This time last year, I was midway through the IVF process. My life revolved around Dr’s appointments, ultrasounds and injections. Oh, the injections – there were so many! In total I injected myself for 14 weeks every single day – sometimes even twice a day. That’s around 126 injections I administered into my own skin. I remember wincing at the first ever one, pointing the needle towards my tummy and looking away as I did it. It got easier over time. All I can say if that our baby was so very wanted, I longed for her and I knew she would be so loved. Every needle, every headache, every moment of anxiety, apprehension and fear was worth it a hundred times over.
So, that brings us to now – a year later we are officially a family of four – the wonders of science!! So to celebrate how far we’ve come and our gorgeous supergirl Ultra Violet, we marked the occasion by having our very first family photoshoot.
The photos were taken by the very talented Brighton based photographer Kitty Wheeler Shaw. I’d seen her work on Aine’s blog and thought her style would suit us all perfectly. I know I’m a blogger, but I’m actually pretty shy in front of the camera and V is even more so. Anything that included awkward posing would just bit a disaster. Instead, Kitty just hung out with us and we played with Violet in the nursery, then down on the beach and you’d almost forget she was there, we were so comfortable. I’m so pleased we did it and were able to capture photos with Violet while she was so small, even in the few weeks since the shoot she looks different already!
Anyway, enough of me – I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!
Big thanks to Kitty for taking such beautiful photos of us. If you like her work, you can see lots more and get in touch with her via her website or Instagram.
Firstly, WOW – thank you so, so much for the absolute bundles of support and love after I put out My IVF Story Part 1 last week. It’s been totally overwhelming and has totally spurred me on to get part two out nice and quickly for you all. I’m sorry I ‘teased’ you with two parts (as some jokingly suggested) I just wanted it to be a bit shorter and easier to read thats all. So I hope you’ll join me for part two with as much enthusiasm as part one, as it’s been truly amazing!
Right, so if you haven’t read Part 1, click here – as the rest might not make too much sense! Onto the rest of the story…
WHAT GOES ON IN THE LAB?
So our little eggs were whisked away (hopefully not literally) to begin the first stage of the process in the lab – fertilisation. So, while we were sleeping that night our eggs were much busier than us! I woke up the next morning eagerly awaited the phone call from the embryologist as to how they were getting on. The call came, 11 out of 14 had fertilised, another fab result and a sigh of relief! So, then began the waiting game – our eggs were then left in the lab monitored closely by the embryologists for 5 days, giving our little embryos time to split (many times) and change into the next phase which is called a blastocyst. I love watching this video to imagine what happened over those 5 days. It helped me get through the 5 days as I had a weird feeling of attachment to the embryos, like I wanted to go and sit with them for the week, like a mother hen waiting for her eggs to hatch.
So just when I thought the jabs were over, I was the prescribed an ultra strong dose of Progesterone, which embarrassingly had to be injected into my bum cheek every morning for 8 weeks (this was the WORST bit of the whole IVF procedure as my bum became so sore and we kept having to inject into the bruised area, it was just hideous!) When I saw the size of the needle I winced, THEY ARE MASSIVE. But, V being lovely bought me some Disney princess plasters to try smooth things over in the sore bum department. Bless.
Look at the size of those needles, they still give me the shivers!
Finally, the best day in the whole IVF process arrived – the egg transfer. Out of our initial 11 fertilised eggs, 7 had made it to the required blastocyst stage and our embryologist had chosen the healthiest out of the batch to transfer that morning. I was so hyper and excited that morning, I changed into my hospital gown and danced around the room. I’ll always remember that morning as Vee had just worked a night shift and couldn’t keep her eyes open and napped in the waiting room while I got myself ready. The clinic told me I was allowed to keep my socks on, so I wore a lucky pair of rainbow socks I bought in Peru, although I had to wear little plastic booties over them too, ha!
The process itself was relatively straight forward and only slightly more intrusive than a smear test. The worst part was that it has to be conducted with a full bladder (so your uterus is pushed into a straighter path for the embryo) so it was just a bit uncomfortable having the procedure done at the same time as the nurse was pushing an ultrasound scanner onto my belly. It was so lovely watching on the screen as our little embryo was placed in his/her home for hopefully 9 months. The Dr then printed me out a scan picture so I can keep that memory forever. I know IVF is an intense process, but not many people can say they’ve seen their babies as blastocysts, right?!
Left – Our embryo as a ‘hatching blastocyst’. See that blob at the bottom left? That is our baby literally hatching out of it’s shell. Right – Embryo placed into my uterus, the bright white (tiny) spot in the centre is the embryo!
THE TWO WEEK WAIT
So, now we move into the dreaded ‘two week wait’. If you’ve ever been part of any ‘trying to conceive’ community, you’ll know this is the toughest part psychologically, as all you can do is WAIT. The two week wait is typically the time between ovulation and when your pregnancy will show on a pregnancy test (although if you are lucky it might show earlier) and IVF is no different – you still have to wait. It seems to drive even the sanest of people a little loopy. Luckily for me, with the IVF process, 5 days were in the lab, so I actually had a 9 day wait, but it still felt just as long.
I managed 4 days out of 9 before I caved in and bought a pregnancy test. Knowing this was SO amazingly early and I’d be SO disappointed if I saw a negative, I decided to risk it anyway. Immediately the second window went blank, I took one look – negative. I scolded myself in my head as to why I tested so early and left it on the kitchen side. Luckily, my good friend Dani was on her way over, so I decided to brush myself off and get ready for her arrival. By the time I’d showered and got dressed, I returned to my discarded pregnancy test on the kitchen side and realised I might be able to see a second line. The line was was so light I felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me. I stood in the garden (hello natural light!) for nearly 20 minutes squinting at this test like a woman possessed, changing the angles, turning it different ways, wondering if I was just hallucinating.
PLEASE PUT ME OUT OF MY MISERY!
Dani arrived and immediately came out into the garden with me so we could scan the test together. Being an expert in this department, she confirmed I was not going mad, there was a very faint, but definite line. She then recommended a pregnancy test that was slightly more sensitive and we literally flew out the door to the chemist for another go. I did the test and there was another line – this time it was a little more obvious! I sneakily did a mini jump for joy but as it was so early, I felt like I couldn’t get too excited just yet.
Let’s play a game – Who can spot the second lines? The top one is my first EVER test and the one below is the second, taken that afternoon.
I then went crazy doing 1-2 pregnancy tests every day for the days leading up to my 14 day milestone (yes I know thats mad, but I couldn’t help but check everything was ‘still there’ every morning). As you can see the lines get stronger and stronger as we go on meaning my hormone levels were raising every day, this was so reassuring and became a bit of an addiction. During this time I went away on my good friend Rachael’s hen party to Poland with a stash of pregnancy tests in my suitcase. As I’d only just had the full IVF process and the operation, Rachael and her lovely family and friends looked after me SO well, carrying my bags and making sure I was ok at every stage. I was a bit boring and had to go to bed early every night as my body was doing crazy things – but I had such a lovely time and it was a great distraction from everything.
On the 15th day I got home from Poland – instead of a cheapie pregnancy test I bought the one I’d been saving for the BIG DAY – The Clearblue Digital – this would be our final verdict. I stood with V in the bathroom as the egg timer flashed on the screen, then after an eternity, our result popped up and FINALLY it felt real and I let myself get excited………
Maybe I just needed to see the words on the screen?
So this brings us to the end of our amazing IVF journey – I’m finally pregnant – I can’t believe it but it’s finally my turn and my moment to tell the world. It only went and WORKED! I don’t think I believed it properly for a couple of weeks, it was just a surreal time. After all that fear, every injection, every sleepless night, every pregnancy test – there is a baby growing and we both couldn’t be more over the moon and excited. I also learned so much about myself through the IVF process. I proved to myself that I am a lot tougher than I thought I was and I can do anything when I put my mind to it. Sometimes you just have to do things and face your fears. I now think to myself when things get tough that I’m an ‘IVF warrior’ and nothing seems so bad anymore. It’s even given me confidence to stand up for myself more. I just keep thinking ‘I’ve been though IVF, I can DO this‘. It’s changed my life, and I’m not even talking about the baby!
So over the last few months, the first trimester was rough, but that was nothing compared to everything we’d been through and I’m so grateful. To get that positive test I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat 🙂 We also have 6 high quality embryos left which are stored, so who knows, they might be our future children, down the line!
This could be just the start…..
I’ll leave you with some snaps of the progress so far. Thank you for reading my journey, join me for pregnancy updates over the next few months to come! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Finally, now we are in the second trimester I feel I’m in a position to write this post. I was so terrified that if I wrote this before our 12 week scan and the worst happened, having this post in writing would just be horrifically painful. Now we are at 15 weeks I’m feeling more comfortable about sharing our secrets of the last 18 months and the story of one of the biggest challenges in my life. This might be a long, emotional post – so if you fancy a read, you might want to grab yourself a cuppa, a couple of biscuits or a slice of cake and get comfy. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride.
Both V and I always knew we wanted children, we talked about it very early on in our relationship and after a couple of years of living together we took the first steps with a visit to the fertility clinic to discuss our options on how to do it. This included all sorts of fertility tests, legal documents and even a counselling session – looking back now I laugh at how nervous I was at such simple tests, little did I know this would be the first of many, many visits to the clinic and way more intrusive procedures down the line. This was just the start to our emotional journey – some of the results of our tests were not exactly as we expected and we were served our first batch heartbreaking news, so before we even began – we had lots to deal with. With long waiting lists at the clinic we had a couple of months to digest and plan a method – this journey was not going to be as easy as we thought.
IUI and Heartbreak
In the new year of 2016, after a rocky end to 2015 following the tests, we decided to go ahead with a procedure called IUI (Intrauterine insemination). This involved ultrasounds every other day to check my cycle and on the day of ovulation, the procedure was carried out. Its a really simple procedure, no worse than a smear test and I had no medication at this point so it was the least intrusive of the procedures. Little did we know it would come with such heartbreak. We attempted two cycles of IUI, with both of them ending in ‘chemical pregnancies’. For some reason, I was getting pregnant but in both occasions it only lasted a couple of days, my body just seemed to reject the thought of it and with excruciating cramps, I lost both of our first potential babies within 2 weeks of the procedure. We were devastated, I can’t even put into words how I felt. I had every hope and faith it would work but I felt like my own body had let me down, I felt broken like there was something wrong with me. I questioned if I’d ever be able to get pregnant if even the professionals couldn’t do it with perfect timing and accuracy. Around me all of my friends were getting pregnant and this was a real low point in my life. We took a month off to let my body recover and considered our options.
Choosing IVF and receiving the medication
We went back to the clinic for a consultation, they advised us we could try IUI again, but the same thing might happen. I felt emotionally, I couldn’t handle another chemical pregnancy and at £1200 a try we also couldn’t afford to try it with such a small success rate. We decided instead we would put all of our eggs in one basket (literally) and go for the biggest, scariest and most expensive method of getting pregnant – IVF (Invitro Fertilisation). In all honesty, the thought of the procedure absolutely terrified me, but I decided not to overthink it and take each day by day as it came – I think thats the bottom line of how I coped through it all. We signed our names on the dotted line (and paid the excruciating fee of thousands of pounds) and the Dr began to order my medication. With this, she taught me how to inject myself safely and talked through some of the side effects the medication would cause, I was in for a real rollercoaster!
One of the most nerve wracking and memorable days of the IVF journey was the day the medication arrived. Delivered by courier, two big boxes arrived packed with various bottles, different sized needles, sharps bins and more. I laid it all out on the carpet at home and just stared at it. The severity of what we’d signed up for sunk in. I was going to have to take all this medication and do some crazy things to my body. Was I going to be able to do it? So many thoughts crossed my mind. I packed the box up and hid it in the cupboard until the Dr gave us a start date and tried not to worry. Secretly, my box of meds was like a little monster hiding in the back of the cupboard, looming over me and reminding me how terrifying things were going to get over the next few weeks.
If I’m totally honest, injecting myself wasn’t too bad at all. The first one was by far the worst and it really is a ‘mind over matter‘ situation. It took me ages to actually make that first move and sink the needle into my skin, it’s such an unnatural thing to purposely hurt yourself, you get a weird mind-block that has to be overcome. Once I had done one or two, I soon realised they didn’t hurt too much (especially if I numbed the area with an ice pack or numbing cream) and I was able to do my daily injections quicker and easier everyday. During the first stage of IVF I had to inject myself once a day for around a week, then twice a day for about 2/3 weeks. The injections then continued after the treatment, but thats a joy I’ll tell you about later! 😉
Left – My first injection and my sullen nervous face | Right – A couple of weeks in, I have a little system set up with Youtube videos to keep me company as I numb my stomach with an ice pack and draw up my medication.
So, the first phase of IVF is called ‘down regulation‘ – the injections sort of ‘switch off’ your system, forcing you into a state of temporary menopause. With this phase you get headaches, hot flushes, tiredness and just generally feel pretty awful. This lasted about 7-10 days (I think?) and I felt pretty damn awful like I was living under a cloud of pressure.
Next up you start a phase called ‘stimming‘ – the injections in this phase stimulate the ovaries to produce extra eggs. Usually when you ovulate, you produce one egg, but stimming will cause you to create a lot more, which all come in a follicle the size of about a grape (when fully grown) so you can imagine how heavy and uncomfortable this stage was at the end! At this point, I visited the fertility clinic every other day for an ultrasound to check on my follicles so the clinic to catch them at their very best point!
Ultrasounds of my ovaries (left – right) – this shows how the medication works, the black circles are follicles (containing eggs) – Watch them grow! The last picture was my last scan where my ovaries were so full they were ‘kissing’. Uncomfy, but cute, right?
The final stage of this post (but by no means the last in IVF!) is going to be my egg collection. This was BY FAR the scariest part of IVF. Just as I was a hormonal explosion waiting to happen, the clinic called me in for an operation. As my first ever operation, I can’t tell you how nervous I was. As you will be in the room with your eggs, you have to arrive with no make-up on, having washed in unscented products, you can’t even wear deodorant so it’s all rather strict. I arrived early and was taken to change into my hospital gown and wait in a side room for my operation. Sadly, V was not allowed to wait with me and my operation was delayed for over an hour so my nerves just grew and grew. I felt tearful, shaky and alone. I owe a big THANK YOU at this point to my lovely friend Kirstie who sent me funny Youtube videos to watch and was constantly whatsapping me, it really did save me from meltdown.
The only photo that I’ll ever show on my blog without make-up – but I really wanted to show the reality of my fear before my operation…..
Soon, my time arrived and I was walked into theatre. My heart thumping I laid on the bed and chatted to the anaesthetist, feeling maybe the most scared of all my life. He was so lovely and seeing my nerves he said he could give me something similar to a ‘champagne cocktail’. He popped something magical into my cannula and within 30 seconds my nerves had disappeared. I found myself chatting away to the nurses about beaches and holidays and all sorts. The next thing I knew, I woke up and the procedure was done! I didn’t even feel myself going to sleep, it was crazy. The team were wonderful and handled my nerves so well. I wish I hadn’t been so scared as it really was not that bad at all – I felt nothing. If I had to do it again, I don’t think I’d be even a fraction as nervous, but I guess it was always the fear of the unknown – plus the long wait gave me time to let my mind whir. If you’d like to know what happens during egg collection, see this link as I thought I’d save you from the squeamish details!
After a few minutes of feeling a bit dozy I was back to my usual self, although somewhat sore (less than I imaged though!). The nurse excitedly showed me the results, I had created 14 high quality eggs (a great result) and my little potential babies to be were already on their way to the lab for the next stages. The relief was just overwhelming, I could have cried – all of those injections WORKED! And, the amazing thing, 14 is my lucky number too. I just had this feeling everything was meant to be and felt so proud of myself for facing my fears. The hard bit is over. Time to have a rest while the lab work their magic.
So, I’ll leave you at this point, I decided to break this post into two section as this has got very long already! We now have 14 little eggs at the lab, I’m resting and eagerly awaiting to hear the process of my eggs. Will they turn into embryo’s in the lab? So many questions!