Transatlantic Family Building

By Eloise Edington

My husband and I had been married for three years before we started trying for a baby. We used to talk in depth about what they’d be called and what they’d be like. So around May 2015, when we thought ‘Right, now is the time to get going!’, we felt both excitement and anticipation about whether we’d conceive that first month. I used to Google ‘ways to surprise your husband you’re pregnant’.

Months went by and I started tracking my cycle, working out in anticipation what the baby’s due date would be. At the six-month mark of no pregnancy, I was inconsolable every time my period arrived. My husband would say: “Just relax, it’s only been six months”. I’m a worrier and, although it hadn’t been long, I said: “Let’s have a fertility workup”.

The day of the testing arrived. Nervously, I got on the bed for an internal scan. They confirmed straight away that my uterus looked ‘normal’ and my egg reserve was ‘in line with my age’. So off to work I went, relieved that all seemed fine. Lunchtime came and I knew my husband was being tested. I looked at my watch and thought how strange it was that I hadn’t heard from him. Eventually I did… and just like that we were given the crushing news that he has azoospermia (zero sperm). Our world came crashing down.

The next few weeks were a blur of raw emotion. After weeks of testing, it became clear that my husband would need to undergo painful surgery, known as Microdissection TESE (microTESE), to see whether they could extract any sperm. Though we live in the United Kingdom (UK), we soon discovered a surgeon in New York who seemed to have the best success rate and planned to go there. I needed to undergo IVF in New York to extract my eggs in tandem with my husband’s surgery, ready for fertilization. The whole process would take three weeks. With a date in the diary, I wrote a very detailed timing plan and was kept busy by huge preparations for our trip to the United States. We also spent two challenging months picking a sperm donor (in case my husband’s operation failed). At last, after much deliberation, we chose a donor.

Touching down in New York, I had mixed feelings. Having become engaged there, it felt fitting as well as sad that we were back there to try and make a baby. Having only been in NYC for under 24 hours, I received a call from our sperm bank who confirmed the donor whose vials of sperm we had shipped to our clinic had just had a baby with someone else with huge medical issues, and my specialist immediately advised us to pick again. We chose another sperm donor, but it was challenging to go back to square one. I could’ve done without the extra worry and unwanted pressure.

IVF stimulation started. My husband’s operation was determined by the date of my egg retrieval, as it needed to be the day before. The surgeon had said that his operation would take roughly two hours but it took five; the surgeon came in with his head hung low and removed his face mask to confirm our worst fears that the operation had not been a success, although they were watching the tissue overnight (just in case). We were obviously devastated, having been so optimistic, determined and strong, and my husband was in considerable pain.

We didn’t know until ten minutes before I was sedated for my egg collection that my husband’s sperm wouldn’t be viable and that the route we needed to pursue was with the donor sperm. We were sad but also grateful to have that back-up hopefully to give us the family for which we so desperately longed.

The next morning came and it was confirmed that 12/12 of my eggs had fertilized with our donor sperm. Fast-forward two weeks after the transfer of two three-day-old embryos and, back in the UK, it was Easter Sunday. Despite the nurses having said to wait for the blood test, we tested early. We sat nervously watching the flashing icon, waiting for the result… then it popped up: ‘NOT PREGNANT’.

After our first failed attempt, I was totally convinced the next cycle was not going to work. A few months later in New York, we transferred both frozen embryos. Once again back in the UK, the two-week wait was a dark time. I went to see a hypnotherapist to help with my mental state, which truly made me feel more relaxed. My husband didn’t want me doing a home pregnancy test because the first failed attempt was so awful.

When the day came for my blood test, I had to wait six hours for the results via the phone. I answered the phone shaking and immediately blurted out: ‘It hasn’t worked has it’ and the nurse replied, ‘YES, IT HAS’! We then had the pregnancy confirmed by a scan at 6 Weeks and learned that it was not twins. At last, in February 2017, our first daughter was born. She completely rocks our world.

When she was almost a year old, we decided to try and make more embryos, as we had none left for a sibling, but we did have more vials of our donor’s sperm left for this purpose. I spent the four months leading up to this fresh IVF cycle preparing my body.

In January 2018, the IVF stimulation started all over again, back in snowy, stormy New York. This time fewer eggs were retrieved. I was concerned but kept reminding myself that it’s quality, not quantity, that’s important.

Transfer day came and miraculously three out of eight fertilized embryos were looking great by blastocyst stage, Day 5. Again, I assumed it wouldn’t work ‘fresh’ because it didn’t the first time with our daughter. Our specialist had called and advised we transfer two embryos because one was doing better than the other. We agreed to take her advice (deep down I was really hoping for twins). The next ten days waiting to test were a complete blur: I woke up one morning at 4am and ran into the bathroom and grabbed the emergency pregnancy test.

BANG! Two VERY strong lines appeared immediately! Blood tests then confirmed I was pregnant. This time I felt different, my HCG hormone levels came back four times higher than my previous pregnancy and I was physically sick from 4 Weeks, as well as waking up in the night starving! There we have it: after nine long and extremely hot months during the peak of 2018’s UK summer heat wave, our twins were born at 37.5 Weeks, both healthy and gorgeous. I still pinch myself as if this isn’t real.

So, when our twins were six months old, having experienced this difficult road to motherhood first-hand and frustrated by seeing people feel overwhelmed, lonely and desperate for answers, I decided it was time to readdress (in)fertility in a fresh, engaging way and to help remove some of the stigma around it. As we begin this new decade, it is time to get people talking.

 

Eloise Edington is Founder and Director of Fertility Help Hub – consisting of a user-friendly, informative, interactive and inspirational lifestyle website, an e-newsletter magazine, podcast, social community, and more. Fertility Help Hub is also on Facebook and Instagram. You can join their Fertility Squad Community here.

 

 

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