‘I had always thought I’d need IVF’: Caroline Bennett on the simple fertility treatment that gave her a baby boy
29th Oct 2021
Caroline Bennett was trying to have a baby for two years before she tried ovulation induction treatment. Now, she has a beautiful baby boy named Ollie.
Tucked away at her home in Cork, Caroline Bennett is overjoyed to be spending lockdown with her husband Eamonn and their nine-month-old Ollie. They live beside Caroline’s mam, an integral part of their loving, family support system that’s carried them through the past few years.
Caroline and her husband were trying to have a baby for two years before they sought help from Waterstone Clinic. They were engaged to be married at the time and, at first, there was no pressure to start a family. “We started trying in 2017 when we moved in together,” she said. “But then two years went by so I decided to get a few tests done to make sure everything was okay.”
Caroline and I are chatting over the phone, like most of us must these days, and I can hear her voice catch as she reflects on their fertility journey. She explained that she was so afraid they’d find something wrong, she cancelled her initial fertility appointment.
“In my head, I was convinced our only option was going to be IVF. I knew we were going to have a tough time with it, so we wanted something happy to look forward to no matter what happened. We decided to get married at Christmas 2019 and if IVF was our journey, then we’d deal with the two together. We had always wanted our children at our wedding.”
Making a fertility plan
Caroline’s fertility issues were much simpler than she had imagined. But she’s not alone in her fear of IVF being the only fertility option available. Many of the patients that come to Waterstone Clinic are worried that their journey will be a long and costly process.
“It’s important to know that not everyone needs IVF treatment,” explains Dr John Waterstone, consultant gynaecologist and medical director of Waterstone Clinic. “When we meet couples, we look at their test results and make a plan. Our philosophy of care is to get a successful outcome using the least amount of intervention possible: some couples will need IVF, and others may only need simple treatments or just good advice.”
“The main thing to keep in mind is that ovulation is the key to pregnancy. Women with a monthly cycle will ovulate 12 times a year, so in reality there are only 12 opportunities to get pregnant in a year.
“Many couples miss these ovulation opportunities because they are unaware that the window of time when they are fertile is in the days before ovulation. If they wait until the days after ovulation to try, they will be past the fertile window and will have missed that month’s opportunity to get pregnant.
“If there is an issue with ovulation, however, we can intervene with a simple treatment to make sure that ovulation happens.”
Ovulation Induction Treatment
When Caroline did work up the courage to book a second appointment, it turned out that ovulation was exactly what she needed assistance with.
“I met with Dr Waterstone and had my scan. He suggested a follow up laparoscopy and dye test. The tests showed that even though I wasn’t fully symptomatic, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Before anything else, he wanted us to try a simple ovulation induction treatment (OII).”
PCOS is a common condition that interferes with ovulation, and to treat this, the team prescribed medication to prepare the womb and trigger ovulation. All Caroline had to do was take one tablet of fertility medication a day for five to seven days.
When I found out OII was all I needed, I balled tears – happy tears.
“Ovulation induction treatment is a simple treatment where the patient will take medication to mildly stimulate the ovaries to grow a follicle,” explains Dr Waterstone. “When the follicle reaches the right size, we trigger ovulation with an injection of medication, so the egg inside the follicle is released. Conception then takes place at home through the couple having intercourse.”
After taking her medication, Caroline returned to the clinic for a scan to confirm the follicle had grown to the correct size and her womb lining was the right thickness for an embryo to implant. It had, so they gave her a trigger injection for her to ovulate. “After that, you do the deed for the next three days in the hope that it happens,” said Caroline. “And there are no side effects. It basically sets up everything before intercourse.”
Grief and relief
“When I found out OII was all I needed, I balled tears – happy tears. It was the most overwhelming, lovely moment because I had always thought I’d need IVF. Not that there would’ve been any issue with that, bar finance, but I had waited so long to come in that I was already at the point where I was just so drained from it all. The fear of what it could be is so much worse than the actual thing.”
In the years leading up to this, Caroline had tried everything under the sun to conceive – fertility acupuncture, different diets, drinking tepid water. “I put myself under so much pressure and I’d love to go back and shake myself. Like, that was never going to get me my baby. Was it gonna relax me? Maybe. Did I enjoy it? No. I tried everything that I could have, and I’m not saying there’s no truth in the holistic way, but, for me, I needed the medication to kickstart the ovulation properly.”
And when she finally found out she was pregnant, she couldn’t believe it. “When I found out I might be pregnant, I didn’t tell Eamonn because I didn’t want to get his hopes up just in case. The next morning I got four more tests, went into the bathroom at work and they were all positive.”
“And the next thing I actually did was ring Waterstone Clinic to book in for an early scan before anyone else knew. I just needed to know that I was okay and that there was actually hope. And the nicest thing happened; the girl on the phone said, “Congratulations.” And I will never forget that congratulations. It was just acknowledgement that he was there.
“I couldn’t wait to tell Eamonn. I had this cup that had ‘you’re going to be a dad’ written inside the bottom of it that I had hidden away for over two years. I went home and made him a cup of tea with it, and when he noticed the message, we celebrated together.”
Advice for those on their own journeys
Looking back, I asked Caroline, is there anything you’d tell your younger self to help you through the whole process?
“Go with your gut and take it easy on yourself. Like I was my own worst critic through the whole thing. I was forever doubting myself and thinking I was to blame. I took it so personally, and nobody knew how bad I took it out on myself because I was afraid to let anybody into that.
“Eamonn was so supportive, and he was completely my rock. I didn’t even question how he was, mostly because I knew he had close friends that were minding him. I couldn’t carry it for both of us. And that’s why, with the pregnancy test, I really had to make sure it was positive before I told him. So, I would definitely be nicer to myself.”
“As women, we feel we are responsible for the conception and pregnancy’s success,” I replied, “but this is completely untrue. We can’t control any physical issues that arise, yet this fear is what kept you and so many others from seeking fertility help straight away.”
“Exactly! I wish we didn’t wait so long before we sought help because I think I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself,” she said. “I found the process really emotional, especially as the girl, I think you’re really hurting yourself. It’s always worse in your head. At least when you go to see your options, there’s a plan, however big or small, whereas in your head there’s no plan because it’s all doomsday.”
A loving support system
“I couldn’t have done it without support. We had both our families and friends – the minute we found out that I was pregnant, we told everybody because I wanted to celebrate Ollie. It’s only then you realise how much the toll has actually taken on your family as well because they totally carry it with you, their joy. We had lovely ways of telling everybody.”
Caroline was pregnant with baby Ollie just weeks before their Christmas wedding, and she could not have been happier.
I had such bad morning sickness on my wedding day and it was a special reminder that everything was gonna be fine…
“I based our wedding off the fact that we’d have needed IVF. We got married with 50 of our family members because, for me, I’d rather spend the money on having a baby rather than a huge wedding, and, looking back, I think I’d have done the same anyway because our wedding day was so special.
“It was just our immediate family and then we had a huge party that night where everybody came. It was really lovely. I actually had such bad morning sickness on the day of the wedding and it was a special reminder that everything was gonna be fine because I knew Ollie was technically at our wedding.
“I had my eight-week scan the week that we got married in December, so it was a bit of a fairy tale in the way it worked for us when we did finally get there. It was the best decision we ever made.”
Caroline and Eamonn are still indulging in that joy and treasuring each moment with their little miracle. “Ollie, who is nine-months-old now, is a happy lockdown baby. He’s getting his own little personality which is so fun,” gushed Caroline.
She is beyond grateful for Dr Waterstone’s help, who has been deeply invested in her fertility journey from start to finish. “Caroline and her family are proof that simple treatments can make a huge difference,” he said. “It’s such a privilege to play a part in helping create and complete a family. We really are thrilled for them.”
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