Infertility & me

I nearly died last week. Ironically at the same time as my scheduled post about a cemetery went live on here. In hindsight I can see the funny side.

I write this blog as a travel blog, and it was never intended to be a personal blog. But when something so traumatic happens to you, it’s hard to pretend it didn’t and hard to keep writing about nice weekends away.

If you’re here just for the travel content then this post won’t be for you, and I completely understand that not everyone will want to read this. I am not even sure about posting it for fear of reactions, but just hope that in sharing my story, it might help one person know they’re not alone, or help one person learn something that might help them or someone else in the future. It’s important to talk about things sometimes, and important to acknowledge that life doesn’t always work out how you might want, life isn’t always society’s version of what it ‘should’ be. Sometimes life can suck really, really badly.

So….welcome to my infertility war.


Last week

Last Monday I turned 6 weeks pregnant.

On Tuesday I had agonising cramps. I was at home alone so I called my friend and she found me passed out on the floor and took me to A&E. I was vomiting and in severe pain so I couldn’t walk. After a 6 hour wait in A&E, my blood test results came back that my pregnancy hormone, HCG, was super high – meaning the baby seemed healthy. They looked at my cervix and it was closed, indicating no miscarriage and the baby was still in there.

But I was still in agony. So I had to have a scan, 14 hours after admission. The sonographer told me not to worry, the baby was fine. And then she went as white as a sheet.

‘I’m sorry to tell you Hannah that you have two babies. One is in your uterus, and one is growing in your ovary. The ovary has ruptured meaning you have so much internal bleeding that it’s in your pelvis, your bowels, your abdomen and your ovaries. You need life saving emergency surgery right now. I’m so sorry we missed this’.

20 minutes later and I was lying in theatre. There were 5 surgeons and 3 anaesthetists. I lost 42% of my blood, and was in surgery for over 4 hours. I had to have both babies, my ovary and tube removed.

What I had was an ovarian ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies are when a baby grows outside of the uterus – it happens in around 1 in 90 pregnancies, normally in the tube. Ovarian ectopics make up about 0.5% of all ectopics so basically there is a 1 in 180,000 chance.

Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of death in pregnant women. I had all the symptoms but despite talking to 4 different doctors in 3 weeks, none of them thought it was anything for me to worry about. Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include light bleeding, sharp shooting pains, shoulder tip pain, chest pain and vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms in combination in early pregnancy – please go to the doctor and insist on a scan. I wasn’t given one until it was almost too late.

I’m alive. I will not be a mother and I will have to deal with that in time. My story didn’t end how I would have wanted it to, but I have life. I don’t know yet how I will visit friends with babies, or go to babyshowers, or deal with someone telling me they’re pregnant and they weren’t even really trying. Maybe one day I will, but not now. For now, I say thank you for life.


The early days

How did I end up where I did last week? I’ll start at the beginning.

In 2015, I went for a cervical smear. I had abnormal cells. I went for a scan. At 26, a very nice doctor told me I had cervical cancer. Thankfully it was super early stage and they were able to biopsy me and remove the cells by cutting out part of my cervix. Whilst they were there they also found an abnormal number of cysts, which I then also had removed. I was told it would have no bearing on my future fertility, but to this day I can’t prove or disprove that.

After that, we decided it was the right time to start trying and I spent 3 long years trying naturally, culminating in multiple miscarriages over the period. Miscarrying is a heart breaking process, and at the time I didn’t know anyone who had been through it. None of my friends had any issues conceiving and most all had children within a few months of starting to try. I didn’t talk about it.


Taking action

In 2019, after multiple miscarriages, the doctors finally did some tests. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me, so I headed to a fertility clinic.

At my first appointment I was so nervous. They put a wand up me which scanned inside to observe my uterus and follicle count, as well as run multiple blood and genetic tests. Everything was normal. My partner also had tests and again, everything was normal there too.

I then had to have a check to make sure my tubes weren’t blocked. This was a gory procedure. In the stirrups I went; an egg shaped device was inserted, and opened up, and then a catheter was fed through it up in to my ovaries. They then released some dye and if it flows through and down, the tubes aren’t blocked. If no dye comes out – you’re blocked. The dye filtered down just fine, but unfortunately something happened which meant I also bled pretty uncontrollably all over the floor for about 15 minutes. It was painful. It was undignified. Procedures like that take a little piece away from you as they are so violating.

We were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’.

I spent hours and hours googling it, hours looking at what could be causing it, only to realise that the science just isn’t advanced enough to explain to us why this is happening. As we were undergoing these tests, I had more miscarriages.


Treatment time

By the time we got to 2020 it felt like all our friends had had children, while we were still trying to crawl at a snail’s pace to having a viable pregnancy. As the doctors said there’s nothing medically wrong with us, they recommended we tried a procedure called IUI.

On day 3 of my cycle, I had to start injecting a drug called Gonal-F. The injection is fairly easy – the needle comes pre-filled so you just set your dose on the pen, and then grab a bit of fat on your tummy and inject it in. This stimulates your eggs so instead of 1, you grow 2 or 3 to increase your chances. About 7 days later, you’re back in stirrups getting the wand again to see how many follicles are growing, and all being well you then trigger ovulation to release the eggs with another shot and go back to the clinic 36 hours later for the sperm to be placed in there too.

Gonal F needle pen and needle tip

And then you’re just sent home to wait 2 weeks (along with some lovely suppositories which you have to put twice a day up where the sun doesn’t shine), and do a pregnancy test in 14 days. Our test was negative.

We did this 3 times. Every single one was negative. The one straight before mother’s day really sucked.


Time for IVF

People say the word IVF and I think there are some misconceptions. 1) That it always works and 2) That it’s not that bad. It’s awful, and it doesn’t always work. In fact its success is actually only around 30%, even in perfectly healthy women under the age of 35 like me. For those over 35, it’s only about a 10% success rate, at best.

Anyone going through IVF knows a needle filled fridge that looks like this

On the third day of my cycle, I had to start injecting Gonal-F again, but this time a much higher dosage (about 5x the amount that I used for IUI). This is because now I’m trying to make as many eggs as possible to be ‘harvested’. Again on day 6, I got the wand, and again on day 8, which showed I had 15 follicles. Some of them were quite big, so they told me I then had to take another drug so that I didn’t ovulate naturally.

This is where the mind-screw comes in. Cetrotide, the anti-ovulation drug, is a devil. Firstly, there’s no pre-filled pen here, you have to mix it yourself. You get a powder in one bottle, a solution in another, a mixing tube and an injection needle. You have to mix the powder until it disappears – no particles allowed, fill your own needle to the correct dosage, get the air bubbles out and THEN inject the absolutely horrific, huge, awful needle.

Honestly I nearly vomited. My stomach had already hit 8 days of stimulant injections, now this as well. So for 5 further days, in the morning I had to inject Cetrotide to say ‘don’t ovulate’ and in the evening I had to inject Gonal-F to say ‘grow eggs ready to ovulate’. Imagine filling a cow’s udder with milk and then not milking it….that’s how I felt. My insides felt like they might just burst.

The scans eventually showed I was ready to trigger ovulation, and 36 hours later I was back in stirrups having my eggs taken out. The pain is pretty awful – that catheter is back up in the ovaries again, collecting the fluid from every follicle. Within the fluid is the eggs, which once they remove from the body they can see under a microscope and separate out.

I got 14 eggs. A pretty good haul (or so I thought). Of my 14, 9 were genetically abnormal, meaning they didn’t have the right number of chromosomes. So 5 went to be fertilised, and we got 5 embryos.

The embryos are then grown in a tube until they are 3 days old. You can either transfer them in to you at the right point in your cycle, or freeze them for future use, or choose to grow them to 5 days old so they become a blastocyst. Around 50% of the 3 day old embryos won’t make it to 5 days old naturally due to abnormalities, so transferring a blastocyst is more likely to lead to a successful pregnancy.

We grew one of our embryos to day 5 blastocyst and transferred it. 6 weeks later I nearly died.


The end

Not only are fertility treatments invasive, degrading, violating, heartbreaking and not guaranteed to work – they are also expensive. We paid almost £50,000 in total over the course of our treatments for me to nearly die. We have no baby. We are left with only physical and emotional scars as our memory of trying to start a family. I close the door on trying with 11 miscarriages, 3 failed IUIs, failed IVF and a near death ovarian ectopic pregnancy over the course of 6 long years.

All the needles I’ve injected in to me….each box has around 10 needles in it

Some people say ‘don’t give up’ or ‘try x,y and z’. I’d like to say I am not giving up, we just can’t do this any more. 80% of people get pregnant naturally within 1 year of trying -so we’ve already chosen to do much, much more than an average couple trying to conceive. I turn 34 soon and I know that if having a baby hasn’t worked from the ages of 27-33, the likelihood of it working in my mid to late 30s is virtually nil. There comes a point where our own mental and physical health is more important.

I am still left with the questions of why? Why me? Why am I infertile? Why did this happen to me? I’ll never know the answers to my questions, I can only learn to accept in time that it just wasn’t meant to be.

I’m sorry to write an essay. I hope I’ve raised some awareness, I hope I’ve managed to talk sensitively about a topic which is often taboo, I hope if you’re childless (by choice or not), you know you are still seen, still worthy, still a complete human despite society’s often narrow minded, family focused narrative. And mostly, I hope if you’re in the midst of struggling you know you’re not alone.

I’ll be all about the travel again from next week, and am looking forward to a 2022 focused on adventures rather than clinic trips. Stay safe everyone.

64 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you’re alive Hannah ❤️ and sorry for such very difficult times. I admire your strength in sharing these experiences, helping others who face similar circumstances. Please take care, my friend. You are in my prayers. 🙏🏼🌺

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We did IVF unsuccessfully two or three times about 30 years ago. The process was different than yours although the success rate was similar as I recall. I’m glad you are okay. Sharing your situation should be helpful to others. Hang in there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your unsuccessful IVF attempts as well – it’s so hard when you put so much in to it physically and emotionally for it not to work. Thank you for your support, I really appreciate it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely words, I really appreciate the support. It’s such a personal decision and all you can do is what feels right for you both – I wish you every happiness in whatever route you choose, whatever that may be 🙂

      Like

  3. My dear Hannah … it felt as if I was reading my own story here 😔 (except, we never went for IVF and I only had 5 miscarriages). But my second miscarriage was also an ectopic pregnancy and I also ended up in Emergency (my husband had to wait outside theatre to hear whether I would live or die … I still get a little anxiety just thinking about that time … and it is already more than 10 years ago). We never had children, but we accept this path for our life (it’s not something that happend over night of course) … and today we are content with our lives as it is.
    I can write an essay as well … but there is something I want to share with you my dear friend … be angry and be sad (and remember to be there for each other during this difficult time). But you know what … it’s going to get better. For me it helped to talk and write about it (just like you are doing now). Our marriage was tested, but we came through it much stronger!
    I’m thinking of you and carry you and your partner in our hearts tonight. Stay strong, you’re never alone in this (although it might feel like that). Hugs to you ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I am so incredibly sorry to hear about your losses and the grief they no doubt bring, especially with an ectopic where your life was at risk as well. You are incredible, and I am so happy that have found a path with which you are content and enjoying life.
      I hope that in time I can also end up in the same place; I have so much love and support around me and I think as long as we have that, we can thrive. I will cry and grieve and be angry about how unfair life is, but ultimately that can’t take over the life I do have. I’ll have adventures and lie ins, and add value and bring joy in other ways.
      Thank you so so much again for sharing your experience and it really means the world to know I’m not alone. When we make it to SA, we will come and Braai with you 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Firstly Hannah, you are wonderful to have been able to write this so soon – but I think that maybe it has helped you in some very, very small way.
    Secondly, I recognise much of your story – my path was similar although several years ago. So I also know the pain of IVF, a twin pregnancy and miscarriage and the years of torment.
    My email address is on my webpage if you ever want to chat. XXXMarie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry that you had to go through so many similar things Marie, it truly is heartbreaking and I really appreciate you sharing part of your story as well. Thank you for helping me see I’m not alone and that there is a whole group of us strong, amazing women who get through the most awful times to find happiness and joy again. Sending you a huge hug across the Irish Sea xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sladja and I have just finished reading. Oh lord Hannah, we think you are exceptionally brave to share this account. And of course we are so happy that you are here to do so. Sorry to hear about all the difficulties you’ve been through, we wish you all the strength in the world to come through this and work towards a healthy, happy future. Take care of yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and your kind words Leighton (and Sladja). I’m happy to share my story, I think it helps to process it and also for everyone to know they aren’t alone. All the support and lovely comments means a lot to me and gives me strength in a really rubbish time – so thank you so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Unfortunately life is not fair, but Hannah you tried everything you can to reach your goal and you will never regret that you tried.
    You are very strong young woman and I’m sure you will find the way to fill out your life with new adventures and will enjoy your life with no regrets.
    Get better! All the best to you!
    Angela💗🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had no idea that you’ve had such a long and arduous journey with pregnancy, and I’m extremely relieved to hear that you survived such a frightening moment of hospitalization. Personally, I never want to have children, but I can understand from the perspective of a prospective mother (like you) that to fight to have a kid, to bring life to this world, can be such a enriching and beautiful experience, despite the challenges before, during, and after pregnancy. I hope you focus on yourself first for now, as you recover, and I wish you a continuously-fruitful, happy life– as you’re still doing now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kindness, and also for sharing your thoughts on children. Like you say, a fruitful and happy life is possible without children and I am so excited for travel (and other) adventures – I will embrace whatever opportunities life offers me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow Hannah, thank you for feeling comfortable to share your story, and thank goodness you’re alive! I can’t even begin to imagine the whole process you and your partner went through. Wishing you all the best! x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Hannah, my heart goes out to you. I was so saddened to hear your devastating news but glad to hear that you are safe and recovering wel. It must have been so difficult to write this post but I’m certain it helped both yourself and others. I have always enjoyed reading your jolly travel posts but of course was unaware of any of this. Although it will be difficult at first, do make the best of what life offers you with your career and wonderful travels. Marion x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Marion, I really appreciate that. It’s definitely helped me process writing it all down, and I really hope raising awareness can help others. You’re right and I’m looking forward to embracing life’s adventures and opportunities away from the constant clinic trips, needles and invasive procedures. In a way it will feel incredibly liberating I’m sure xx

      Like

  10. What a beautiful post Hannah. Like you, I went through IVF and it didn’t work. I had 3 miscarriages and felt very alone for a really long time. But it gets easier. A decade on and I appreciate all the things I can do, the free life I can live. It will never be quite the same but it’s a wonderful life regardless. Ultimately you will be free to become the person you want to be and not defined by anything other than what you choose. There is joy in that, despite the pain.
    Good luck on your journey and thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your story with me – I’m so sorry that you also had to go through so many difficulties. It also gives me strength and hope that you are happy and living a joyful life. I think it’s amazing how strong and resilient we can be. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment 🙂

      Like

  11. Dear Hannah, I’m so sorry for the heartache that you have been through and I am sending you all my thoughts, prayers, and hugs from across the miles. I hope your physical recovery comes quickly and that your emotional recovery is guided and filled with love and peace. You have shared your story with incredible courage and beautiful grace and it will be such a help to others in their struggle. Even though we don’t really know each other, just know that we are all here for you if there is anything you need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Meg, I really really appreciate that. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of others and find great strength and hope in all of the messages I’ve received. I’m recovering physically well, and emotionally hope I can find happiness in all the adventures yet to come which I’m looking forward to experiencing, even if they weren’t quite what I had planned 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh Hannah, so sorry to read about your journey and what you had to go through. I didn’t know IVF success rates were so low and through conversation with friends, miscarriage rates are higher than what the world presents to women which I think is really left out of conversations too. Thank you for sharing such a personal blog post. I am early 30s and did look into egg freezing and honestly the prices I saw caught me off. I hope you’re recovering from surgery well. The questions you’re left with I hope you will make peace with one day- you have done all that you could. All the best for the adventure planning and adventures to be had!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, and I completely agree on the fact that miscarriages are much more common than is often made visible. So many people struggle but it’s hard to talk about and I still feel a bit taboo so often isn’t. I can’t believe how much money is made off egg freezing and IVF – for what in reality, are fairly low odds against the cost. It’s an individual choice for sure, and I wish you the absolute best in whatever you decide is right for you 🙂 Thank you so much again for your lovely message, it really is appreciated 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh Hannah, where to start after reading this heart breaking post which moved me deeply. Firstly and most importantly, I hope you continue to have a good recovery physically, mentally and emotionally. My wife and I wish you and your partner all the best and we commend you for such a brave post which I am sure will help many other young women in similar circumstances. I have written a few non-travel posts when I have had major health hurdles and received positive feedback so it’s pleasing to see supportive comments from your readers.
    Look forward to the resumption of your regular travel posts when you are up to it. Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your really kind and thoughtful words Mark. I’m sorry that you have also struggled with health problems, and I agree that sharing them is good to both raise awareness and for support as well – the reaction I’ve received is amazing and I feel lifted by that, it really does make a difference. I’m looking forward to lots more years of adventures and no doubt boring all my readers with them 🙂 Have a wonderful day, and thank you again for your message.

      Like

  14. I’m sorry to hear your story. But I’m thankful you’re okay. I hope you are strong and keep on going.

    Hopefully those who read are also enlightened with your different posts this time. Again, stay motivated. I am always with you in your blogs and cool posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Many thanks for sharing your story, Hannah. My heart goes out to you and your partner. I can’t even begin to imagine what you must have gone through and what you’ll continue to go through for years to come. I’m glad to hear that you’re alive and are staying optimistic. Just know that you’re never alone.

    Like

  16. I’m so sorry to hear you had to go through such an awful experience. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us out there. I’m sure many women who are currently going through what you’ve been can learn something from your story. I think raising awareness is always a good thing. Hopefully, you will come to terms with what just happened to you. Unfortunately, sometimes, we simply don’t know why awful things happen to us. Be brave, and hopefully time will heal this wound.

    Like

  17. I’m behind on my blog reading, so hopefully you’re even more recovered (physically) than you were when you wrote this, but oh my gosh. What a roller coaster ride you’ve been on. As someone who is childless by choice, I’ve been subjected to my share of unwelcome comments, but probably nothing on par with what you’ve endured, and of course I haven’t had anything like the physical trauma you’ve had to endure. A year or two back I followed someone who was blogging about her infertility journey (I originally found her because she’d written a post about doing the Ride London ride, which I was signed up to do), so even though I know there are others out there with a similar story, I’m sure it can feel like you’re the only one. (I think it was called The DINKY Blog.) I hope that writing about this has helped you process it and I’m so sorry about it all. Wishing you peace.

    (On a final note, I can’t believe that medical worker said, “I’m so sorry we missed this.” In the ultra-litigious US anyway, that would probably guarantee a lawsuit.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I’m so behind on replying! Thank you so much for your lovely message – I’m definitely on the road to physical recovery and feeling a lot better, thank you. And thank you as well for sharing a bit about your story – I think whether childless by choice or not, society expects women to have a family and seems completely shocked when we choose not to or can’t. It’s like people don’t know what to say, but perhaps there is something liberating in a way of being free to choose what makes us happy. I’m still working on getting to that happiness, and just taking it each day at a time.

      Unfortunately here in the UK you have to have been left completely infertile (or dead) to have a lawsuit. They will acknowledge it’s negligent, but as I still technically have a uterus the damages/compensation aren’t worth pursuing as they don’t think I’ve lost enough to make it worth it….never mind nearly dying, my physical or emotional wellbeing…..apparently all that matters is my biological ability to still have children….!

      Like

  18. So sorry to read all of this Hannah, and thank you for sharing this extremely painful experience. Reading about your story and all the hardship you have come through really left me in tears and my heart goes to you and your partner. I know close family members who have undergone miscarriages, IVF treatments, etc. and I have seen how painful, heartbreaking and tiresome it is. That being said, I am so glad you made it through the surgery, and I hope you are doing better physically and mentally. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely message Juliette, I really appreciate it. It’s been a really rough and long road, but there is definitely some comfort in drawing a line under it and being able to plan exciting future plans and live in happy moments 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Hannah, I’m so glad you took the time to write and share about your heartbreaking experience(s), and so sad that the outcome of so many difficult treatments was painful, traumatic, terrifying, and left you without hope. Sometimes it helps to write, whether or not you share it, but I expect there will be someone who you will reach that will connect with your story because of their own situation. I hope you are doing a bit better, but I know these memories will always be with you. Sending a virtual hug!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Ruth for your lovely words. It’s helped me hugely to write it as the support and kindness from people (even those I don’t know in person) has been so helpful at a time of great sadness. I really appreciate the virtual hug, and am sending one right back 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m so sorry you had to through all this. Your incredibly brave for sharing this and hopefully it does help others. I wish you all the very best Hannah and take each day at the time x💕

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Hi Hannah my name is Rosie and I wanted to let you know your post helped me identify I was having an ectopic pregnancy and insist on a scan last week before I ruptured. It was my first pregnancy and I am devastated and terrified. There is little information online about ectopic pregnancies and what they feel like and it is something that needs more knowledge. I have taken medication to miscarry now so should avoid surgery thanks in part to your post.

    Like

  22. Oh no, I’m so sorry for your difficulties. However, this is a great and honest post and I hope it helps you to share and that it will help others who need to read this at this point in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I feel like anything I write here will seem really inadequate so I’ll simply say that I’m sorry you’ve had to walk through this-all of it- and I’m glad your alive and recovering. I’m in awe of your strength, it must take a lot of you to share this. Take care of yourself, and gentle hugs from afar.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. As Helen says above, Hannah, anything I say will be inadequate. But I have to say how brave you are – not only going through all of this, but in sharing it publicly. The word ‘awe’ is often over-used, but not this time. I am sure it will benefit others. As for life – you have it, it is a wonderful thing and we often take it for granted; I’ve had a couple of brushes with the alternative myself. Take care of yourself, Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Mike for your really kind words. I also think in a way it is a positive because even though I won’t have the ‘Plan A’ life, I will have the appreciation to live in the moment, enjoy the small things, travel more, and have a very fulfilling ‘Plan B’. Like you say, we often take it for granted and being reminded how precious life is is a powerful thing. Thanks so much for reading and sending your best wishes, it’s much appreciated 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s