Saturday, 28 April 2012

So What's Stopping Me Then?

Somehow a part of me, a large part of me, was procrastinating like crazy about starting my treatment. I'm pretty sure it was the usual doubt about my ability to do it on my own and the usual forsaking the man to do it with. Once I embarked on IVF there was no going back and it's a very scary thing. All I could do was wait, live life and hope that I'd feel ready at some point soon. Time really isn't on my side and each month I delayed was another month's deterioration in quality and amount of eggs I could produce. However I decided to wait a period and see how I feel then. A friend visited me from Qatar and encouraged me to go and visit her. It didn't take me long to be seduced by the idea of a week in the sun and hopefully my last exotic adventure for a while. I booked my flight for a few weeks time on a bit of a whim but decided that the break may help me clear my head so that I could come home with more perspective and hopefully feel ready to commence treatment.
I had a great week away, just to be in the sunshine was fabulous, let alone being with a lovely friend who has been incredibly supportive about what I'm doing. It was a healthy holiday which enabled me to continue most of my fertility habits I had developed lately: most mornings I was the only person swimming in the pool, not drinking alcohol was easy out there as practically the whole country is dry and my pal had left her yoga mat out so I could practise a few of my fertility positions daily.

I came home refreshed, content and ready to start treatment on my next cycle.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Good To Go

This time my mother was able to accompany me for my follow up consultation. She really is fantastic, approaching 75 and willing to get the 7.30am train up to London. She finds it too tiring to get the tube these days so we cab it around which I must admit is a real treat for me.

The consultant was delighted that my mother had come with me. She was just as pleased that the investigations showed nothing untoward and I didn't need surgery to remove the fibroid. She was insistent that I should only go for one round of IVF and see how I respond to the drugs. She mentioned that there is a higher chance of success if more than one egg is implanted at the same time but I very firmly said I didn't want that. The prospect of bringing up twins on my own is too much. I couldn't imagine being able to cope with that. The consultant warned me of the risks of IVF to me and the baby and reminded me in the nicest possible way that my chances are slim. As we left she wished me lots of luck.

I then saw the nurse who ran through all the practical details such as choosing my sperm donor, transferring my frozen eggs from the other clinic where they are stored to this clinic - in case I don't produce any fresh eggs and we need to use my frozen ones. She also explained the drug protocol the consultant recommended I go on. When I had had my eggs frozen previously I had taken a nasal spray for around two weeks which shut down my own fertility so that they could control me with the drugs. This time because my fertility is so low anyway they won't shut anything down because that may result in me becoming totally infertile. As a result I was given a prescription for very strong drugs to inject daily to boost the number and quality of follicles and hopefully eggs I will produce.

Next I had an appointment to see the counsellor whom I had missed last time. She was very helpful. We spoke about me needing emotional support for the process. I'm well aware of this and feel I have told enough friends and family so that there is usually someone I can talk to about it when I need to. I thanked her for the useful resources she had sent me. I'm gradually working my way through a self help book on fertility, or lack of it, which encourages such things as attempting to keep the treatment in perspective and do enjoyable things along the way, know that there is always a plan B if IVF fails totally and other useful ideas of which I hadn't thought.

I left the clinic feeling so much better than last time; positive and excited. I had the prescription and all I needed to do was buy the drugs and choose the sperm donor. I could start the treatment at the beginning of my next period. My mother and I met a close family friend for a celebratory lunch at the House of Commons where I treated myself to a very stodgy pudding. I was finally good to go.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


It was a tough week. I cried a lot: with my therapist, with close friends on the phone and on my own. In my therapy I'm working hard on letting myself feel how I feel and not repress stuff which has been my habit for many years. There was no problem with that! I decided that I mustn't obsess about the matter in hand and have some fun if I felt up to it. So I decided to go to my usual Ceroc dancing evening. All was going well and I was being spun round the floor and dipped and flirted with as usual until it hit me. I was mid spin when I suddenly thought, this guy has no idea that I may be infertile. He thinks I'm this fun, vivacious dancing partner who is single and may want children but I may not be able to. I equated infertility with a lack of femininity. I knew logically that that wasn't true but it made me realise just how fundamentally I had been affected by discovering my lack of fertility. More grist for the mill for me and my therapist and a need for me to give myself a break and not be so hard on myself.

I found it impossible working out which investigations to book. The ones the London clinic wanted me to have were unavailable where I live. I spoke to my GP, a local consultant and emailed another local consultant. Everyone was very helpful but had different opinions on which investigations would be the most useful. Finally the letter came from the London consultant which outlined what I needed more clearly. I was then able to ask around again and found somewhere that could do a HyCoSy which is where a fluid is passed up into the fallopian tubes to check they are clear and a Saline Infusion Scan (SIS) which is where salt water is passed up into the uterus which allows a good view of the uterus with the ultrasound scan.

As a single woman, one of the hardest parts of this journey is finding people to help me practically. I've decided that emotionally I need someone with me for each visit whether to London or locally. This isn't as easy as it sounds with friends and family busy with children, work and other commitments. In the end my mother and stepfather took me for the investigations. I asked my mother if she'd come in with me but she wanted to keep my stepfather company. They dropped me off in the waiting room and went exploring the local area. I was dreading the waiting room. I had found it so difficult going to appointments on my own when I had had my eggs frozen. As before I sat alone in the room, a coffee machine, magazines and the obligatory three couples. Instead of dwelling on my singleness as I'm sure I had before I just played patience on my phone, thank goodness for technology which is totally absorbing.

The HyCoSy and SIS were not pleasant. However the staff were. The doctor explained everything she was going to do before and during the process. It took three attempts to get the catheter into the correct place but it worked in the end and the scan clearly showed that my tubes are perfect and the fibroid is not embedded into the wall of the uterus. What a relief. I now do not need the operation to have the fibroid removed. I felt very faint during the investigation, that's normal they assured me, and I had to stay lying down until the colour came back to me. I was given tea and biscuits in the recovery room and my mother came down to join me. I was very glad I had asked for a lift because I did not feel up to driving. I made myself unavailable for work for the next day as well and was glad as I felt quite tender and may have found teaching PE or anything else physical challenging.

I am now awaiting the results letter from the investigations which I will take to the consultant for a mini consultation to work out a plan for treatment.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

It Only Takes One Egg

The day of the initial consultation finally came. My therapist friend came with me. We arrived light hearted, excited and nervous. We were collected by a nurse and taken into the room ready for my ultrasound scan. Thankfully my friend, also mother of three, came in with me. I found it hard to read the pictures and make out what the doctor was showing me. I could just about make out the edge of the uterus, shaped like an aubergine, my friend helpfully explained. The scan showed a fibroid in my uterus. The doctor could not work out exactly where it was and assured me that it was not large or dangerous but there would be a problem if it was jutting into the lining of the uterus. If that was the case then it would have to be removed because it could impair the implantation of an embryo.

The doctor then went on to check my ovaries. At any time during a woman's menstrual cycle there are follicles growing in the ovaries. They are at different stages throughout the cycle and some of them produce eggs. It is the number of follicles visible in the ovaries that can give a very good indication of the amount and quality of eggs a woman has left. Thankfully I knew all this from my research even though I had problems focussing on what the monitor showed. As the doctor scanned my first ovary she could not find any follicles. I was shocked and couldn't believe it. Surely there must have been a mistake. I waited in suspense as she moved over to the other ovary which seemed to take forever. She found one follicle. Only one.

I started crying out of disbelief and shock. This couldn't be happening to me, I only came to the clinic to find a sperm donor, I wasn't here because I had low fertility. The doctor and nurse left us in the room and we were told to wait outside from where we would be called in to her office to discuss the results of the scan and to talk about my options. I couldn't stop crying, thank goodness my friend was there. I got dressed, my friend gave me a tender hug and we sat waiting to go into the room. I needed about an hour to cry and begin to get my head around what the scan had showed before I saw the doctor and could take in what she said but that wasn't possible. I don't think I heard a word the doctor said for the first 10 minutes. I gave her the results from all of my tests, they seemed superfluous now.

The doctor was lovely, as sympathetic as she could be as she told me my situation and options. Firstly I needed to have an investigation to find out if the fibroid needed to be removed or not. Once that was sorted I could start treatment. I had wanted to go for 3 rounds of IVF because I believe that you put yourself under less pressure if you give yourself more than one shot at it and I'm fortunate enough to have that option financially. Your eggs aren't then all in one basket, so to speak. But she gently told me that that really could be a waste of money and emotional energy in my case, what with the lack of follicles and eggs I will probably produce even on the drugs to boost my ovaries. She recommended starting me on one round of the drugs and just seeing how I respond. She discussed the differences between IUI and IVF, I still erred towards IVF which is more accurate but obviously more stressful and expensive.

The doctor also said that of course we could thaw my frozen eggs and use them but she was very realistic about that. There is no guarantee of the quality of the frozen eggs, eggs are incredibly fragile and can diminish in quality during the thawing. The embryologist in the lab where my eggs are kept had told me that as well. I would have appreciated being told that in 2008 when I had my eggs frozen, but no point crying over spilt ovum now I guess.

I became tearful again when the doctor mentioned I could consider donor eggs. Gradually some of her words began to hit home. This was not going to be the walk in the park I had expected and it may not even work at all. Just hearing the words “donor egg” somehow cemented the reality of my situation. My friend could see and feel how devastated I was. She asked several questions to clarify what the doctor was saying. The doctor was softly spoken and what with the traffic zooming past the window as well my friend found it difficult to hear everything she said, let alone for me to take in all of what she was saying.

I told the doctor that I saw adoption as a preferable option to donor eggs and I wasn't ready to consider either of those options yet. I wanted to see if I could produce any fresh eggs first and then I had my frozen eggs to use. She assured me that “it only takes one egg” but somehow that one egg was beginning to feel more like a needle in a haystack.

We left the room and had to wait to see the nurse about the investigations I needed before we could leave. The nurse assured me that “it only takes one egg” but I couldn't stop crying and to add insult to injury as we waited a younger new mum brought her new baby to see the doctor. As we left I couldn't bear to look at the mum or the baby, it was just too painful.

I certainly chose the perfect friend for the day. On the train home we chatted it over: my shock, my feelings and my next steps. I came home to an empty flat and became a recluse for the weekend. Not wanting to talk to anyone or see anyone. I dwelt long and hard on how life is just so unfair sometimes. I'd waited all this time for a baby and now it looked like I could have waited too long. I began to look back at my life, regretting the relationships I'd finished because they weren't right. Telling myself I should have married one of at least two ex partners because yes I'd be divorced but at least I'd have children. Realising that I'd thought my frozen eggs were my back up for my second child and now it looks like they will have to be used for my first child, which will definitely be my only child and I may not even manage to have an only child. Aaargh, there was so much to get my head around....

A long walk on the beach the next day was about all I could manage all weekend. By Sunday I could talk to a couple of trusted people and by Monday I was ready to get on the phone to arrange the investigations for the next week if possible.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Prior to the consultation I had been for every test I needed so that I could turn up to my consultation with all the information my consultant required. This proved laborious. It involved an MOT at my local GUM clinic and several blood tests, some on specific days of my menstrual cycle – I was beginning to learn how important and amazing a woman's menstrual cycle is. Having been on the pill for almost 20 years this was all a new world to me: ovulating kits, thermometers, mittelschmerz, mucous, sticks to pee on- there's even a website called www.peeonastick I'd heard it all now. Around my ovulation I also felt incredibly horny (should have come off the pill years ago!) which increased my utter respect for our perfectly designed anatomies. We really are programmed to feel sexy just when we need to be.

My AMH blood test (gives a reading of the ovarian reserve you have left) result was very low:1.16 (the range is from 0-35) and I had been devastated by the result. However a chat with a nurse at the London clinic's open day had relieved my fears “A low AMH is not the end of the world, just gives us information which we can use to decide which drugs to give you. We can compensate for your lack of AMH with drugs. We had a woman who had a baby with an AMH of 0.something. ...And anyway it only takes one egg to make a baby.”

I have since learnt that there is always “a woman who got pregnant even though ...” it could be her age, her low AMH count or her partner with a low sperm count, there's always someone who can be a held high as a ray of hope when the news isn't good.

I held onto what the nurse had said which meant I threw myself into Christmas whole heartedly and had a lovely time with my recently adopted adorable nieces and nephew, brother and sister in law in their new family home.

A friend had a wild New Year's eve party which was great and then I was back to my healthy preparation regime. Only a few days to my initial consultation, I couldn't wait...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

From August 2011 I began actively researching sperm donor pregnancies. Firstly I met a local woman in her mid thirties who had a beautiful sperm donor 15 month old toddler. She was an inspiration and flooded me with information and positivity about being a single mother and the whole process of the treatment.

In September I managed to tell my psychoanalyst my thoughts. She was as accepting and helpful as ever and I know will continue to be whatever the outcome.

In October I met a friend of my cousin who had completed one unsuccessful round of IVF with a sperm donor and was awaiting her second round. Again she was an inspiration and speaking with her made me shift considerably. She assured me that her sperm donor had not been paid for his sperm. I had assumed that sperm donors were paid, it turns out that they are only paid expenses. Becoming one is a huge commitment which involves at least 10 visits to the clinic and numerous tests beforehand and during the process. Knowing that my potential sperm donor would not be a student who had donated his sperm for beer money was a huge relief. I would be able to tell my child that his or her father had wanted to help women like me by offering his sperm for altruistic reasons alone.

To prepare myself physically I came off the contraceptive pill and started taking folic acid and vitamins and minerals.

In November I went to the Fertility Show at Olympia with a friend. I went to some useful talks and met some interesting people who worked in the field and some people who were either going for assisted conception or had used it successfully. Every professional I heard speak at the show reinforced the same information; cut out alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and keep your BMI to below 25. One doctor said that he refused to treat people with a BMI of over 30. My BMI was 26 so I decided to decline the advent treats until the actual week of Christmas. It worked. I ate and drank everything I wanted over Christmas and New Year but still lost weight overall.

In December my mother and another friend came with me to a London clinic to learn more details of fertility treatment. I realised that I already knew 90% of what was being said and was pleased with myself that my research had been accurate and comprehensive. It turns out that from 2012 sperm donors will be paid a flat fee to donate but they will no longer be paid their expenses which for some will mean that they will make a loss. I'm still hoping I'll be able to have a donor who donated before 2012 but we will see. I'll cross that when I come to it.

By Christmas 2011 I had made up my mind. I was going to go for it. I told both sets of parents and my brother and sister in law. Everyone was really supportive and excited. I booked the initial consultation for the first week in the New Year.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Decisions, Decisions......

In the months following that mother and daughter dinner out I occasionally tuned into the good people of Ambridge and the trials of the annoying and headstrong Ms Archer who was indeed pregnant by a sperm donor.

I had had some of my eggs frozen in 2008 after a break up of a relationship so I had already gone through the first part of the treatment for IVF. Gradually I began to gather information on the subject and started to wonder if I could be a single mother out of choice. By Christmas 2010 I was able to whisper the idea to my beloved older cousin and a couple of trusted friends. I have a theory that whenever you start sharing ideas things start moving. I make major decisions in my life with much gravitas and this one also needed serious deliberation, cogitation and digestion as someone once said.

Somehow I had to accept the fact that going down the sperm donor route meant I had to forsake the marriage I had always craved and believed in. I'm a traditional old fashioned kinda gal and it has taken me over a year to accept the fact that I'm not going to be a mother in the way I've always dreamed. I've always wanted a partner to share the planning of a baby, the excitement of going through it all together, the shared birth experience and then the crazy readjusting to life after birth. If I'm going to go it alone it's going to be tough. No one to help choose a name, the right buggy or more importantly chat over stuff at the end of the day or in the middle of the night when sleep is a long forgotten memory. So yes I know I will meet the right guy at some point and I know I can still have a relationship and get married at a later date but it won't be in the way I've always wanted.

At the same time I was also running practicalities through my head. How would I manage financially? My mother had kindly offered to help pay for the treatment but I needed to make sure I could survive independently as a single mother once I had the baby. Was my newly bought second floor flat suitable for a baby? Who did I have as support? Could I really cope on my own with a baby?

Nearly all the chosen friends and family I spoke to were supportive and helpful. Only one friend's husband had difficulty with the idea: “Well I'm sorry but I don't agree with it. You are dealt your cards and that's the life you've been given and you should just get on and make the best of it.” Funnily enough hearing that made me realise how much I did want a baby. It was fine for him to say that, stay at home dad of two gorgeous boys, but why couldn't I have that, even without the partner? The technology and science is available so why deny myself something I know I will regret if I don't at least try.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Roll Of The Dice

I'd wanted a family since I was a school girl myself. Most days I used to come home from school aged 8 and ¾ and skip over the road to help look after the younger children opposite. I always assumed that by the time I was 30 I would be living my fantasy: a married full time mum with three children; up to my elbows in fingerpaint, bowls to lick clean and wellies tumbling around the front door. I fell into infant school teaching and whilst the job proved too all consuming for me it ticked my ever increasing broody box.

As the years flew by I never met the right man. A career change or two and some serious travelling later I still hadn't found him. I'd had some amazing experiences, built up an impressive portfolio of dinner tales, memories and amusing date stories but still yearned for Mr Right for Me and the family life.

By my late thirties I was the last single girl amongst my friends. Some of my closest girlfriends had teenage children and were on their second husbands and I hadn't pulled off one marriage! Family occasions were becoming more difficult for me as gradually all my siblings had families one way or another. I was becoming fed up of being everyone's favourite auntie, I wanted my own family.

If Helen Archer Can Do It.........

It was September 2010, my mother and I were out for one of our precious girls' dinners. We must have been contemplating life or more likely my brother who was in the middle of a lengthy and harrowing adoption process when out of the blue my mother asked me if I'd considered having a baby with a sperm donor: “Helen's doing it darling so there's no reason why you can't do it”.

I was aghast. What on earth would I want to do that for? I shot my mother down in flames: “That's not the way I want to bring a child into the world. I want to do it properly, in the right order, with a man in a loving partnership.” My mother left the subject well alone but she'd planted a seed....