This was written after a very well meaning lady, who is older than myself, asked me why we don’t have kids yet. And right there in that tiny collection of words, my very fragile heart was almost broken.
The truth is my husband and I are saving up and hoping for approval – there’s a lot of form filling and really personal stuff to go through before we can find out if my husband and I will get to be parents.
We met almost ten years ago, got married a little over four years ago and like so many others, hoped, and just assumed, that babies would come along soon after. We watched our friends fall pregnant and be blessed with beautiful babies one after another and dreamed that one day it would happen for us. But it didn’t.
We went to the doctors and got checked out and discovered that whilst my husband was in full working order, I was not. With a history of chronic endometriosis and burst ovarian cysts I was advised that it may be tricky but not impossible to fall pregnant. And then an even bigger blow – I found out that I was perimenopausal. This arrived as a huge shock because I was only 34 years old. I’d always figured that I had a good 10-15 years before I had to worry about all that.
As a result of these discoveries, we both went on a waiting list and it took so long to see a specialist about IVF treatment, that I turned 35 just before our first appointment. Sadly, that meant no IVF courtesy of the NHS – I live in North Hampshire and current rules disallow anyone aged over 35 access to this much required treatment. This is despite NICE recommending all women under 35 should be allowed to have three rounds of IVF.
In fact, in some areas, the National Health Service will only provide IVF services to women over 40 years of age. Further, some areas grant three attempts, some two attempts some just one. We even considered moving house to an area that would qualify us for IVF treatment, but with a new wedding floristry business to run, that simply wasn’t going to work. I also knew that the waiting list was up to two years and was given reason to believe that we didn’t have the luxury of years of hope left.
As we continued to try to fall pregnant, we both found ourselves working really hard, whilst simultaneously trying to be as stress free and relaxed as possible – because everyone keeps telling you that if you just relax, it’s sure to happen. I had given up drinking alcohol and stopped using anything that might be bad for my body as far as possible. Sugar was out and I tried to eat as healthily as I possibly could, being careful which cleaning products I used and avoiding stress (though trying to avoid stress is pretty stressful!). I measured all my signs and symptoms and yet every month there was failure, or so it felt. A little death. And I grieved for every one of those months when I realised that yet again, it wasn’t meant to be.
Image by Taylor & Porter
I asked my husband to take folic acid alongside me and reduce alcohol consumption to a very bare minimum – anything to try to help our chances. I was also seeing a consultant about endometriosis at the same time who helpfully suggested I should ‘just have a baby’ then the endometriosis would disappear and I’d have one less thing to worry about. It transpired that was easier said than done.
To make things worse, I’d had a major operation as all this was happening, during which they discovered my organs had actually become stuck together by the endometriosis. This explained a lot of the pain I’d been experiencing since my teenage years. Recovery from the operation was incredibly hard and the pain was unbearable, but it barely felt like I had healed and wedding season had commenced. It was time to get busy and throw myself into work.
IVF, as everyone knows, is very expensive. Costs for a single round can average several thousand pounds. So we were incredibly lucky that our family helped us to finance a round of IVF. This all arrived at the same time we were attempting to save money to buy a house however, so financially we really felt the stress. We just wanted a home and a family.
When we arrived at the IVF clinic for the first time, we were met with a mountain of paperwork to complete and talked through what would happen if we gave birth to a child with physical or mental handicaps and whether if one of us died if the other could use any stored sperm or eggs – matters that neither of us had ever had to consider before.
The medication was difficult too – first, there were monthly injections to induce a medical menopause to keep the endometriosis at bay and after a couple of months of that there were a lot of pills, pessaries and then daily injections into my stomach.
The resulting nausea was dreadful – the hot flushes came by day and at night, washing over me like hot waves – they were so bad that I had to get up and change my clothes as I would literally wake up drenched and freezing.
Then came the hormone stimulation and finally egg retrieval. All went successfully, though there were fewer eggs produced than we had hoped. We waited five days for transfer day – the slowest five days ever – and only found out at lunchtime that day that just one embryo had been successfully fertilised and was good enough for transfer. We had to wait a further day to have it confirmed that another embryo could be frozen, incase this round of IVF failed.
My husband and I saw a flash of white on the screen and the consultant told us this was our little embryo ~ our hope! Now all we could do was wait and rest. But don’t get stressed now – because everyone knows the worst thing you can do is be stressed.
To be honest I wasn’t stressed, I was utterly elated. I joined an Internet forum for other women who were trying to conceive through IVF too and was congratulated on being ‘pregnant until proven otherwise’. I watched as some got their positive pregnancy tests and some didn’t ~ my heart broke for those who were no doubt heartbroken. This stuff takes over your every waking moment.
At this point I was so full of hormones I didn’t know whether I was coming or going but I did honestly have a feeling of peace and hope and knew that even if it didn’t work this time, we at least had another chance in the freezer.
Within days I felt pregnant. I know that it is often the case that people don’t necessarily know for weeks that they are expecting, but things felt different for me almost straight away. I went back to work and did everything as carefully as physically possible ~ desperately trying to balance not jeopardising this tiny life within and continuing to function.
I gave up turmeric, liquorice, shellfish, cheese, chocolate, caffeine ~ drank loads of water and did anything I could to give this baby the best possible chance. I talked to it and hoped and prayed and willed it to attach and grow and be strong. Hoped that this little life would become a little person. I looked to see when (if it all worked out) a little one would arrive. May 2017 was our date.
I avoided looking at nursery furniture or baby-grows or baby blankets and desperately tried not to let myself get carried away with a dream that was in no way guaranteed. I knew that the success rate was around 1/3 of pregnancies ending in a live birth and that by default I wouldn’t have been likely to put any kind of bet on those odds usually.
Then it happened, I drifted into the baby department of John Lewis and found my hand on a cot and picked up a beautiful, soft, grey elephant toy that played a song when I pulled the cord. I have never felt such yearning for anything in my life – a deep longing that emanated from every fibre of my being.
I left the moment a sales assistant asked me if there was anything I needed help with and I felt a fraud. After all, maybe I wasn’t even pregnant; my boobs were growing and hurting and I ached and had fluttering feelings and felt sick as a dog. But I knew that I had to be sensible. The odds, after all, were pretty ropey frankly. My symptoms might well have just been a combination of all the drugs I was taking – and I knew that.
The two week wait we had to endure before finding out if I was actually pregnant or not was torturous. We didn’t know if we were holding a new life or if everything we’d hoped for had disappeared.
The light we’d seen on the screen on transfer day has been snuffed out. The only tangible thing we had up to now was a picture of the scan in our kitchen (the type you get when you’re actually pregnant) and it made it feel so real and so possible.
We were due to take the pregnancy test on the Monday morning and I was committed to working on a wedding two days prior. I was SO very careful during this time, being cautious not to lift anything heavy. And then it happened. There was pain and there was blood and there was shock and disbelief and I was sick. Really really sick. In all honesty, I think there was even more sickness due to all the shock and grief.
I phoned my husband and explained what had happened and he tried to talk me down to get me through it and safely back home. I was working on someone’s wedding after all! He spent the afternoon trying to find out if there was any hope left.
I finished the job and tried desperately not to be weak and cry. To be honest I can’t remember whether I cried on the way home or not – I guess I was on autopilot. I took the pregnancy test that night and it was positive. I was so relieved! But still sad and scared – I felt all I could do was try to hold it all together, just incase it wasn’t, in fact, all lost.
I tested again the next morning and still, there was a very faint, but albeit positive pregnancy line.
Then it happened again ~ pain, blood and anguish. And I knew it was all over.
Part of me died. I will never be quite the same again. These experiences change and shape you in ways you can only imagine unless you’re actually going through it.
I went into work on Monday morning and somehow, coped every day that week. But every night, I fell apart. I was utterly bereft, and the thing that broke my heart the most was that I knew I couldn’t give my husband, the kindest most loving and truly wonderful man I’ve ever known, a child of his own.
In an effort to move on, we purchased a house, moved in and then tried to figure out what next.
The IVF clinic recommended not waiting out the usual 3 months (advised usually so that your body can recover from the ordeal and you can begin to heal your tormented mind) because of the endometriosis and the likelihood of my hitting menopause imminently. So I had more medical menopause drugs to stop the endometriosis and a month later we were on tenterhooks all over again waiting to find out if our sole hope of a family had defrosted OK. Thankfully, it had (they don’t always, apparently), and so off I went to see if my last chance of having a baby would be successful. We got another picture but this time I was much more private about the whole thing. The scan picture still went in the same place in the kitchen but I was scared to death it wouldn’t work and we’d be bereft again.
My husband’s best friend in the world discovered that he and his girlfriend were pregnant and one of my dearest and oldest friends was pregnant too with her second since we’d been trying and we were ecstatic for them. But the news also left us feeling fragile.
I was even more careful this time around ~ there was no wedding work, for example – it was all planned with precision this time around so there would be no lifting, no stress and no potential risk. Except life doesn’t seem to grant you stress free times when you need them most. My husband deflected as much of the stress as he could.
The only problem was, this time, I didn’t feel pregnant. I hoped and prayed that maybe I was and that it was all due to the drugs and in the two week wait everything can feel strange or normal and it can mean something or nothing. I knew all this but regardless, that wait is the worst form of torture. I wouldn’t wish those two weeks on anyone. Trying to battle the immense fear and hope without getting stressed is almost impossible.
This time, I tested to see if I was pregnant a whole week early, because I was so desperate by that stage. The test came back negative, but I tried again three days later. Once again, it was negative. I kept hoping and wishing and kidding myself, but in all reality, I think deep down somewhere, I already knew.
The ladies on the forum were getting lots of positive test results back, and I was thrilled for them I really was. But there were lots of negative test results being reported too, and this made me panic. If we weren’t pregnant this time, then there was no ore money, no more NHS help and on top of this, my time was rapidly running out.
I tested one third and final time on a Wednesday morning, and it was negative.
And just like that, that was it.
I fell to bits, as did my husband. We were both emotionally exhausted and devastated.
I got dressed and went to work half an hour later and I did what had to be done for a couple of hours before falling apart again – battling through work when I was desperate to be at home and grieving.
Over the last few months we have both begun to pick ourselves up and move on. It’s so, so hard some days though. It aches in my heart, some days it hurts less than other days but every time I see a baby or a toy or a cot or a pregnant lady or an ‘I’m pregnant’ post on Facebook or Instagram, my heart breaks a little more. It’s not that I’m not thrilled for everyone else, but it exacerbates our pain.
So if you really want to know why I don’t have children, that is why. It’s a little awkward to explain, right?
I have been honoured and privileged to have been trusted to look after other people’s children for the last 20 years, specialising in multiples and working all over the world. I just don’t want to say goodbye to any more children.
We do have one last hope, though we thought there was none.
We’re signed up with our local authority and are looking into adoption and hoping that if our bank account, references and every other (totally necessary and understandable) check is approved we might, just might be granted permission to be parents.
We may not be the greatest parents in the world but by god we’ll try our best to give a little soul all the love, security and hope we possibly can if they match a child’s needs with what we have to offer.
Since I wrote this piece a little while ago, there has been a further update – I was in enormous amounts of pain (it turns out the IVF treatment triggered my endometriosis to grow, prolifically!) so I went to see my doctor. She advised blood tests and these show, that despite the hot flushes and other symptoms, I’m not actually perimenopausal yet, which was fantastic news! She also advised another painful round of endometriosis ablation, to which my consultant agreed. This wasn’t something I ever wanted to go through, but if it stops the pain I experience every month, it will be worth it. And the blood tests also mean that there just might be one more shot at IVF. The specialists in this particular area of medicine charge circa £15k per round ~ which is exactly what I’ve just been offered in exchange for a share in my business. I have much to think on.
Hopefully one day, one way or another, we’ll be the ones on Instagram or Facebook welcoming the child that we have longed for into our lives and to the world.
Fingers and toes crossed – a girl can dream.
In the meantime, please don’t ask me why I don’t have kids.
The author of this feature has asked to remain anonymous.