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Paths to Parenthood: Karen's story

Paths to Parenthood: Karen's story

Karen, age 39, co-founder@The Fertility Circle

3.5 years, 2 rounds of IUI, 5 rounds of IVF, eventually successful through double donation. 

In my twenties and early thirties life was good, everything seemed to be going to plan. I had a successful career, met my partner, got married and we set up a lovely home together. Whilst many of my friends were starting to get pregnant I didn’t feel quite ready for that. But by 34 the time felt right to embark on the next chapter of our lives and to have a family. Just like that ...or so I naively thought! Of course I knew it wasn’t always that straightforward but never in my wildest dreams did I think we would become “that couple”. 

Quite quickly I got pregnant naturally. Amazing, right? Well that’s what I thought, especially as I’d had what I thought was my period and yet, two weeks later, I was still getting positive test results. Turns out I was actually having an early miscarriage. This was the start of a painful and familiar pattern.

“I picked myself up and went full steam into fertility mode”

Although the first miscarriage hit me hard I did take from it some positives. I was able to get pregnant naturally;  we’d only been trying for a short time and I knew a lot of people who’d had the misfortune to miscarry but had then gone on to have successful pregnancies. I picked myself up and went full steam ahead into fertility mode. I researched and read up on anything I could about how to naturally increase fertility. I found a wonderfully supportive fertility acupuncturist, I tried meditating (but mostly fell asleep!), I did fertility detoxes, yoga, you name it I probably tired it. I even had my husband on a similar regime. He was having maca smoothies, spirulina shots, goji berry and brazil nut snacks as an after dinner treat plus handfuls of vitamins each day. He’d come home from work wondering what concoctions I’d present to him that night.

After a few months of giving it our all with no signs of any positive tests we decided to investigate things further. There then followed a year of tests and appointments. Somewhat patronisingly, three different doctors gave me the “you’re young, you have plenty of time, it will happen” speech. But then all the basic testing for both me and my partner suggested everything was normal. So why wasn’t it working?!

After two failed rounds of IUI (the first didn’t work and the second was a possible chemical pregnancy), we were extremely fortunate to be eligible for one round of NHS-funded IVF.  Things were looking good: I had 13 eggs collected. 10 of those fertilised so we continued to feel optimistic. I’d read that typically 50% of fertilised eggs will make it to Day 5 so with 10 in the bag I thought we were guaranteed something. On Day 2 all the embryos were showing signs of fragmentation but we were told sometimes that can happen. On Day 3 we were called to go for a transfer. We arrived at the hospital to be told that we had no good quality embryos but they would transfer two (the best of a bad bunch) just on the off chance. We were devastated. I resigned myself to the fact that it would be unsuccessful and spent the two week wait researching our next steps. It was a shock when at four weeks I actually had a positive pregnancy test, I just hadn’t believed it would work. However, the excitement was short-lived when I began bleeding a few days later and miscarried.

 “This time it was worse.  We had 11 eggs: 9 fertilised, but all started to fragment on Day 2 and by Day 3 there was nothing viable to transfer”

 

I wanted to know what had gone wrong and what could have caused the high rates of embryo fragmentation. The embryologist suggested that it may be an egg quality issue but the doctor assured me that due to age and my hormone results showing normal levels that I had no reason to think that. I did a lot of my own research and spent hours trawling the internet to find stories of people who’d experienced something similar to see what they’d done and what their outcome was. The little information I did manage to find on this suggested it was due to poor egg quality. Armed with my research and results from our first IVF we sought the opinion of a private clinic. Again reassured it was unlikely to be an egg quality issue we were advised to try ICSI for round 2 to see if we would get a better outcome. We didn’t. This time it was worse. We had 11 eggs: 9 fertilised, but all started to fragment on Day 2, and by Day 3 there was nothing viable to transfer.

Back to the clinic for more tests and this time further investigations for my partner. At this point with no definite answers it was all still very much trial and error. Our options were to try:

1) my eggs with donor sperm,

2) my partner’s sperm with donor eggs, or, 

3) double donation of both eggs and sperm. 

We faced some very emotional and tough decisions (I’ll share more about this in a future story) but opted to try things in that order.

IVF 3 with my eggs and donor sperm produced similar results to previous rounds with high rates of embryo fragmentation. I did get pregnant this time but sadly at 9 weeks I had a scan which showed I had a missed miscarriage resulting in me having an ERPC. Having used donor sperm this result confirmed that I had an egg quality issue and going forward egg donation would give us our best chance of success. 

The wait to be matched with a donor was tough. One of the most frustrating things for me throughout this whole process was the waiting and lack of control. From one appointment to the next or the wait between treatments it would feel like torture. I was so aware of each day, week, month ticking by that I still wasn’t pregnant and there was nothing I could do to change that. 

“We were tired of experimenting and tired of the failures. This was the best possible chance for us to have a family”

When we were finally matched with an amazingly selfless donor (who gave us one of  the most wonderful gifts anyone can give), we’d had such a long wait we thought we’d use half the eggs with my partner’s sperm and the other half with donor sperm. Surely this would lead to success? The clinic suggested that if the donor produced a low number of eggs we might want to consider putting all our eggs in one basket (!). If it was a low number and we split the batch we might have less chance of success. We decided that if we got 14 eggs we would split between my partner and the donor and any less we would just use the donor’s. We got 13 eggs! It was devastating because my partner then never got the chance to find out if it would have worked for him but by this point we felt desperate. We were tired of experimenting and tired of the failures. This was the best possible chance for us to have a family.

Using double donors resulted in six great quality blastocysts. We’d never had anything make it that far before so it finally felt like things were looking up. I had one transferred and the rest were frozen. Again I became pregnant and this time we thought the outcome would surely be different. It wasn’t. I miscarried at six weeks and was distraught. I started to think that as well as my known egg issue perhaps my body just wasn’t up to the job.  At the same time as miscarrying I ended up in hospital unable to walk with a prolapsed disc requiring back surgery. I was a complete mess both emotionally and physically and felt I couldn’t take much more. Up until this point I had been able to keep pushing forward each time by focussing on the next steps to get me through. Unable to consider treatment again until I’d healed I was forced to take a break for a few months. Frustrated with yet more waiting I now realise I needed that time to recharge. However, five months later I was ready to try again so we had a frozen embryo transfer which finally led to success!!!!! 

What a journey we had and with so many bumps in the road. It may not have been the route we’d planned to take but I feel so fortunate and blessed that our wish to have a family finally came true.  Xxx

 

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