Thursday 29 September 2016

Secondary infertility: 'Our first baby was instant - our next took five years with IVF'

Becky Dore talks about the pain of secondary infertility

Ailin Quinlan

Published 28/07/2015 | 02:30

Becky Dore, seen her with her four children, is planning to have a fifth after struggling to conceive for four years. Photo: Frank McGrath.
Becky Dore, seen her with her four children, is planning to have a fifth after struggling to conceive for four years. Photo: Frank McGrath.

When newly-weds Becky Dore and her husband Maurice tied the knot in 2006, they started trying for a baby almost straight away - and hey presto!

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One Italian holiday and a bottle of wine later and along came daughter Rachel in 2007.

When Rachel was 18 months old, Becky and Maurice decided to try for a second baby - but they could never have imagined the five years of worry, stress and sheer pressure which would result from their efforts to make that dream come true.

Becky gave up her job as a project manager in the telecommunications sector when Rachel arrived.

She then set up her own business in 2009, a coffee shop in Delgany, not far from the family home in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Maurice, who worked in the logistics industry also switched jobs - he was out of work for a while as well - and he and Becky, who was struggling to keep her business afloat in the middle of the recession, were very busy.

"It wasn't an easy time. I think stress has a huge input on fertility," says Becky, now aged 39.

"Trying unsuccessfully for a baby puts a lot of stress on the family and on your relationship."

However, the hardest thing of all, she recalls, was: "Every month, peeing on a stick and seeing I wasn't pregnant - that was really stressful."

On top of that were the helpful suggestions from friends and acquaintances about not focusing on conceiving or suggestions that she and Maurice take a little holiday.

"People tend to make comments like 'stop thinking about it', or 'take a little holiday,' but if you have it in your head that you want a baby, you can't just stop thinking about it," she says.

"It's very hard to be listening to comments like that because I was trying very hard."

Then there was the inevitable fact that once fertility and conception became an issue, the couple's love life changed from intimate and happy to "something that is medical".

"It becomes very clinical," she says, adding that she now believes when the body stops being relaxed, it hinders the whole process.

"It defeats the purpose and it goes against you, and at the same time you cannot not think about it."

And then there's a man's pain at not being able to impregnate his partner.

"It's all very focused on the woman, but it's a huge stress on the man too because he feels he cannot give you a baby," adds Becky. "That's something that's often ignored."

Eventually her GP referred them to Holles Street for tests and the young couple were told they had "unexplained secondary infertility".

Becky was put on the fertility drug Clomid, but this too was unsuccessful.

Unexplained secondary fertility is quite common, affecting up to 25pc of all couples seeking help with fertility, says Dr David Walsh, Managing Director of SIMS IVF, Ireland's largest private fertility treatment unit.

"It can be hard when it is unexplained, as people don't know what to do and they can get frustrated because they don't have an explanation. They can find this stressful because they are scratching their heads and you are scratching yours also!"

Experts usually look for a number of underlying factors, including the issue of 'compensation' when a woman's high levels of fertility may compensate for a low sperm count on the part of her male partner in a first successful pregnancy.

However, second time round, explains Walsh, the female may be older, and is no longer as 'super-fertile' so the original issue is revealed.

In other cases he says, there may have been changes to the womb or the tubes, possibly as a result of a complicated delivery in the first pregnancy, which may have resulted in scarring to the inside of the womb, or done damage to the tubes' ability to facilitate the movement of sperm.

However, there may also be changes in the womb which are not related to a previous pregnancy, such as the growth of a polyp.

In another situation, a woman may have had low egg production levels first time round, and now, a few years down the road, age becomes a factor, he explains.

Being older can mean the production of even less eggs by the woman. In 2012, Becky and Maurice decided to begin IVF - but once again, things didn't go well and there were, as Becky puts it succinctly, a number of "false starts".

"My problem was that I wasn't producing enough eggs," says Becky, who was then 36 years old.

She received drugs to hyper-stimulate egg production - the idea being: "that you produce more eggs and increase your chances of producing viable eggs.

"After a number of false starts, I produced eggs ready for collection."

These resulted in three viable embryos, two of which were implanted and resulted in the welcome arrival of Emma and Siobhan in April 2013.

The third embryo was frozen. The whole process, including extra testing and medication, cost in the region of €8,000.

When the twins were about 20 months old, the couple were about to start the process of retrieving that frozen embryo to start their fourth pregnancy.

However, around then, Becky found she was pregnant with son Brian, now seven months old.

Currently the couple are planning to retrieve that frozen embryo in order to begin what will be their fifth pregnancy after Becky celebrates her 40th birthday in April 2016.

"We want go forward, because for us we have come from a situation where we had one child and were longing for a second, to having four children with a fifth waiting for us!"

SIMS IVF yesterday launched Ireland's first National Fertility Week, with free female fertility testing for the first 200 women registering on www.sims.ie. A free helpline (1800 497 777) will be manned for the week, for individuals to discuss their fertility questions.

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