Joy and pain of IVF couples

It could be easy to underestimate the wide-ranging effects of infertility on couples trying for a baby. Here two young women tell of their experience of fertility treatment and how it has affected their lives

SUCCESS

Emma Downs, 34, a teacher, lives in Manchester with husband Danny, 35, a solicitor, and their baby Leo James.

We were struggling to conceive so we started off by going to our GP and were referred for some tests. The results showed that I was OK, but there was a problem with Danny’s sperm. We discovered he was a carrier for the cystic fibrosis gene, which can cause fertility problems in men – the tube that carries sperm doesn’t develop properly or becomes blocked. In an instant we were shattered. We were totally devastated, with our dreams of having a family suddenly looking terribly bleak.

Infertility is brutal. It rips you apart, and deals an unfair and bitter blow to couples like us everywhere. It is a terrifying prospect because all the figures they give you just highlight the fact that fertility treatment doesn’t work for everyone. At the end of the day, not everyone will be lucky enough to have their own much longed-for baby and that’s an awful prospect.

I will never forget the moment we first saw our embryos – our babies – on screen

From the start we tried to be optimistic, which is much harder than it sounds. We had intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a fertility treatment which involves injecting a single sperm directly into an egg in order to fertilise it, as in our situation this treatment was the only option. Our first attempt in 2011 failed which was a massive blow.

The grief that hit us afterwards was very hard to deal with. It’s difficult to explain how terrible it makes you feel. There were lots of tears, of course, and a massive sense of loss; a lost opportunity and an awful situation that we could do absolutely nothing about.

As a couple it was hard as well because life has to go on; we had to function as normal, go to work and live our lives, but underneath there was another side that nobody saw.

Despite the sadness, we really tried to stay positive. We knew there was no guarantee of success and we had to accept that it might never happen, that it might never work for us. Otherwise, it would have just been impossible to cope with. But at the same time, we knew we just had to carry on because we so very much wanted a family of our own.

Last summer we had our second go. I will never forget the moment we first saw our embryos – our babies – on screen. I just couldn’t believe it. It was absolutely a life-changing moment. And then in March this year, Leo was born weighing seven pounds. We were so lucky and it is just brilliant being the three of us.

Our baby Leo is the best thing that has ever happened to us and we appreciate each second we are with him. He is now ten weeks old and is absolutely perfect. He is a complete little joy, who has transformed our lives completely. We very much feel that we are a family now.

HOPE

Bryoney Abell, 33, a personal assistant, lives in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, with husband David, 37, a structural engineer.

Being told you may never have your own child was the most devastating blow we could have imagined. It rocked our whole world as we had to consider possibly facing the future as a couple – just the two of us.

Now, for David and me, it feels like a double whammy as the doctors can’t find anything wrong, so it’s a bit of a mystery. I have had two unsuccessful cycles of IVF, both on the NHS, and each time our embryos simply didn’t ‘stick’ in my womb. I am now preparing for my third cycle and we feel as if our lives are totally on hold as we tread the precarious, unpredictable, debilitating path that is IVF treatment.

With each loss comes overwhelming sadness, grief and utter despair, but life has to go on. We work, we keep busy and we manage to keep on smiling, but the smiles don’t mask our pain. The reality is that we are just going through the motions as we battle to keep our emotions in check. I know that I steer clear of friends with babies, and cross the road to avoid meeting someone who is visibly pregnant because it is simply too raw and painful. I find that the best thing to do is to avoid the situation.

It’s difficult to understand how it feels not to be able to choose if you have your own family. It’s like being sucked into a black hole that you don’t know if you will ever get out of. And right now it affects absolutely every aspect of our lives because we want to have our own child so much.

It has definitely changed us. Maybe not on the outside, but on the inside I know there are bits of my character that I don’t recognise because I behave in a totally different way when I am faced with someone who is pregnant. I don’t want to feel like this, I want to feel like ‘me’ again.

Everyone has to develop their own coping strategy. Although I work, it’s important for me to keep busy in all sorts of other ways and I help out with various local charity events. This makes me feel that I am at least filling my time by doing something positive and worthwhile, and giving something back. For now, as we face our third IVF cycle, it feels as if someone has once again pressed the ‘pause’ button – that our life is on hold and there’s nothing we can do to speed it up.

Hopefully one day it will be our time to become parents. We can’t imagine a future without children, so we have to try and put our faith in science and medicine. To hear about other people’s IVF success gives us hope. It does work, so for now we carry on, hoping that next time the result will be different.