Alice and Dan, from Hythe, embarked on their fertility investigations and treatment in the middle of a global pandemic, but their fertility journey started a long time before that. They have given us an honest and emotional insight into the steps along their journey and highlight how much needs to be done to improve awareness about fertility problems.
Alice, a Retail Development Representative, and Dan, an Engineer, met in 2008 when Alice and her parents moved next door to Dan and his parents when Alice was 18. They were friends for a long time but got together in 2012. Alice went travelling around America in 2013, a trip she had booked alone before she had got together with Dan. He flew out to New York where Alice’s trip ended and proposed to her in Central Park. Their families, who had been trying to set them up for years, were delighted!
They got married on a beautiful beach in Florida and stayed in the USA for their honeymoon visiting Chicago and New York. “We went to Disneyland on our honeymoon,” remembers Alice, “there were kids everywhere and it made me feel really broody. We talked about how we both wanted children while we were in a ride queue. It felt like the right time.”
Trying for a Baby
I HAD ALWAYS BEEN SO CAREFUL NOT TO GET PREGNANT, I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO AND THAT WE WOULD STRUGGLE.Alice
When they returned Alice came off the pill and they started trying for a baby. Like many of our patients Alice and Dan assumed they would fall pregnant straight away and never considered there would be a delay. “I had always been so careful not to get pregnant, I never thought I wouldn’t be able to and that we would struggle,” explains Alice. Alice feels that this should be a topic that is covered in schools. “I understand it is most important to educate young people about not getting pregnant accidentally but infertility should also be covered as should the decline of fertility over a woman’s age as so many people are unaware of this, myself included before it happened to me.”
During her early months of trying Alice remembers convincing herself that she was pregnant as she had read the pregnancy test wrong and phoned her GP to book her first appointment. “I was so embarrassed,” remembers Alice, “I had to phone the GP and explain, I think I just saw a line and hadn’t read the instructions properly. I was obviously very disappointed once I realised.”
PEOPLE FELT BAD WHEN THEY KNEW BUT IT’S JUST A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING.
“While we were trying to get pregnant after our wedding, we had constant questions from friends, family and colleagues like ‘when are you two having kids’ and ‘are you not pregnant yet?’” Remembers Alice. “We lied at first as we didn’t want the pressure so would just answer things like ‘we want a bigger house first’ or ‘we’re going to have a few more holidays together first’. But the questions were hard and we eventually ran out of things to say in response. People felt bad when they knew but it’s just a lack of understanding.”
After a year of trying with no pregnancies at all Alice started to feel worried as she had read that most people trying will have conceived by a year. “I went to see my GP and left in tears as he was so uncaring and not at all interested. I remember feeling so devastated that he just didn’t care,” remembers Alice. Thankfully she asked to see a different doctor and went for another appointment with a Doctor who was lovely and listened to her concerns and referred them both for tests at an NHS fertility clinic. The couple felt so pleased as it felt like they were moving forward.
Alice and Dan had blood tests, a tube check and a semen analysis before being told in 2019 they would be eligible for NHS funded IVF treatment if Alice lost some weight to get her BMI below 30 (the criteria for NHS funding) and maintain it for 6 months. “I was obviously very motivated to lose weight and annoyed at myself for putting the weight on in the first place. I lost the required weight in 2 months and went to my GP to get weighed to prove I had done it. Then after the 6 months I had another weigh in to show that I had maintained the weight loss.”
Dan’s semen analysis showed that his sperm count and motility was below average so he lost weight, took vitamins and stopped smoking to try to improve his sperm quality. “Dr Guyer told us that he thinks these changes helped improve his sperm which was a better count and motility on egg collection day compared with his initial sample. We were so pleased we had made those changes,” explained Alice.
WE REQUESTED TO HAVE OUR TREATMENT WITH WESSEX FERTILITY BECAUSE OF THE GREAT REVIEWS WE HAD READ ABOUT THEM FROM OTHER PATIENTS
Alice and Dan needed to have some tests repeated as some need to be in date within 3 months of starting treatment. However, the country had just been put in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic which meant further delays to their treatment. They managed to get some tests done during the early days of lockdown and were so excited to be given NHS funding for IVF treatment. “We felt so grateful to be given funding.” Explains Alice, “We requested to have our treatment with Wessex Fertility because of the great reviews we had read about them from other patients and then waited for the referral forms to be sent to the clinic. We were so excited to be moving forwards.”
“We had our Consultation with Dr Chris Guyer in July 2020 and he was so positive and caring. It didn’t feel rushed, he really listened to us and explained things,” says Alice. Alice was put on an antagonist (short) cycle of IVF and was told she could start with her next cycle if she felt ready.
I’M GRATEFUL THEY HAVE MADE AN EXCEPTION FOR ME BECAUSE THAT MEANT THAT CORONAVIRUS WAS ONE LESS THING TO WORRY ABOUT.
“Dr Guyer told me I should try to shield during the treatment cycle as I have quite a high risk job visiting around 10 shops and supermarkets a day so he felt it was best if I could work from home.” Explains Alice. “When I told my work they asked for a letter from the Doctor, which Chris did, but they took a long time getting back to me to tell me if that was ok. This made me feel really anxious as I wanted to do everything I could to make sure it worked. Once they got back to me about it I was so relieved and they have been supportive ever since. I’m grateful they have made an exception for me because that meant that coronavirus was one less thing to worry about.”
Alice moved into treatment with her next day 1 and had her Treatment Planning appointment to go through the drugs and how and when to take them. “I’m petrified of injections,” explains Alice, “so I wouldn’t have been able to do IVF without Dan doing all my injections for me.” Alice had her scan appointments booked in but at the scan it became clear that she had responded more to the stimulation medication than the Doctors had expected and may have very mild PCOS. Alice was told that she may have to freeze her embryos and have a frozen transfer instead of having an embryo put back on this cycle so that the clinic could make sure she didn’t become poorly with ovarian hyper stimulation (OHSS). “I did feel bloated and crampy,” remembers Alice, “and when the sonographer scanned me she saw lots of follicles and said that was why.”
Alice had prepared herself for a fresh transfer so she was so disappointed that it looked likely she would need to have all her embryos frozen. “I remember just before egg collection feeling really emotional. I spoke to a Doctor but I felt really sad as I was so looking forward to my fresh transfer. I had planned a break away for the 2 of us during our two week wait to take the pregnancy test.” During this time one of Alice’s friends who had only told her a short time before that she was going to start trying for a baby told her that she was pregnant and it had happened straight away.
“I remember I had told my friends they didn’t need to tiptoe around me but in hindsight I wish I hadn’t, I did need them to be sensitive. The news that she had got pregnant straight away broke me. I wanted to be happy for her but it was so hard just before my egg collection when I was already feeling so rubbish. I couldn’t stop crying,” explains Alice honestly.
Alice was very nervous on the day of egg collection on 23 September, “the idea of being put to sleep made me nervous, but the nurse in theatre was so lovely, she made me feel at ease and held my hand. I don’t remember much after that but I did feel a bit drunk,” remembers Alice.
After Alice had recovered from her egg collection Dr Guyer explained to her and Dan that she had 31 eggs collected and, to be safest, the embryologists should freeze them and do a subsequent frozen cycle to reduce her risks of OHSS.
WE WERE TOLD ON DAY 3 TO PREPARE FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF HAVING NO EMBRYOS TO TRANSFER.Alice
Thankfully Alice didn’t get too poorly but did feel bloated and crampy as her ovaries recovered from the simulation. She was told to drink lots of water and have a high protein diet to get better quicker. Alice had regular updates from the embryology team who told her that 23 out of the 31 eggs were able to be inseminated with ICSI and 11 of them fertilised. A lower fertilisation rate is quite common in cases like Alice’s where more eggs were collected than expected as some of the eggs will have been immature. “We were told on day 3 to prepare for the possibility of having no embryos to transfer. So we fully prepared that this was going to be the news and felt so sad. When they called on Monday and said there were 2 embryos to freeze we were delighted. It was so hard waiting to have the frozen cycle as I so wanted to get going again.”
Alice and Dan had their trip away to Cornwall which allowed them time to relax and enjoy themselves.
The couple started their next cycle admin month the following month with November being their treatment cycle month. “We had our Review Consultation and chatted about the previous fresh cycle and my mild PCOS, then discuss the frozen cycle. I felt really positive about it,” remembers Alice. Alice had her embryo transfer on 27 November 2020, again with Dr Guyer. “Dan was allowed to come in with me for the embryo transfer and we watched the embryo go in on the screen. It was a really good embryo and Chris (Dr Guyer) said we had a really good chance of success. Nobody knew I was having the transfer as I didn’t want any added pressure. Not even my mum knew.”
I WAS SO HAPPY I FELT LIKE I WAS DREAMING. IT WAS THE BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER.
Between the transfer and testing, Alice just rested and took it easy. “I was conscious of the two-week wait not making me crazy so I tried to ignore any possible symptoms,” remembers Alice, “when I tested we were so happy, it was amazing. I took a test every day to see the line getting darker. I was so happy I felt like I was dreaming. It was the best Christmas present ever.”
Alice had a scare during early pregnancy where she had stabbing pains in her abdomen but a scan at Wessex Fertility showed that everything looked normal. “We are so grateful to everyone at Wessex Fertility.” States Alice, “They have been so good to us. We are going to find out if it’s a boy or a girl but we think it’s a boy! I don’t mind what we have, we are just so grateful to be having a baby!”
Alice is now 6 months pregnant and apart from feeling nauseous is doing brilliantly. “One thing that makes me realise how much people don’t understand infertility,” said Alice, “is how many times people have said to me that lockdown is a bad time to have a baby. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose when they have their baby, for some people, it is now or never and they can’t afford to wait for ‘the perfect time’.”
Alice and Dan really wanted to find out the gender of the baby so decided to use the imaginative idea of a gender reveal cannon. “The ultrasound clinic give you the gender reveal cannon so we had no idea,” explains Alice “our family came round and we fired our cannons and were so thrilled to find out we are having a baby boy!”
We will be catching up with Alice and Dan throughout the pregnancy and of course, after baby is born so keep an eye out for updates. We wish them all the best for their pregnancy and birth.