IVF is a lonely old road

After my operation and horrible experience with a clinic I’d been having IUI, we learnt of Cambridge IVF by chance – someone at my partner’s work mentioned them. When I was in hospital, I had said to my partner – why on earth can’t we just pay to see NHS people? They had looked after us so well at the Early Pregnancy Clinic and during my operation experience. The care at Addenbrooke’s was excellent. And there was no way I could ever go back to somewhere I’d had such a traumatic process.

I couldn’t handle not being pregnant any more and felt out of control, so I really want to keep trying. It felt like something positive and was my way of coping (this seems crazy now),

We went to Cambridge IVF and have so far had the most wonderful experience. Everyone there is so lovely and caring, just as I would have wanted. We had a real shock during our first consultation because as soon as the consultant looked at my hormone levels, she said that as they were so low the best option was IVF, but even that had a very low chance of success (something like 5%). As the other clinic had guided us to IUI I was super upset as it seemed like we’d wasted months on something with a much lower success rate – even though I had got pregnant the second time. That doesn’t make me feel any better. It wasn’t a pregnancy that lasted.

5% success rate though – who would bother doing anything with those chances?

I also felt a complete failure that because of me, trying for a baby didn’t mean extra fun in bed, it meant injections, operations, and money. I still feel like that.

I’ve actually found the process of IVF fine. After IUI, I was used to the injections (although, with IVF I had to inject myself twice a day with different things, and have much higher doses). And the drugs made me feel better. They stopped the exhaustion and nausea for a while, which was amazing. My doctor completely dismissed this but the consultant said that, as my hormone levels were so low, my body obviously reacted well to having a high amount. I am heading slowly towards the menopause so it makes sense (sad though that is to say). No hot flushes or hormone swings for me – just feeling good.

The minor operation to collect eggs went fine, the implantation went fine. I wasn’t in lots of pain and everything went to plan.

IVF is incredibly intense though. During the IVF process I have been neither hopeful nor pessimistic. Before the egg collection I was very tearful because I knew I could wake up from the operation to find out no eggs had been collected. I had to think about it first to try and soften the blow.

6 eggs were collected (the photo of me is just after I’d woken up and been told that), 3 were viable and we had to decide whether to transfer them at day 3, or wait until day 5 when they had developed into embryos. Documentation about this bit is so hazy – what were the benefits to waiting or implanting? It turns out that people only choose to have them implanted earlier because the waiting is unbearable. It is far better to wait until day 5 when you know for sure if your eggs have made it to that crucial stage, but those two days were so intense and upsetting. I’d still take that over having them implanted and not knowing for a fortnight – but it is like a fortnight’s worth of not knowing condensed into 2 days.

Both embryos made it to day 5 – one slightly later than the other. That could just be down to timing in terms of when the sperm reached the egg, but we already have so much affection for that late starter!

Then another intense decision – to implant both or one? My partner persuaded me to have one, and the nurses were visibly relieved that was our decision because my body can get pregnant and twins is so much riskier. But the next day I was very distressed. Having babies is not easy for me and I can’t leave that embryo there, to destroy later on, but if we’d had a successful pregnancy I knew I’d struggle to have another one.

That embryo didn’t stick though. I’d only felt sick for a bit, the bleeding happened within a few weeks. It wasn’t traumatic like our first loss, but it was still horrible knowing that this wasn’t a normal period, and somewhere in that bright red blood was the tiny embryo we got to see on the screen. I kind of pretended it wasn’t happening.

The saddest thing about IVF is that almost no one knows what you’re going through but that the other couples we see at the clinic, we have not interaction with. I wouldn’t want to have this interaction – it’s a club that no one wants to be a member of. I would be unable to cope if I got to know someone and they had a baby but I didn’t, and I would feel guilty if it was the other way around.

After that embryo failed to take hold we decided to wait a little while and focus on me actually getting better. So that’s what we’ve done. I do feel sad to think that we’ve gone through so much and with nothing positive to show for it. I struggle to think that my IVF journey will most likely end in us not getting pregnant. But we’re about to embark on that final chapter and I have to face it. Dealing with difficult issues is essential – having PTSD has definitely taught me that.

Advertisements

EMDR 5: taking a break

I was really reluctant to go to my EMDR session this time. I told my therapist this and how frustrated I was that I wasn’t fixed, and what an awful few days I’d had.

We didn’t do any EMDR treatment, we just talked instead. She said that I had some good strategies in place and was now dealing with distressing incidents as they were happening. I have come a really long way! But I think I’m also mentally exhausted by all the therapy I’ve been happening. I didn’t realise that until I drove home. I’ve got a few week’s off from therapy because of other things happening and I’m glad and grateful for the breathing space. It has been an incredibly intense 5 weeks and it has been hugely beneficial. My partner said that these last two weeks, I’ve smiled more than I have during the last 6 months. I am getting back to being the old me, and that is entirely down to the EMDR sessions.

Our story is unfinished and uncertain though. We have one frozen embryo waiting for us. Both of us think there’s very little chance it will take, or keep growing. We’d also made the decision that this would be the last time we’d have IVF, or try for a baby. It’s all been so incredibly heartbreaking that neither of us can keep going, keep hoping, keep pushing for a positive outcome. We decided that this next cycle would be when we try and use that embryo, if it defrosts successfully.

It’s beyond intense to realise that within 3 weeks we will know the outcome of that last attempt. I keep crying whenever I think about it. Letting go is so very hard.

I feel it is too much of an obstacle for the EMDR to continue. Until I know, for sure, that I won’t be able to have a baby this time, I can’t fully heal. The only positive thing is that the limbo I currently in will soon be over.

A resurgence of losing my grip

After my fourth EMDR session I was so gutted I hadn’t been ‘signed off’. After all my hard work to get better, someone else was firmly judging me as not better. A friend pointed out that this is a very common trait with me and I do it with everything – work, fitness etc. – I throw everything I can at it, and will it to all be sorted, and am then surprised and annoyed when someone else challenges it.

While I still continue to sleep normally, I’ve had horrible vivid dreams again since the last EMDR sessoin as I’ve woken up. That wasn’t much fun. I had a few really bad days of just feeling tired. Not as bad as before – I found daytime TV unwatchable, which is a relief in a sense because the normal me can’t stomach that kind of thing. It left me a bit clueless as to what do to.

My best day was when I sorted out my bedroom (tidied drawers up) at a very slow pace with Radio 4 on. Yes, that was my favourite day of the week. I realised at the end of that day that actually, I’m not able to do much at the moment. I don’t mean physically – I mean dealing with people, unexpected circumstances and everyday challenges.

I went to see friends for drinks that night – rare these days and good that I felt physically better, but I just didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in my cave. I found some innocuous things they said hard to deal with and I didn’t know why. I just wanted to go home.

The next day, Saturday, I needed to get to hospital for a long-waited MRI scan. I’ve had a shoulder injury for 18 months and it’s been painful, every day, all that time. The scan date was given to me weeks ago. It also happened to be day 19 of a cycle. There is almost no chance we have managed to get pregnant naturally – trying via IVF is a 10% chance. There was no way I could test to see if that miracle had occurred because it was too soon. I have been nauseous for a week, but that’s my normal at the moment.

I couldn’t say I wasn’t pregnant but I know it’s very unlikely. I’d checked online about MRIs and pregnancy and all studies said that without contrast (i.e. without an injection to show things up) there were no issues.

So we went and walked past the maternity wing and women with huge bumps, past the entrance to the Early Pregnancy Clinic where I’d been checked and eventually admitted for an emergency operation. I filled in my form saying that there was a very low chance I could be 2 weeks pregnant.

They got me to change out of my clothes but then the radiologist came and spoke to me and said that she couldn’t do the MRI because their policy was not do it during the first trimester. But if I’m not pregnant, can I book a date straight away to avoid this issue? I asked. No, the woman responded. Then how can we sort one out? I’ll just have to wait until after the baby is born she said.

Like there is definitely going to be a baby.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough but I’d already started to sob at the entrance. I cried hysterically all the way to the car, all the way home, and then for ages in bed. And then I had nothing left all that day. A whole, beautiful, sunny day wasted with me being in bed, sobbing on and off all day.

In the car, I wanted to scream and shout and go crazy but I didn’t because my partner was with me and I didn’t want to scare him – and I know he’d immediately try and stop it and make me better. Helping people is what drives him but I needed to scream and shout and couldn’t do that, and so all that pain and anger and frustration internalised.

What she was saying was perfectly reasonable. I should have phoned and discussed with them but it isn’t a real pregnancy to me and I think that is probably why I couldn’t do it. I also thought they would have said it was OK. Whatever my reason for having a meltdown – walking past those places, not being in a good coping place already, having my hopes to sort out my painful shoulder dashed – probably all of that. Whichever way, I completely lost it.

I would love it if this was our story – the MRI got cancelled even though mummy didn’t believe she was pregnant but guess what? You were in there! But I KNOW this isn’t true. I know that I’m not pregnant. Well OK, I don’t 100% know that, but I can’t let myself believe it and I’ve had no symptoms anyway. The day after – the Sunday – I had cramping during the day, and the Monday I was massively hormonal. I know my period will slink along at the end of this week because that is just what will happen.

I still feel completely miserable and very tired from being so upset. Guess my therapist was right to book my next appointment. My PTSD is still there 😦

 

EMDR session 4: disappointment of not being fixed

I was so hopeful that this would be my last EMDR session. After I’d written my letter to my womb (still sounds bonkers) the main thing we’d worked on before – that I should believe my womb was not trying to deceive me – was genuine. I wholeheartedly accepted it, and I could bear to think back to the memory of being told when my womb was empty.

We worked a bit on when I had the emergency operation to check my ovaries, stop internal bleeding and remove ‘the products of conception’. What a hated phrase. Much like ‘miscarriage’ fails to convey the devastating situation it is, this is equally clinical and was hard to see it written down. What it meant was that my baby had been removed. At the time I was grateful it had been as I didn’t want to have a miscarriage and see whatever had developed slowly bleed out of me. I think my body probably did find it a bit of a shock – being pregnant one moment and then suddenly not. And I will never know when the baby stopped developing. But I don’t think these are big issues and it felt a bit fake during the session that I was focusing on them.

It would be stretching things to say that I am better, but I felt I’d been a really good patient (always this issue with me!) and had worked hard during the sessions, and at home, and had done ‘extra’ homework. I was so pleased when my therapist said it was a good idea of mine to write a letter to an actual body part of mine – that she hadn’t thought of that before. I felt so positive and was pleased to say I didn’t believe negative things about my body. We’re done here, I thought! I was fully expecting her to say, ‘you have worked super hard and you are now as sorted as you can be – maybe see you in the future if you want’. But no. She said ‘same time next week?’

I was crushed. Much as I really like and trust my therapist, I want all this to be over. I want to get back to my normal life and be able to function. I was really surprised she said this. It turns out, though, that she was right, as I found out a few days later. More in the next post.

A letter to my womb

This sounds a bit odd but I had a bad health week last week and I think that was because I was pushing myself hard to try and work out why I saw my womb as the enemy. Stuck in bed, exhausted again, it suddenly came to me to write to my womb. So I did and I was amazed at what happened. There was a real light bulb moment when I thought, and realised, and accepted, that my womb was not doing all those bad things to me – that it was just trying to keep my pregnancy going, just like I would have done. My womb is a part of me after all. I couldn’t have believed this before. Here’s what I wrote – not edited or checked, just how it was:

Dear womb,

You have been kind to me – you have carried two of my babies, who are the most amazing people in my world. OK, you gave my hyperemesis, but I forgive you because that didn’t last forever and it is your way of growing my babies (although – really not essential for healthy babies. Perhaps you sometimes try too hard?).

Maybe you thought you were over all this baby making stuff? It’s been a while, I accept that. I can tell that you were definitely starting to look at the menopause, diary in hand, deciding when to begin heading on that road. It must have been confusing for me to start thinking about cots and teething and tiny little fingers, clutching tightly onto my thumb.

Maybe you were just coming around to the idea when I started pumping my body full of drugs to make my ovaries produce more eggs. Maybe you didn’t think this was such a good idea. You remembered the progesterone though – you were straight in there, sending my constant nausea and sickness as soon as that was in my system. You and progesterone are loving bedfellows.

The first IUI, the sperm was put right where it needed to be, but nothing happened. The egg might have missed it. Or perhaps you knew that the egg wasn’t viable so you told it to go a different route and avoid them.

The second IUI, the sperm and egg fused and I knew I was pregnant very soon after. I don’t know what happened that time, or how soon the embryo stopped growing. I know that I was taking progesterone and I don’t know whether this was encouraging you to keep making me sick – confusing you – even though there was no need for us to be pregnant any more.

I did two pregnancy tests, one a week after the first, but I can’t know how ‘fully’ pregnant I was. When I had to take one at week 7 it came up straight away – like you were keen to show me how successful we were. The blood results were high too, like a normal pregnancy. And I was still feeling super sick.

I guess you didn’t know the baby had stopped growing. Or maybe you thought that if you worked extra hard, it would start growing again. I’ve not thought of it that way before.

I stopped having the progesterone so that must have been a sign that perhaps things hadn’t worked out too well, and the hormone levels were dropping, but you clung on. I never had any external bleeding. Your lining was still intact. I will still feeling sick – and honestly, that was very difficult for me. To feel pregnant yet know there was no visible baby in you.

I did have other bleeding though, internally, and it made me very ill. The doctors had to check my ovaries too.

It must have been a real shock to have it removed suddenly, when I was asleep. Maybe you felt them poking around in my ovaries as well. They are fine by the way – working just as well as they have always done.

I know that you are part of me, with me all the time. You are a great first home for my babies – so great that both Toby and Jessica stayed a week late. And you did curb the hyperemesis eventually (though every day reminded me of your presence with a bit of throwing up – just because).

Seeing an empty womb was not something I could ever have prepared myself for. To reach the miraculous stage of checking a pregnancy test AND to have so much sickness, I felt assured about the pregnancy. I had prepared myself for a future miscarriage and I’d even allowed a small voice in my head to prepare myself for seeing a tiny kidney bean baby with no heartbeat. I trusted my symptoms – I trusted you – to be certain that I would see something.

I still get a jolt of cold shock when I think about that day, although I’ve been working hard on dealing with my feelings. But I have been very angry at you. I have viewed you like an enemy, trying to hurt me. Why would you have deceived me like that? Maybe…just maybe…you weren’t.

Maybe you were just doing your best, working in the only way how. Maybe you just don’t realise or accept how much I want you to be filled with new life.

You’ve been around my whole life but you’ve only fully housed two babies. That’s 18 months out of 41 years. Don’t you want to be useful just one more time? (This would be a reasonable exchange for monthly bleeding and pain since I was 13, surely?)

If my eggs are just not viable, I think I could accept that. But growing a baby and then stopping – but not stopping – seems so cruel.

You were doing your best. You are a part of me. You know how much I love being a mother – and it’s you who makes me that.

I am going to try and trust that you will do your best, that you have always tried your best, and that there is no hidden agenda. You aren’t working for someone else – you are my agent, and my agent only.

I cannot ask, or plead, for you to let an embryo stay put. I cannot ask you to make sure it is one that will last full term. I accept that those things are beyond your control.

Please do carry on doing your job – of providing a cosy home for my babies. But please – if the baby dies, please let it go.

Oh.

Were you keeping it because you wanted to keep that pain from me? Were you hoping you could make it better if you clung on? I would do that, and you are a part of me after all. I wouldn’t have wanted to let it go either. I would have clung onto it until it was wrenched away from me – just like it happened with you.

I see it now. You were just holding on.

And you were right – I would have been devastated to see marks of bright red, to feel cramps instead of nausea. To know that it was beginning of the end of that tiny life.

But seeing an empty screen was much worse. Being told there was nothing there was much worse. Crying in pain was much worse. Having an emergency operation was much worse.

No one saw that baby until then – the baby that you had worked so hard to nurture. It was there, but it would have been OK for you to let it go. Honestly. We both need to learn to let our babies go.

 

 

 

EMDR session 3: my body is still my enemy

I feel that I have made huge progress with the EMDR sessions – I am now acknowledging my grief, and physically I feel a lot better for the most part.

The third EMDR session wasn’t as emotionally draining as the previous session, but I think that is because there is a mental block I just can’t get past: that my body is my enemy.

My body continued a pregnancy, even though the baby had stopped developing. I had weeks of developing hyperemesis, identical to how it developed with my two children. The only positive thing about the hyperemesis with my previous pregnancies was that I always knew – or so I thought – that the babies were growing. They were taking way too much from me, sure, but they were OK. To discover that this didn’t have to be the case – that my body could behave in that way but that my baby wouldn’t be OK – was a massive shock.

It makes me terrified of future pregnancies because the only way to know that a baby is in there is to wait for an early scan. But that means waiting, and being sick, for 5 weeks. That’s a long time in limbo. And after that scan? I will never be assured, never be able to trust blood tests, and only be able to be reassured whenever I have a scan, which won’t be often. That’s not the best frame of mind to have during a pregnancy.

I feel so strongly that my body is a liar. That it deceived me. That it is cruel and divisive. It sabotaged my pregnancy. It let me down. It is my enemy.

I feel that I need to somehow get it to look the other way during implantation – for it not to realise what is going on until it’s far too late and my pregnancy is firmly established and it has no choice except to support my pregnancy.

Rationally, I could look at my body and say that it has given me two healthy babies, and that it was just trying really hard to sustain one baby, and the other embryo we had implanted last month that just didn’t stick around.

I know that it isn’t my enemy – but I don’t believe or feel that.

I don’t even know where that comes from, and I was really trying to work that out in the session. I had a difficult relationship with my mother, and haven’t been in contact with my parents since I was 22 (the right decision for me). She told me I wouldn’t make a good mother. I am a brilliant mother. If she’s still in my head somewhere, affecting this, I struggle to make a real connection about it. And if she is – jeez, I wish she’d go away.

I have been working very hard since the EMDR – thinking, thinking, thinking – and visualising my internal body – the parts I can’t see that do all the fertility work – and trying to see it for the good things it’s done, to try and de-personify it but I am currently getting nowhere.

We put the IVF on hold for me to go through EMDR, partly because we recognised that I needed to deal with my grief and that IVF wouldn’t help (seems obvious now, wasn’t at the time) and to try and get myself in the best possible mental shape. It’s also recommended that EMDR isn’t done during the first trimester.

While I’d like to think that a person’s mental state doesn’t affect fertility, I have to accept that there is a chance it might (and probably, really does). And as long as I continue to feel at war with myself – see myself as two different people, one who is maliciously intent on giving me the cruellest blow ever – that my body is pregnant but there isn’t a healthy baby, there is another barrier to a successful pregnancy that don’t need.

I wish I could stop this internal warfare. At the moment though, it’s still beyond my control.

 

 

Looking a pregnant woman in the eye

One of my son’s best friends came over for a sleep over. His mum is heavily pregnant, due around 3 weeks before what would have been my due date.

I mentioned her in a previous post – I found the way she told me about her pregnancy a real shock and I couldn’t deal with it at all.

I didn’t properly look at her bump today, but as we were talking I did internally acknowledge that it was there, and that I was really sad that I didn’t also have a bump. I feel that is real progress!

Before my EMDR treatment I would have just frozen and not allowed any of that in. I would have dismissed and ignored it. Now I am – at last – allowing myself to acknowledge that these sorts of things are upsetting. Because I’m able to do that, it isn’t so overwhelming or unpleasant – it doesn’t have the chance to overwhelm my senses and shut the rest of my mind down.

I’m pretty pleased with my progress today. Maybe at some point I’ll be able to look directly at a bump too 🙂