Who would have known it would be so difficult to achieve something so natural? Being a woman, facing the battle of infertility is exhausting, and I take my hats off to those who find the fire in their belly to keep on fighting the fight. I wanted to share my experience with others, so they know they are not alone.
The first time I fell pregnant I was 24, it was a “surprise”. Now, some of you will be thinking to yourselves “if you have intercourse without any precautions at 24 years of age – you’re old enough to know the outcome”, and this is true – to some degree. At 14 I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries, at my diagnosis I was told that essentially I would never become a mother and it would be a miracle if it was to ever happen for me. I know now that I was misinformed, and whilst it can be more difficult, and some may need a little helping hand, it is not “impossible”.
So, I am 24. I am pregnant. It is a surprise. I have just got engaged (to my now husband) however things weren’t too great for us at the time (I still thank this pregnancy every day for reminding me why I was so in love with my man). I remember doing the test and it had initially told me (not in so many words) “it’s all in your head Holly – these aren’t pregnancy symptoms, it’s PMS – get a grip of yourself!”. So I threw the test away and carried on with my evening and continued cooking our dinner. And then, just as I was throwing the potato peelings away, there it was staring at me in the face, at the top of the already overfilled bin – the positive pregnancy test. My initial reaction was “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck”, followed by continuous banging on the bathroom door telling my fiancé to “hurry the hell up!!”. He opens the door, and I burst into tears. Still to this day I don’t know if they were tears of happiness, worry or sheer fuck-dom, but I cried, I sobbed, for hours. I phoned my Mum, and I didn’t need to say a word – “your fucking pregnant?!?!?!?!” she said in pure disbelief, “yes, Mama.” I replied.
Over the next two weeks my shock turned to excitement. I was entertaining conversations of baby names, I was already thinking of ways to tell my four best friends my exciting news (two of whom were weeks away from giving birth themselves). My dreams were coming true. We were all going to be Mummy’s together. All those years of talking about being Mum’s what lunch, going to baby groups together and eventually, once they were old enough, marrying them off so we could officially be family (not literally of course, sort of, maybe just giving them gentle nudges…). I started to treat my body as if I was pregnant, I made sure I ate well, did gentle exercise, no alcohol or tobacco, I was asleep early and I embraced every part of what I should be doing to give my baby the best start to life.
Then, 16 days after I found out I started to spot. The spotting led to bleeding, and the next thing I know I am doubled up on the floor of my office unable to move. My supervisor ordered me a cab and off I went to the hospital. I was sent straight up the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) and ushered straight in for a scan. Because of how early I was in the pregnancy they had to do an internal scan, which is never the most dignified of experiences. There I am, lying on a bed, legs akimbo with a stranger shoving a cold wet piece of machinery somewhere I hadn’t even allowed my fiancé to visit since finding out we were expecting. As I was lying there I remember the glimmer of hope I felt at the thought of this being the first time I was going to see my child. My initial optimism gave way to nervousness as the silence in the room grew longer. “Why is she not saying anything?!”, “why isn’t she showing me my baby?!”, “why is nobody fucking telling me anything?!?!?!”. Eventually, the silence stopped and the sonographer explained to me she could not find the pregnancy and that she would need to go and get a consultant. My ears began to ring, my heart was thumping quicker and louder than I had ever experienced. I wanted to be sick.
In came the consultant who explained to me that I was experiencing what is commonly known as a “pregnancy of an unknown location”. This could mean that I am miscarrying or it could be that I have an ectopic pregnancy. He explained that over the coming days I would need to have a series of blood tests to monitor my HCG levels. If they were to increase I would need to be monitored more closely due to the risk of an ectopic. If they were to reduce then my body was doing the “necessary” to expel the non-viable pregnancy. EXPEL THE NON-VIABLE PREGNANCY?!?! WHAT?!?!?! This was my baby, my baby I had made so many plans for in the 2 weeks I knew about it. In fact, I have been making these plans for my unborn child since I was a child myself. My heart hurt.
Once I was home from the hospital I called one of my best friends (one of the ones that was not about to pop) and told her what had been going on. She was the right amount of supportive and caring, without verging on over the top and smothering. She offered me (as always) the best advice to see me through over the next couple of weeks and checked on me daily to make sure I was doing okay. I wouldn’t have coped if it hadn’t have been for her.
Over the coming days I was in and out of hospital having my bloods taken every 48 hours. To begin with my HCG levels didn’t move, which gave the Drs some concern, but eventually they started to drop and I started to bleed. It felt like I was bleeding away my dreams. My heart literally broke into two.
The week I miscarried, my two expectant friends gave birth to two gorgeous little boys. I remember the day I met them for the first time, they were only days/hours old. I kept a smile on my face and made sure they knew just how proud of them I really was. This was their moment, not mine. I held their little bundles in my arms and whilst inside I was dying, on the outside I was nothing but a happy, supportive friend completely in love with their little babies. They still did not know the torment that was going on inside me, but I was not about to burst their bubble, that was not my right. This moment was completely theirs.
I spent the next couple of months focusing on myself, having fun, partying too hard and just trying to forget. My fiancé and I travelled around Italy, we lit a candle at the Vatican, and again in another church, and this for me was my way of letting go. When we returned from Italy, we decided we wanted to give baby-making another go. It wasn’t something we had initially been planning, but this whole ordeal had made us realise just how badly we wanted this.
Three months later, on Christmas day, we found out I was pregnant. We were over the moon! Again, I started to treat my body as if I was pregnant. This time I was able to tell my closest friends (without feeling like I was bursting anyone’s bubble), which I did at our annual Christmas get together. Everyone was so happy for us both. It turned out that the friend I had confided in about my first miscarriage was pregnant too, and again my dreams were coming true – we would be pregnant and have babies at the same time and it would be wonderful. We told our parents, and Grandparents. We made plans for our future. It was all falling into place. This time felt different, it felt more real, and we were lapping up every second of it.
New Years Eve came and went (my first sober NYE since I was 14!) and I went back to work after the Christmas break. The first weekend after being back at work I started getting really bad cramps again. This time located more to one side. I started spotting again and so I called the EPU and they asked me to go up to see them immediately. Off I trot back to the hospital. This time, with not quite so much optimism as the first time I had gone. This time with the dread that something terrible was about to happen. They took me into the room for my scan, I lay down, spread my legs, put my clenched fists under my lower back to tip my pelvis and the sonographer inserted his cold, wet clinical tool inside me. Silence.
“I am afraid I cannot locate the pregnancy, I am just going to get the consultant”. My recollection of what happens next becomes a little blurred. I remember wailing loudly, and the nurse rubbing my shoulder sympathetically. My fiancé sat next to me, wiping the river of tears falling from my eyes, telling me it was all going to be ok. I was told I would need to go and have a blood test to check my HCG levels. I did. My HCG levels were half the amount they should have been for the stage of pregnancy we believed me to be at. I was told to come back in 48 hours to repeat the test. When I returned, my bloods hadn’t increased, but they hadn’t dropped either, and this concerned the doctor. He told me to wait where I was as he needed to go and get a consultant and they would do another scan for me. The consultant entered the room with two other doctors. He asked if he could try and take another look for the pregnancy. This gave me hope. This hope soon dispersed when I was met with more silence. He then told me he was going to have a prod around in my tummy and to let him know if I had any pain. There was pain.
The consultant and the two doctors scurried off quickly and quietly into another room and I was left with no knowledge whatsoever as to what was going on. After what felt like an eternity they returned, this time with a nurse as well. They explained that they believed I was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy and they need to get me into theatre immediately. Before I had even had a chance to understand what was happening I was in a surgical gown, my Mama, my Grandmother and my fiancé all by my side, I was in a bed, and I was being wheeled into theatre. The next thing I know I am waking up in post-op, having my vitals checked. The first thing to come from my mouth was “my tube?!” and the nurse looked at me, tilted her head and just simply said “I’m sorry”. I remember sobbing, trying to remove all the tubes coming from my body and all the nurses in the room having to rush over to me to try and calm me down. In that one moment, on my own, in a room full of strangers I was told that my fertility would never be the same again.
I stayed overnight in the hospital, they gave me my own room due to the sensitivity of the situation. But, all I wanted was to be at home with my fiancé feeling sorry for myself. There was a tight curfew at the hospital, however the nurses let us be and didn’t insist on sticking to the rules given the circumstances. The nurses were incredible, and I couldn’t thank them enough for their kindness and compassion in such a difficult time. The hardest part was my fiancé leaving me to go home and being left in the lonely hospital room on my own. Just me and my thoughts.
Nearly three years later, and I am still struggling. Since my ectopic I have suffered with severe anxiety and depression. In the first 18 months I focused a lot of my energy in planning my wedding, whenever I would have a “down day” I would switch my attention to my wedding in a bid take my mind off things. It worked, until my wedding came and went, and it then hit me again like a ton of bricks. Like someone had kicked me in my stomach and winded me. It was a downward spiral from there for about 4 months, until I woke up one day and realised I needed to change my life. I simply wasn’t happy.
In the last 9 months I have made a real conscious effort to turn my life around. I quit my job as a conveyancer, in a bid to spend more time focusing on me. I am exercising more, I am spending more time nurturing the important relationships in my life, I spend more time with nature, I have a dog and I am now married. Life is good. Except that I still feel like a mother without a child. I feel empty. I want, more than anything, to grow my family. But I can’t do that when I am terrified to fall pregnant again in case it happens again, leaving me left with no possibility to ever fall pregnant naturally. I have worked so hard at building myself back up, after such a momentous knock. But still, I can’t seem to clamber over the final hurdle to enable me to face forward and start trying again. I recently watched a wonderful programme on BBC3 about grief (George Shelley: Learning to Grieve), which follows an ex-boyband member in his attempt to come to terms with his sister’s death. He said something which I felt was really poignant about grief – “it’s like glitter, no matter how much you try to tidy it up you’re never going to get rid of it all. You’re always going to find bits of it”, and this is so true! No matter how hard we try to tidy our minds, the grief glitter will always be there. I guess it is about learning to accept that the glitter is now part of who you are, and try not to let it define you, instead allow it to let you sparkle in a different way than you did before. It teaches us to show compassion and kindness to others experiencing the same or a similar thing, and when the time comes for us to hold our babies, we will have more love and appreciation than we ever knew was possible.
During my self-love journey I have started counselling, which I had to source privately. During my sessions with my counsellor she has helped me to see that I am suffering with a form of post traumatic stress, which on paper explains so much. She has helped me in so many ways. She used to be a doctor, and so understands the medical implications of my situation. She recommended that I seek a referral from my GP for something called a Lap-Dye. Basically they cut you open and they push a load of dye through your reproductive system to check for any blockages. The theory behind it is to alleviate the anxiety around falling pregnant again. At best, nothing is wrong and I can stop worrying unnecessarily about falling pregnant again. At worst, my remaining tube is blocked and I can process this information without dealing with the grief and loss of a baby at the same time.
However, my journey to have my fertility checked has been far from easy, and it doesn’t seem like it is going to let up any time soon. I was initially referred to see a consultant at a local hospital, to discuss the implications of such an investigation. I had specifically requested to be seen by a consultant I had met with previously regarding my PCOS. However, a week before my appointment I was contacted by the hospital to be told that I did not meet the CCG guidelines. Basically I have not experienced enough heartache and pregnancy loss to be considered for the procedure. A procedure I was requesting, not for fertility reasons per se, but for mental health purposes. I spent an entire day battling my way through the system to try and find a loop hole, and finally managed to make contact with the consultant directly, who told me to have the referral sent to him and he would see me. A week later and I phone the hospital to be told that he won’t see me and that instead the consultant recommended that I was to be referred to the radiology department by my GP for a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG). It is essentially the same procedure, except rather than cutting you open, they inject ink into your reproductive system and x-ray you to see what the ink is doing. “Fabulous!” I thought “I don’t want to be opened up for no reason, and I FINALLY have some progress”. Upon phoning my GP to push him along on sending the referral I was told that he was unable to make the referral himself as it needed to be done by specialist consultant. ANOTHER brick wall slammed in my face. UN-FUCKING-BELIEVEABLE!!!! At what point is someone going to help me? Surely, this procedure could save not only my fertility (and not put me at risk of experiencing another ectopic pregnancy) but also saves the NHS a huge amount of money in having to potentially operate on me for another ectopic. “oh, but it is a different budget I am afraid Madam”. OH PISS OFF!!
After spending another day ringing around trying to get to the bottom of how I can get someone to help me I eventually got some answers. The Radiology department at my local hospital were wonderful, they explained to me that they regularly get referrals directly from patient’s GPs for this procedure and so therefore could not see any reason why my GP could not send the referral on to them. HURRAH! At last! Someone is talking some sense and giving me the answers I want to hear…. Cue another call to the GP.
“Ahhhhh Holly, I was about to phone you. I have decided it may be best if we send the referral and see what happens.”
“YOU DON’T FUCKING SAY” I wanted to scream. Instead I uttered politely “sounds like a fantastic idea Doc”.
And now I wait…. Patiently…. But internally screaming because I have just wasted another 2 months of my fertile life waiting for someone to give me the answers I so desperately need and want.
So, whilst I wait for my appointment (which feels slightly like D-day), I am also having to manage my expectations, not just for the results, but on whether this appointment will actually come to fruition. It is hard enough for women experiencing such difficulties, without loosing complete faith and trust in the NHS to help you when you need it most. I must add, that whilst I understand the NHS is under great strain, and they do such a wonderful job. Women experiencing fertility issues in any way are warriors. They are strong, resilient beings who despite being knocked (sometimes relentlessly) somehow find the strength to get back up, brush themselves off and fight. Fight for their right to be a mother. So please, a little kindness and compassion wouldn’t go amiss – even if the CCG guidelines don’t warrant us being cared for….
Thank you for taking the time to read my first (ever!) blog post. I hope that with this blog I offer you faith, inspiration, laughter and encouragement as I bring you along with us on our journey and I hope in some small way I can help you on your fertility journey too (even if it’s to know you are not alone). As Kobe Bryant said: “There is power in understanding the journey of others to help create your own”.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton