Our guest post today comes from Helen Williamson who blogs at Actually Mummy. The first in a series of guest posts from different bloggers who attempt to answer the question, “What Makes a Parent?”
Helen discusses her journey into motherhood and how it nearly didn’t happen.
I have wanted to publish this post for a very long time. Mostly because one day I fear my children may have need of information similar to this, but partly because I am angry. Yes, I am still angry with a health service that sees fit to delay tests and treatments for ‘infertile’ couples, only to rush them down the conveyor belt of invasive procedures once it becomes clear that there is money to be spent.
I have polycystic ovaries: not pleasant, but not uncommon. A struggle with weight, but largely manageable; some unhappy hormonal symptoms, irregular bleeding; not great, but really not the end of the world. Until a baby becomes desirable, and is not forthcoming.
So, we did what any sensible couple of 35 does: claimed we had been trying for a year and got a referral to a specialist. A course or 3 of Chlomid (a drug designed to stimulate egg production and ovulation) and several car stops to wonder where the hell the tearful outbursts were coming from, there was still nothing doing.
“Well, at your age we don’t want to delay,” said a great consultant to a relieved couple. Straight on the list for the ARGC, the London clinic that boasts the highest percentage of ‘take-home’ babies in the UK. They achieve this with aggressive ovarian stimulation, and a very intense schedule of visits and tests to monitor the process. The price of this success is a patient list of such volume that individual concern for patients emotional needs is a luxury they cannot afford. They focus on the result, and the result only.
I have a friend who has 2 gorgeous children courtesy of the ARGC and their subscription to advanced fertility procedures. After 3 failed pregnancies she entered into a cycle of genetic testing of embryos. 76% of her fertilised eggs were unviable, suffering from chromosomal abnormalities which would see them die before birth. In this instance IVF was their saviour, selecting only the embryos which had a chance at survival. She will not hear a word against IVF and the ARGC.
My journey was somewhat different. After £4,000 and some ovarian hyper stimulation I was pregnant. Hope surged, but the pregnancy was chemical, and I miscarried at 6 weeks. We went on holiday, got drunk and had sex. I returned home pregnant: the puncturing of cysts on my ovaries during the process of egg retrieval during the IVF had returned them to normal functioning, and I was able to conceive naturally. The pregnancy ended at 7 weeks.
Already on the IVF conveyor belt, we were offered the best tests available to understand why I was prone to early miscarriage. £1,000 later we understood; my TNF cells (those responsible for killing off growths in my body) were too active; I was ‘unlikely to be able to carry a pregnancy to term naturally.’ Luckily there was a solution. There were drugs available to buy in privately from the USA which would stop my body from rejecting the embryo. Another course of IVF, and hundreds of pounds worth of drugs would most likely result in a ‘take-home baby.’ There was just one snag – these drugs had not been through testing in pregnant women, and were designed primarily for the treatment of aggressive Rheumatoid Arthritis.
That evening we cried over gin and tonics in a Harley Street bar, before blowing a load of cash on a posh dinner and a bottle of champagne. A decision was made; we were not taking that risk, we were not spending that cash, we were going to live a life without children. We were gutted, but we were not going down that route. The queues of couples waiting forlornly in that clinic for yet more bad news and relief of their cheque books was not going to be for us.
Some months later, with an application lodged for emigration to Canada (we were going to somehow earn money skiing and living a very grown-up life), I got fed up with my hormones and requested from my GP an appointment with a specialist who could sort me out once and for all. That meeting changed our lives.
The consultant we saw was horrified at the information we had been given by the IVF clinic. She hated the aggressive regimes, and had a very strong view on how to deal with Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS). A few weeks later I was booked in for an ovarian diathermy. It sounds horrid, but it is a simple operation which pops the ovarian cysts, allowing the ovaries to function normally.
I was also referred to St Mary’s hospital in Paddington to see a specialist in early miscarriage. His experience and range of treatments was vast, but his attitude was simple: early miscarriage is common in PCOS sufferers – a daily dose of clexane (a blood-thinner) is often enough to prevent it.
For me it worked. One month after the diathermy I was pregnant naturally on the first try. A daily self-injection of Clexane (easy once you get used to it) kept things that way until exactly 40 weeks, when my perfect daughter was born. Two years later, with hormones mucking me around again, I went into hospital for day surgery for another ovarian diathermy. A month later I was pregnant again, and started the injections. My son was born at 40 weeks plus 10.
My message is this: IVF is not always the answer. It was not the answer in my case, and I thank God that we had the strength to walk away from it. I am horrified to think of what we could have gone through, had we followed the lead of our clinic. At the time I was so grateful to be plonked quickly onto the IVF conveyor belt, and I thanked my lucky stars that we had the money to allow it. But it could have been dealt with so much more simply had my original consultant had the knowledge and the access to services to point us in a better direction.
It is down to luck that I have my children. But it should not have been luck, when science knew the way, but didn’t tell us…..
Helen Williamson is the voice of GG at Actually Mummy, where she writes about the highs and lows of parenting from her childrens point of view. She is also a regular columnist at BritMums, and hosts the Mummy Blogs showcase every week at Love All Blogs. Helen provides freelance blog and social media solutions to businesses, and can be found on Twitter @HelenKWills and @ActuallyMummy.