IVF: The Journey So Far


I realised today that it's been almost six months since I last wrote anything about our journey to parenthood. I haven't really gone into too much detail here, because this isn't only my story to share. It belongs to both of us. 

We've both had a lot of time to process what's next for us now, and ahead of another appointment today, and having just returned from an amazing family holiday to Cornwall which seems to have hit some sort of reset button (and explains the photo with our nephew) I thought it was about time for an update.

So, if you've been reading for a while, you'll know that back in November last year, we found out that there was no chance at all of us conceiving naturally, and that IVF would be our only option if we wanted to have a baby through pregnancy rather than adoption. 

D, my husband, had taken a semen sample to the hospital to be tested, precisely timed and nestled in his arm pit so it didn't get too cold. A week later, our doctor phoned while we were on holiday in Sweden, and initially he told us that there weren’t enough sperm in the sample to test, so it would have to be repeated. I was so relieved. So relieved that there was something wrong. My worst fear had that point had been that everything would be fine and we’d be sent away to carry on the monthly torment by ourselves, but no, this was something we could hopefully do something about. Also, not enough sperm must mean some sperm, right?

The test was repeated the following week and we went to the doctors together to discuss the results. It turns out not enough sperm did not mean there were some sperm. While the rest of the sample was made up of everything that’s supposed to be there, in both samples there had been a total volume of 0% sperm. Not even one. 

‘Not even one’, were my first words once we’d heard the prognosis. In that very moment we became part of a whole different system, a whole different community of people. We weren’t trying for a baby anymore, we were dealing with infertility.

The doctor told us about there are two different types of azoospermia, which is the medical name for an absence of sperm in the semen. Obstructive, where the testicles make sperm but it can’t get through because of a blockage or similar, and non-obstructive, where there is a problem with sperm production. He referred us to a fertility specialist at our local hospital to start investigating which D has, and explained that surgical sperm retrieval and IVF would be our only option if we wanted a biological child. 

We had to wait two months for that appointment, and sitting in the waiting room among all the other couples in January felt bizarre. How had we ended up here? This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. 

The specialist booked us both in for more blood tests, to check my egg reserves and to check D’s testosterone and FSH level, and also to check for any chromosome disorders and to make sure he wasn’t a carrier of cystic fibrosis. I also had an internal ultrasound to check my uterus and ovaries all looked ok. I’d been remarkably ok until the nurse turned the screen towards me, just like they do on the TV, when couples get the first glimpse of their growing babies, and showed me how very non-pregnant I was. Everything looked absolutely fine, but seeing something so inherently linked with having a baby when I wasn’t hammered the whole situation home. 


The doctor told us he suspected non-obstructive azoospermia, most likely caused because of an operation D had when he was child to lower his testicles, and that the blood test results would tell us more. This operation was routinely performed later in a boy’s life during the nineties, but more recently (because those boys of the nineties are now men trying for families) doctors have realised that if left too long, it could affect the fertility of as many as 90% of men who have had it. D was around seven when he had his, and it would now be done before a baby boy turns one.

So, off we went to get our bloods done, clutching a slip of paper with the details of Bourn Hall, a private fertility clinic. This set of blood tests would be the last we could have on the NHS because in our area, male factor infertility isn’t funded at all.

A few weeks later, in February this year, we were trapped in the depths of 'the beast from the east.’ However, we battled though the snow drifts to the Bourn Hall clinic in Cambridge to see their andrologist. Up until this point, we had no idea what the word andrologist even meant, but it transpires that it is the male equivalent of a gynaecologist and he would hopefully be able to give us some more answers. 

He looked at D’s test results, and confirmed that his low testosterone and high FSH level indicated non-obstructive azoospermia. He drew us a very nice squiggly diagram to explain, but basically his body wasn’t producing sperm properly, and his pituitary gland was shouting at his testicles to make some, hence the high FSH level.

He prescribed Clomid, which is off-lable and untested for use in men, and usually only prescribed to women. However, he said he had seen some very promising results and that it has been known to trigger increased sperm production in men in a similar position to D. 
After three months of taking Clomid, D would be booked in for surgical sperm retrieval, where the surgeon would search under a microscope for any sign of sperm, and freeze any he found.  

So, three months later, at the beginning of June, we headed back to Cambridge for D’s operation. We had been given a 30% chance of finding sperm, so were prepared for bad news, but I still felt incredibly anxious about how I would feel if we found out we could never have children that were biologically related to us both. I couldn’t imagine looking at our children and not seeing the man I have loved for 15 years in them, and I worried that D would use it as a weapon against himself when he was caught in the sometimes cruel and judgmental downs of bipolar. I was terrified of how I would feel, but tried to remind myself, as Professor lupin once said “That suggests that what you fear most of all, is fear itself. This is very wise.” It didn’t feel very wise, but as we signed consent forms and the very-funny-nurse explained how to correctly wear the paper pants (i.e, not on one’s head) and D strolled confidently down to the operating theatre, I tried to hold that thought. 

Something quite unexpected happened while I was waiting for D to be brought back up to his room. In between trying to drink the nasty coffee machine hot chocolate, listening to the Harry Potter audio books and watching the clock incessantly, I realised I didn’t care what happened. When D had been done for two and a half hours, and I began to realise that this meant the search must have gone on much longer than the anticipated 45 minutes, and this in turn meant that it had more than likely been unsuccessful, I just wanted my husband back awake and safe, and ready to be a Dad however that happened. 

After three hours, he was wheeled back in by the very-funny-nurse and shortly after the surgeon came in to confirm that he hadn't found any sperm. And we were ok. We said that we thought that would be the case, that we were prepared, and that we had been waiting so long for a family that we were almost past caring how that happened. And surprisingly, we meant it too. 

The very-funny-nurse came back to explain how to correctly place gauze in ones supportive pants (with detailed mime accompaniment) and we drove home. The following day we called the clinic to start the process of IVF with donor sperm, and although we’ve been expecting the weight of the situation to come crashing down on us, so far, we’re ok. 

We still have huge difficulty with the fact that we’re not yet parents, and I’ve found myself feeling really angry that this is happening to us. The price lists continue to appear, and  the waiting for appointments seems to go on forever. We’ve recently had to confirm that we’re not at risk of harming any child born as a result of our treatment which was nothing short of insulting, but as so many people have told me, its just another tick in a box.

We’re hoping to glean as much positivity from the situation as possible. As well as having a family of our own, I’m hoping to become an egg donor too so we can help to complete another family too. On the day we found out we would need to use a donor, I couldn’t help but imagine another family, in the exact reverse of our situation, or a same sex couple hoping to have a baby through egg donation and surrogacy. We’ve been stuck in this nightmare for  over two and a half years, and if we can help someone else wake up from it too I can’t possibly not be a part of that. I’ve been provisionally accepted to donate, so I’ll be writing more about that process too. 

So that's where we are Today we’re having counselling, and an appointment with our consultant, and then there will be another long wait for my final blood tests to come back to confirm I can donate eggs, then it should be full steam ahead with our first cycle. 


I’ve you've made it to the end of this - thank you! The support I've found online, particularly on instagram has been incredible and I cannot thank the people who are also sharing their stories enough. I’ve said it before, but this can be a very lonely place to be, and having other people to call on who know exactly how it feels is absolutely invaluable. 

3 comments

  1. You're so incredibly strong. Both of you. I wish you the best of luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much lovely. Strength is the only option 💙 xxx

      Delete
  2. An incredible story told by incredible people, and one that hits very close to me and my family.
    Massive love you to you and all your family.

    I’ll stay anonymous, but I am an old friend and I hope you are all good and living life as best you can :)

    ReplyDelete