'An IVF pregnancy is different - You expect things to go wrong'
After suffering a miscarriage and undergoing three IVF treatments before giving birth to her daughter, Anne-Marie Scully found the first few months of her pregnancy were dominated by fear.
When Anne-Marie Scully finished writing her first book Motherhoodwinked: An Infertility Memoir, she had just suffered a miscarriage following her second cycle of IVF treatment. In February 2014, a little over two years later, she welcomed her beautiful daughter Grace into the world.
"I got married at 29 and wanted to have a baby pretty much straight away. I never expected I would find myself not being able to have a baby," says Anne-Marie while sitting in her beautiful home in Malahide. "There is this myth IVF is for older women, but I have met so many younger people who have had to use IVF."
Anne-Marie's struggle to conceive inspired her to write Motherhoodwinked: An Infertility Memoir, which documented her journey from infertility through her first two cycles of IVF treatment.
The title was a reaction to the expectation that women can have 'motherhood on demand' whenever they feel the time is right, an ideal which Anne-Marie feels many young women take for granted.
"After I wrote Motherhoodwinked and shared my journey through IVF, I began to get a lot of emails from people looking for advice," says Anne-Marie. "I would reply to them and give them all of the information I had, but then I thought I should really write it all down because there are not that many up to date books out there on IVF. So that's what inspired my new book Five Million Born.
"I call it a companion guide. It's not a medical guide. I'm not a medical doctor, I can't claim it's the most up to date medically, because things are moving so fast in this area, but it is for people going through IVF currently - to guide them through that process and let them know they are not alone," she adds.
"I called it Five Million Born because that's the amount of babies they estimate have been born since IVF began. I feel like that's a testament to the fact we are not alone in this. There are so many people having IVF now and it's just not being talked about." According to Anne-Marie, the silence which surrounds fertility issues is the main reason young women remain largely unaware of the problems they may face.
"Like most people my age, I really did think it was possible to have your life mapped out on this kind of path," she explains. "It blindsided me to find myself in that situation. I was conscious it could take a little bit of time to get pregnant, so for the first six months I wasn't freaking out too much, but I could feel that panic rising as the months would go on.
"What surprised me then was that so many people who had gotten married around the same time as me - they were having babies and a lot of them had said they were going to wait. So I was trying to deal with what was happening with me in the midst of a baby boom amongst my friends, my colleagues and in Ireland just generally."
Like many women looking to get pregnant, Anne-Marie had tried a number of methods to improve her chances of conceiving, but after 12 months she began to look into fertility treatment.
"The medical definition of infertility is a year, so once you pass that point you find yourself in that territory where it is starting to feel a bit scary," she explains.
Anne-Marie believes people who are experiencing fertility issues should seek help as early as possible. "There is never a right time to look into it and people will always put it off and say 'we're young, it will happen', but I am still young - I am 33 and I could still be sitting here waiting for that to happen. If you've gone for a year and it hasn't been happening, you have to start looking into it."
Anne-Marie admits she was not expecting her journey to motherhood to be so long and painful. "I thought there would be some kind of quick fix, that they would find the thing that was broken and we could just fix it and be on our way," she smiles. "Had I known what was ahead of me then I don't know what I would have done, but I certainly didn't envisage having to do three cycles of IVF.
"Once you make the decision that you are going to do IVF, you almost breathe a sigh of relief that you have made that decision," she explains. "Once we accepted we had fertility problems and we were doing IVF, I just thought it was going to work, I didn't really expect that it wouldn't work.
"I was aware there were no guarantees and the clinic do say this isn't a given, but I still thought that it was. I knew of another couple who had been trying the same amount of time as we had and they had gone to this same clinic and got pregnant on the first cycle, and so had that person's friend. So we thought: 'Well we're young, we'll get pregnant from IVF straight away!'"
But this first cycle failed to result in a pregnancy.
"It felt catastrophic, but we picked ourselves up and decided to try again and on the second cycle we did get pregnant, but we had a miscarriage at eight weeks," she says. "Trying to pick ourselves up after the first one was difficult, but after that, it felt like we actually couldn't go on. There were so many things to deal with."
After a few months Anne-Marie and her husband decided to try IVF for a third time.
"Finding the courage to do the third cycle was the hardest thing," she explains. "A lot of our friends and family, who were aware that we were doing it, were almost hoping we weren't going to do another cycle because they could see how much it was destroying us and what it was doing to our lives. I think they just hoped we would forget about trying to get pregnant and get on with our lives. It was so incredibly frightening and difficult to even consider doing a third cycle knowing the pain of a failed cycle and of a miscarriage, and yet still putting yourself up for it. It's like constantly putting yourself up for failure, but there being such a high reward if it worked."
Thankfully, Anne-Marie's third cycle of IVF resulted in the arrival of her daughter Grace, just over four months ago. "I think if you are on this road it's going to be a rocky road until the end," she says. "When we found out we were pregnant it was hard to believe it was real. You know that you should hold on to it and be as positive as you can, but at the same time if you have had a miscarriage, you are almost afraid to bond with the baby. You are afraid something is going to happen. So the first 20 weeks for me were dominated by complete fear. I was just terrified. It didn't feel safe or real until she actually came. It just felt like when she was inside, it was out of your control. Whereas once she was out you could do things to keep her safe."
Anne-Marie's pregnancy was an emotional and understandably stressful time. "People don't get that about IVF pregnancies," she explains. "It's not a case of you having your happy ever after. It takes a while to forget. Even now she is four months old, but it is still quite raw. It has taken me a while to almost let go of the past and accept it has worked out and she is here - it is our happy ending."
Motherhood has made Anne-Marie extremely grateful.
"It has exceeded my expectations," she says. "When you have an IVF pregnancy you're almost expecting something to be wrong. You expect it's going to be really hard when you have the baby or that the baby is going to be just different or difficult, but Grace is just so perfect. She is meeting all of her milestones so early and she is so healthy."
Five Million Born: An IVF Companion Guide is available on Amazon now.
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