The second trimester

My daughter and I made it a habit every Monday morning to look at babycentre and see how our babies were growing and developing. I even got out a tape measure to show her. Doing this helped me involve her in the pregnancy, made her feel included, helped make it more real. Of course to me it was daunting, scary, surreal, but I adored her innocence and embraced it in order to help me feel more positive and to even attempt to allow myself to enjoy it too.

Once we knew we were having a girl and a boy I couldn’t help myself. I had to go and buy a few bits. Well, ok, it was a bit more than a few! This is how we told my daughter what we were having. I laid out my purchases and showed her. Watching her face I felt like my birthday had come early. Having set out on our journey to try and give her a sibling, then to find out she was going to have two, the news of a boy and a girl was quite simply the icing on the cake.

We tried to live the next few months as ‘normally’ as possible. I was very aware of the huge change to our lives that was growing closer and conscious of the impact this may have on my eldest. Spoiling her was certainly not the answer, but making sure she felt wanted and special to us most definitely was. What concerned me was that when the babies arrived, it would have been five and a half years of myself and my husband all to herself. One day we would be a unit of three, the next a family of five.

It was recommended to me that I buy her twin baby dolls and I found the perfect ones, girl and boy dolls. We practised being gentle with them and she loved her new present. I was hoping this was a sign that the real babies would be so eagerly and happily accepted too. I also bought a present for her, which was from the babies, for when they were born. This was a toy double pushchair, which she could put her doll twins in. I saved this for after the birth as I knew the babies would be bought presents, again I didn’t want her to feel left out.

Having told my daughter of the exciting change to our lives, we could openly talk about it. She could tell her friends and we could talk about it with ours, even when she was in ear shot. Up until now we had been incredibly careful so of course it was a relief not to feel like we were treading on egg shells. It meant that family and friends could support us in helping her adjust and become used to the situation. She would ask about our surrogate and show care and concern for both her and the babies. After each scan we would show her pictures which she looked forward to seeing the most. She was old enough to understand what was going on, in her own little way and I’m so glad, despite the doubt, that we told her what we told her when we did.

We also visited the matron and set out our own unique birth plan. There had only been a couple of surrogate births at the hospital and we wanted to make sure we had the full support of the hospital staff and that everybody who needed to be made aware of our situation was. This included scans, as normally they only allow two people into the room. But as both my husband and I attended these appointments along with our surrogate, exceptions to the rule were made.

We were shown around the Special Care Unit and the hospital ward itself. You’d think this would make it all seem a bit more real, but no! I almost felt like it wasn’t me walking round, like I was watching somebody else. This sounds crazy, but I was going through the motions, putting as much into place as I could pre-birth. Doing as much as I could to help everybody feel as relaxed and confident as possible. I knew why I wouldn’t ever feel at ease though, I knew the answer. I wouldn’t feel settled until the babies had been born and my husband and I were cradling them in our arms. When I was staring into their tiny faces and they had entered the world and were healthy. Only then would I be at peace. Accept the miracle had really truly happened.

The first trimester

It was tough, watching my babies grow inside another lady. Knowing I couldn’t provide them with warmth, talk to them, let them grow accustomed to my voice, mummy’s voice. I grew to accept I wouldn’t feel them move for the first time, though I was able to feel them moving inside her which was very special.

I tried very hard to find the balance between looking after our surrogate yet not driving her mad. Taking care of her was the only way I had of looking after my babies, until they were born. But I knew that if I stressed her out it would do the babies no good. I kept myself busy, threw myself into training for a half marathon to raise money for a charity close to my heart. This meant I was doing something I enjoyed, running, and helping people at the same time. Of course the running helped my stress levels too!

It wasn’t plain sailing. We had numerous private scans early on, including a big scare. I received a call from her that she’d had a bad bleed. We made an appointment that day, raced to her house then onto the clinic. Throughout the drive to collect her I was sat, reliving the hell I went through when I miscarried, praying it wasn’t happening again. Praying for some luck, some good news.

Once at the clinic we were taken straight through to have a scan. The relief we felt when they found a heartbeat was immense. However, the sonographer couldn’t detect a second one. I was torn about what was happening. On one hand I felt relief that something had been detected, yet on the other, had we lost one of our babies? She checked numerous times and miraculously, once we had almost given up hope of finding the other baby, she found it, hiding behind the other! Elation filled the room.

Once we reached the twelve week milestone we decided the best thing for our surrogate and our babies would be to have all the upcoming scans at her local hospital, which was where we also decided the babies would be born. Therefore instead of us both having to travel by the train to meet at the station then continue our journey to the clinic, my husband and I took the four hour round trip in the car instead. We picked her up from her house and drove to the hospital. Luckily, she didn’t live far from the hospital, which gave me a sense of relief should she need to get there quickly.

I’m not complaining about this, of course, but the journeys were exhausting in themselves. The night before any hospital appointment I had a very restless and broken nights’ sleep. Then once at the hospital, hours could go by when we were just waiting to be seen. Then once we’d had a scan we had to wait to see a consultant. Our appointments were more frequent as she was carrying twins. Of course we preferred that she was more closely monitored, it just meant more time off work for my husband and the more regular appointments added to the stress we already felt.

Faces became familiar to us the more times we attended the hospital. What became daunting, nerve wracking and exciting was that I watched as ladies grew bigger and then I realised week by week they were no longer there as they had had their baby. That we were growing closer to having ours!

A big decision had to be made. When do we tell our daughter? How would she cope with the news? She was still young and had no real concept of time. If we told her too early she wouldn’t understand why it was taking so long for the babies to be born.

At thirteen weeks we sat her down and explained to her what was happening. In order to help her understand we thought it was important for her to meet our surrogate, see how her tummy was growing and that inside were two babies, her siblings. It was incredibly emotional telling her, I was fighting back the tears. Although I saw the babies on the screen at each scan, I was watching them grow, part of me was still in a state of disbelief that after everything we had been through our happy ending was in the process of being complete. That we were going to be able to give our daughter what we so desperately wanted to provide her with. We knew she’d make a fantastic big sister and telling her she was going to be one is the best piece of news I’ve ever had to deliver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s twins

The clinic at which we had our counselling also turned out to be the location in which embryo transfer was to take place. My husband and I had a big decision to make. Do we put one or two embryos into our surrogate? There are pros and cons to both decisions but we felt more strongly that the right thing for us to do would be to put back two. Of course we had to discuss this with our surrogate, but despite feeling the expected reluctancy and anxiety we too felt, she informed us she was happy with our desires.

After a month of monitoring her cycle and the lining of her uterus, embryo transfer day was upon us. I went to the clinic with her, sat in an adjoining room while she prepared herself, put on her gown and such. I sat and held her hand whilst it was being done. I cried. Tears of joy, disbelief in what we were doing, of what could possibly result from this day. The specialist showed us the embryos on a screen before he implanted them. It was surreal, it was incredible, it was overwhelming.

How I kept myself busy during the next few weeks I do not know. You never get used to playing the waiting game. Others may think that it becomes easier the more you’re told to wait. Believe me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. About ten days after implantation my husband and I were on our way home from a night away. This night was planned as a means of taking our minds off the imminent pregnancy test. Of course it didn’t and I was desperate to call her to see how she was feeling. My husband, being the more patient of the two of us, rightly suggested I leave her to rest, maybe send the odd text. But I couldn’t hold off any longer and on our way back from our mini break, on the way to collect our daughter from my parents, I called our surrogate.

My memory is dreadful, but the following conversation will remain crystal clear to me for as long as I can remember. She answered the phone pretty quickly, I was shaking with nerves. She told me she was intending on calling me later that day. I asked why, dreading bad news, praying for once that something good would happen. She told me she’d had a positive pregnancy test result. In fact the past few days she had been doing them and the line had become stronger. I will remain eternally grateful to her for showing such consideration for our feelings. She hadn’t wanted to call straight away, but had wanted to be certain. But she was, she was very certain. I was in shock. I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. My husband too shed a tear or two.

We had such a long way to go from this point and had to remain optimistic yet realistic. We now knew what we’d been naive to when our daughter was born. We knew so much could go wrong. There were so many hurdles to overcome. But we’d done it! We’d got pregnant! We were one step closer to completing our family, providing our daughter with the sibling we so desperately wanted her to have.

Together, we decided that we would tell our parents and siblings. Of course they were ecstatic for us, yet sensibly advised us to take one step at a time, that we had a long way to go. We were on cloud nine but had to keep our feet on the ground as the next eight or so months were going to be incredibly tough.

We thought the excitement couldn’t get any greater, until the six week scan. Our surrogate had a sneaky feeling we were expecting twins. I’m pleased I was sat when the consultant scanned her and confirmed her suspicions. We were having two babies. Of course, implanting two embryos we knew this was a possibility, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we’d have twins. It was a miracle, we were blessed, we were incredibly fortunate, we were in total and utter shock!

One step closer to completing our family

Almost as soon as I posted on the private facebook group I had a message recommending that I speak to a certain lady. A few days later I called her. A few days later my husband and I were in her house. About a week later we were at the clinic.

Yes, all seems very quick, almost too quick. Let me reassure you that decisions were not taken lightly. We just clicked. She ticked our boxes and clearly we ticked hers. Talking to her on the phone was nerve wracking. I remember pacing the room during the whole conversation, which lasted almost an hour. I must have walked miles! She was a complete stranger and we were discussing the prospect of her carrying our baby for us. I had a list of questions ready before I dialled her number and it became clear during the course of the conversation that she had done the same. I wanted to know why she was doing this, what made her want to do such a special thing to help others. My husband and I had discussed any stipulations we had, such as no smoking. I made sure I was thorough and asked as much as I could, without it sounding too much like an interview and more like a chat.

By the end of our conversation, we had decided that the next step would be to meet. Neither party felt the need to keep talking on the phone, we both felt ready to continue our acquaintance face to face. The drive to her house was exciting and daunting. My phone was beeping constantly as family and friends wanted to wish us luck! I was scared to get my hopes up, as this was the first lady we had arranged to meet. Surely it wasn’t going to be that straight-forward. Because our journey thus far had been full of disappointment and long periods of waiting I remained open minded that we may well have to meet a number of people before we found the right one.

We just all seemed to be ready to get on with it. It helped that she was already linked to a clinic, therefore had had the relevant blood tests and scans. Once we had made a decision to go down the surrogacy route we knew that once we found the right lady to help us nothing would stop us going ahead with it as soon as we could. Sorry to repeat what I have already told you but this bit’s necessary. I had already had IVF, which hadn’t worked for me. But fortunately we had frozen embryos. We went through the formalities of having them transferred from our last clinic to the new one. To the clinic where they were to be placed into our surrogate.

This concept was very hard to get my head around. A stranger was going to carry my babies for me. I would have to watch her grow, watch my babies grow. I wouldn’t feel them kick for the first time, move around inside me. I was fortunate enough to have had a healthy pregnancy though, and reminded myself of this. Surrogacy was the path we had chosen to go down complete our family, so I was strong, and did all I could to look after her. I’m sure my worrying at times drove her mad, but fortunately she was so patient and laid back. That’s why the relationship we had worked.

Of course, we wanted to do everything right by her. We sought legal advice and to do this travelled a significant way as we felt this should be done face to face. The advice we had was excellent and the people hugely supportive. We also had counselling which was beneficial. It was here that my feeling that I could trust our surrogate was cemented. She said during one of these sessions that she was as scared that we wouldn’t want the babies as we potentially were of her keeping them.

I will leave my journey at this point for now and continue from here next time. From the start of the story of our miracle twins.

The world of Surrogacy

I still refused to give up. For a while my husband and I did decide to move on with our lives, put what we had been through behind us as much as we could. To be a three and be happy with that. We knew we were blessed to have our beautiful, special daughter and that we should be grateful for what we had. I reminded myself daily that I was fortunate to have experienced a successful pregnancy which had resulted in a little girl who quite literally lit up our lives, made us smile, made us happy, made us proud to be her mummy and daddy.

But we didn’t feel complete. Something was missing. We dipped into the adoption route. I made a few phone calls, briefly researched it, but we realised it wasn’t for us. We were incredibly fortunate to have frozen embryos from the most recent cycle of IVF. We could successfully make our own embryos, I just couldn’t carry them. This is why we ventured down the surrogacy route. We decided to search for a lady to ‘cook’ our embryos for us.

This decision was one which was discussed and researched in great depth. It was probably one of the hardest decisions we will ever make. We spoke to experts in the field, others who had used surrogates and having done so, felt it was the right thing for us to do. Felt that it would complete our lives, if we were fortunate enough to find a surrogate and have a positive outcome.

It was surreal, delving into the unknown, venturing down routes I’d never in my wildest dreams had thought we’d be going. The five years we had spent having treatment/procedures/travelling to the clinic in a constant cycle dragged. They were long, difficult years. The surrogacy route somehow miraculously, incredibly (still incredibly) fell into place. Yes, very cliché and more importantly we were extremely fortunate.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Call it fate, call it what you like. I like to believe that it was meant to be. That the five years made me stronger as a person, made us stronger as a couple, made us stronger as a family. It was a build up to the next stage in our journey.

I met a lady, who knew our story thus far and she mentioned she knew somebody who had used a surrogate. I found this woman, made contact with her. She was incredibly helpful, answering my questions, listening to my reservations, reassuring me, even making us dare to become excited by the prospect of completing our family with the help of a gestational surrogate.

We had no idea how to go about finding a surrogate. We began by researching various websites to find agencies to join, but the process was lengthy. Of course, we didn’t want to rush something so important. Another route, the one we took, was though a private facebook group. The girl I had found joined us to one she already belonged to. It’s the only way to become a member and be accepted into the group. It was a case of it’s not just what, but who you know. I introduced myself and posted a brief outline of our story so far. And so, our experience of the world of surrogacy began.

 

Keep on fighting

I wasn’t ready to give up. I knew I had some strength left. Physically and mentally. I think after what I’d been through thus far I was surprised I had anything left in the tank, but I wasn’t ready to stop. I couldn’t. It didn’t feel right. I had to give it one last shot.

So we started a fresh cycle with the new clinic, as the frozen embryos we had left had resulted in a failed cycle. My husband and I agreed it was the last time we’d try. He was reluctant, as he didn’t want me to go through it all again, but I had to. I couldn‘t move on with my life without doing it one last time.

It was a tough cycle, the toughest by far. By this I mean the impact it had on my body and my emotional state. I almost over stimulated, which can be dangerous. The drugs I’d been put on almost caused me to produce too many eggs. I felt nauseous and developed horrendous migraines, and I don’t usually suffer from headaches. I was swollen, tender, exhausted from lack of sleep.

It was all worth it though as we thankfully managed to produce excellent quality embryos. Laying on the bed ready to transfer the embryos for the last time, I will never forget the conversation we had with the specialist. She kindly but firmly said that as the embryos were such good quality, and this wasn’t our first attempt, if it wasn’t successful the problem clearly lay with me. My body couldn’t carry any more children. I was crushed, but knew she was right. I knew I had reached the end of my IVF journey. I had nothing left in the tank. I literally felt sapped, drained, exhausted.

I spent the days between transfer and the pregnancy blood test toing and froing between thinking it hadn’t worked to convincing myself I was pregnant. I thought I looked bloated, but then I’d realise I was slouching and when I stood up straight there was no sign of anything.

The day we got the results started terribly, as we got a parking ticket! Then on the way to the clinic, we bumped into a nurse from a previous clinic, which being in the frame of mind I was in I took as a bad omen. Silly, I know, but stress does funny things to your mind.

Luck, call it what you like, clearly wasn’t on our side that day. I wasn’t pregnant, it hadn’t worked, I couldn’t get pregnant, I would never carry a baby again.

Third time lucky? ….. sadly not

I want to talk to you about how it felt, sitting in the waiting room of these clinics. In particular the third one, the one I am now at, at this point of the journey to complete my family. The building was old and huge with many floors. The waiting room was dark, dismal and depressing. I’d sit and people watch. I didn’t want to converse with anyone, not even my husband when he was by my side. For those who know me this will seem out of character. I just wanted to sit and think.

It always amazed me how busy it was. Constant streams of couples in and out. Every time I went I’d see familiar faces yes, but many new ones too. Even though my husband and I were one of those couples who were attending the clinic in a desperate attempt to have a baby, I still found it very upsetting that some days it was so busy, you couldn’t even find a chair to sit on and had to stand waiting to see a consultant.

When you’re going through IVF it’s so easy to forget that life is still going on around you. I was almost living in this bubble, so cut off from everything non-IVF related, if that makes any sense at all!?

At the clinic I’d overhear women talking. Comparing stages they were at with respect to treatment plans, even what brought them there, their fertility issues. Unless I was asked I didn’t join in, kept myself to myself. Why? Because I felt like it was sounding almost like a competition. Some being further along the journey than others, possibly closer to their happy ending. I also overheard sad news, and felt so fragile anyway, partially due to the numerous drugs being pumped into me, that I had to shut myself off from this in order to survive each day.

The journey itself into the clinic was a long one, so by the time I got there I was exhausted. I had to be strict with my diet, was allowed no caffeine and had to drink plenty water. Rest too was vital, therefore by the time I had travelled to the clinic, I’d sit waiting for my appointment, with my bottle of water, pretending to read my kindle, trying to switch off from the events going on around me.

At times I questioned whether it was worth it. Scans and blood tests were performed based on hormone levels and blood test results. The stage at which you are in the menstrual cycle too. Therefore appointments could even be on the weekend. Time I’d obviously rather have been spending with my daughter and husband. Not only that but quite often I’d have morning appointments and be told to wait around for results and depending on what they showed, have to have further tests. Numerous times I spent up to nine hours a day at the clinic. In between appointments I found myself walking alone aimlessly in a bid to pass the time, resenting this ‘wasted’ time, pining for my daughter.

I’d go to the front desk and sign myself onto the waiting list. The young girls behind the desk, doing their jobs, working their way through patient files, used to seeing many, many women each day. To them it was just that, their job. They answered questions and offered advice under the guidance of numerous specialists, but to them it was all a formality, paid the bills at the end of the day.

This may sound harsh and unfair, but that’s how it felt. That’s how it felt when we went for the results of my pregnancy test. We’d de-thawed and implanted two of our frozen embryos, in attempt number three. After sitting in the waiting room for what seemed an eternity, our names were called and we were taken to sit at one of the tables in the reception area. The receptionist sat down, and without hesitation, without sympathy, told us the news in a very matter-of-fact way that I was not pregnant, our third failure. She read the result from her file and made us feel like another statistic for the clinic. Another one to add to their failed treatment list. Of course it wasn’t her fault, but the way we were treated and the way she had referred to us as if we were just names and results on her list, only added to what had become a day we’d like to forget.

Moving onto the next stage

I’d been pregnant a second time. I’d told family and friends. I’d started to ‘show’, almost to the point of having to buy new clothes. That was hard, it was cruel. To be reminded of how it felt to be pregnant. Yes, I felt something wasn’t right. But there had still been something growing inside me, that I had made, a part of me.

With the amazing support from friends and family, which we will be eternally grateful for, we found the strength to move on with our lives. By this I mean to continue our attempts to complete our family. It’s a very personal decision, whether to share this extremely difficult and emotional time with those close to you. By telling them, I found it helped me. Because of this, I’d urge other to do the same. Let those close to you in. Let them help you as best they can. Of course they will never truly understand. But they care about you and their unconditional love and support is priceless.

We certainly needed support over the months which proceeded my miscarriage. An ultrasound revealed that my uterus was full of blood, which meant further time spent waiting. The endless periods spent waiting continued. This time for four long months.

I tried to go back to work. As a qualified teacher, I took a part time job in a private nursery. But to be honest my heart was never in it. I was distracted most of the time and remember on occasion clock-watching so I wouldn’t miss the next dose of medication. Unsurprisingly, the job was short-lived.

These four months were succeeded by a further hysteroscopy and laparoscopy. The hospital I was being treated at got to know me. Sad, but with a heavy heart I laugh about it now. Unfortunately what was found was no laughing matter. The D and C I had had was not complete and they found some of the pregnancy remaining inside me. There was still too much blood in my uterus and the scarring, which was dire already, had become worse just as I had been warned might happen.

It was at this point in our journey that the consultant we were with retired and moved his patients to another clinic. Of course, this was unsettling, but trying to see the positive in this, we registered with a new clinic and transferred our embryos to their care. Just to clarify, these were the embryos which we had frozen from our first attempt at IVF. And so it was here, at the third clinic we joined, where the third round of treatment commenced.

 

Round Two

And so it was, back to the hospital, back to the beginning, back in the throws of treatment. This time we tried IVF as opposed to ICSI. As ICSI hadn’t worked, we followed the advice of the specialist to try for a baby using IVF.

The phrase ‘It gets worse before it gets better’ pretty much sums up the events which followed. Two months after starting treatment I was pregnant. From the start I knew something was wrong. There was blood. A little blood can be ok, but there was too much. The panic phone calls to the hospital increased in volume. Who can blame me? We had numerous scans very early on, pretty much once I’d found out I was pregnant. The doctors kept telling me bleeding can happen and to stop worrying. But I knew. I’d go to the toilet and feel relief if there was no blood. Then go again and panic as it was dripping out of me.

Somehow though, we made it to twelve weeks and even at this point, I was told it all appeared to be ok, to try to relax. In an attempt to remain positive, we told family and friends our news. Still, there was a niggle in the back of my mind. Something wasn’t right. Mothers’ intuition, call it what you like. I just knew.

It was just a couple of days later that when I went to the toilet and felt more than just blood come out I knew. Knew what I’d suspected all along. This wasn’t a normal pregnancy. It was far from going smoothly. I needed a scan but it was a bank holiday. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my husband frantically calling all the private hospitals we could think of to try and get a scan. In the end we ended up going to a local A and E department in desperation.

I sat shaking in my husbands’ arms. Panicking, not knowing what to feel first. Scared, anxious and nauseous scratches the surface. After waiting what felt like an eternity, I was seen by a Doctor who was fresh out of Uni. She didn’t know what to do with me. Let’s just say after her examination, we were none the wiser what to do next. So home we went.

The next day we were back at the hospital for an emergency scan. I couldn’t look at the monitor. The monitor that was supposed to show my baby’s heartbeat. The baby that I had seen as a flicker on the screen in previous scans, even heard it. The baby that I had made with my husband. That the doctors had told me not to worry about. That we so desperately wanted. As I lay there, my husband sat next to me holding my hand. I couldn’t look at the monitor, so I looked at him. And I knew. His face was ashen. Our baby was gone. The flicker had gone, there was no baby. Just a black empty screen.

It didn’t just end there though. We were taken to a side room and given a choice. Did I want a D and C, did I want to allow the rest of the ‘pregnancy’ to just come out naturally, or would I take pills to cause what was left to exit my body. I couldn’t think straight after what just happened. How was I supposed to decide? In the end I chose to take pills, because having a D and C would make my internal scarring worse than it already was. This would also further decrease my chances of having another baby.

I was kept in overnight to be monitored and give the pills a chance to work. The following day I was still unwell, but blood tests showed that despite having an infection it wasn’t a bad one, so I was discharged and sent home from hospital. Little did I know, soon to return. My health deteriorated fairly rapidly and despite my reluctance to return, my husband forced me to go back to hospital. My body was shaking uncontrollably and he was scared. I was pretty much put on a drip as soon as we entered A and E. My blood pressure was very low and the infection had worsened. The pills hadn’t worked and that night at around midnight they had no choice but to perform a D and C.

The following few days were spent in hospital, recovering from this ordeal.