My close friends and family will know how precious Ruby is to me. She is my first-born and has been an absolute joy to bring up. From the day she was born, she has brought a ray of sunshine into the lives of everyone she meets.
But there’s another reason why she is precious. She was my ‘precious pregnancy.’ This is the term given to babies who are conceived via IVF. Ruby’s dad, Anthony, had leukaemia during our engagement, at the age of 24. Ruby was born nearly two years later from sperm we stored at the start of his treatment.
The consultants were keen for us to start chemotherapy on the day of diagnosis and so there was only time for one sperm sample to be taken. For anyone going through the hell that is a cancer diagnosis, the last thing anyone would feel like doing is taking themselves off into a room to produce a sample. In fact, Anthony didn’t want to do it. He felt he had no future and that there was no point but I begged him to do it and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
That sperm was split into three separate samples and was frozen for use when we felt the time was right. At that point, we didn’t know what the future held, but inside, I knew this was important. Those of you who have never needed IVF treatment won’t realise the amount of red tape involved with the storage of sperm and eggs. There are contracts to sign, agreeing on the length of time the samples can be stored legally and that changes all the time, depending on government law.
You also have to agree to those samples being destroyed after a certain length of time. I’m not sure what the exact timings are today, but at that time, back in 2003, we signed a contract of 25 years. This meant the sperm would be stored for that length of time and we agreed it would be destroyed after that date. Another aspect of storing cells in this way is that you are signing a joint contract, which means that the topic of death is important. We were asked whether we agreed to me being able to use Anthony’s sperm to conceive even after his death. We agreed to this.
Luckily, Anthony went into remission following intensive treatment and we went on to marry in April 2004. In the May or June of that year, I suggested we contact Cardiff’s Fertility Unit to put our name on the waiting list. We anticipated a two year wait but received a call in October to say that we could start treatment immediately.
It’s a unique situation to find yourself in; I felt slightly fraudulent visiting the fertility suite at Cardiff’s Heath Hospital. There were couples there who’d tried IVF multiple times and here we were, not really unable to conceive, it was just that our sperm and eggs couldn’t get together in the usual way. Although we were considered IVF patients, I will always admire those couples who have no choice but to relentlessly put themselves through emotional hell to achieve a dream, which, for others is so easily achieved.
But we were under threat of not achieving our own dreams too. Although we didn’t think there’d be a problem conceiving, we had limited chances of getting pregnant too; three chances, in fact. At that time, couples were entitled to one free cycle of IVF in Wales and we weren’t sure we’d have the funds to try again. It dawned on me how important it was that this worked. I researched how to prepare your body to accept a pregnancy and began taking folic acid, ate healthy foods and gave up alcohol too.
I began injecting myself every day with drugs which would increase the amount of follicles and eggs produced by my ovaries. This lasted about two weeks. An appointment was then made to have the eggs removed. This procedure is done under a light local anaesthetic and involves a tiny catheter being thread up through your womb, around the fallopian tube, where a tiny camera attached to it detects which follicles have eggs in them. The catheter then sucks the eggs out. In an adjoining room, an embryologist selects the eggs, checking them for certain characteristics under the microscope. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just a little uncomfortable and clinical, as it’s performed in surgery.
In the recovery area, we waited with the curtain pulled around us and listened while the lady in the cubicle next to us cried after the consultant told her they had been unable to retrieve any eggs at all. This was excruciating and I felt so sorry for her, although I never saw her face. We were lucky; I had produced twenty eggs, which would be frozen in time while I encountered the next stage of the treatment.
The next stage involved yet more injecting of drugs, but a different drug this time, which would create a super spongy womb lining to support any embryos we had implanted. It was quite a precise science, having to go to the hospital for scans twice a week, to check on the progress of the womb lining.
I should say at this point, that throughout the whole process I hadn’t mentioned it to my employers. I’d been lucky enough to get early scan appointments before work and felt quite strongly that this was a private matter; if we had been trying to conceive naturally, we wouldn’t have gone to work and told everybody. This is something I’m sure many couples who are going through IVF feel too. Not only do you have your own disappointment and heartache to deal with, but you feel everyone’s pity when it doesn’t work. And that’s the last thing you need.
The hospital rang to explain that they would now be defrosting my eggs and Anthony’s sperm in readiness for the IVF procedure to take place in the laboratory. We would be called in the next day for the embryo transfer to take place if the IVF had been successful.
I should explain for those of you who aren’t familiar with IVF, that there are two main types of IVF. Most couples with a readily available supply of sperm and eggs use the traditional IVF technique, where sperm cells are added to a petri dish with the eggs. The sperm acts in a similar way to nature and tries to penetrate the eggs. Hopefully, fertilization occurs.
In our case, where there is a limited supply of either eggs or sperm, the ICSI method was used. (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) This is where a fine needle collects a single sperm, which is then injected directly into an egg. We were extremely lucky that fertilization had taken place. In fact, out of the twenty eggs, thirteen were fertilized. This is a high percentage and reflects the fact that we didn’t have an infertility problem as such, we just needed a helping hand to get the sperm and egg together.
It was a mixed bag of emotions as we arrived at the hospital for the embryo transfer to take place. Obviously, I was excited and after months of preparation, I was keen to just get on with it, but there was also a certain amount of fear that it could all be over soon. At least while you’re having the treatment your dream is still alive, but this could end that dream. Combine these mixed emotions with multiple hormones raging around your body and that makes for one teary lady, let me tell you!
We were gowned up and met with the consultants in the operating theatre, who explained to us that out of thirteen fertilized eggs, they had selected the best six. They select them based on their cell splits. Strong embryos will split into multiple cells, whereas weaker, less viable embryos do not.
We were taken into the adjoining laboratory, where the embryologist showed us the best two embryos, selected for transfer. And that was the first time I saw my precious Ruby.
The embryo transfer itself is the quickest of all the treatment and was over in a minute or two. Again, a tiny catheter, which holds the embryos is placed inside the womb, all the while watched on a screen by the embryologists, who find a suitable place to settle the embryo against the full, spongy womb lining. The rest is down to fate. Hopefully, the embryo will become embedded in the womb lining, where it will stay attached for the duration of a pregnancy.
We were told to wait fourteen days and not to do a pregnancy test but to go to the hospital for a blood test on day fourteen to determine if I was pregnant or not.
Leaving the hospital knowing I could be pregnant was both euphoric and scary. Although it’s silly, I crept around like as if I was carrying an actual egg inside of me, afraid of breaking the shell. I also stayed horizontal for two to three hours after the procedure. I don’t know if this helped, I’m just saying that’s what I chose to do.
After twelve days, everything was running along smoothly. I hadn’t had a bleed and it looked like it had worked. Until I went to the loo at work and noticed a pinkish stain. Straight after work, I went and bought a pregnancy test (although the advice was against doing this). It was negative. Later that night my Mum rang to ask how things were and I told her it hadn’t worked. She tried to console me and I went to bed feeling so upset that we had only two more chances to make this work. Although there were other embryos, they had been frozen and probably wouldn’t survive the thawing process. (This freezing process is now very different, far more rapid, resulting in a higher success rate)
I went to the hospital on day fourteen for them to take my blood. I nearly didn’t go, as I thought there was no point. But it’s a good job I did.
When I phoned up three hours later for the results, the lady on the phone said, “Congratulations, Ruth; you’re pregnant.” I was speechless. I told her I’d taken a pregnancy test and it was negative; she explained that the spotting of blood could have been one of the embryos coming away from the womb wall.
Nine months later, we were blessed with our gorgeous Ruby Rose. Ruby’s Dad and I divorced when she was four and sadly, he recently passed away. I will always be grateful for the beautiful gift he gave me.
And that is my IVF story.
Thank you so much for coming along to read my post. And if you’re reading this while going through IVF, I wish you all the luck in the world. May your dreams of becoming a mummy and daddy come true.