If the truth is to be told, I always struggled with how I might end this story. When I was writing it, I didn’t know the actual ending myself as I started just as I was about to start my first cycle. I didn’t know if we would be successful or if it would all end with just the three of us. What I did know for sure was that I didn’t ever want it to be a story with a ‘happily ever after’ cheesy ending. One where a baby popped out, we were happy and dreams always come true, the end. I was always nervous about the ending, not least because I wanted to know how my story would go, but I also was adamant that I never wanted to ostracise anyone who didn’t have a happy ending, whose fairy tale didn’t come true.
It was only as I was drawing to a close, a few months after the babies’ arrival, that a close friend insisted I had to say we had been successful and to tell people we had our babies. That was the truthful ending afterall. People want to know and people need hope she said! I agreed but I only wrote a short paragraph as I felt the birth and subsequent story was a whole different journey and not one I felt relevant to the readers of this particular book. It was only sometime later that two other friends suggested I write a chapter reflecting back on the journey, giving more information about what happened next and offering my thoughts on what I learned and how it affected us.
Each night I say to all three children: “Night night, I love you, my dreams come true.” I say it because I mean it, they are. They are my absolute dreams come true and prayers answered. Yet I know I’m fortunate and in giving the insight in this chapter, I in no way want to paint a perfect ending that might give an unrealistic glossy finish to fertility tales, but I do hope it offers hope, strength and faith to anyone who has found our story meaningful.
What happened next?
The pregnancy was fairly straightforward, though of course with twins everybody was extra cautious and I quickly grew to quite a size! In fact I was as big at 29 weeks with them as I was at 37 weeks when Zac was born.
Jason and I struggled for a long time to get our heads round the fact that we were actually pregnant. It was often too much to grasp that we were really going to have one other child, let alone two!
As soon as we had the seven-week scan, we were excited to tell our closest friends and families, confirming that there were two viable pregnancies with two strong heartbeats. After everything we had been through, we didn’t want to wait, didn’t see the point in keeping everyone guessing, when to be quite honest, the look of shock on our faces gave it away.
We were both excited but cautious to tell Zac. It was still early days, there was so much that could go wrong and neither of us wanted to put him through any pain that he didn’t need to experience just yet. At the same time, he was astute and sometimes nosey and I was adamant that we should be the ones to tell him and explain what was happening, rather than him overhear a conversation or for somebody else to let it slip.
Both grinning, we sat him down, and put his hand on my tummy. “Inside Mummy’s tummy there’s two babies!” Quizzically he said: “We’re going to have not just one, but two babies?” He couldn’t get his head round two, we’d only ever discussed one with him really, so he couldn’t understand how on earth two got in there! He was pleased but confused and not sure what it all meant really, but it was delightful to watch his little face light up and his smile grow as he tried to work it all out. We later found out he ran up to tell his teacher first thing the next day and told her all about it with great excitement.
We told wider family and friends on Christmas Day, ringing them all with our amazing news, which was made all the better for our family members, as my brother Andrew and Kate also announced that they too were expecting another baby, just 8 weeks later. Boy were we all lucky that we had been successful this time, perhaps most of all my brother, who had been dreading tell us their great news for days, in case we weren’t pregnant!
We visited my cousin Paula over Christmas and she brought out the double buggy she used for Zoe and Elin for me to try. I freaked! It was all too surreal. Holding the handles, looking down at the two empty spaces and listening to Paula’s giddy descriptions of how you folded it seemed all too much. It was like standing in someone else’s shoes and living someone else’s life. Paula then freaked Jason out by putting Elin’s new babies in his arms – triplets! They were lifelike tiny newborns, way too realistic for Jason and I to cope with and as he sat holding all three and then just two of them, Jason’s face was an absolute picture. One of acute embarrassment tinged with fear! It was a terrifying as it was funny.
Whilst I grew, so did our anxiety. I was excited but nervous. We weren’t sure whether to find out the genders at the 20 week scan but one day in Mothercare, I noticed two tiny vests, one with pink hearts and one with blue stars. I realised that I really did need to start believing because we had an awful lot of preparation to do. We were unable to really plan because we couldn’t get our heads round it and dare not believe it would happen. Not knowing the combination, whether, two boys, two girls or one of each just added to the mystery and ‘unreal’ situation. We truly didn’t mind what the combination was, we just needed to know, to believe.
As the sonographer scanned round my belly, I spotted that the first was a boy straight away, and having met Xavi, it’s true that he is definitely a show off. It took a little longer to see the second as they were a little more shy but when we both heard the words “yes, I’m pretty certain, yes, it’s a girl!”, Jason and I both cried. It sounds daft to write that it was a fairytale ending, but a boy and a girl seemed like the perfect combination for us. We would have loved both boys, yet two girls together would have been super special too, but our combo of a boy to play with Zac and a girl to shop with Mummy seemed so perfect we could hardly believe our luck. A baby boy AND a baby girl. Our joy was overwhelming.
Jason drove me straight back to Mothercare where I bought the two tiny vests, one pink hearts and one blue stars and I bought two tiny hats to match too. Placing both hats on my now large tummy, I walked into the office and shared the news. I sent a photo of the hats on my tummy to friends and family with the caption: “look what we just found out!” It was surreal.
We started to narrow down our name selection which again, helped us to take in and believe what was soon about to happen. Then we thought we should start seriously looking at buying equipment, changing the car for one that had space for three seats in the back, and preparing the nursery for two cribs!
By the beginning of May, I was starting to struggle a little with the weight of the babies. They weren’t huge and neither was my bump compared to some twin pregnancies and I was still only 28 weeks but the pressure on my pelvis was sometimes unbearable. Our little boy was at the top kicking hell out of my ribs and our little girl was down at the bottom pressing on my pelvis and cervix, so much so that by now, I was having to wear a supportive pelvic girdle. It was the least attractive but the most magnificent contraption ever! The pain had been so great one day that I literally couldn’t put a foot to the floor and had to crawl from the kitchen back to my desk on my hands and knees!
Apart from the pelvic pain and tightness across my abdomen as it stretched, I felt great and the babies were nice and lively. I did start to wonder if I would ever actually reach July though. The babies 40-week due date was 31st July but that seemed an eternity away and I literally thought I’d pop well before even the first of July the way I was going. I kept saying to people “I’m not sure I’m going to make July!”
I had a routine scan one Thursday, which went well, but confirmed Placenta Preavia. My obstetrician, who thankfully I knew from the IVF clinic, wasn’t worried but advised that he would book me in for a C-section at 38 weeks, which would have been 18th July. It was exciting to start to focus on the birth, the arrival of our much longed for babies, but it was also great to hear that they were doing well and cooking nicely.
Four days later, Sunday 12th May, I was curled up under a blanket snuggling with Zac on the sofa, watching the Got To Dance final we had recorded, when I instantly knew that the warm ‘whoooosh’ feeling was my waters breaking. I calmly got up and walked quickly to the toilet where, before I could sit down, another whoooosh came, but this time splattered the floor and walls with more water and what seemed like pints of fresh blood. I closed the door so Zac couldn’t see and shouted for Jason to call 999. I wasn’t going to make June never mind July! The twins were on their way.
Two hours later, after a blue light dash to Hull Royal, we were in theatre, nervously waiting to meet our babies. We were 29 weeks to the day.
Zac was being cared for across the road at Sara’s and Jason rang Jo to ask her to drive my Mum across, which she did and they then both stayed and looked after Zac for the next few days.
I’ll never forget Anya’s little kitten cry as she came out first, it was the most beautiful and welcome sound I have ever heard. Xavi was stuck and took some wriggling to get out but just 6 minutes later, we welcomed our second son. There was no sound and we later learned that he had to be worked on as they intrabated his tiny 2lb body. The next few hours are a blur for me. The neo-natal team were on hand to take over and they whisked our precious babies off to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit, stopping the transport incubators briefly by my head for me to see the tiny knitted bonnets peeping out.
The Hull NICU team cared for our babies and our family for the next ten weeks and on July 25th, just one week before their actual due date, we eventually took our babies home. During those weeks, Zac proudly told everyone about his new brother and sister and his Reception teachers and classmates made beautiful cards that were up in my hospital room, then in our lounge. Some days he was indifferent and frustrated and just wanted it to be the three of us again, wanting Mummy to himself. Other days he didn’t want to leave the unit, preferring to stay with me, helping me and busying himself with little jobs for the babies. The NICU team were as wonderful with him as they were with the little ones, drawing with him, teaching him how to wash his hands like a doctor and involving him fully so that he never ever felt left out.
Jason had quickly texted Dom and Emma to tell them I wouldn’t be coming in, understatement of the year! They both came to visit on the first Thursday and Dom had printed out a photo I had sent them of each baby and put them in a frame, with another frame in which he’d printed and mounted their names. I cried, as he said I would, but it was a lovely affirmation that we did actually have our babies, it had happened and they were real. I still have those frames and will never forget what they meant that day.
There were scary times, touch and go moments, endless tests that tested Jason and I to the limit. It was hard going for sure, but we also had some wonderful memories of our NICU journey, met new life long friends and it taught us so much about the value of the NHS and the wonderful people who looked after us.
For the second time, our lives were touched by a team that helped fulfil our dreams, this time to save rather than create our family, and once again we were overwhelmingly indebted. As the babies’ graduation day drew closer, I became extremely anxious that I needed each and every member of the team to know how much I loved them and how thankful I was. A box of chocolates somehow didn’t seem to do the job! That first year, with the help of family and friends, we raised £52,722 for the NICU team to buy a new transport incubator, cooling mat and a cooling cap to try to express our gratitude. One of the nurses reassured me that every NICU nurse understands how grateful we are because if they didn’t, they couldn’t do their job and I was pleased to hear her confirm that.
Three years on
And so, as the babies are now three and we are six and a half years on from when our journey for a second child started, it’s interesting to read back on what happened, read each chapter as if it were yesterday yet also strangely feels like it was a different lifetime.
Now, it’s like we were always going to have three children, that Zac was always going to have siblings to love and annoy him and yet, the truth behind everyday life still hasn’t escaped either Jason or I.
It is inconceivable to imagine our lives as anything other than a family of five. Jason and I, with our three children. Three children!? I still sometimes look at them all, especially the twins, and ask myself “how did that happen?” Our house is busy, noisy and, those who know us well would say crazy. It really is hard to ever remember when people didn’t think of us that way.
But there was a long time when we never thought it would happen, when we began to imagine life fast forward as just the three of us, of Zac growing up with just Jason and I. Whilst we enjoy life thoroughly now, it’s important to remember where we were, where we all came from and I have promised myself that all three children will always know what we went through. I want them to know how much they were wanted, how much we loved them before we knew them but most of all to know about the struggles some people still go through everyday just to have a family. I particularly want them to know what they inspired in Jason and I and how their very existence has driven us in a new direction.
Writing our story was certainly therapy for me, just as the fundraising was therapy following our NICU experience. I started writing as we embarked on our first round of IVF so it’s strange to read now some of the more prophetic paragraphs, now we know the outcome.
Zac asking for not just one baby but a brother and a sister, and the brother better be good at football! That’s exactly what he got! Me feeling that I was always going to have twins and Emma saying to me during the second cycle that she thought I’d have twins – and I did! There were times when we conceded that it might never happen and yet to read some of these paragraphs, it’s seems bizarre now knowing that it did!
After finishing the book, I was overwhelmingly driven to get it published to try to share the story and help others who might be struggling to extend their family. (It had also been a lifelong bucket list entry for me to have a manuscript published.) Each night as I sat with the laptop, tapping away till the early hours, I imagined a couple cuddling together on a sofa, feeling lonely and guilty for wanting another child, and with each word I typed I wanted to reach out and tell them, they should not feel guilty, they were not alone and it was OK to want more.
I launched a website and Facebook page and immediately that evening, I was overwhelmed with the positive response. I knew I had done a great thing by sharing my story, it was job done. Or rather as it turned out, the first job done. The positive feedback only gave me more to do!
In the first six hours of that first evening of the website launch on Facebook, it already had 50 likes, 14 shares and I had 4 orders for my book! And yet it was the 3 comments made on the homepage that meant the most.
Years before, sitting for literally hundreds of hours pouring my heart out into that laptop, often felt like the loneliest place on the planet. I will never forget the moment I read a paragraph in Zita West’s Guide to IVF (bible) that mentioned existing parents often had a feeling of guilt. At last somebody understood. That was me! I was shocked as I read the words but I was also immensely comforted. I’ll also remember the shock at learning that our situation actually had a name ‘Secondary Infertility’. At the time I felt relief as at last I felt ‘defined’, part of a group and suddenly not so alone. And now I had been able to do that for someone else.
To receive feedback that day from 3 people who were at the time in a similar situation and to have them overwhelmingly thank me for sharing my story is one of the strangest and most rewarding feelings I have ever felt. In the words of one:
“I honestly can’t relate to that enough. You have captured how I’m sure a million women feel. At a daunting yet exciting time, this had given me so much positivity for the future. I said to my husband tonight that it’s so liberating to feel like ‘Yes! Someone finally gets how I feel!’ I still have hope and it’s been made stronger today by your words. I honestly feel like the universe arranged for you to press that button today just as I needed it. Today you have honestly become my absolute hero. Honestly what you’ve done for me just today has been a total gift.”
I had always dreamed of getting this book published but that night, those words meant more to me than any Amazon listing or book in my hand. My dream of talking to that couple on a sofa somewhere and getting them to finally feel that they weren’t alone, was achieved that first night. I knew how she felt, she now felt understood. She didn’t feel so alone anymore and I hoped she could start to shake off a little of the guilt she had been carrying round.
Yet I felt immensely sad that despite launching on the world wide web, that friend lived just 10 minutes away and I’d known here for 14 years. We lived so near, yet when you are struggling alone, we live so far away. And so the dream and ambition grew just as soon as the first dream had been achieved. I needed to reach more couples.
When the sixth publisher knock back came, their words didn’t put me off, they ignited a further fire in me that continues to burn and propelled my life in a whole new direction I could never have dreamed possible. They told me they loved so much about the book, that I would be great in helping to market it but that we had fallen in two of their tick boxes in the final editorial commissioning meeting.
They didn’t feel there was enough of a market as nobody searched for Secondary Infertility on Amazon and the last Secondary Infertility memoir only sold 26 copies in 10 years! I was livid.
I spent £20,000, underwent 4 rounds of IVF and wrote this book before ever stumbling across the term ‘Secondary Infertility’ so of course never searched Amazon using it, nor Google for that matter! I searched for ‘Trying for another baby’ ‘Wanting a second child’. If I had known the term, I may have found some information that would have hugely helped, but then again I may not have felt compelled to write our story had I realised I wasn’t the only one in this situation. But the fact I didn’t know the term, the fact that I felt so alone and so horribly guilty and the additional fact that after launching a website about my book I was inundated with girls thanking me as they too were feeling alone, only fuelled my drive to get the book published.
I’ve learned so much since finishing the book and feel a real sense of purpose and responsibility to raise the profile of Secondary Infertility.
Secondary Infertility is still infertility. In many ways the symptoms and journey are much the same as those struggling to conceive a first child. Investigations, treatments and disappointment are common in both Primary and Secondary Infertility. You are still struggling to make a baby. It’s pain, just a different pain.
It is difficult enough to admit that your body is letting you down. It’s often excruciating to share your pain at yet another failed cycle and it’s harder than anyone realises listening to friends and family announcing a surprise pregnancy. When you already have a family but would like another child, there is a level of understanding that is absent. You have a child, so you should be happy that at least you have one, or that’s how others see it. Sometimes having that first child is the biggest driver for wanting another, in that you want to provide a sibling.
There isn’t a quota on having babies. Just because you have one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want or have another. Just as your wanting another won’t prevent someone else from conceiving their first child. Yet you feel greedy for admitting you want more. You have every right to have another child and you have every right to expect some sympathy and support when Mother Nature isn’t playing ball. Afterall, it’s the same old Mother Nature in all of us that kick starts the hormones and rattles our ovaries, teasing us with the desire for children in the first place!
Secondary Infertility has become a taboo, a shameful condition, one that sufferers feel guilty about having or talking about because they are the first to realise how lucky they are. They don’t need to be told to focus on the child they know they are already blessed with.
Anyone struggling to conceive another child, doesn’t want to offend Primary sufferers, indeed many were Primary sufferers themselves, as we were. Too often they are couples who choose to pretend they aren’t trying so as not to offend or to avoid confrontation. They struggle in silence. They feel alone. They in turn reinforce the stigma from which they feel so much pressure.
1 in 18 couples struggle with Secondary Infertility and feel alone. But that statistic itself is a contradiction. 1 in 18 are obviously not alone! That figure cannot be ignored, it’s far too many people.
Today, I still see it as my mission to help bring greater understanding, far greater empathy and much wider knowledge of the term Secondary Infertility and all its complexities. We need to help bring the subject and it’s sufferers out of the dark and into a society where it’s OK to say “I want another child.”
I am writing a second book, a self-help guide to Secondary Infertility, I have a website and manage social media pages, I write for Fertility Road magazine, I support the Hull IVF unit as a Patient Representative and work closely with Fertility Network UK as Media Volunteer on the subject.
What did I learn?
Every baby changes your life, but without doubt, all three of our children and the fight to have them, changed and shaped my life. I view the world and those around me completely differently. I view my own life, purpose and value completely differently too. If I had had three Bacardi Breezers, conceived naturally three times and popped out my three babies one after the other, I would be a completely different person to the one I am today.
Would I change it? Sometimes yes to be truthful. Not the outcome of course, but the journey, in some ways yes. I love what we have, our values, our beliefs, the insight into worlds we never knew existed definitely, but there are of course times when I still wish we had twenty grand in the bank or wonder what I used to fill my brain or life with before we went through all of this. When I read back and remember some of the darker days, yes sure, I wish we hadn’t had to go through them, wish I was less lined and more pert! I’d change some parts if I could for sure, and that’s just the honest truth.
And yet, every step, every painful event was just a chapter or step in life. And this was my destiny. I consider myself very, very fortunate. I don’t write about our experience for sympathy, far from it. I am very blessed and certainly don’t need sympathy. I write because there are those still battling and there are those who have had to give up the battle. Some can’t tell their story, either too pained or simply too shy. I can, and I will, in the hope that more understanding is given to this common situation.
It really is OK to want another child. It’s a natural urge, it’s not greedy, not selfish, it’s a human instinct that you can’t fight.
I also want to break the taboos of ‘fertility’. Just because you might need intervention, it doesn’t mean you deserve another child any less or that you or that child has any less value. “Are they IVF?” is sometimes said in such an insulting, demeaning way, almost referring to a child as a fake, or an easy shortcut, especially when you have twins. How lovely if fertility treatment could be embraced and celebrated, rather than the negative always being the focus.
I’ve also thought long and hard since reading back the pages just before our fourth cycle. We really did say that was our last attempt and I remember really meaning it too. We had given it everything in those 13 months and felt spent in every sense. I always say now that had we not been successful who knows, we may well have had another go, but at that time, I really did believe I couldn’t continue any longer.
I specifically remember re-evaluating my feelings. I was well into writing this book at the time and it already had the working title ‘More Love To Give’ as I felt this perfectly summed up how I felt at the time. Yet I do distinctly remember, after the incident at Zac’s football training and then in the office, considering that perhaps, when I felt I had more love to give, I was sometimes not looking in the right places to focus that love. That actually, I had spent so long chasing another baby, I could in fact be denying Zac more love and attention he needed or deserved. Sometimes wanting something so badly can turn your head away from what you have already. It truly felt that this was happening towards the end, such was the intensity of that year and I’m sure this feeling might have grown had we not been successful at the fourth attempt, but who knows?
I’m glad we did do the fourth cycle of course. There were times we had thought about not doing so, especially as I wasn’t in a positive place mentally as I had been previously. Thank goodness we did! Some people have asked if I think the change in my mentality and approach made the difference, but I can’t answer that question. Maybe? Maybe with the pressure off, it altered my body’s make up, but I’ll never know and I would never suggest this was the reason to anyone. I’m just glad that we did take the plunge and though today it’s hard work beyond my wildest dreams, I’m also glad we insisted on putting two embryos back too.
I know that the only time I felt relative content was when we were in the midst of a treatment cycle and few people understood that this was the only tonic to my torment during those 13 months. Other distractions did nothing but frustrate me from what I wanted to focus on and what those around me tried to distract me with. I should have perhaps realised more, that other people didn’t understand that. I got frustrated with them that they wanted to distract me but how could they have understood how I felt? In my head I know now that I was unfairly cross at them, but it’s easier to see that now, when I’m outside the intensity of the situation.
I can also now appreciate how difficult it really is seeing someone struggle with infertility, especially following a negative test, a period arriving, a failed cycle or indeed miscarriage or loss. There are no words to comfort I know that at first hand, and knowing that having someone there for you is sometimes all you need, still doesn’t make it any easier when I’m on the other side, trying to work out how best to help and support someone going through it.
Looking back, I really feel for those who were around me in the darker days, it must have been extremely hard for them too. I can really see that the treatment affected many people around me more than I realised and at the time, cared. Yet I do care now, I feel almost guilty at the testing times I put friends, family and work colleagues through in my single-minded quest to get pregnant. I was selfish at times, I was hard to be around and undoubtedly there were occasions when those close to us were hurting too and didn’t know how to console us. You can’t have regrets, but it is only now when I look back that I realise how much we put other people through it too. I did everything I could, with family, amongst friends and at work, to be the very best I could be under the circumstances to be who, and what, they needed me to be. I’ll never know if it was enough and I can’t change those times, but I can appreciate now that life was far from normal for many people that were close to me during those challenging months.
As with many challenges life throws at you, you can’t possibly fully understand until you are thrust in the situation yourself. People will always say or do the wrong thing because they are simply without the insight to know the correct thing to say or do – if that indeed exists.
I know now that when people said “just remember, you have Zac” they were only trying to get me to focus on a positive. Such was my pain at the time, I could only feel anger and frustration, but that’s perhaps more at their ignorance of the pain their words would cause, rather than at them as a person.
The right to have a second child should not be down to money, to whether you can afford to pay for the treatment. In the US, whether you can proceed with IVF depends on whether your insurance company covers fertility treatment and sadly many are surprised to learn it doesn’t. In the UK, for those who are trying for a first child, where you live, currently determines how many IVF attempts you get for free on the NHS with differing health authorities offering different numbers. However, whether you had treatment the first time or not, if you already have had a child, you are not entitled to any free IVF treatment if you are struggling to conceive a second. We spent the best part of £20,000 to conceive our children, not a penny of which I regret, but it was a lot of money to find that other families simply do not have to.
We were lucky in that respect, we did have the money, but it breaks my heart to hear of those couples that aren’t fortunate enough to have the money to try again but whose instinct is no doubt still as strong as mine was. The World Health Organisation defines fertility as a “disease of the reproductive system” and yet treatment is not as readily available as it is for other diseases. And, where you haven’t previously used NHS resources for a previous child, yet your reproductive system for some reason isn’t working for a second child, this currently determines that you are not entitled to any free treatment? It doesn’t make sense to me and I’m glad that Fertility Network UK is working hard to right what I believe is a wrong.
There are some people who will forever be in my heart and who I will always think about as my children grow up. The IVF team at Hull were an outstanding group of people who were highly skilled in their field, but were also exceptional at dealing with our needs as a couple. They knew when to focus, to be professional but they also knew when to laugh, to make me laugh and to make the whole process as easy as possible. Undoubtedly there are times when their job is extremely difficult, sad and frustrating and I regret those times for them when I know they want a positive outcome for every client. We share updates about the children with them, as well as the NICU team, and I hope our regular visits go some way to bring a smile as they see them all grow and make them realise how valued they really are.
Who knows why some couples get pregnant easily, some find it difficult and some just never at all. There were no answers why we failed three times with IVF and that was always hard to accept. Yet perhaps what was harder was the fact that in the end, despite throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it, our success was possibly down to luck and fate. The fact that there isn’t any pearl of wisdom that I can pass on to those about to start IVF that will really make any difference is extremely frustrating.
It would be easy to close this chapter of our lives, watch our children grow up and forget about a period that was painful and has now passed. Does it matter how our children came to be? Does any of it matter now that they are here, that our dream came true?
I felt guilty at my innermost thoughts and desires, I felt worthless that I couldn’t do something for my son and I felt alone; the knowledge that I wasn’t alone and that there are still couples struggling mean it does matter. It matters a lot.
Secondary Infertility matters because 1 in 18 couples are struggling with it. If the journey to having my children results in a legacy of helping just one of those couples, then, as painful as it was, it was indeed worth it and I am super proud of my family for inspiring us.
You are not alone. You should not feel guilty. It is OK to want more.
Secondary Infertility Matters.