[TW: This article discusses miscarriage and may be triggering for some readers.]
Sometimes it feels like our journey to becoming parents started a million years ago and other times it feels like it was only yesterday.
Around eight years ago my husband and I decided it was the right time to start trying for a family. We had been together for 13 years (childhood sweethearts!) and married for over a year. We had travelled the world and both had successful careers and it felt like the right time for us.
Seven months later, (which is really nothing I came to learn in the conception world) we got our first positive pregnancy test. We were both so happy and over the moon. We told our closest friends and family and we were totally ready for our lives to change.
At around seven weeks pregnant, I started having an excruciating pain in my side which lasted a few hours. Over the next week or so I convinced myself that something just didn’t feel right. We went for a private scan and it was confirmed to us that it was an ectopic pregnancy in my left tube. We were sent straight to A&E and the next day I was given medication to ‘expel’ our first pregnancy. A week later the medication hadn’t worked and I was kept in for surgery to remove my tube. It was utterly heartbreaking that this was our first experience of pregnant and our first loss.
We were lucky to go on and get pregnant again naturally a few months later but I started bleeding at 6.5 weeks so that was our second loss in a short space of time. After that we went to a private doctor and were advised that we needed to go straight for IVF because I only had one tube and a very low AMH (egg reserve). I wasn’t even 30 at the time and had an egg reserve of a 40-year-old. Around a year after the second loss, on our first round of IVF, we transferred two embryos and had a positive test 10 days later. An early scan gave us some hope, but a week later it was again confirmed that the pregnancy had stopped developing at 7 weeks. Unfortunately, the medication that I was given again didn’t work and I miscarried on our holiday a few weeks later. Three losses down.
Fast forward another year, yet another natural loss and yet another IVF loss, the grief started to eat away at me and I could feel myself changing as a person. I felt embarrassed that my body couldn’t do the one thing that it’s ‘naturally’ meant to. I didn’t, at the time, know anybody who had been through IVF so it felt really lonely. So many of my friends and family were getting pregnant and some even having their second babies and I felt at such a standstill. The ache for our own baby was so great and my anxiety rose each day. Grieving lost pregnancies and the hormones and emotions mixed together can create such desperation. I spent a fortune on acupuncture, herbs and reflexology.
A bit of a break and another year later we decided to try one last shot at IVF. The doctors threw everything at me and this was our first frozen transfer rather than fresh. We got pregnant but it was again short lived. Loss number six. The emotional pain was immense and I was so desperate for it all to be over.
It was just after this final round that one of my best friends, Em, who I had known since I was 13, came to us and offered to be our gestational surrogate. This would involve her trying to carry our genetic embryo. At first, I didn’t take her seriously and I also didn’t know how I felt about it. I wanted to carry our own child, but the fact there was a backup option gave us back some hope.
My mental health was at an all-time low and we decided to take career breaks and go travelling for a couple of months. On the last day of our trip I found out I was pregnant and it was another ectopic in my right tube this time. My body had failed again. It was the nail in the coffin and we needed to move on to the next step. We were not giving up without a fight. The end goal was a baby and if that meant giving up the dream of carrying and being pregnant then I had to accept that.
We started the surrogacy process with our clinic in London. We had lots of counselling and it took another 18 months before we were able to transfer our embryo to Em in July 2019. Ten days later, we found out that Em was pregnant. I was convinced the same thing would happen to her and she would miscarry our child, but we reached milestones we had never reached before. A couple of weeks later, an early scan showed us something we had not seen in six years – a heartbeat. This was by far the most incredible moment we had experienced for such a long time. We had finally got to a 12-week scan and through a first trimester. Then a second and then a third.
Our son, Leo, was born via elective C-section at the end of March 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic and from the moment he was born our world changed forever. I felt like his mum the moment he was handed to me (which was always my biggest worry). I looked at Em and felt overwhelmed with pride. He was really here and after six years of holding my breath, I felt the weight finally lift. What Em had been able to do for us was something I could never thank her enough for.
Luckily, getting through the other side of our fertility journey made us quite resilient. Although the pain of the losses never truly went away, I knew that the fight for Leo was worth every second. We knew we still had some fight left to try for a sibling for him. It was going to involve another round of IVF to get some embryos and a long journey to find another surrogate as we always knew Em was a one-time offer.
In May 2021 we went through our cycle. On day five we had a phone call to say one of the three embryos that had developed had not expanded enough to be PGS-tested for surrogacy but was still viable to transfer or freeze. Something in both myself and my husband thought ‘give it one more shot’. It was totally unlikely to work given our history and the doctors advised against it. But there was just some niggle.
We had nothing to lose and still had our back up embryos for surrogacy. So, in the middle of June 2021, I transferred that one embryo to myself (my lining was good from the fresh round we had just been through). We got pregnant and a very anxious two weeks later made the trip to the clinic for our first scan. I thoroughly expected the worst. Why would I not?
‘There’s a heartbeat’. We cried. We laughed. How on earth?! But I was still not convinced. So, we waited some more. But at every scan we went to (which was every 10-14 days due to my high levels of anxiety), everything looked perfect. Week on week I waited for something to go wrong but that time never came.
Now, nearing our final trimester, I still cannot understand how after all this time my body is managing. If I didn’t believe in magic before, well I sure do now. I will be holding my breath until we have our second baby in our arms and pray every day that this miracle baby joins its big brother in the world safe and sound.
So, my biggest message to anyone going through their own journey right now would be always have HOPE. Hold On Pain Ends.