Our lucky stars

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) involves removing and testing a small sample of cells from the placenta. It is carried out between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy and involves a needle being inserted through your tummy. There is a slightly higher risk of miscarriage with CVS as opposed to amniocentesis, but that is carried out at a slightly later stage of pregnancy. In terms of statistics, 1-2% women suffer a loss after CVS, so 1 in every 50-100. However, it is widely accepted that it is difficult to prove whether a miscarriage is a direct result of CVS or would have happened anyway. Bottom line, it happens.

There’s also a risk of infection, as with any procedure, or getting an inadequate sample and having to go through it again.

An agonising decision and one that we would have to live with afterwards. After so many years of trying to get pregnant, we could now be jeopardising everything. It was not something we undertook lightly. But weighing it up, we decided we needed to find out. The risk is real but relatively small when you think about it with a clear head and we would have found it impossible just to wait and see.

True to form, once we had made up our minds, I was quite sanguine about having the test itself. It helped that the surgeon was a top expert in the field with incredibly high success rates. He was just really matter of fact with us. He told us that the thresholds for what is deemed ‘high risk’ are always changing and looking at my notes, he reassured us that, in his opinion, it was my ‘great age’ that pushed us into the danger zone. That made me feel a hell of a lot better because I was a pretty fit and active 34 year old with a healthy diet and lifestyle and surely that had to count for something? Anyway, his manner put us at ease. He was confident and reassuring which is exactly what we needed.

They clean your stomach with antiseptic and give you a local anaesthetic before sticking a long thin needle into you with a kind of grabber (syringe) at the end of it. They guide it using ultrasound and it’s fascinating to watch until the thought flashes through your mind that that needle is heading directly for your baby. Like watching Jaws.

In a way, I think it was worse for T who told me afterwards there was blood streaming down all over my belly throughout the procedure. My eyes were glued to the screen watching what was going on, so I didn’t really notice or think about that side of thing as I couldn’t feel it either.

For two days afterwards, they advise you to do nothing and take it easy, with no strenuous activity for the next couple of weeks. I remember it was a really sunny week in April. So I lay in the garden on a lounger whilst T trimmed the hedge and cleaned the windows on the greenhouse. I was so incredibly careful over that time and followed all the advice not to over-exert myself. It almost felt over the top, like not carrying the grocery shopping in from the car, but we weren’t taking any chances.

Another wait. We thought we had got the hardest wait out of the way but this wait was huge, hanging over everything we did. As the sample needed to be sent to Bristol for testing, it would take several days. I think we were told one to two weeks. I remember visualising it being put in van, driven up the M5, getting to the lab…

I was back at work when the phonecall came. I took it outside. I remember standing on the grassy bank, phone sweaty in my hands, heart pounding, as I was told that we had the all clear. No Down’s syndrome, no Edward’s syndrome no Patau’s syndrome. It’s hard to describe the sheer feeling of overwhelming relief.

But, at this point, we were still in the danger zone for miscarriage. Then the two week milestone came and went. All was well and an enormous weight lifted. Joy and love. We thanked our lucky stars again and again.

It took a long while for me to relax and enjoy being pregnant, but I got there.

We never took what we have for granted.

The silver lining to the whole experience was that, just three months in, we found out that we were going to have a daughter.

The first three months

FullSizeRenderI found the first few weeks of pregnancy difficult. I felt sick all the time and threw up several times a day, particularly in the morning. I felt terrible and completely lost my appetite. I’ve never been pregnant before so I don’t know, but I wonder whether the 12 weeks of pessaries had something to do with it? Hormones going haywire. I also started to lose my hair. A 50 pence size chunk fell out at the back. Again, this is a possible side effect of the pessaries, but I’ve also got form here. Whenever I experience a stressful time, my body responds by getting alopecia. I’ve had it three times before.

But I would have put up with anything! In the great scheme of things, it was nothing. I could hide the bald patch and just accepted, for the foreseeable, that I would look and feel pretty rough. I forced myself to chomp ginger biscuits and drink lots of ginger tea. I always had a dry oatcake or a handful of nuts on the go to fight nausea. Thank god, I didn’t have morning sickness as badly as some people I know who have been completely incapacitated. It wasn’t a barrel of laughs but it was a very small price to pay for our baby. A good pick-me-up after a bout of sickness was to remind myself that at last I was pregnant, and hug that happy secret to myself.

At seven weeks, we went in for an early scan to check everything was okay. And it was. Unbelievably lovely to be going to the hospital for some good news for a change. We had our first ultrasound and saw our baby the size of a blueberry. Our first special glimpse of a tiny heartbeat pulsing away inside me.

And that was it. Big tick. Job done. We were officially released from the Ocean Suite and handed over to antenatal care.

When we started IUI, I bit the bullet and told my boss at work what was happening as I knew I’d be skipping out for hospital appointments. We also told our parents. After so long keeping it to ourselves, we found it really hard, me especially, but it had to be done. I cried when I told my Mum. I think I felt that by sharing our secret we were admitting out loud that we were a disappointment. But I had to get over it and, of course, everyone was great. Really supportive and positive. We should have done it ages ago.

We also told our parents the happy news at seven weeks, after the first scan. I was worried it was too early, not out of the danger zone yet. But as T pointed out, we took the decision to let them in six months ago, but asked them not to keep asking us how it was all going as it would add to the pressure and make it harder to handle. We would let them know when there was something to tell. They must have been waiting and wondering, dying to find out what was happening but respecting our wishes to give us our space and privacy.

At three months, everything was looking rosy. My sickness tailed off (pretty much exactly after I took my last pessary, I wasn’t sad to see the back of those) and we went in for the 12-week scan. This is the first in depth look at your growing baby and assesses the early development in the womb.

I remember it vividly. Of all our experiences, this is the one that has stayed with me the most. It was picture perfect. Just as you see it on the movies, jelly on the belly, beautiful baby wriggling inside me. Two arms, two legs. Strong heartbeat. The nurse getting our details, putting in measurements and stats. All looking happy and healthy. T sitting next to me, both of us smiling and laughing, loving the moment.

Then, the nurse went quiet and pressed, I kid you not, a red alarm button on the wall. It all stopped abruptly. A phone call was made that really put the wind up us. We were taken into a separate room, sat down, and somebody new appeared (the bad news breaker). We were told that our baby was at high risk of Downs Syndrome. We had three options and this is how they laid them out to us. 1) Have an abortion. 2) Do nothing. 3) Have a test to find out the DNA, this would be either amniocentesis or Chorionic villus sampling (CVS), but the tests come with the risk of a miscarriage.

It felt brutal, and it hit me really hard. It was the way they told us more than anything. Red alarm. Hustled into the bad news chamber. Abortion was the first thing they said to us. Looking back, it seemed to designed to maximise upset and panic, not reassure us. I guess they have to be careful not to give false hope, but to two people, who had already been through a lot to get to this point, we found the bedside manner somewhat wanting.

For the first time, after all the tests and treatments I had been through, I was in too much of a mess to go back to work. I remember just crying, sitting crying and crying in my car. Unable to pull myself together and go into the house. Life was brought into a sharp reality. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. It felt too cruel and just for a bit I let rip with the self pity.

But I did sort myself out and later on that day we phoned the hospital and booked in for CVS. We were both on the same page. After everything, we couldn’t not know. We needed to find out the facts.

Counting chickens


Round two and the beginning of a new year. This time, the Ocean Suite got us in nice and early on day three of my cycle. I had the ultrasound, and hallelujah, we got the green light. We started FSH, according to my plan. Not counting chickens just yet, but on day eight we went in for another scan and it was still looking good. We were given the dose and exact timings for Pregnyl to dovetail with the treatment itself, booked two days after that.

How did we feel? Well, we came out of the hospital looking at each other and thanking our lucky stars. Relieved. Thankful. At long last we were going to get a shot a this. Excited and hopeful, but wary too, trying to rein it in, keep it calm and under control, just in case something went wrong.

Day ten dawned. Sample time at 12.30, IUI time at 14.00. You lie down, legs apart and the nurse name checks to be certain she’s popping the right sample up there. It took less than a minute. I barely felt a thing. Afterwards, and we’ll never forget this as it still makes us giggle, she was really confident it all went well and told us she didn’t spill a drop! How often do they spill the sperm?! I was then encouraged to lie back and ‘relax’ with a cup of tea and a biscuit. And that’s it. After all the build up, the actual deed itself was pretty non-eventful.

Roll on the mother of all waits. Two weeks to find out whether you are pregnant. Trying to switch off and act normal so you don’t drive yourselves crazy, but on high alert, searching and analysing your body for signs. We had the nurse’s positive remarks ringing in our ears. You try not to put your faith into a throwaway comment but it’s hard not to think about it. Keep busy! We went to Dartmoor for a wintry walk in the snow and a pub lunch over the middle weekend as part of our distraction technique.

The hospital warns you not to be tempted and try an early test as you won’t get a true result. We played by the rules. Part of me was wishing the time away, dying just to find out one way or the other, but the other part went into full procrastination/superstitious mode. At last there was a real chance I could actually be pregnant and I didn’t want to burst that bubble. I didn’t want to tempt fate.

In terms of possible early signs, the only thing I noticed was that a couple of days after the IUI my nipples went bobbly, or more accurately my areole. I showed T. Of course, we instantly googled it – I defy anyone in our situation to have the will power not to! We discovered that you can get what are called Montgomery’s tubercles and they are often an early clue of a first pregnancy… or it could be a false alarm.

The moment of truth. As you would expect, I’ve done a number pregnancy tests over the years. All negative. All blows. Some with T’s knowledge, some I didn’t tell him about so I didn’t get his hopes up too.

We remember exactly where we were standing when we found out. In front of the window on the landing, looking out over the back garden.

It was positive. A beautiful blue cross instead of a line. Both of us kept checking it was still there. T revealed to me later he took photographic proof.


No further words required. Suffice it to say the nurse was right to be optimistic.

But we weren’t quite out of the woods yet.


And so it begins

FullSizeRenderThe way IUI works is that they take over your natural cycle so they can control exactly when you ovulate. You close down your system with one drug, Buserelin, and super stimulate your ovaries with a Follicle Stimulating Hormone, Menopur. Then, there’s Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), the one I was given was Pregnyl, and you store it in the fridge. This drug completes the development of your eggs and triggers them for release. Lastly, there’s lots of lovely pessaries up until your pregnancy test, and for 12 weeks after the deed, if it is successful.

So, if all goes to plan, more eggs, and their release is timed exactly with the placement of a washed sperm sample (something the man in your life makes earlier). The best of his best are parachuted in right next to your eggs at the optimum moment, cutting out the need for the sperm to travel any distance, and, ultimately, upping your chances of getting pregnant.

There are a lot of injections to get your head around. We were invited to attend a workshop where you practise mixing up the various drugs, flicking the syringe to get rid of any lethal air bubbles and then stabbing these concoctions into a fake thigh you strap onto your leg. Both of you have the chance to try it. Several times. There are handouts. I took lots of notes. It’s something you don’t want to bugger up.

And it’s another surreal experience. Emotionally charged. Full of tense couples making awkward conversation with each other as you sit at a little table amidst the phials and sharps boxes. Practising something that is meant to be deeply intimate in front of strangers. Small talk is forced in an enclosed hot hospital room. Some people try to break the ice with the odd jokey (who knows?) comment. You put a lot of pressure on yourself to get it right. You feel clumsy and ill equipped to manage on your own and scared about what will happen if you can’t do it properly. It feels quite overwhelming. At one point, it all became to much for one woman who ran out in tears. It is hard. It brings it home.  Everyone is going through the same shit, or worse.

I managed the injections okay. When push came to shove, I wanted to do it my myself but I know plenty of people who got their partners to stick it in them (so to speak). It’s personal preference, and like everything, you just do what feels right for you. T did help me mix up the drugs though, especially at the beginning, as I was paranoid about air bubbles, and another pair of hands does take the pressure off a bit. You have to take them at different times of the day and you just work it around your schedule. The more you do it, the more confident you become about what you are doing. I used to work away in London a couple of days most weeks, and it was fine, with a bit of preparation.

After six days, we were called in for a vaginal ultrasound to scan and measure the follicles, check how it was all going, and find out whether we were on track.

We sat in the waiting room at the Ocean Suite, and I remember an episode of Doctors was on the TV. The story was about a couple who weren’t sure whether they were ready to have a baby so were given a crying dolly to look after. You really couldn’t make it up!

Our first round of IUI was abandoned. It didn’t work. By the time, we had our check up, I’d already ovulated. My body had responded super fast to the drugs. Nothing more to be said. The ship had sailed. Crushing disappointment – we hadn’t even made it to the money shot. Cue the long wait until you can try again. You aren’t allowed to keep doing the treatments one after another. You need to have a natural cycle in between to allow your body to recover. Then, we found out the Ocean Suite was closing for refurbishment for four weeks. Then, it was Christmas. All in all, it was about a three month wait until we could go in for round two.

Tying the knot

2C555961-804F-4053-862C-07FA883031A5Our six months turned into about a year because at Christmas, T asked me to marry him. Atop a mountain, clad in head to toe waterproofs, in the sideways sleety rain in the Highlands of Scotland. And, reader, I said yes.

I have never been a weddingy person. The white dress dream with all the froth and frills isn’t my thing. We had no intention of following the traditional path. We’re not anti-weddings but on the list of priorities it comes well below buying a house, doing it up, and having kids. But best laid plans… Life doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. Somewhat ironically, we ended up doing things conventionally. And because of the insecurities trying to conceive stirs up, I found I needed it in a way I had never really envisaged. My shell wasn’t as hard as I thought it was. This official seal of love and support gave me strength and security.

We got hitched in the Summer, on our ten year anniversary, and it meant a huge amount. Much more, I think, because of what we were going through. We were saying to each other for better, for worse. We will weather this. Even if we can’t have a baby, we want to be together and celebrate this moment.

But planning a wedding did put the mockers on other proceedings. Neither of us wanted a long engagement, our reason being that we’d never get around to doing the deed. We decided to take time out rather than trying to juggle it all. Going through fertility treatment at the same time would have been too much. Wedding planning does not exactly put you in a relaxed, stress free frame of mind either. Besides, we wanted to have fun at our wedding! Drink champagne. Let our hair down. Have a massive party with all our family and friends. Plus, thinking practically, we wanted to go to Borneo for our honeymoon which meant jabs and long haul flights. So, one thing at a time. We took this time for us. You only get married once. We took our lives off hold.

That said, of course optimistic (and romantic) me was still hoping for it just to happen. A secret part of my mind kept thinking, it will happen when you least expect it, when we’ve practically given up. Then it will be such a nice problem to have! What an amazing wedding present it would be! But zip. Not on our holiday in the Summer. Nor our trip to Scotland. The months ticked by. I remember, cruelly, my period was late and it was the day before our wedding. I was hopeful. We were prepping the venue and I looked down and I had bled through my shorts. It was horrible, a crushing, exposed, vulnerable moment but I borrowed some spare trousers that my Mum had in her car and kept going. Maybe a honeymoon baby. But it wasn’t to be, and as soon as the malaria tablets were out of my system, we headed back to the Ocean Suite in the Autumn just over a year later.



I was having to be quite inventive at work coming up with excuses to duck out for various appointments. Fudging the truth with a mix of doctor, dentist, lunch dates and taking some holiday hadn’t seemed to raise any eyebrows so far, maybe because they had actually been quite spaced out, but it was making me feel a bit uncomfortable. I hate not telling the truth, and I’m not very good at it, but we weren’t ready to tell anyone yet before we really knew ourselves what was going on. Which is what our next appointment was all about.

The results of my HSG came back fine. Pipes clear. We sat down in the consulting room and were told that having had all the tests, we had what is termed ‘unexplained infertility.’ Basically this means the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with us. On paper, according to test results, we should be able to get pregnant. But there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.

Again this news was a really odd feeling. They couldn’t find anything physically the matter with us. Science was on our side. But it wasn’t happening. Was it in our heads? You think all kinds of crazy things. I (for those who know me, you know how out of character this is) had sleepless nights wondering whether we were being punished for not believing in God, or for trying to have a baby out of wedlock. Or, perhaps, we had just been doing sex wrong all these years?!? I’m only half joking, it did cross my mind.

In a way, it was good. Fair. We were in this together. Neither one of us was to blame. Not that we would ever use that word, but if something had come up for me I would have felt incredibly guilty, that it was my fault. It would be hard not to feel responsible for everything. Our circumstances meant we were lucky to avoid that burden, that strain. Our relationship has always been solid but TTC tests the best and insecurities and paranoid feelings creep in. For us, having children has always been the goal, our raison d’être. But what if we just couldn’t? Would we adopt? You try and take it a step at a time, but your mind can’t help racing ahead. For the first time it crossed my mind that T might leave me for a non-barren younger model. Forget moving home, forget organising a wedding, trying for a baby has been the biggest pressure on our relationship. Holding onto your sense of humour and trusting in each other is what got us through but I can easily see how it could rip you apart.

And now we had choice. We could keep trying or move straight onto IUI. In light of all the information, we, masochists that we were, gallantly opted to give it another six months of trying to conceive naturally. If, after six months, we needed to go onto IUI, we would still be in the system. We wouldn’t need to start from the beginning and do all the tests again, we could just pick up where we left off.

Our thinking was that knowledge was power and that all the tests coming back clear might lift the worry and stress and you never know it might all just magically fall into place. We’d go on holiday. We would be in a more relaxed frame of mind. You hear all kinds of stories about couples nearly giving up and then it happening out of the blue and you cling onto that glimmer of hope.

I can’t speak for T, but I was still hell bent on making the moment of conception special and meaningful. Of course, this got harder and harder as time went on. We were well over two years in now without success. For starters, having sex on a schedule isn’t a recipe for my idealised romantic moment. But we kept plugging away. I was adamant I didn’t want our baby to come out of a test tube I wanted it to be an act of love. This felt hugely important to me for ages. Disproportionately so, and for too long, looking back now.

The Fertility Clinic

imageAs well as waiting for results, the other thing you have to get your head around is the long wait for hospital appointments. It can feel unbelievably slow. I’m sure it’s not as bad as it seems but to two anxious and impatient people desperate to get things moving as quickly as possible, the system seems archaic. Everything is done by letter, second class post (I’m all for cost saving for the NHS but it takes an absolute age). Factor in a letter going from the surgery to the hospital, our case being reviewed, an appointment being booked, and then a confirmation letter coming out to us. That whole time you go into limbo again. Precious weeks tick by. God help you, if you can’t make the time or the date when the letter finally hits your letterbox!

Then there’s the long walk through the hospital to get to the Ocean Suite. The clinic is tucked out of the way which is nice, but at the furthest end, at the back. The route takes you directly past the antenatal clinic and you have to brace yourself to walk past those doors and keep going down the corridor.

Once you arrive there is a big noticeboard on the wall as you walk in full of baby photos which is lovely and it does give you a burst of hope. Quite a lot of twins feature on it. As well as some triplets…! When we saw it for the first time I think we both privately vowed to ourselves that one day our baby would be up there too.

We liked the nurse we saw. She knew her stuff and was patient and made us feel comfortable. Being us, we asked lots of questions, trying to get our heads around the new terms so we could understand our options properly. We got some leaflets to read on all the various treatments. She wrote down key words for us and even drew the odd diagram to help visualise what she was explaining. I’m not sure you ever feel like you get all the answers you want though. There’s a lot of facts and statistics but of course nobody can give you the certainty you crave.

We learned that the results of my blood test showed I was ‘Satisfactory’ when tested for AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) levels. This basically looks at your ovarian reserve and whether it is decreasing (you produce less eggs). This goes hand in hand with getting older. Fertilisation rates in women with low AMH are significantly inferior to those with high AMH levels. My levels weren’t brilliant, but again weren’t terrible either. Bottom line, we had to get a wriggle on. What else was new?

We found out about the next steps and what the NHS offers. Fertility treatment rules vary from region to region in the UK which seems massively unfair, a real postcode lottery. I was worried as I was over 30 I might not be considered for free treatments but thankfully, in Devon, I was okay, which was a huge relief. After all the checks, and depending on the results, we would get four rounds of IUI (IUI stands for intrauterine insemination, think turkey baster) and one shot at IVF (the more well-known in vitro fertilisation) on the house. If, at any point, it looked like it just wasn’t working with IUI, they would skip straight to IVF. After that, it’s time to get your wallet out and we’re talking thousands a pop here.

They also double-checked that T was taking all the supplements he should be but as his results were okay (a bit on the low side for morphology but nothing to be overly concerned about) this was the end of the road for him in terms of testing.

Not so pour moi.

The next step for me was to book in for an HSG. This stands for the most unpronounceable treatment to date, Hysterosalpingogram. It’s an X-ray where they inject iodine into your uterus to see if your fallopian tubes are blocked or if you have any abnormalities lurking in your uterine cavity. The examination is carried out a few days after your period to ensure you aren’t pregnant so you’re not allowed to have sex during this time either.

And that’s how it goes. Before you know it, another couple of months have slipped by. Dead time, treading water, waiting. It feels such a waste although you know you’ve got to do it. At the same time, perhaps there is also a small part of both of you that feels a touch of relief that the pressure from trying has been lifted that month? Out of our hands. Granted a momentary reprieve from our self-imposed heavy duty sex schedule!

I found the HSG bearable. Not a barrel of laughs; they are sticking a catheter up your vagina after all, but I took some painkillers beforehand, which is advised, and I was lucky enough only to experience a bit of discomfort. They recommend you go with your partner so that they can drive you home if you feel a bit shaky, but T was away so I flew solo and it was still okay. Dealable. You just have to focus on the greater good, why you are doing it. It is totally surreal going back to work though, after something like that. Snapping straight back to your professional self after lying with your legs akimbo having dye injected into the most personal parts of your body. You are prescribed antibiotics afterwards to prevent infection. A pessary (oh I got to become quite familiar with these delightful little fizzing bullets) followed by tablets – easy.

And wait for results. Again.

Taking the next step


Somewhere between six months and one year after we started trying we decided to book an appointment to talk to our GP. It’s true that for some couples it can take up to two years to conceive naturally normally but if you are over 35 they recommend checking in with your doctor after six months. If you are under that age I think it’s a year.

Booking the appointment didn’t feel like too big a deal. Actually, I think it strangely made me feel better because we were being proactive. At last we were doing something. It was harder to sit in front of a stranger and voice our personal problems out loud to someone else for the first time but we did and I remember the doctor was pretty nice. We answered all the usual questions, how long we had been trying, how often we were trying, our lifestyle, how often I got my period, did we drink or smoke, family history. At this point, I think I half expected him to reassure us that it can take a while to conceive and it was a bit early to sound the alarm. But the outcome of the meeting was that he thought it was worth us taking the next step. Suddenly things were becoming real.

He recommended that T had a semen analysis and I had a blood test and a urine test. These tests are always carried first as they are the easiest and less invasive. We would then book a further appointment with him to look at the results before he referred us to the Ocean Suite, The South West Centre for Reproductive Medicine, at our local hospital. Before the sperm test, you have to avoid sex for a couple of days, as well as booze and caffeine, to ensure you get the best sample. They check quantity and quality, so number of sperm (sperm count), shape (morphology – do they have two tails?) and movement (motility – are they speedy?). As for me, I had to wee into a beaker and give blood. The blood test is looking for a hormonal imbalance linked to ovulation and the urine test picks up if you have chlamydia.

We both did what we had to do. Fun times all round.

It took about a week to get the results. Introducing…our first waiting experience. In this TTC lark, waiting is the name of the game. Waiting, waiting, waiting. You quickly become experts at waiting although that doesn’t mean that it gets any easier. We’ve waited for so many different sets of results that the individual experiences have all blended into each other. But the same feelings underpin everything. Outwardly, you have to get on with things and act natural but you are churning away beneath the surface. You are in a holding pattern, containing your fears and uncertainty, preparing yourself for the worst whilst trying to think positively. It’s like you are playing along at life, pretending to be fine and normal, taking on the role of yourself, me in work, me with my friends, whilst underneath it all is a big hole filled with doubt and hope.

Our first set of results all came back ‘normal’. Instant relief followed by frustration and confusion and a lot of emotion. We weren’t sure how to feel. Was this good news or bad news really? Something wasn’t working so what was wrong with us? Why weren’t we able to get pregnant? Did this mean there was a more serious unknown issue yet to be diagnosed? Hundreds of questions that our GP was not in a position to answer as it seemed there was nothing obvious the matter with us. Time to see the specialists who might be able to get more out of the results and would advise us further.

And so, we were referred to the Ocean Suite. We were in the system.

The irony of birth control


We did everything we could think of to maximise our chances. We made all the practical lifestyle changes we could. Cut down our wine consumption enormously, cut out our gin consumption entirely. Avoided nights out. I took my temperature every morning for months and months trying to pin down exactly when I ovulated – that’s a whole world of fun I can tell you! We’ve always had a healthy diet but I took folic acid every day and T was also taking a handful of pills to boost his swimmers, Vitamin C, B12, Zinc, Selenium, Vitamin E. We cut down on coffee and black tea. Avoided fish like tuna and swordfish which contain high mercury levels. I read somewhere that T should stop using a laptop on his lap. Skip jacuzzis and hot baths. Stop keeping a mobile phone in his jeans pocket in case of radiation. We even stopped cycling (not that we were massive bike riders anyway) because riding a bike can scrunch up a man’s…you get the picture. The list goes on and on. In short, we read all the books and did anything and everything we bloody well could. Basically, it boils down to this, most of the pleasures in life are not fertility friendly. But it would worth it. We tried to be patient and think positively: it will happen eventually, no doubt when we least expect it…

Except that it didn’t.

By nature, both T and I are doers and used to making things happen with a bit of hard work and determination. In this way, we’ve found that you can pretty much succeed at whatever you put your minds to. But we couldn’t make a baby. However hard we tried. Despite doing all the right things.

After a while, all the lifestyle changes start to mock you. I’d spent my entire adult life avoiding getting pregnant. Condoms, the pill, the morning after. All the information out there seems geared towards how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, obviously a massively important issue. We’ve been educated to understand that all it takes is one slip up. Just one accident. It’s been drummed into us. But with this mindset, the reality of being unable to conceive when you want to comes as a bit of a shock. No one ever tells you how hard it might be to get pregnant in the first place. Nothing I had ever really engaged with properly before we started experiencing difficulties had ever said in a serious way that you might want to get on with it before you hit the big 3-0.

We thought that we were doing the right things. We were sensible and waited until we were financially stable, lived our lives, careers going well. But should we have started trying earlier? Of course, we will never know either way but I started to ask myself why I had I bothered messing about with my system continuously for 15 years.

Fertility starts to decline for women from about the age of 30, dropping down more steeply from the age of 35. We are not unusual in our circle of friends. More and more people are leaving it later and later before starting a family. Should there be a little more out there to raise awareness about not leaving it too late?  A bit more information to balance the focus on not getting pregnant? All I know is, that if we knew then what we know now, we would have been slightly less ‘sensible’ and started trying earlier.

The first few months


For the first few months trying for a baby is brilliant fun. Every time we had sex I wanted it to be extra special in case that was the moment we conceived and it seemed important that our child was created out of a romantic and meaningful experience not a quickie. We furtively bought ‘What to expect before you’re expecting’ and started to cut down on drinking and ensuring we were eating the right foods. I was popping back folic acid. We made sure we did all the right things.

As the months ticked on and no cigar, things became harder. I began looking at my ovulation cycles more seriously. I started reading books about fertility. Then the charting began. I took my temperature every morning. I’m naturally optimistic so I was thinking positively, even if everything is working right, it can still take months to conceive!

But slowly slowly we began to feel the pressure. We hadn’t told anyone (apart from my best friend) and I was initially thankful for that decision because the pressure you feel just between you begins to gnaw away at you. At first you push it to the back of your mind. But once the doubt is there it’s hard to ignore it. It’s hard because you are also massively aware that feeling stressed and pressured can make things not happen, you need to relax and chill out, blah de blah blah. But I think you must be superhuman if after a year of trying things aren’t getting to you. By now you’re trying to have sex at the optimum times, and if you’re us, working around busy work schedules when we both work away and trying to make it romantic. It’s bloody hard! I remember one particular failure moment. We were both working hard and we arranged to nip home at lunchtime and get it on. But we were both so busy, I was on back to back conference calls, T was preparing for a shoot, and strangely enough we just weren’t in the zone and after a few minutes of gallantly giving it a go we gave up, it just wasn’t happening. Luckily we were pretty much always able to laugh about it but underneath it all, it’s hard to crush that feeling that you’ve probably had it for another month.

Suddenly everything you hear and see is a reminder of what’s not happening. Everyone in the world seems to be getting pregnant at the drop of a hat. In the time we were trying, Wills and Kate got married, announced their first pregnancy, had baby George, announced second pregnancy. The frogs in the pond spawned like billy-o, even Tian Tian the giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo was displaying nesting habits (although I think it turned out later to be a false alarm). It seemed like all our friends were announcing pregnancies and having babies.

The hardest thing was not becoming bitter and begrudging other people’s happiness. We did a lot of avoiding situations and became very good at pretending to be okay. We became experts at dodging and deflecting the ‘when are you two going to have kids?’ question. A well meaning conversation starter from friends and family that twists a knife into you. I will never ask that question to anyone now. According to the NHS 1 in 7 couples will have difficulty conceiving.

One night I was feeling particularly low and having a good cry in bed and T said we can’t let this situation define us. We are not going to let this turn us bitter and resentful. We are bigger than that. Be happy for our friends. Moments like this, remind me why I love him.