'Some days I get upset or angry and other days I'm grateful for what I have'
Case study: Gemma Gallagher
Gemma Gallagher is turning 40 this month and while her life as a nanny and aunt (of 10 — soon-to-be 11) is filled with children, the Offaly woman doesn’t have any of her own.
Married to Hubert, she has been trying to conceive for the past four years to no avail.
“When we decided to try for a baby in 2014, I didn’t think there would be any problem,” says Gemma who lives in Dublin. “I always had a regular cycle, so when nothing happened after six months I decided to go to a GP which is the advice given to women over 35.
“I attended a lovely doctor who took a detailed general and menstrual history. I told him my cycles were regular but have often been painful and heavy, since my first period aged 11. And I was fatigued, which had always been put down to me being slightly anaemic.”
After being referred to the Coombe, she underwent a diagnostic laparoscopy, D&C and a hysteroscopy and it was discovered that she had a blocked fallopian tube and stage four endometriosis.
“I was shocked, but also felt relief that I wasn’t crazy and didn’t have a low pain threshold,” says Gemma. “I wasn’t being dramatic about my painful periods but had actually been suffering with a chronic illness for over 20 years. However, I was devastated when I realised the impact it could have on my fertility — and I cried.
“I was sent for an MRI, CT scan and colonoscopy to figure out what my surgical option would be — and discovered it could result in a bowel resection with a risk of a stoma, possibly permanent. I was terrified at the thought so I postponed.”
She received a further knock when a trip to a fertility clinic revealed that due to her condition, she would not be a suitable candidate for IVF treatment so was told to wait for conception to happen naturally.
But her symptoms had begun to get worse and she realised that this could not continue indefinitely so decided to do some research of her own which led her to looking into going abroad for treatment.
“I started to do my own research and realised (through the Endometriosis Association of Ireland) that the Gold Standard of treatment for endometriosis is complete excision but this is not available in Ireland — instead here, they do an ablation and excision and each ineffective surgery affects fertility,” she says.
“I started to look into treatment abroad and decided on Chris Mann in the UK based on his vast training and experience — and he was confident he could completely excise all the endo without the need for a bowel resection. I was delighted and relieved. It was very expensive but I could not continue on any longer as I was. So with my husband’s full support, I had my excision surgery, was back to work two weeks later and have been recovering steadily since.”
Gemma was told that the best chance of conceiving naturally is the first six months after surgery. She isn’t pregnant yet, but she remains hopeful.
“The surgery seems to have disrupted my cycle but I am still hopeful and will wait until next year before I make any decisions on IVF,” she says. “This will only be a possibility if the state-funded IVF actually happens as our savings went on this surgery. I am three years post diagnosis and every year reduces my chances of having a baby naturally. Some days I get upset or angry and other days I’m grateful for what I have — my husband, family and friends and all the children that are in my life — on those days, I know I can be happy whatever happens.”