Karen, one of The Fertility Circle co-founders describes her experience of fertility treatment and miscarriage during the current Coronavirus pandemic. Please note this article is an honest account of a failed IVF cycle resulting in miscarriage which some readers may find triggering.
Fertility treatment is an emotional rollercoaster whenever you embark on it but fertility treatment during a global pandemic is even more stressful!
I am one of the lucky ones that had commenced a FET cycle before the UK went into lockdown due to Coronavirus therefore was able to complete my treatment. I can only imagine how painful it was for those waiting to start to be told it would be postponed indefinitely.
However despite being allowed to continue with my treatment it wasn’t completely straightforward. The day after the government's announcement calling for people to stay home I was three weeks into my cycle and a week away from embryo transfer. I received a call from my clinic saying they were suspending all further treatment and my embryo transfer would be cancelled. I was devastated to have taken medication for over three weeks and getting so close to then have it stopped. That evening after reading HFEA’s online statement as well as details on my clinic’s own website I discovered that any cycles that were currently underway could continue if the patient wished. I spoke to my consultant who confirmed that if I strongly wished to go ahead they would allow me to have the embryo transfer. I was very relieved.I attended the clinic alone for the embryo transfer. It was a slightly strange experience and sad not having my partner there but again I was just grateful to have made it that far.
The two week wait is always difficult. It’s another part of the rollercoaster, one minute you feel hopeful and positive, the next doubts creep in and you worry that it hasn’t worked. You spend the whole time analysing every twinge, cramp and possible symptom which can drive you crazy. Experiencing this during a nationwide lockdown with nowhere to go and not much to distract yourself with is extremely challenging. Of course I’m well aware that those waiting for treatment would have given anything to be at this stage and I’m fortunate to have made it that far. I’m just saying it’s hard. It’s tougher than it usually would be for me when I could normally at least leave the house, meet friends and make plans.
I’m really impatient and a bit of a control freak so my way of coping during the TWW is to test, test, test. I know it’s not advisable for people to test before the official test day and can increase stress levels but I find it helps. I like to know what’s going on and if I see faint test lines getting darker day by day then great and if not at least I’m prepared for that BFN on the official test day. Personally I’d hate to spend 11 days waiting to be crushed with a negative, I’d rather know in advance. (Please note I am not advocating early testing as positive results can show at various stages so it is recommended to test on the day advised by your clinic. This is just my personal preference.)
"Just as I started to relax slightly I started to bleed."
I started testing 5dp5dt and got a very very very faint positive. Whilst I was happy to see a line I knew it was very early and having a history of miscarriages I couldn’t get excited. As the days went on and the line got darker it was impossible not to start to believe this might be successful. Just as I started to relax slightly I started to bleed. Bright red blood. Instant panic. Here we go again! I know that bleeding in early pregnancy is quite common but it doesn’t make it any less scary especially having previously experienced miscarriages. Fortunately after a few days the bleeding stopped and the clinic wasn't concerned, they said that unless I experience a constant heavy flow not to worry. Of course I worried but I did bleed on and off until 9 weeks when pregnant with my son so I know it can happen and be ok.
On the official test day I called the clinic with my positive result and was given a scan appointment two weeks later. Throughout the following two weeks I started to relax even more. I tested once a week using a digital test to check there was an increase in hcg using the weeks indicator and when it said “pregnant 3+” it felt like another milestone reached. Every time I have miscarried I have had a lot of bleeding so I assumed that with no further episodes of bleeding everything was ok.
The night before our scan I was extremely anxious. Despite everything seeming ok we have had experience of receiving devastating news at a six week scan so it was impossible not to worry. I tried to remind myself that this is different, it’s a new cycle and we have been successful before so we know it can work.
Luckily my husband was allowed to attend the clinic with me for the scan. We were both nervous but slightly excited in the waiting room. What happened next feels like it happened in a blur. As I lay with my legs in the air anxiously waiting for news, the consultant didn’t say anything. I couldn’t see the screen and desperately wanted to ask what he could see but thought I should let him do what he needs to do. I waited and waited and waited. I kept thinking “he’s going to say something soon” but he didn’t. Silence.
“I’m sorry but it’s not good news”.
The longer this went on I knew something was wrong. I started shaking and felt sick. Eventually the consultant uttered the words we had feared “I’m sorry but it’s not good news”. There was a gestational sac with a small dot in the middle but no clear sign of a yolk sac or fetal pole. He said at 6w4d he would have expected to have been able to see more development and also a heartbeat. I was told to continue medication and have a scan a week later for confirmation. We were both in shock. Obviously I knew this could possibly happen because we’ve been in this position before but I’d convinced myself it was different. I’m not sure anything can prepare you for hearing that news. It’s just crushing.
I left the clinic in a daze and didn’t ask much. I had to email when I got home with further questions. The next few days were awful, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt numb and helpless. Waking up in the morning was the hardest part of the day. There's a split second upon waking when everything seems calm and normal, then I remember and the pain comes back. Having to continue taking medication when you know there is no hope is also torture. As well as this being stuck at home made things even harder. I felt trapped. I had nowhere to go and couldn’t do some of the things I usually would to make myself feel better.
A week later and the scan confirmed that it’s a Blighted Ovum. This means that the embryo has implanted and the gestational sac has grown but the embryo has failed to develop. I was advised to stop all medication. I am currently waiting to miscarry and praying that I miscarry naturally. If I don’t in the next week I will have to have medical intervention.
Every step of this journey has been one worry after the next. Will we be able to continue treatment? Will we make it to embryo transfer? Will it work? What has caused the bleeding? Will we make it to the six week scan? And now I'm worried I won't miscarry naturally and will have to go to hospital and have it surgically removed. Again not great timing to need medical treatment during a worldwide pandemic!
Whenever I have been in this situation before my way of coping is to look forward. Focussing on trying again helps me to get through. We are so fortunate to have another three frozen embryos so once this is over and treatment resumes we can try again. By then I should be strong enough emotionally and physically to get back on the rollercoaster. For now though the focus must be on being kind to myself, grieving and allowing time to heal.
Miscarrage sucks. Miscarriage during a pandemic double sucks!
- If you have been affected by miscarriage and would like some extra support please feel free to contact us here at The Fertility Circle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- You can also speak to your GP who should be able to advise about any local support groups.
- For online and telephone support see the charities listed below:
- Miscarriage Association
- Ectopic Pregnancy Foundation
- Saying Goodbye