Jennifer, 36, Laois, Ireland

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What is your story of strength?

Without a doubt, the hardest challenge I’ve ever had to go through was IVF. My husband and I got married when I was 29 and I always knew we wanted to have children but it never crossed my mind I’d have problems having children. I think it’s something you take for granted as a right. It wasn’t on my radar to try immediately when we got married. We wanted to enjoy our lives and each other and being married. About three years later, nothing had happened and was at the doctor for something unrelated and while I’m here I should ask. We’d been trying – or at least not not trying for three years. It dawned on me that it should’ve happened by now. The doctor said try not to think about it –and gave us the old advice–  relax and it’ll happen. Come back if you want if it persists.

We started doing the tests to see if everything was ok. That was in 2012 and they found out that I didn’t ovulate on my own so they put me on a hormone drug that affects your sleep, your moods. I’d be at work and get hot flashes. I was on it for 6 months and it was really challenging and it had a major impact on me and my approach to the fertility issues. I started going online and looking for advice.

I heard about this drug, Clomid and took it for one or two or three months. Six months in and it wasn’t working for me. All of these little failures started to build up in my mind…..

Every time the wall got higher and higher and seemed impossible to be able to get over. So I went back to the consultant and they sent me for slightly more invasive tests. They found out that one of my fallopian tubes was blocked. Coupled with that and no ovulation on your own, they told me that your best chance of having a child is through IVF. After all those tests and everything I still thought it would just happen. I still thought they’d tell me I was fine. It was a shock all over again.If you’re told you’re fine, off you go and keep trying then it is almost worse. Eventually, thankfully, we knew there was a problem, at least we could make a plan and do something.

In walked this man who looked like he’d been dragged from something much more interesting.He opened his little flip chart and went…yeah yeah yeah you’re going to need IVF. Any other questions? I had 20 million questions but I couldn’t think of on! Gavin (my husband) looked at me and we were both shocked. My heart sank to my feet, I thought this is us- IVF . The wall got higher again. For a week or two I was numb with the news.

Maybe that sounds dramatic. But I just never considered that that could be us. From that moment on it consumed my life and every thought. What do we do? How much is it going to cost? It was a huge shock that took a while to sink in. And the odds. When you understand the possibility that it might never happen. And if it doesn’t, will it be okay? Will our marriage be ok? It was always part of our life plan- to get married and have kids and live happily ever after.

…. We both knew what we both wanted. If you have a dream or a goal that you assume will happen and it is taken away, it is the most difficult. But after about a month of crying I started to get excited.

I’m not particularly religious and I don’t believe in magic miracles, but rather that life leaves you little signs dotted about. About two weeks later there was something in the newspaper about a couple who did IVF with a new technology that dramatically increased the odds of getting to a successful pregnancy. And I thought that’s the clinic for us- we need to go through. I thought, you’re literally putting all your eggs in one basket.

We made an appointment and went through everything that’s involved. I asked what the odds are. The odds of taking home a baby is about 30%. I said, that’s crazy! She looked at me as if I was crazy. I said are you telling me we go through all of this, it’s only 30%. I thought oh, dear god, how do people do this. I started to feel more positive. IT was a 30% greater chance then we had the day before.

I got to a point at my lowest point, I found it difficult to be around pregnant women or celebrations because those celebrations were part of something I thought would always happen and then it was taken away. (Story continued below)

Can you  talk about a time when you struggled or disappointed yourself?

Your mind makes you think, if there are no issues with my husband, then it’s my fault. If he had married someone else he’d already have kids right now. And all these negative thoughts flood in. It’s a constant battle to let the negative thoughts go.

How much stress impacts you is often underestimated. With IVF they make a special plan for you. The first time is kind of a test run to see how your body reacts to things. There are no guarantees. It’s a constant waiting for things- for appointments, for the drugs, for cycles, etc. I’m the kind of person who says okay let’s go do it. I wanted to do it now and not wait 3-4 months. But I was constantly stressed. It wrecks your body.

My husband felt a bit useless at this point. So he brought me home a present the first night of injections because he felt a bit useless as I poked myself with needles to take the drugs prescribed by the clinic. You have to go in every couple of days. We were going in and things looked great. The fourth day they were less positive and then she told us it isn’t working. My body wasn’t responding. That was my lowest moment. We’ve had so many setbacks and failures and the answer I thought maybe could work. It was impacting my whole life. I wasn’t doing well at work anymore,  I wasn’t functioning in my relationships.

It consumes your whole life. I can’t emphasize how consuming it is, it takes over everything. Thankfully Gavin and I both knew we had to keep talking to each other. It’s a tough thing for a couple to go through but it made us stronger. So I decided to take a break. That was the best thing we did. We enjoyed life again, we went to Christmas parties. It was like coming home again. I forgot there was more to life than that. And it reassured me that if all this stuff didn’t work it reminded me that I would be happy if it never happened.

2014 I started thinking about it again. I was afraid to start all over again. The second time around I split it into little challenges and it made it more manageable for me to approach it the second time around. 12 eggs were viable this time around. So we waited again. We kept getting over little hurdles. But I’d over-responded to the drugs. I had developed something called over-stimulation syndrome. I was like the kid out of Willy Wonky – the blueberry that keeps growing. So they tried again.

After a while, we were able to freeze the eggs and I had to prepare myself after more delays (but I was actually more relaxed). Eventually, when they put it on the screen you get to see the embryo and it comes out in a little tube. That’s my potential child in a tube! She showed us a video of our potential child being conceived. They put the embryo in. And you’re afraid to move. What if I sneeze? And those two weeks of waiting were the worst of my life. The waiting! Everyday you’d think I could be pregnant and then devastated because you don’t ‘feel’ pregnant. I was clinging to the possibility it’d work. The night before the test, Gavin slept like a log like it was a normal night. I lay awake all night. I went into do the test.  I was nearly sick at how nervous I was. It was scary. I left the room and made Gavin look. I was convinced it hadn’t work. Next thing I heard Gavin shout, Jen what does it mean there are two lines on it. He fished out the packet to check and he says no it worked. I cried for 30 minutes, all the overwhelming emotion of the months and months of trying.

But one of my big questions through all of this was–  why is fertility shameful? No other medical conditions are shameful. It made me want to talk about it more. I started a blog for other women, The Scenic Route, to create a community for women to help each other through this.

What does being a woman mean to you?

Strength. Absolute strength. What women are capable of is amazing. I learned a lot about myself and what I can do, how I deal with challenges and the strength and resilience of women. Women are completely underestimated.

How can women better support each other?

By accepting each other. I think we underestimate ourselves. Something I’ve seen since becoming a mother is how judgy we are. I really struggled with breast-feeding, for example, and I was really hampered in that by other women’s opinions of me. That is something we need to change.

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