Tuesday 24 October 2017

'IVF nearly wrecked our marriage -- but it was worth it'

Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

Tamara Sturtz

I always knew I wanted children. I grew up with the expectation that I would get married in my twenties and have two children by the time I was 30. But life doesn't always go to plan and I didn't meet Mike until I was almost 30.

We often talked about having children, it would happen when the time was right, and we started casually 'trying'. We were excited and hopeful -- this time next year we could have a baby. But nothing happened.

After three years, I felt I had tried everything. I spent months of valuable fertility time boiling up disgusting herbs that I had to drink three times a day, ploughed my way though jars of supplements that cost me a fortune, and carried fertility stones in my handbag.

Sex became a chore. Instead of spontaneity and fun, it was all about body temperatures and ovulation charts, and so much depended on it.

More often than not, we would end up rowing, and there were times when we hated each other so much we could barely even share the same bed -- hardly conducive to getting pregnant.

We went to our GP, and before we knew it we were having numerous tests and scans at our local fertility clinic, but nothing was wrong.

Our consultant diagnosed us with "unexplained infertility" and we asked about IVF. He told us to keep trying naturally for another year and sent us away telling us to enjoy a glass of wine, relax, and he was sure we would be pregnant in no time.

However, a year later we were back at the clinic. After three failed cycles of IUI (intra-uterine insemination), where sperm is placed in the uterus using a catheter during ovulation, with the aim of getting it nearer to the egg at exactly the right time, IVF, was our 'last-chance saloon'.

If there was to be any chance of us having the baby we so desperately wanted, IVF was our only option. In a way it felt exciting, but also overwhelming.

Here we were about to embark on something that might actually result in a baby. We started our first cycle full of optimism, this was the 'big one' and all our hopes were pinned on it.

When it failed, I cannot even begin to explain how we felt -- devastated, disappointed, helpless, and a huge failure. We had had such high expectations and I felt my body had let me down.

Our dream baby was gone and the feeling of loss was almost too much to bear.

If anybody thinks that IVF is an easy option or an insurance policy, they couldn't be more wrong. Failing a cycle of IVF breaks your heart, and with a UK success rate of only 23.7pc, it is far more likely to fail than not.

As we struggled through another failed cycle we became so wrapped up in it that it became the main focus of our lives. Friends started to dread telling me when they got pregnant. It was as if it had become a taboo subject and they stopped asking how our treatment was going.

We stopped seeing our friends and opted out of our 'old life'.

I gave in to the mood swings, tears and tantrums. I can remember crying for hours on the bathroom floor with such an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

Why had my body let me down? Why me? Mike was at his wits' end, not knowing how to help me. Although you go through IVF as a couple, you react to it in different ways, and it put a huge strain on our relationship.

I stepped on to the IVF rollercoaster as someone who was level-headed and optimistic, but as the months went by I stopped recognising myself.

While Mike felt that his role was to keep positive, I became more emotionally drained and took out all my anger, frustration and hurt on him.

As time went on, he began to retaliate, which resulted in blazing rows. There wasn't much love in our relationship, and although he was doing his best to support me, sometimes it just wasn't enough. I know there were times when all he wanted to do was say "sod this" and leave.

I dreaded going to work. I was the only one who didn't have children or wasn't pregnant, and it really mattered. Another pregnancy announcement, conversations about lunchboxes, colleagues smugly rubbing their prominent bellies -- the reminders were endless. I was angry at my situation and I was angry with everyone, including myself.

I didn't intentionally shun my colleagues when they brought in their new babies, but I couldn't share in their happiness; it just hurt too much.

We knew that both emotionally and financially we could only attempt one more cycle of IVF, and so this time I researched our options. We chose the ARGC (Assisted Reproduction & Gynaecology Centre) in London run by the well known doctor Mohamed Taranissi.

The clinic is known for its controversial treatments, but it has the highest success rates. It was expensive and money was another worry. We had used up all our savings, my father gave me some money and I sold my car. My mother sold her precious Steinway piano to help us fund our third cycle.

Finally, we had to resort to credit cards as we continued to spend thousands of pounds with no guarantees.

But this time there was a real feeling of hope and I also changed my way of thinking. I also used alternative therapies to support me during treatment.

I found the most amazing acupuncturist who specialised in fertility, but it was hypnosis that kept me really focused and positive. Without it I don't think I could have endured the daily visits to the clinic, daily injections and blood tests, scans and drugs.

I took time off work and stayed up in London to be close to the clinic. As part of the intense treatment, I was on steroids which made me gain half a stone in two weeks, daily hormone injections and blood-thinning injections which hurt like hell. I was bruising because of the blood thinners, and my stomach was black and blue from all the needles.

Finally, after nearly three weeks, we had 10 embryos and two were transferred. The two-week wait was unbearable and then Mike and I had to drive up to London for the pregnancy test.

As Mike said, it was like going to collect your lottery winnings, but not knowing if your ticket was valid. After the blood test, we sat in the car for three hours, in total silence, waiting for the phone call. It was excruciating.

Finally the phone rang and we were frozen to the spot. "It's good news!" said the receptionist, and then she told us what we had been waiting for four years to hear: "You're pregnant!"

Our beautiful baby daughter was born three weeks early on November 21, 2008, and she was perfect. As the doctor handed her to me, Mike and I burst into tears as all the frustration and grief of the last four years dissolved.

We'd talked about calling her Daisy, and when we saw her, we knew it was her name. "Hello Daisy," whispered Mike, who was totally blown away. Neither of us could believe that she was here at last.

We have finally got what we wished for: the most incredible, loving and inspiring three-year-old little girl. She is beautiful in every single way. But there's no denying that it came at a huge cost, both financially and, more importantly, emotionally.

It almost claimed our marriage, and even three years on we struggle to regain anything like the relationship we had before our lives became consumed by IVF.

For years it defined us as a couple, and it's as if we need to start again.

We adore Daisy and she is the centre of our lives, but at the same time we have forgotten how to be kind, gentle and patient with each other -- but we are trying.

However, despite everything, we know that we are the lucky ones. IVF took its toll on us, as well as on everyone around us, but Daisy is truly a miracle.

IVF made it happen, and every single day I'm grateful for that.

Irish Independent

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