Secondary infertility: An IVF success story

After her husband Darren had testicular cancer, Natalie knew that their plans to have a baby wouldn’t be smooth. But after their first child arrived quickly following ’textbook’ ISCI treatment, they never imagined having a second would be so challenging. We learn more about Natalie and Darren’s experience with secondary infertility in this interview.

Natalie and Darren secondary infertility

Take us back to life before children – where were you and what were you doing?

Darren and I have known each other since we were children. Darren was born and raised in Bristol, and after I qualified as a nurse back home in Scotland, I moved to London for a while, where I was able to see him more often. Before long we moved in together and got married. We found out in our first year of marriage that Darren had cancer. We caught it early, and it was removed – Darren was fine. The doctor offered us the option to either have chemotherapy to reduce the risk of it returning, or to be monitored. At the time, starting a family wasn’t on the cards, but we knew it was our plan for the future, so we went for the monitoring route, to protect his sperm. Despite this, we knew that the chances were, we’d be heading for IVF. Strangely, that knowledge prepared us a little more – we didn’t have the same hard realisation after years of trying that I know many couples do.

How did your first fertility treatment go?

It was a textbook ICSI – everything went exactly as expected. We went to a ‘parents night’ information evening, and they talked us through the three different elements. The fertility nurse explained the medication, and the likely side effects. Then, the doctor explained all the procedures. Finally, the embryologist explained what would happen, in terms of the cells being formed. What they explained was exactly, to the day, what happened. Egg collection went well, a good number of embryos fertilised, and we had three top grade embryos, one of which transferred back. Two weeks later, we were pregnant. Everything was straightforward with the pregnancy and labour. Jackson was in a breech position, so I needed to deliver him via C-section, but everything went well.

How were you feeling as you prepared to have a second child?

We were incredibly lucky with Jackson, so we were very optimistic that our experience would be the same again, and never expected secondary infertility to be an issue. We had two frozen embryos left, so we gave a natural cycle a try with our clinic (BCRM Bristol) – unfortunately that didn’t work out. What’s more, we’d decided to keep that cycle secret from friends and family, which I found very difficult.

What happened next?

We wanted to do a medicated cycle with our last frozen embryo. Everything was straightforward, but right before transfer, the doctors spotted something on the scan. It was a cyst. Initially, this didn’t seem like anything to be worried about – I’d had a cyst when we got pregnant with Jackson – it was simply a result of the medication and went away. However, the consultants were concerned this time, and ended the cycle. Needless to say, I didn’t react very well!

Rather than starting from scratch, the clinic took me back to the beginning of the cycle. That was really hard going – a cycle is usually 6 weeks, but this meant I’d gone through 12 weeks by the end. We had our transfer, and very shortly after, I told Darren I felt pregnant. I don’t know how – it was like I could taste it! Sadly, that pregnancy ended in miscarriage. We found out at our scan, which was really tough. Furthermore, due to the fertility drugs which I was still taking, my body had to wait for the miscarriage to happen. That wait was awful, and not something I’d wish on anyone.

When did you decide to try again?

We waited a few months after the miscarriage then did another round. It was a fresh cycle, so we had to go through the full treatment, including egg collection. I don’t know what it was – I went in feeling very positive and prepared, but it was awful. I had migraines every other day. Egg collection was really difficult, we didn’t get many, and we only had one that was suitable for transfer. The whole experience was really very deflating. This wasn’t our experience, and we didn’t understand why it wasn’t working as it had before. What’s more, after now almost four years of unrelenting focus on ovulation, conception, treatment, pregnancy, and looking after Jackson, I was exhausted.

How did it compare as a ‘secondary infertility’?

All round it was much harder. Because we knew we wanted a sibling for Jackson, it was very difficult to navigate that emotionally. As I said, we had a lot of confused feelings around why it wasn’t working this time round. However, I knew that I would keep going.

Meanwhile physically, you’re not well, and you’re having to deal with an 18 month – 3 year old. That age is very trying anyway, so when you’re not 100%, it’s hard work. That was our main challenge with secondary infertility.

Thankfully we have family close by, to help out with Jackson. I didn’t have any formal counselling – Darren and I are good at talking and working things through. However, I did have a great group of colleagues and friends going through something similar, so there were people to talk to.

Natalie and Darren secondary infertility story

How did Access Fertility help?

We were late to Access Fertility – I wish we’d found them sooner! Up until this point we’d funded everything ourselves, and had to approach our parents to help us. Darren had seen an Access Fertility banner in the clinic foyer, and we really liked the idea of paying up front, in one lump, for three cycles with the multi-cycle programme. Not only would that give us peace of mind that we’d be able to have another go if it didn’t work, it was also a weight off because we only had to go to our parents once. From their point of view I think they appreciated a fuller view of what was included – everyone felt they had a bit more control.

How did your multi cycle program go?

By this point it was Christmas, and we all wanted a break to enjoy it. We did all our consultations beforehand (you always have those in between cycles, just to check how you are, and what’s changed). That way, we were all geared up to start our cycle in January. I remember it well – we were in Copenhagen for a city break and my period came. That meant I had to be on the phone from our hotel to the clinic to get booked in and arrange delivery of the medication. I went into it thinking ‘let’s get this over and done with’. I was just tired – exhausted from it all. It was a fresh cycle, so we had egg collection – the works. Once again, it was textbook. I felt rubbish when I should have, and picked up when I should have. The one embryo that they transferred was our Ollie.

How was it, having a baby through lockdown?

We found out we were pregnant then two weeks later we went into full lockdown. My employer has always been so accommodating through my IVF journey. Every time I’ve had time off work. I was due to go back to work, then when lockdown was announced, my manager told me to work from home straight away, to stay safe. They’ve been brilliant.

Natalie and Darren secondary infertility

What advice would you give to someone embarking on their own fertility journey now?

Talk to someone you can offload to. There will be some days you feel so rubbish you just want to cry. You need someone you can do that with. Allow yourself a break when it’s horrible, because it is. I think just knowing that you can’t do everything – that took me a long time to realise. Ask for help, whether it’s your first time, or you’re going through secondary infertility too.

Whether you’re facing secondary infertility or you’re yet to start your family, Access Fertility is here to help. Discover our IVF treatment programmes, or why not have a chat with our fertility nurse to ask your questions? Our patient advisors are always here to discuss your options, too – request a call back.

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