The first thing to realise is that IVF is both the start of something and the end of something. It’s easy to forget that, for most couples, starting IVF treatment is the culmination of an already long journey of trying, and failing, to conceive. It’s also likely to come after multiple tests, investigations and possibly other interventions.
We had already been trying for over 2 and a half years by the time we finally started our treatment, for many couples it may be even longer. I remember the day I got home from work to the letter which told us we had qualified for NHS funding for one cycle of IVF; I literally fell to the floor crying! It was such a huge relief after so many days, weeks, months and years of longing.
I feel like during that time, the ‘before’, I went through all the emotions. It started with excitement, optimism and a care-free assumption that we’d be pregnant soon! Gradually slight anxiety started to creep in, along with more earnest attempts to conceive involving temperature tracking and ovulation sticks, as other couples we knew started to fall pregnant with seemingly surprising ease. As the months continued to pass I lost myself in the rabbit’s warren of online forums and websites, chasing the elusive magic key that would do it for us: herbal concoctions and powders were ordered, new diet regimes introduced, vitamins and magic beans counted carefully into daily medication dispensers, lucky charms were rubbed and wishes fervently spent, health gurus consulted, private doctors visited, and on, and on. It can consume you, and for a while, it did me. Meanwhile the stress of it all made me unwell, no doubt exacerbating the situation, and needless to say I felt increasingly and increasingly depressed. Such is infertility.
At times it felt like there literally wasn’t anyone we knew who wasn’t pregnant (although of course there was!) Each happy announcement felt like a dagger through the heart. ‘Why them and not us?’ For me that feeling was always followed by guilt for feeling so angry and not being able to fully celebrate other peoples’ good news. So many tears were shed.
Things weren’t helped by crappy doctors who refused to refer us for further investigations until we’d been trying for 18 months, turning us away when we sought help after a year of trying, and even – we later discovered – misreading tests results which would have given us an important clue as to the cause of our infertility much earlier.
For the best part of a year I languished in sadness and self-pity. And then something changed. I’m not sure now exactly what triggered the change, but it felt like the sun coming out after a storm. I had a change of heart, I resolved to be thankful for what I did have, not bitter about what I didn’t. And I took up meditation. You can read more about how my meditation journey helped me in this post, but just to say that this small addition to my life revolutionised my outlook and would become something which saw me through the hurdles ahead.
After finally receiving a referral to our local NHS fertility clinic we actually found out fairly swiftly where the problem might lie and were given the matter of fact news that IVF or ICSI* treatment would give us our best, and possibly only, chance of conceiving our own biological child. Taking that news in fully deserves a blog post of its own (one I will maybe write in the future.) When you start investigations into infertility you know that IVF could be an eventuality, but there are various other things which many couples can try before getting to that point. That none of those were even considered worthwhile options for us was a shock, and the recommendation of IVF felt like a huge blow at first. Because, at the end of the day, it might not work; in fact, as we later learned, it’s more likely to fail than succeed.
Once we reconciled to the course of action needed we decided to face it with as much positivity as we could muster, resolving to take it one step at a time, hand in hand, and grateful that we had the opportunity in this country to even try IVF.
Unfortunately the timing was not great; just as we were diagnosed we were about to move house from one city (the one where we were being treated) to another, and so everything had to be put on hold. Worse still, as tends to happen with buying houses, everything got held up and we were without a permanent address for a while, unable to register with a new doctor’s surgery and get things moving again. We eventually moved in to our new house and could finally register with a new GP, make an appointment, request another referral and await an appointment at the fertility clinic. That appointment was a full 6 months after we’d been told we would need IVF. Frustratingly when we got there we were initially told we would need to do all the tests again, starting from scratch. After protesting, through tears, that it seemed unnecessary to do so when we’d already been through all the tests, we convinced them that the notes from our previous consultations would be enough. Sounds straightforward, but getting the notes from one hospital to another was stupidly difficult and, after another fruitless appointment, eventually led to me hand-collecting and hand-delivering said notes from one hospital to another, along with a heartfelt letter pleading with the consultant to consider us for IVF without any further hurdles.
I’m aware that, actually, our journey was much shorter than many other couples. We were able to find the cause of the problem quickly and, even with the delay from moving house, were able to start treatment without further problems. The way IVF is funded in the UK means that for many there are even more hurdles to overcome; you may or may not qualify for funding in your local area depending on things from whether you have another child already, whether you smoke and, the most unfair of all, your BMI. I have friends who have had to shed pounds in brutal diets before they are able to qualify for funding. Of course, you can go private, but then how many of us have the spare thousands of pounds needed lying around to do that? Some local areas will fund one cycle, some two, making it something of a postcode lottery what treatment you will be able to receive.
We had been told we would need IVF in May 2015, had our first appointment at Birmingham Women’s Hospital in October, I delivered our notes in November, and finally in December we received that letter, more precious to us than gold, informing us we would be funded for one cycle of IVF and inviting us in for a group appointment. We didn’t have our first injection for another two months, on February 5th 2016…. the start of our IVF journey, but the end of a very long journey which led to that point.
*ICSI = intracytoplasmic sperm injection