Many of you know that my children were born using IVF, I make no secret of it, but I’ve never put the whole story on paper before. As Joe turns 13 today, I thought it was about time…
As with many couples trying for a baby and failing to conceive, it took us a long time to realise that something was wrong. You may have a niggling doubt in the back of your mind but the tendency is to ignore it; infertility is something that happens to other people, not you.
After a year or two, I did eventually go to the doctor who referred me to the fertility clinic at the local hospital. We had to wait several months for an appointment and when we eventually got seen they decided to try stimulating my ovaries with Clomid over several months – nothing happened. A further test revealed that although my periods were as regular as clockwork, I wasn’t actually releasing an egg when I should have been. The only hope for me to get pregnant was to have IVF.
“We can put you on the waiting list for the John Radcliff Hospital in Oxford if you like but you won’t get seen for eighteen months,” the consultant told us. “Go home and think about it.”
Well we went home and I collapsed on the sofa and howled. The strain of wanting a baby but not being able to conceive for such a long time had finally overwhelmed me. You see, the worries and the doubts are always there in the background and no amount of work or socialising could dispel them fully. Sex could never be enjoyed simply for what it was and every time I had a period, it was another blow to our hopes. It didn’t help that many of my friends had successfully started a family during this time either; I was thrilled for them, of course, but inside I was sad. Why couldn’t I have a baby too?
John looked at me and came to a decision: “We’ll go private” he said. “We can afford it.” Luckily for us he was right, this was during the boom years for IT and his job prospects and earning power had improved enormously since returning from Japan in ‘97. He went upstairs, switched on the computer and started doing some research. Three weeks later we had an appointment at the ARGC in London; their results were far better than any other clinic, so the decision was easy.
Situated in a huge five-storey house off Harley Street, the clinic waiting room was furnished with oversized wooden furniture and artfully arranged flowers. It was filled with silent couples waiting anxiously. Looking into the eyes of the women was like opening a window into my own private thoughts; hope was mixed equally with fear. Fear that this last chance may not work.
Finally we got to meet the consultant, Mr Taranissi; a calm, confident Egyptian in his 40s, who was going bald. During a long conversation, we told him our story and of our hope that he could help us. He told us that he was certain he could give us the best chance of getting pregnant, especially as youth was on my side (by this time I was 32) and explained exactly how the procedure would be carried out. I think that is when I began to have hope; finally here was someone who could really help us.
Eager to begin, I returned to the clinic at a particular point in my next monthly cycle to collect some drugs. The first stage in the IVF process is to actually suppress your monthly cycle and this was done by injecting a hormone into myself once a day for a fortnight. This was followed by injecting a fertility hormone, this time for about 12 days, as it’s supposed to increase the number of eggs you produce.
All the time I was having the drug treatment, I had to go up to London every other day for a blood test, to monitor my progress. These were far worse than injecting myself. Unfortunately I have deep veins and unless I had an experienced nurse taking blood out of my arm, I ended up with a horrible bruise. By the end of three weeks, my veins were so worn out, the nurse couldn’t get another needle in and the last blood sample had to be taken out of my foot, not a process I want to go through again in a hurry.
Finally, the consultant decided my eggs were almost ready for collection and gave me another hormone to inject 30 hours before the procedure; this one was to help my eggs mature. They were collected under sedation, mixed with John’s sperm and left to develop into embryos. A few days later we both returned to the clinic for the embryo transfer; the most important moment had arrived.
Meeting the embryologist, we learnt that despite all the drugs I’d taken, they had only collected 6 eggs. I know now that 12 would’ve been a more normal number for a woman my age but at the time I was mercifully unaware how slim my chances of conceiving were, and the team were carefully positive all through the meeting. Of the six eggs, only four had developed into embryos and only two of these were any good. These two were the ones that would be put back into my womb in the hope that one of them would then develop into a healthy baby. The embryologist then got the petri dish out of storage and showed us the embryos through a powerful microscope. It’s odd looking back now, to know that one of those four-celled organisms is today a strapping lad who’s the same height as me.
The transfer was short but uncomfortable. You need a very full bladder, so that ultrasound can be used properly and I think I drank just a little too much. Never have I been so desperate for a wee!
After a fortnight, I went back for a blood test to confirm whether I was pregnant or not and then I had to wait for the results. Somehow I managed to put what was happening to the back of my mind and not dwell on the possibility that the procedure had failed.
The phone rang at about 9.30 am one morning and the lady from the clinic got straight to the point, “Congratulations Mrs Killoran, you’re pregnant. I’ll make you an appointment for a scan in a month so we can check you’re well and work out your due date”. I was ecstatic and John was emotional. It had been five years since we’d first started thinking about having a baby and now it was actually going to happen.
At our last visit to the clinic before my care was transferred to my GP we learnt that only one of the embryos had developed and that the baby was due on the 11th May. When Mr Taranissi told us that, John’s eyes filled with tears: his father had died on that day three months before and now he was faced with the possibility of a double anniversary, one that would be both bitter and sweet.
Death: I’ve left that out of the narrative so far. Very briefly, what happened was that I began my fertility treatment in the April only for John’s father, Joe, to die suddenly and painfully of pulmonary fibrosis the following month. Needing to support John and his mother with this wholly unexpected death, I rang the clinic to explain that I would need to delay my treatment for a few months. In fact we only waited three months to start again; having something positive to focus on helped us with our grief.
After Mr Taranissi told us when the baby was due, I knew with total clarity that I would give birth to a boy and we would call him Joe.
My pregnancy passed by easily. As soon as we had a positive result I told everyone, I didn’t wait for the first three months to pass as many people do. Ever since we’d started the IVF treatment I knew that I would end up with a healthy baby, honestly, there was never any doubt in my mind. And that is probably why it worked, feeling stressed or doubtful would’ve hindered my chances.
On the 2nd May just as John returned from work, my waters broke. I’d been feeling unwell all day and spent most of it lying in bed, so I wasn’t surprised. My contractions however didn’t progress and I sent John to bed, despite his protests, knowing that I’d need him to be awake the next day. The next morning he found me sitting in the bath to ease the pain but I was still no further along.
A little worried I rang the midwife. “You need to get your labour started properly,” she said and instructed me to go for a walk. John had to come with me as we walked slowly up and down the street, stopping every time a contraction came.
By mid-afternoon, nearly 24 hours after my waters had broken, we decided to go to the hospital; I could still feel the baby moving but I wanted to be somewhere where I could get some help if need be. The doctor chastised me for not coming in sooner and I explained about my phone call to the midwife and how I’d followed her advice, emphasizing how no-one had rung to check on me since.
“You won’t be able to give birth here,” the doctor explained “we’re going to have to induce you and I’d rather you were at Wexham Park.” This is the big hospital some 20 miles away, north of Slough. My dream of having my baby in a small midwife-led unit abruptly evaporated.
Late in the night, as they were giving me the drug to induce my labour, one of the nurses said, “I’d have an epidural if I was you, I’ve been induced and it’s not nice because you don’t get a gap in between contractions.”
“I’d rather try something else first” I said, blithely ignorant of what was to come.
Sometime later, utterly spaced out on gas and air and with no ability to speak from the pain, I was given an epidural. Slowly the world came into focus again. My labour was progressing very slowly.
The following morning, 4th May, the midwife said to me, “You’re fully dilated now. You can begin to push your baby out.” John and I looked at one another with excitement, the fact that we were going to be parents still didn’t seem real.
Hours passed, I pushed when they told me to (an epidural masks the urge) but very little was happening and I was utterly exhausted. Suddenly, a senior doctor came into the room and said to me: “We’re taking you down to the operating theatre. We’ll have one more go at getting the baby out naturally and if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to have an emergency caesarean, the baby’s heart beat is dropping sharply.” I just nodded wearily; all I wanted was for this baby to be out one way or another. What I didn’t know was that I was bleeding and that my life and the baby’s life were in danger*…
The operating theatre was filled with people and there was a sense of urgency to everything they did. Although they hadn’t told me that my placenta had torn away I knew that something was wrong and fear began to creep into my mind. An Indian surgeon, so short she had to stand on steps to operate on me, performed the operation calmly and efficiently. Then I lay there waiting for the baby to cry, dimly aware that there were lots of people huddled round him. John held my hand and the room was silent except for the odd instruction; all we could do was wait nervously. After a very long five minutes, perhaps more, a little weak cry filled the room. After 45 hours of labour, the baby had arrived.
The drama was over for Joe but not for me. I’d lost a great deal of blood and my sats (blood saturation levels) were dropping, so I ended up having a transfusion. It’s not how you expect your first experience of motherhood to be; stuck in a little room on your own with your arm attached to a needle. The desolation I felt must have shown in my face because John offered to stay. Knowing he’d been up for two days and needed sleep as much as I did, I refused and sent him home.
Three days later I was up and about, confidently breast feeding Joe and chatting to the other new mothers on the ward. Luckily for us, we both recovered from our ordeal quickly and were none the worse for it.
For a long time after, I could remember very few details of Joe’s birth, my body had just blocked out the trauma. I just didn’t want to think about what might have been. For John though, the only way he could recover from the ordeal of nearly losing us both was to talk about it, so painful as it’s been for me, I’ve had to sit and listen to him when he’s needed to discuss it.
Something compelled me to sit and write this story today; I guess enough time has passed for me to be able to tell it without getting too upset and perhaps it’s also time that I faced what I went through rather than shutting it out. Despite everything, I do feel like one of the lucky ones though; I’ve got the two children I so wanted, when many others are sadly deprived of the chance of being parents. I’m more grateful than you’ll ever know for the fact that I live in the 21st century when technological miracles are possible
*During my second pregnancy, I saw Joe’s Apgar score at birth in my notes; it was only 3. He had a true knot in his umbilical cord (which is extremely rare) and he had managed to wrap it round his neck three times. As I tried to push him out I was effectively strangling him which is why he was nearly stillborn and it contributed to my placenta tearing away.