This is the question I am constantly asked after trying to explain our fertility journey. The answer is no but I find myself just agreeing, especially when met with the baffled expressions of numerous midwives and consultants.
I have read so many inspiring blog posts and stories written by strong couples, who have experienced a multitude of different journeys. I decided to write my own experiences as a sort of outpouring but also in the hope that even one person reads and takes something from this, I will have repaid the favour.
I first found out I was pregnant in February 2015 after 6 months of trying. Obviously, we were overjoyed, blissfully happy and painfully unaware of what was to come. It’s a feeling that I envy, even now, when I see glowing happiness from couples on Instagram – those that have never experienced difficulties. I felt robbed of that.
I miscarried a week later.
This was to be the beginning of 3 miscarriages that year, all very different but equally as devastating. My third resulted in an ERPC. I remember sitting in Lewisham Early Pregnancy, my regular haunt, reading the definition ‘Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception’ and feeling like such a failure. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I do this? Everybody else could (it seemed). The staff at Lewisham were so kind, but the process was brutal. We had become slightly hardened, but the pain of lining up next to those swollen, lucky ladies, waiting for their 12/20 week scans was soul destroying. Sitting in the waiting room, listening to the looped video of how to put your baby’s car seat in safely. And the final straw, being given a pen to complete a survey, with the words ‘pregnant? Now call the midwife’ on it. Now I was being tortured for being a failure. My husband threatened to rip the TV off the wall – it’s no longer there – I wonder if someone did it in the end…
Anyway, fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2015. I had a consultants appointment to discuss the results of my ERPC and to begin investigations into my recurrent miscarriages. I was told that the results of tests on the ‘retained products’ hadn’t been carried out. I walked out sobbing, probably our lowest point.
After a quick google on recurrent miscarriage, I came across the Zita West clinic. They pioneer a holistic approach to fertility and for the first time, I felt as though I was taking my health into my own hands. My head was a mess and I needed something to focus on. I was become angry, bitter and twisted. We were deleting friends from social media platforms if they announced pregnancies and refused invitations to gatherings if we knew children were going. A slightly difficult approach when you’re both teachers. I had to do something.
We initially met with specialist fertility nurse and midwife, Jane Knight. After some initial blood tests, we had an appointment with the wonderful Dr Simone Rofena, who simply explained that three miscarriages was not normal. Something was wrong and we needed to fix it. I could have jumped up and hugged him right there and then. Yes. Finally. Someone was backing me. I wasn’t a failure, I just needed some help.
I was sent for level 1 and 2 testing, which I still find difficult to explain (because I was never very good at Science). This included:
Natural Killer (NK) assay and TH1/TH2 Intracellular Cytokine ratios. NK cells are one of several types of white blood cells in the immune system. They play a useful physiological role in the body but some research has suggested that raised NK levels or cytotoxicity (“killing capacity”) in the peripheral blood and raised NK infiltration in the endometrium (womb lining) may be associated with recurrent IVF failure and recurrent miscarriage. Cytokines are chemical messengers secreted by immune cells. Cytokines produced by the group of immune cells called TH2 are thought to be “baby-friendly” and support pregnancy whereas the cytokines produced by the group of immune cells called TH1 may inhibit pregnancy. For successful pregnancy it has been suggested that the TH2 (“baby-friendly”) cytokines should be dominant. If the TH1 cytokines are dominant this may impact adversely on pregnancy outcomes.
My NK cells were unusually high, so I began immunomodulation treatment, which began with an intralipid of a sterile emulsion of egg proteins, soy oil, glycerine and water. My boss nicknamed this my ‘pancake batter’ treatment. Two rounds of this, then three cycles to fall pregnant naturally.
I fell pregnant on my third circle.
I phoned the clinic and by that afternoon, I was on a cocktail of Prednisolone (steroids), Clexane and progesterone pessaries. This was combined with further Intralipid infusions at appropriate stages during early pregnancy. Injecting was particularly unpleasant, my belly was black and blue. But at 7 weeks in, it all became worth it…
There was my little flickering mushroom. An actual heartbeat. Not an empty sack or a, ‘when did you get a positive pregnancy test?’ I knew the statistics. A good start.
By nine weeks, the mushroom resembled more of a jumping kidney bean.
And at 12 weeks I was in possession of a scan photo that I had only ever dreamed of sharing with my friends and family.
My pregnancy wasn’t without difficulty. I bled, I had suspected DVT, I suffered from preeclampsia and ended up having an emergency c-section and a baby spending its first week of life in the neonatal ward. But the fact that I had this incredible bundle of life changing beauty, was all down to Zita West. This is not an NHS bashing – I love the NHS. I love Lewisham hospital and all the staff. But I needed to take my health and my fertility into my own hands.
I have since suffered another miscarriage but with the help and support from ZW, I’m 21 weeks pregnant with a little girl. I still get very twitchy when explaining my treatment to my dr. I don’t want to be judged or it assumed that I’m an inpatient rich girl. We begged, borrowed, stole and (most importantly) worked very hard to pay for our treatment. We received extremely kind gifts from our family to help pay for drugs, test and appointments. My current consultant at Lewisham and heard all about the clinic and simply said to me, ‘something worked – that’s all that matters’.