the second only cost three grand, as opposed to the ten for the first time. But when the second round didn’t work, I had no money, and no embryos left.”
For the next two years Lisa went down a natural route with a doctor who engaged in the process of getting a woman’s body ready for pregnancy, but didn’t actually retrieve the eggs and artificially insert them.
Why can’t it be me?
“You just keep going,” she says of coping with the stress. “The biggest memory for me is of getting my period every month; such a low feeling. Everyone around me was getting pregnant. The one time I found it hard was when my best friend got pregnant. I remember I felt a little kick in my stomach. Like, ‘oh my god, why can’t it be me?’ But at the same time total joy for her.”
In what can be a pressure cooker of stress for a couple, Lisa credits her husband’s unwavering optimism with keeping them on track. “He always believed it was going to happen. So he was really positive. It does put a strain on you, but we always said we need to be strong for each other. I would feel sorrier for him than myself, because I knew how much he worried about me. I used to try and be strong for him, and I think he was doing the same for me.”
A friend who had worked in the area recommended going outside Ireland if they were to give IVF another go. They decided on a clinic in Barcelona, Lisa’s mum helped with the cost.
“Again, I went down this route very positive. I got a much better feeling from the doctors than in the previous clinic. They were much more informative. I had had another laparoscopy before we went. But when they checked me that they were not happy to go ahead, they felt the procedure had not been good enough; they wanted to do another one there in Spain. It’s hard to think about that even now; it really makes me question whether my body was prepared properly the first time.”
It meant that rather than having embryos implanted, a laparoscopy was performed and the couple had to come back to Spain a month later.
“And it didn’t work. We were devastated. At this stage I was losing hope. I just thought maybe we’re not meant to be parents. My husband said ‘look it didn’t’ work this time, but we have two embryos left’. It was really his pushing on that last one, because I was getting to the point where I was beginning to think ‘no it’s all too much’.”
She began confronting the fact that parenthood might not happen for them.
“Emotionally I was saying ‘ok if it doesn’t happen, are you and me going to be happy on our own, with no kids?’ And we said yes. So I thought ‘if that’s what might happen, I need to get into that sort of mind set. We’re going to be happy with just the two of us. I need to stop longing for a baby’. I think I was in survival mode.”
One last attempt
Lisa decided she needed a few months break before they would make a final attempt. “I felt like a little light had gone out in me. I didn’t really feel myself. I knew these were my last two embryos. And I had said this was my last time. We would have to accept that it was just going to be me and you, and we were going to travel, and be happy.”
On this last attempt, all excitement had long gone. “The first time we had treated it as a holiday. We were very happy. That second time I was like ‘lets just bloody mill through this’. Praying, praying, praying.”
Ten days later, at home, they took the test on a Friday. “We were sitting in bed, wrapped round each other, waiting. The three minutes felt like thirty. I said ‘I can’t do it; I need you to look and tell me’. After a long pause he said ‘I can’t look either’.
Lisa grabbed the test. “I just saw that the words were shorter. ‘Not pregnant’ is so long. ‘Pregnant’ is shorter.”
Unable to speak, she burst into tears.
“I think I had resigned myself to the fact that it would be a no, and we would deal with it, and it would be fine, and we would book a holiday,” she recalls.
“We got pregnant on my last embryo. If I had had another, we would certainly have gone back for another round. I was thirty-nine when I had my child. I said to my husband ‘I feel I’m going to be so happy, I don’t need a second’.”
“I had spent my entire thirties monitoring my cycle. After I had my baby, I didn’t even think about my period.” Which was why she barely noticed when it was late. Something must have triggered though, on her lunch break, unthinkingly she went to a pharmacy she passed, and bought a pregnancy test.
She was pregnant, nine weeks gone. Lisa is now the mother of two boys, with thirteen months between the babies. Her doctors told her that often having a baby can clear former fertility issues, and that you are at your most fertile after having a baby.
“The best piece of advice I could give would be to talk to someone who has experienced IVF, who can really empathize with you and your feelings. I had a great friend who I confided in when I was feeling low. She really got it. And be open and honest with your partner, so that the two of you are on the same page.”