We have also been through a lot since the birth of our IVF son in 2016.
We acknowledge how extremely lucky we are that IVF worked first time of us, but in reality that is where our luck ran out.
A surprise natural pregnancy when Austin was 10 months old left us utterly shocked and delighted but the joy was short-lived when an early scan at 7.5 weeks showed no heartbeat. Our first experience of miscarriage and the start of a very long road of recurrent loss.
There were another two miscarriages and a few more rounds of IVF that left us both utterly devastated. By May 2018 we had suffered enough. We decided to take the summer off and enjoy some travel as a family, away from fertility treatment and the opportunity to just live our lives with our beautiful son.
Little did we know the biggest battle we would face, was literally just around the corner.
In November 2018 my husband Phil was diagnosed with a brain tumour. After dealing with intolerable headaches and sickness he was sent for an MRI and rather shockingly we were told he had an extensive brain tumour that had spread into both hemispheres of his brain.
After seeing a neurosurgeon we learnt that he needed emergency brain surgery and that we could expect the tumour to be malignant.
Looking back I assumed that my husbands symptoms were a result of working long hours and the relentless infertility slog we had faced. I guess it just didn't seem plausible that my young, fit and healthy husband might actually have a brain cancer.
Within 10 days Phil was in hospital facing a craniotomy and signing papers that were clear to us that the result of the operation could be death. It was a lot to take as a young family and also hard to shield from our two year old son. Looking back its still raw and vivid in my mind. Thinking about that first meeting with the neurosurgeon is actually very haunting.
I spent many days wondering if he did survive would he come back as my husband and Austins dad? Or would the surgery change his personality?
Thankfully he recovered incredibly well from surgery and whilst we awaited the biopsy results we savoured every moment with him at home as a family.
In the week leading up to his surgery, Phil had very bravely managed to complete an urgent sperm freeze at our fertility clinic in London. It felt amazing to know that we had in some way safe guarded our future and the possibility of more children in the future should Phil be ok.
The biopsy results confirmed what we knew. It was a cancerous tumour, inoperable due to the location but we also had the surprisingly good news that it was low grade and slow growing. Originally the radiology had presented itself as a high grade tumour so we were expecting the worst. I did a lot of soul searching in the build up those results and in the darkest times I couldn't stop thinking about loosing him. How would I cope, the devastation at not completing our family. All the morbid thoughts that go through your head at such times.
We entered the new year with a positive outlook, as Phil started daily radiotherapy and we also stared a new IVF cycle. The day of egg collection, Phil finished his last radiotherapy session and rushed across town from his hospital to my clinic to greet me coming out of theatre and into recovery. We froze all our eggs to avoid OHSS thanks to my PCOS. A few months later I started meds for our frozen embryo transfer and in May we transferred two embryos.
We were delighted to see a positive test a few days later (I'm a serial early tester) and the blood work on official test day supported the positive pregnancy test. We were on cloud nine and so excited to be pregnant again. Unfortunately I started bleeding at 5.5 weeks and although a scan looked ok and we could see the sac, at 6 weeks the bleeding ramped up and I was taken to A&E scared and devastated. Phil was now in chemotherapy treatment so couldn't attend the hospital with me. A scan showed we were having another miscarriage. Our 4th loss.
The following months involved transferring another 4 embryos (two at a time) and they both sadly resulted in chemical pregnancies. I think this was the lowest I felt throughout our whole fertility journey. With Phil’s treatment on top of it all, I didn't understand what we had done to deserve so much pain.
We started recurrent loss investigations on the NHS but nothing was highlighted and we felt so lost in the whole process. I think this is the reality of IVF. The reality that it is a cruel lottery and sometimes you get no answers. I didn't understand how just a few short years before we were able to get pregnant and sustain the pregnancy with relative ease? Secondary Infertility was proving so much harder than I ever imagined. I hated the thoughtless comments from others around being grateful for Austin and that I should just enjoy him.
For me, the biggest misconception around secondary infertility is that your motherhood desires should be complete when you are able to take home a baby. That and the child or children you have somehow heals all void of loss and your desperation for more children.
We researched new fertility clinics that specialised in recurrent loss and were recommended a place in Surrey near where we lived. Straight away after the initial consultation we knew we were in good hands and felt a new found hope. We embarked on our 3rd fresh IVF round and worked towards a fresh transfer this time. After a full reproductive immunology test we received a few answers and my high cytokines would be treated with a relatively new drug in the fertility world called Tacrolimus. An auto-immune suppressant normally used by transplant patients.
On the 5th February this year we transferred two embryos and on Valentines Day we had the call that we were pregnant. I refused to test early this time after so much loss, that incessant line progression obsession was too much. So I tested the day before OTD at home and then waited for the blood results the next day. We were thrilled that 48 hours later our beta numbers were rising and we were able to book in an early pregnancy scan with our clinic two weeks later. I also started intralipids too to try and support the pregnancy.
To our utter disbelief that first scan showed the most beautiful heartbeat and it was confirmed one embryo had indeed implanted and looked like they may stick around. It was an anxious few weeks and we lived scan by scan but at 10 weeks we were still on track. We paid to have genetic and gender testing and by 11 weeks we found out that our long awaited rainbow baby was a healthy little girl due in October.
Each scan even after 12 weeks evokes suck anxiety and stress but now as we approach 30 weeks pregnant I try to remain nothing but hopeful. Hopeful that this little rainbow is meant to come home with us. Austin is extremely excited to meet his sister and I still pinch myself most days that we are in this position.
Phil has been doing great, chemotherapy finished in June this year after a gruelling 15 months and latest scans show his tumour is not only stable but improving too.
I don’t believe in fairytales or happy endings and our family still has some battles to overcome. But I do believe in keeping hope alive and that the highs and lows that life will undoubtedly hit you at some point. As a family I am incredible proud of what we have endured and how we have coped and I am excited for this next chapter.