Behind every IVF success story we hear is an experience that is so personal, it is entirely unique. Here, Rachel tells her and Dave’s story and the emotional rollercoaster that took them on their journey to their son Ethan. By sharing her story, we hope that Rachel’s experience can help others to prepare for their own IVF journey.
The start of our fertility journey
Before Dave and I were even a couple, we’d talked about the fact that if I ever wanted to have children, I might need some medical help. I’d had polycystic ovaries since I was quite young, and the doctors explained that conceiving naturally may be challenging. Dave was also worried he wouldn’t be able to have kids – it was an unexplained anxiety for him. When we did get together, we sought out a referral for fertility support very early on.
Our NHS IVF experience
As soon as we were back from honeymoon, we got the call to start NHS IVF treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. My blood test showed I would be at high risk for hyperstimulation. Sure enough, by day three of my injections, the cramping pains began. I kept going, but by the time egg collection came around, I couldn’t even walk into the hospital – it was agony. The doctors gave me a heavy pain relief drug, which made me feel light headed and drunk!
After all of that, they were only able to collect six eggs. By day five, there was just one left. However, it was graded ‘A’, so there was a silver lining. Excited, I went to the hospital for the egg transfer. They managed to plant the egg, but I was just too ill, and it didn’t take.
You get one attempt at IVF on the NHS where we are. Having a child was really important to both of us, so we made the decision to go private. However, we now understood just how much pressure IVF put on us as a couple, and on me, both physically and emotionally. Therefore we decided we’d start straight away, but limit ourselves to three rounds. We needed that limit to keep going.
Access Fertility and GCRM Belfast
We chose GCRM Belfast (now TFP Belfast Fertility), and funnily enough saw the same consultant who’d treated me through the NHS. He was fantastic, and it was great that he already knew our situation. Despite describing me as “a ticking time bomb to hyper stimulate”, he still wanted to go ahead.
This consultant told us about Access Fertility and the programmes they offered. It was perfect – they had a package offering the three rounds that we wanted, just within our budget. I felt so defeated after the first round at the Royal, I couldn’t picture myself being lucky enough to be a mum. In my mind, if Access Fertility were a business willing to back me and my odds to be a success, that would be a real boost. I thought if I was accepted onto their programme, there was hope. What’s more, I knew if we weren’t successful after the three rounds, we’d at least get the money back to use on something for ourselves. It seemed bittersweet.
I remember ringing Access Fertility, and they told me we’d hear back within 7-10 days. The patient advisor phoned me the next day, and told me we’d been accepted. I was screaming in the car, I was so happy. To me, I felt like I was almost pregnant – I was ecstatic. We went ahead, and started treatment straight away.
The second attempt
For our second round of IVF, the doctor recommended we reduce the medication, to lower the risk of me hyper stimulating. I needed a lot of scans, but having gone through Access Fertility, and everything being included, there was no battle – it was all paid for. Treatment was much better, because I didn’t feel as ill as last time. However, as a result of the lower dose of medication, only one ovary worked. We went into egg collection expecting they’d gather less than we’d like.
On egg collection day, I still felt really excited. The doctor takes you through the risks of the procedure, and you sign the form. One such risk, and it’s just 1 in 500, is of infection from the needle that collects the eggs. Of course, you never imagine it will be you, so you go for it, have the egg collection, and look forward to the tea and toast afterwards.
Unlucky for me, I was the 1 in 500. By the time it came to get off the bed, I couldn’t. The pain was so bad – it felt like a sword in me every time I moved. I couldn’t dress myself, or even go to the toilet alone. After three days, it was excruciating, and we had an emergency appointment at the clinic.
They did a blood test and my white blood cell count was through the roof. I actually had pelvic sepsis. To add insult to injury, the clinic phoned me and shared that by day five, only one embryo had survived, and it was graded a C-. I was so upset and defeated, I cried all night, and thought “I’ll never do this again.”
The doctor explained that if the embryo was OK after thawing, I needed to be ready for egg transfer. Unsurprisingly, I needed to rest to get my blood count back to normal. Additionally, I took medication to thicken my womb lining. I booked the day off, in case, and was on tenterhooks all morning. When you’re so close to everything you wanted for so long, the nerves and excitement are overwhelming.
Finally, the call came. My little C- had survived the thaw, and was ready to be transferred to its new home. During my first IVF treatment, I’d been so ill I just lay in bed afterwards. This time I felt like I needed a different approach. We went to the beach and walked miles – I wanted to keep the blood pumping! I played music to my stomach every night. It was the hardest time of my life, waiting two weeks for that pregnancy test.
I understood there was no point taking a pregnancy test early – I didn’t want to be disappointed by a false negative, or suffer the pain of a false positive. However, the Thursday before the Monday when I was due for my blood test, I felt so sick and bloated. I was meant to be at my niece’s birthday party, and felt so uncomfortable, I called into the shops to get some comfy leggings and a loose jumper. While I was there, I couldn’t resist. Digital pregnancy tests were on offer – two for the price of one. It was a sign!
When I saw “pregnant” on that stick, I ran out of the toilet like a crazy person. Half dressed, with no shoes on, I left my bag in the cubicle and rang Dave, shouting down the phone to tell him we were pregnant. People were staring at me, worried there was something wrong, but I didn’t care. I was so unbelievably happy, I ran to my mum’s work, to tell her. That weekend I bought every test on the market, and used every last one, just to keep checking it was real.
Mine was not a smooth sailing pregnancy by any stretch, I was so nervous. What’s more, I had a heavy bleed at 7 weeks which really made things worse. I didn’t feel baby move a great deal, so I was in and out of hospital a lot – not easy during a pandemic. In the end, my little one was just a bit lazy, and all was well.
Little one arrives
Keen to avoid being induced, I walked everywhere to get baby moving. Finally, one evening I had a show in the shower, and later that night my waters broke. We were so excited, the adrenalin kicked right in. My mum and sister came round – we even have a photo of us all, in the small hours of the morning.
I went to hospital, but was told to go home, take a bath and relax ahead of a long day. Well, that bath was a mistake! Things progressed so quickly, I wasn’t sure how I’d get out of there, and climbing down the stairs, I was breathing through my teeth. My husband rang the hospital, and we were told to stay home longer, and to take paracetamol. It was brutal! We had to go in.
The epidural helped me manage the pain, but I then couldn’t feel my contractions. The computer which usually measures them wasn’t working, and everything just slowed down. After being examined by several doctors, they needed to assist, using forceps. It was extremely uncomfortable – the epidural was wearing off by this point, and I was haemorrhaging a lot of blood. Then so suddenly, after all this time, Ethan arrived.
How it felt to become mummy – an unexpected reaction
As most hospitals recommend, the midwife brought Ethan straight to my chest when he was born. Surprisingly, I did not have the reaction I had heard of, hoped for or expected. I couldn’t look at him. After everything I’d just been through, and the trauma of all our treatment, I couldn’t bring myself to be mummy. Dave couldn’t understand – he cried. Then, because of Covid, he had to go home.
Little Ethan was bruised all over from his dramatic birth. The drip in my arm meant that when I held him he screamed in pain. Alone on the ward, it felt like the hardest experience of my life. I felt like a complete failure – I couldn’t conceive him myself, nor deliver him myself, and now I couldn’t even hold him.
Fortunately, a student midwife came on duty, and spent some time talking. She reminded me I was exhausted, that my hormones were all over the place, and that while most won’t admit it, many mummies go through this feeling. She offered to take him for a couple of hours so I could rest. I slept, and when I woke, I felt like a different person.
Ethan is Rachel and Dave’s IVF success story, and we have many more to share in our blog. Take a look, and don’t miss our patient videos, where you can see other IVF experiences. If you are interested in using the Access Fertility Refund Programme for your fertility treatment, please get in touch and we’d be happy to answer any questions you have and discuss next steps.