Following our wedding in 2005, my husband, Stephen, and I decided we’d start trying for a baby immediately.
Both coming from families with siblings, nieces and nephews, an extended network of aunts, uncles and cousins, we wanted to add to that brood. However, after some time we recognised that things were not progressing as planned.
This was the case up until 2007 when we attended our GP to explain we had been trying for a baby unsuccessfully for two years. Fast forward to 2010. Well, not so fast when you think about the time it takes initially from seeing your GP to referral to your local hospital for various tests. Eventually we were referred to the Regional Fertility Centre only to be told that, if we wished to have a child, we would most definitely require an assisted fertility intervention in the form of IVF.
By early 2011, I was constantly on the phone to determine where on the NHS list we were. In my naïve mind, I associated IVF with a definite pregnancy and not for a moment did I allow the possibility of it not working to enter my mind.
So, when in May 2011 we got our treatment offer, we embraced the IVF journey. At this stage of the journey very few people knew - only those closest to us.
Our first cycle of IVF resulted in a retrieval of 16 eggs, 10 of which fertilised, giving us 10 embryos. As I was under 38 at the time and it was our first cycle, under clinical guidelines they could only transfer one embryo, meaning we had nine to freeze: “our little frosties”.
We were so excited on the day of transfer. In my naïve mind surely I would become pregnant. Sadly, this was not to be when, 10 days later in the dead of night, in excruciating pain, the flow came, taking with it the flesh of my body, the blood of our blood. I still remember the pain in my body, but more so the pain on my husband Stephen’s face. It’s a moment etched in time, a moment I will never forget.
It would be another seven months before we would embark on another IVF cycle - this time a frozen embryo transfer. From the nine embryos in storage, it was decided we would thaw five to select two viable for transfer. The thaw took place and we travelled the dreaded road to Belfast for transfer. This time we did not allow ourselves to get excited; the pain of before was now replaced with the fear of ‘what ifs’ poking and taunting our thoughts. It was a long two week wait. We passed the critical 10th day; days 11 and 12: oh, my God, I felt like I couldn’t breathe; days 13 and 14, I was afraid, shaking in the ensuite as I peed into a small silver dish.
In the pregnancy stick goes; we wait with baited breath. Its turning a deeper shade of pink. Are our eyes playing tricks? It can’t be. Yes! It’s definitely positive. The elation, joy and pride we felt. We’d done it.
The weeks that followed were full of plans, names, room decor, items to buy. We couldn’t wait. Our own little child to love, to cherish, to do all the simple things in life, to do them together as a unit - our own family.
This was made all the more real at our 10 week scan. All was well, heart beat strong, pregnancy progressing as it should and the print out of the scan is my most treasured possession. But only a treasured possession as on, June 13, 2012, our baby was no longer. “The baby’s heart has stopped beating”, the consultant told us, compassion in her voice and sympathy in her eyes. Just short of 12 weeks, Caoimhe Daithi became God’s child in heaven and not ours on earth.
The pain of miscarriage and the loss of Caoimhe Daithi broke our hearts; it still does if we’re honest.
The following weeks, turned into months and, in 2014, we decided to have our third IVF cycle - another frozen embryo transfer. It was decided we would thaw the four remaining embryos to select two viable for transfer. This time we got to day 14, only to test negative. The flow didn’t arrive until two days later
This third failed cycle brought with it the pain of loss, the feelings of failure, inadequacy and questions like: how do we keep going and can we afford this again. We had to pay for the second and third cycles as, unfortunately, in the North of Ireland you are only entitled to have your first cycle paid for. So, the funds were dwindling rapidly. With all our embryos transferred, we would be back into another full fresh cycle.
After much saving, we were again ready for our fourth IVF cycle which then became, following consultation, an ICSI cycle. We only retrieved seven eggs and just three fertilised with two embryos transferred at day 3. We awaited the phone call to see if the remaining embryo progressed enough to be considered viable for freezing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t viable.
After some tears ,we contented ourselves with the fact that, although we had no embryos viable for freezing, we had two transferred and, sure, it “only takes one”. We tried our best to relax during the two week wait but the dreaded flow came once again and with it the tsunami of pain. Paying for your pain comes at a high cost - at this stage about £11,500 pounds worth. But bigger than that is the cost to your soul, your faith, your confidence. It quietly erodes these bit by bit by bit.
Although getting on in age (in fertility terms), we’ve now opted for our fifth cycle through the Access Multi-Cycle Programme. It’s a bit like a fertility gambling game. You pay slightly over the odds for your treatment at the outset. If it works, great, you’re sent on your merry way but, if it doesn’t, your entitled to another cycle at no further cost.
By this stage in our pursuit of parenthood, we will have paid in the region of £20,000 for all our cycles combined. However, this shouldn’t be the case. Access to fertility treatments should not be determined by one’s ability to pay. This is a blatant health inequality and needs addressed immediately.
In the North, we demand a gold standard similar to Scotland where three cycles of IVF treatment are standard. This was the impetus for me setting up the IVF Campaign NI and further establishing the organisation Fairness (IN) Fertility. It’s only what we deserve.
When you are looking down the lens of life with only a view of childlessness, then you’ll do all in your own power to try to change that view for yourself and others. It’s that innate desire that keeps us going. It’s not easy. It’s emotionally draining and financially difficult with the realisation that your dream might never come to pass. But we are not ready to stop. We’ve another one to two cycles in us. These cycles will be embraced not naively, however, but with full acknowledgement that, at some stage, we may just have to accept the polaroid as it is. Me, Stephen and Buster, our angel in fur, who has given us so much joy and does so unconditionally.
The wounds we bear from our fertility journey are the means by which we hope to enter the hearts of others in the hope that our wounds and the wounds of everyone involved in the invisible, voices and faces campaign will bring solace to others, letting them know they are never alone.