…And I thought I’d give you an update. Quite a long one. It’s not very Christmassy, sorry. There are no babies in mangers. Quite the opposite, in fact. But something happened yesterday that made me want to write again, so here I am.
I’m not going to pretend it’s all hearts and flowers. Enmeshing two lives is never straightforward. Especially when you’re not 25 any more. And to be fair, it’s not me that has taken the brunt of the upheaval. I’m still living in the same house that I’ve been living in for nearly 15 years, surrounded by my friends.
He’s the one who turned his life upside down. He moved cities, left his friends behind, and took a demanding new job working insane hours so that we could be together. How do you repay that sort of a grand gesture? Well I’m pretty sure the textbook answer isn’t “Insist that you throw an IVF cycle into the mix ASAP” But, yeah, that’s what I did.
What can I say? I’m 42. I’m not getting any younger. These eggs aren’t getting any younger. These odds aren’t getting any better. And he wants children. Possibly more than I do at this point. And if we’re to stand any chance of those children being biologically mine, there isn’t time for a honeymoon period.
So in July we found a new clinic. The really expensive one. The one with the best results for women my age. The one that is all bells and whistles and dotted Is and crossed Ts and belt and braces. They throw EVERYTHING at you and hope that something, ideally the embryo, sticks.
And I went all in too. I went to see a nutritionist and changed my diet and started taking insane amounts of supplements. I mean, insane. I almost can’t talk about the money I spent on supplements. And I made him take supplements too. I went to see an acupuncturist and started taking the Chinese herbs that he prescribed. I downloaded IVF mindfulness apps, and started reading affirmations. I know, I know, who the fuck even am I?
Nobody can ever accuse me of not trying. But, of course, at the same time as trying I was trying not to try, because you can’t be uptight and stressed, you have to relax, don’t you?
And so we did a cycle — eventually. Because for the first three months, we didn’t do a cycle. For the first three months, on day 1 or 2 of my period, I trotted along for a blood test that looked at the levels of FSH and oestrogen, and from those results, the clinic would make a decision on whether to go ahead with the cycle, and what sort of cycle to do.
I knew what sort of cycle I wanted to do. I wanted a massively stimulated cycle, I wanted them to pump me full of as many drugs as possible and squeeze every last egg out of me. I was happy to have borderline Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome if it got me pregnant.
But my body didn’t want that. For three months, my hormone levels suggested that this would not be a successful approach. And for three months they offered me a “natural” or “mild stimulation” cycle. For three months I said no. I’d been there, done that, I didn’t want the chance of just one egg. In my mind, if the likelihood of getting a genetically normal egg at my age is 1 in 12, I wanted to gather those 12 eggs as quickly and as efficiently as possible — not least because we can’t afford 12 cycles.
But after three months I realised that I might be waiting forever for the stars to align and the hormones to be right for a stimulated cycle. And I also remembered that two years ago, the only times I got any embryos were from natural cycles. So when they offered me a natural cycle this time, I said yes.
Maybe at some point I’ll write about what that cycle was like. About what it was like to be doing IVF as part of a couple when I’d been so used to doing it on my own. Spoiler: It was really fucking hard. It was, without doubt, the most stressful cycle I’ve ever done.
But I do not believe that the clinic could have done any more to make it a success. In fact, it made me start to resent my old clinic because I felt they could have done so much more.
I was taking Aspirin to thin my blood, Clomid to stimulate ovulation, Viagra to help thicken the lining of the womb, injecting Clexane up to twice a day to thin my blood, taking Dexamethasone, a low-dose steroid, to help lower my immune system so that my body didn’t reject an embryo, taking additional Levothyroxine to regulate my thyroid, and at one point I had a £2000 IVIG drip to lower the activity of parts of my immune system. All that in addition to the injections of FSH and LH I was giving myself, based on what the daily (sometimes twice daily) blood tests suggested my body needed. Later I had Progesterone suppositories, and later still intra-muscular injections of Progesterone, that went into my arse with a big needle.
It wasn’t a bad cycle. They got four eggs. From a natural cycle. I was thrilled. I felt vindicated, these people knew what they were doing, it was all paying off. And then only one of them fertilized normally, and I felt less thrilled. But I kept reminding myself that it only takes one, and it was a high quality embryo, so maybe, just maybe, this could be the one. They transferred it on day 2. And 12 days later I got the result I didn’t want. A home test, and subsequently a blood test, confirmed that I was unquestionably Not Pregnant.
I was disappointed, of course I was: the most expensive cycle to date at what was meant to be the best clinic, and I still wasn’t pregnant. But a few days later I rallied. It was fine, I hadn’t really expected to be pregnant first go, had I? In my head I’d thought we’d do three cycles, and if a natural cycle can yield 4 eggs then another two to get me my magic number of 12 seemed right. It was fine, I still had another two goes before I had to have a rethink.
And then we went for our follow-up consultation at the clinic. I was readying myself to talk about what we might do differently next time, and about whether oestrogen priming, or human growth hormone might improve egg quality.
But after going through the cycle, and talking about the extra tests we could do to check for chromosomal abnormalities and DNA fragmentation in sperm “if you decide to do another cycle with your own gametes”, the consultant put her cards on the table, in a way that was utterly unequivocal.
“Given your history, your hormones, this cycle… I would say you had — at best — a ten per cent chance of having a successful cycle. Because it’s not just about getting a positive result at the end of the two weeks, it’s about getting to 12 weeks, and then there being no abnormalities…”
Basically, you can waste your money on more cycles with your own eggs if you like, but the chances of you taking home a baby are slim, slimmer than slim.
And just like that six years of my life, six years of trying, all that time, all that money, all that energy, all that emotional expenditure, was over. And in that moment, it all felt wasted.
My late grandmother once told me, after I’d broken up with my university boyfriend after six years “You spent too long with the wrong man” The thing is, it wouldn’t have been too long, and he wouldn’t have been the wrong man, if we’d stayed together and got married. But the fact that we didn’t made it all feel like a waste.
And if after seven cycles of IVF, I’d got pregnant, then it wouldn’t have felt like those six years were wasted. But this way, it does. Right now I feel like I spent too long/too much money/too much everything trying to get pregnant.
In May last year, after the final transfer at my old clinic didn’t work, I wrote that I needed “a second opinion, a third opinion, or someone to very gently tell me that I need to stop because this isn’t going to happen like this the way I wanted it to.” Looks like I got my wish.