INFERTILITY: A THREE-PART JOURNEY – PART TWO

In the second blog of our three-part series, James Horrax continues his journey through infertility…

Image: ING Images.Image: ING Images.

So you’re infertile. You’re in great company. NHS Choices estimates that around one in seven couples in the UK have difficulty conceiving. That shakes out to be 3.5 million people in the UK. 

Paraphrasing Stalin, 3.5 million is a statistic. Facebook reckons an adult will have an average of 338 friends. Roughly 48 of them will have difficulty getting pregnant. If you play for a Sunday League team, at least two of your team mates will suffer. Play poker with a few buddies? One of them will know the pain of wanting something so natural but seemingly impossible to achieve. 

So what options do these people have? 

You could continue to try naturally. ‘Trying’ is the most earnest term I’ve heard for procreating. When the reality of infertility sinks in, you will hear of the friends of friends’ who after 30 years ‘trying’ miraculously had quintuplets. Whenever we were told of these people, it had the effect of being both cruel and undermining. It was effectively a shrugged ‘why worry? You’ve got loads of time anyway…’

Some ventured that ‘relaxing’ might help and this counted as a thoughtful sentiment. If only I knew all it took was an Ibiza Chill Out album to create life…

If it sounds like I’m being harsh, I apologise, but I know how babies are made. I wished the well-wishers could understand the problem wasn’t the ‘method’ (unless I’m thoroughly misinformed and been doing it wrong all these years) or our mental state. Plenty of crazy people have children – look how many Kardashians there are for a start! Our problem was the equipment we were using was 'malfunctioning'.  

Those who adopt are made of truly special stuff – an inner strength which I only wish I possessed. Quite aside from the state vetting you to the nth degree, as if the torture of wanting what you can’t have isn’t bad enough, some paper-pusher gets to run their thumb over you more thoroughly than any other parent I know. There are waiting lists and that is before you get to the unknown child(ren) you adopt, some of whom are there by virtue of the most heartbreaking stories you will ever hear. 

We opted for an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) process called intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The process requires embryologists taking an egg from a woman’s ovaries and injecting it directly with a single sperm cell. Sounds simple enough I suppose, once you get beyond how remarkable that is. But there is no certainty of success. In fact, IVF is reportedly successful in just a third of women under the age of 35

The reality is bruising literally and metaphorically. My wife had a total of 37 self-administered injections in 24 days. Down-regulation (which resets the reproductive system, like a temporary menopause), followed by stimulation which prompts the ovaries to grow on occasion upwards of 20 eggs at once. Her stomach looked like a paint-by numbers.

It is never wise to muse about the moods of women, especially given the grief we are capable of as a gender. However, if you thought the fairer sex were hard to understand normally, ICSI squared that confusion and multiplied it by 100. One moment my wife was in fits of laughter, the next in floods of tears. The hormones involved were terrible, powerful and sadly all too necessary.

Once a trigger shot (the final injection) was administered, the clever white coats extracted the eggs under local anesthetic using a 30cm bargepole needle. Simultaneously, I was asked to provide my contribution. Two immediate observations come to mind about this process:

It is far easier on the guy than the woman – doubling the guilt I wrote about in my first piece and…

The material provided for assistance was… well… retro. Never have I cursed poor 4G coverage as much.

There then followed update calls. How many fertilized? Are they dividing normally? Are they healthy? 

We were fortunate. Several had reached the magical five-day point. We were ready for transfer – where the lab boffs returned two precious embryos back in to my wife. 

An agonising two-week wait followed before we peed on a stick... 

Finally: we were pregnant!

Next month, James will look at pregnancy.

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Guest Wednesday, 13 December 2017