Staying positive after many years of fertility struggles

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By Kally and Aaron

Deciding to start trying to conceive was an exciting time – I remember having ‘the chat’ with Aaron six years ago and thinking that in a year or two’s time we’d have turned into a family of three!

Sadly, despite our best efforts we are still just two, thousands of pounds poorer but not too mentally scarred from four cycles of IVF, three miscarriages and a chemical pregnancy. I think the key to this has been the strength of our relationship, the support of our family and friends and the acceptance and calm that eventually comes from years of fertility struggles.

Aaron and I met when I was 31 years old and he was 36. Our relationship evolved quite quickly and within 18 months we’d decided we wanted to start a family. The first few months were filled with excited expectation however, after about 8 months the excitement gave way to constant ovulation tests and frustration when my period turned up each month with excruciating regularity.  

After about 12 months we went to the GP who performed the usual basic blood tests – ‘all normal, keep trying, it’ll happen!’ Meanwhile friends were falling pregnant around me, some even ‘by accident’ – infuriating! In the early days I’d react badly to this, I knew it was irrational, but I couldn’t hide my feelings.

When I went back to the GP after another 6 months with no joy, I was referred to an IVF clinic. Panic began to set in when I was told to ‘qualify’ for my only NHS IVF cycle, I had to be in treatment before my 35th birthday. So we went for it, dreadfully unprepared and my body barely reacted to the drugs, I produced just two eggs however, they both fertilised and two weeks later I was staring in disbelief at a positive pregnancy test. We couldn’t believe our luck but the excitement was shortlived, just before my six week scan I started bleeding. The clinic told us early miscarriage was common and we should try another cycle, this time with a higher dosage of stimulation drugs to produce more eggs. Naively we shelled out £7,500 and went for it again about eight months later. This time the drugs made me feel awful and despite tripling the dosage of stims my ovaries only produced three eggs, all fertilised however this time I started bleeding three days before I was due to take my pregnancy test.  It was at this point the clinic suggested I research other clinics that help ‘poor responders’ and those with a low ovarian reserve. After much research I concluded that we needed a clinic with a more natural approach, my body wasn’t going to produce any more eggs no matter how much we pumped it full of hormones!

By the time we did our third cycle it was April 2016. We opted for a clinic in London and a ‘mild’ IVF cycle. This time I had less drugs, produced just two eggs but was pregnant again, it wasn’t until after a missed miscarriage at eight weeks and a subsequent D&C that the clinic decided it would be a good idea to put Aaron and I through more testing. Although expensive the tests revealed that I had a previously undiagnosed thyroid problem and Aaron had relativity high DNA fragmentation in his sperm. I began taking thyroxine and Aaron went on male fertility supplements to try and reduce the oxidative stress on his sperm cells. Within four months we were pregnant naturally – the first time in four years! To say we were shocked was an understatement. The clinic I was under for the third cycle of IVF then refused to give me the additional treatment I would have received had I been pregnant via IVF and under their care. This would have been steroid treatment to keep my thyroid antibodies down. Sadly I miscarried again at 6 weeks.

Since then I’ve found another London clinic which did additional tests before rushing into anything, as well as auto-immune Hashimotos, which affects my thyroid, I also have high NK cells, which essentially mean my immune system is attacking the embryos and causing me to miscarry. It is hugely frustrating that we’ve had to endure years of fertility problems and miscarriage before finding out a full diagnosis for both of us. In the meantime we’ve obviously both got older.

After trying naturally for another 18 months we decided to do one last cycle of IVF, armed with all the correct aftercare medication. Unfortunately, this cycle ended in a chemical pregnancy. However, we are still positive that now we know what our issues are we can maximise our chances to conceive naturally without going through the emotional turmoil of IVF. I turn 39 next week so I’m under no illusions that it may well be too late for us but I’m so much better informed since we began our journey six years ago – helped by a number of doctors, specialists, nutritionists and a fabulous online TTC community that may be strangers but are always there with words of advice, support and encouragement.

Aaron’s viewpoint

I never imagined when Kally and I began trying for a baby six years ago that we’d be where we are now. I have found the whole process emotionally straining, hugely stressful but mainly frustrating. We were very ill-informed when we began our journey – since then Kally has certainly become somewhat of an expert! I have held quite a lot of resentment towards the doctors that failed to advise us on lifestyle and nutrition and most importantly failed to carry out all encompassing tests prior to us spending tens of thousands of pounds on treatment.

However, I’m so proud of Kally and the way she has educated herself on what will give us the best chance of getting and staying pregnant. Even when she threw out every bit of ’toxic’ plastic from our house, swapped all our chemical-based cleaning products for natural ones and made me take a daily supplement drink that was an acquired taste! I drew the line at wearing a mask on my daily commute into London but have supported her 100% as she became gluten and dairy free and reduced our diets to contain very little sugar, lots of vegetables and lean protein.

When we conceived naturally I was so pleased and we both feel extremely positive that it will happen again. I think trying to reduce stress and anxiety as much as possible has helped and our relationship is so much stronger because of what we’ve been through. It hasn’t been easy but we’ve got through it and we’re ready to face whatever comes our way in the future. Miracles do happen, we’re just having to wait a little longer for ours.