“So, you’ve had IVF?”

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’.

Climbing Snowdon

Those of you who have read my first post will know that I turned 30 this year – prompting me to review, reflect and plan my travel goals for the next decade. One of my aims, was to explore as much of Great Britain as I could. We booked a few days in Wales over Easter and were blown away by the breathtaking and captivating beauty of Snowdonia. We stayed on Anglesey, an island off the north-west coast of Wales, surrounded by stunning coastlines and beaches. For the past seven years, I have longed to return to New Zealand, a country that without a doubt, leaves a huge impression on everyone that visits. Wales definitely filled that hole and left me shocked, that such beauty could be found only a two-hour drive from Manchester!

Anyway, as part of our stay, we had decided to attempt a hike up Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales, and the highest point in the British Isles outside the Scottish Highlands. I’m not going to lie, currently I’m not the fittest I have ever been, but I felt prepared enough to give it a go.

It’s important to note here that we did do our research. We weren’t able to find a great number of books, but purchased ‘The Ascent of Snowdon’, by E.G.Rowland on Amazon for £2.99. We did laugh when it arrived, as it was tiny and first published in 1975. However, it proved to be one of the most useful things we read (as well as information online – climb-snowdon.co.uk have some great guides and tips).

The Ascent of Snowdon: The Six Classic Routes Up Snowdon

We decided to park in Llanberis and take the Llanberis Path (the gentle one), 5 miles/8km long, total ascent of 980m/3,198ft. It was very busy, we were overtaken by plenty of children and young families – which did nothing for my self-esteem. Although the first couple of km were steep, it soon became easier.

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After approximately two hours, we reached the Halfway Cafe, which sells everything from coffees to cupasoups, homemade cakes to fridge magnets. There’s no running water up the mountain, so the cafe’s owner has to carry water, food and gas bottles two miles uphill every day. We refueled and warmed up, before taking on the next few km up to the train station at Clogwyn.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway runs from Llanberis to the summit in the Summer months, but currently only travels to Clogwyn, due to the snow. An online adult return stands at £29.00.

By now, we were walking into deep snow and many families with younger children were choosing this point to turn around. We continued towards the summit, where conditions became slightly treacherous and scary. Where the snow was powdery and fresh earlier in the day, the sheer volume of hikers had turned it to ice, and even with good walking boots, the ascent was slippery and hard work. Visibility was also now poor.

The final ascent to the summit was understandably tough, not just due to the volume of hiker traffic, but the snow here was extremely thick and the steps were covered in ice. However, the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment at the top was unreal. Never had I ever thought that I would be able to achieve something like this! Exercise is not usually my strong point. Unfortunately, the summit was engulfed by a thick grey cloud, therefore we couldn’t see anything from the top. Also, my iPhone couldn’t cope with the cold and died. Goodbye Facebook profile photo selfie…

As wonderful as it was to reach the top, the realisation that we had to begin our descent, down the icy, crowded steps, hung over us. However, if the man with a baby on his back – yes, a baby on his back – could do it, then we could. We decided to take the train track path (not necessarily a suggested route), as the snow was fresher, and didn’t seem as treacherous. We ended up following a group of hikers onto the Snowdon Ranger Track, which was also fairly easy and takes you down a beautiful route, providing some pretty spectacular views on a quieter path. Once to main, steep descent was over, we were completely alone, leaving us to enjoy the stunning views of the mountain we had just conquered (minus the cloud, which had now disappeared).

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The Snowdon Ranger Track finished at the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel, which was nowhere near our car. This is a massive mistake we made, so take note! We were aware that there is a bus which connects all the paths, allowing you to use two different routes and get a lift back to your car. Unfortunately, although only just 5:00pm, we had missed the last bus and had no mobile phone signal. There was also nobody in the YHA. Hmmm.

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Luckily, a lone YHA worker happened to cycle past and called us a cab. My legs were now dead and the quickest route back to Llanberis would have been back up the Snowdon Ranger Track and 1.5 miles over a hill – not something my legs would have allowed.

All in all, a fantastic experience, although it has taken nearly a week to walk properly again. We were as prepared as we could be, took plenty of water, chocolate and layers, and made it all the way to the top.

So the question now is, do we complete the set and climb Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. We have trips to The Lake District and Ben Nevis booked for this year? Have you climbed all three and completed the three peaks?

 

 

Turning 30 – reflect, review, plan!

So I’ve just turned 30 – the dreaded age. I say dreaded, but really I need to use it as the perfect opportunity to look back on all the things I have achieved in the past decade. More importantly, I need to start thinking about goals for the next ten years – specifically where I want to travel.

Iceland is next. The northern lights. Bucket listesque. But it leaves plenty of time for last minute getaways and something that I’m not sure I did enough of in my twenties – exploring Great Britain.
When I returned from backpacking across Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I wrote a list of everything I wanted to do when I returned. It may sound cliché, but those months were a turning point in my life and put everything in perspective. Top of my list – to explore my own country.
I have made some progress with this goal, but I know it is something I want to further. My husband is from Manchester and I sometimes find him telling me things about London that I never knew. Being born and raised in the capital, it’s shameful! So definitely one of my goals this decade is to be a better home-traveller. Is there a verb for that? Haveller? Homeller?
What is top of your destination bucket list?

 

What part of your home country are you dying to explore?