After marrying, Adrienne longed for a baby. After 12 years and IVF she knows it is not to be ... this is her story.
Starting tonight on BBC NI, Bangor couple Adrian and Adrienne Lowry are among three couples who share their journey to try and start a family. They talk to Stephanie Bell.
It doesn’t appear to be in Adrienne Lowry’s nature to wear her heart on her sleeve and she is both surprised and embarrassed by her own tears as she attempts to convey the toll which fertility treatment has taken on her and husband Adrian.
The Bangor couple endured the intense highs and lows of four failed cycles of treatment in a fraught journey lasting almost a decade before deciding last year that enough was enough.
Having started out with such high hopes, their dreams of having a little baby of their own are now shattered and the couple is instead hoping to adopt.
Adrienne (40), a self-employed bookkeeper, and her husband Adrian (43), a hospitality manager, who live in Bangor, are one of three local couples who allowed their fertility journey to be filmed for a new documentary starting tonight on BBC1.
The Baby Makers is a four-part observational series following the couples as they embark on and go through the emotional rollercoaster that is fertility treatment.
The cameras captured Adrienne and Adrian on their final attempt to become parents as they go through a course of ICSI (Intra-cytoplasmic Sperm Injection) treatment.
Tragically for them it didn’t work out and the decision to quit both for financial reasons and because of the terrible emotional toll was a difficult one.
One year on and the couple are still struggling to come to terms with the finality of not being able to do what many take for granted and become parents.
There is the added frustration of being told that they are both healthy with no obvious reason for not conceiving.
It’s clear that the pain is still quite raw for Adrienne but she stops short of using the word devastating, even though it’s the one feeling which instantly springs to her mind.
“Devastating — yes, but I can think of worse things that could happen in your life than not having children. We reconciled ourselves with the fact we were never going to have a baby of our own by appreciating that we have a great relationship.
“I don’t think I can say how I feel. I don’t think I can go there.
“It’s a tragedy and it’s terrible to know that you are not going to have this sweet little baby with dimples in your arms.
“All my friends have children and they share all their good times with me and that has been wonderful.
‘We always hoped that it would work ... it never occurred we wouldn’t be parents’
Different way: Adrienne Lowry is now hoping to adopt. Top right, with husband Adrian during |fertility treatment and (inset) the ICSI process of |fertilisation
Strong bond: Adrian and Adrienne are now hoping to adopt after the devastating news
‘You are entitled to one free course of IVF on the |National Health’
“Adrian has been a star and sometimes I think he wants children even more than me because he comes from a big family of five boys and there are lots of grandchildren.”
Her husband Adrian’s biggest struggle has been in coming to terms with the unfairness of knowing that neither he nor Adrienne is medically unfit to be parents.
He said: “I think if after we had gone through the preliminary examinations and they had said it wasn’t working because my sperm count wasn’t quite right or there was a reason behind it, then it might have been easier to deal with. There would have been something to blame and an explanation and maybe we could have done something about it.
“When they come back and tell you it is non specific and you ask what does that mean and they tell you that there is nothing wrong with either of us we just haven’t managed to have kids, to a certain extent it feels like you are being picked on.
“You read about people going out and having a one night stand and getting pregnant and then there are people like us who want to be parents and who after 10 years it hasn’t happened.
There is no reason and that just seems unfair.”
As many as one-in-six couples will seek professional help to conceive and in Northern Ireland the government offers just one course of fertility treatment free to each couple, making it an expensive process as well as one fraught with high emotion.
Adrienne was 28 when she married Adrian 12 years ago. The couple decided immediately that they would start trying for a family.
When nothing had happened after two years they sought medical advice and because of their age were told that they should consider treatment.
Adrienne said: “Thirty is considered old to be a mother and as you get older your chances of conceiving continue to decrease, so as you would have expected we were advised to investigate it.
“You are entitled to one free course of IVF on the National Health Service but you have to go on a waiting list to get onto the IVF waiting list and the whole thing takes about two years.
“We decided to pay for a course in the meantime and it costs almost £5,000 a pop.
“We were lucky in that my parents paid for it.
“I know I’m very lucky that they were willing to pay for their grandchildren. They just knew how much we wanted it.
“We went to Origin in Belfast. I found them absolutely brilliant, they made me feel so relaxed and their staff explained everything to us fully.
“We had IVF and nothing happened but nothing prepared us for nothing happening.
“It wasn’t even in our heads that the egg wouldn’t fertilise.
“The thing with us was that both of us were healthy, although the number of eggs I was producing was on the lower end of the scale.
“Being told there is no reason for it not to be happening leaves you not knowing what you can do to make it better so it’s very frustrating.
“It did mean though that the blame thing didn’t come into it either and so there was no one person feeling bad because they thought it was their fault.”
The couple went through IVF in 2007 expecting to get pregnant.
Adrienne said: “When it failed we were dumbfounded. We were both shell shocked. I’m very figures-orientated because I am a bookkeeper and so I was thinking about the fact that we were £5,000 down and I know that’s a terrible way to think about it but it’s just the way my mind works.
“With IVF the sperm and egg are put onto a plate or test tube and left to do the work themselves.
“The next time we had ICSI which is different because they pick the healthiest sperm and egg and inject the sperm straight into the egg and with hindsight, we should never have had IVF, we should have immediately gone for ICSI.”
Such was the shock of the treatment failing that the couple decided to take a break for a year before trying again. Even though Adrienne says second time round they went in with their eyes wide open and a more realistic attitude to the outcome, there was a cruel period when they were overjoyed that her egg had fertilised this time.
Adrian was working in England and Adrienne had stayed with her parents for support as she waited on the phone call from the hospital.
“I just couldn’t believe it and I was jumping all over the house and my parents were in tears.
“I was just so delighted even though I knew it didn’t mean I was pregnant as the egg was not inside my body yet but we felt it could happen and that was amazing.”
After the egg was implanted into Adrienne’s body the couple faced an agonising two weeks waiting to discover if she was pregnant.
“It was that feeling you get the two weeks before a holiday — it just seemed to last forever,” she said.
Her voice catches with suppressed emotion as she recalls the disappointment at the end of that agonising two week wait.
“I don’t know if I expected it or not but when the pregnancy test was negative I was incredibly sad. It was very tough for my family and friends as well as there was nothing they could do apart from be there for us.”
Before each of their four cycles of treatment, the couple spent months preparing, cutting out alcohol and caffeine for four months and eating healthily.
Adrienne said: “You get into the way of it but there are high emotions and big lows when it doesn’t work.
“We were always hopeful it would work and it never occurred to us that we couldn’t ever be parents.”
The finality is something which they each still find hard to accept even as they start out on another lengthy journey to become adoptive parents.
Adrian said: “We both would have loved a child of our own and we are well grounded people and would have provided a child with a good life.
“For some reason we have been chosen not to have any children and we have to learn to live with that.
“There are still some days when you watch TV or read the paper or just see families out and about and it hits you that it is never going to happen to you.
“Those are the bad days. I think it is probably worse for women than it is for a men as they will miss out on carrying the baby for nine months and having that whole bonding thing.
“But is tough on men as we want to be providers and when someone tells you it’s not going to happen that is horrendous.
“As a man, seeing someone you love deeply suffering, all you can do is be supportive. There is an emotional trauma put on you and you have to be strong-willed to go through it in the first place.”
Just last week Adrienne attended her first meeting to discuss adoption.
It was a meeting which she approached with some apprehension but left feeling reassured.
She said: “There was a couple there talking about their experiences of adopting and how for them it never felt that the children were not their own.
“That was very encouraging for me.”
Adrian added: “I’m 43 now and ready to look after someone and teach them everything I have learned.
“All I want to do is give a child a better life and the benefit of family that I have enjoyed.
“When you hear what some kids go through it is horrendous and they are treated so cruelly and yet to Adrienne and I, they would be so precious.”
Despite their disappointing fertility journey, Adrienne said she would encourage anyone wanting a family to take whatever treatment they can.
She added: “Definitely, 100%, I would encourage them to go for it. If we had never done it we would always have been asking ‘what if?’.
“It would have been hanging over us for the rest of our lives.”
...other couples taking part
You can follow the Lowry’s journey tonight in the new BBC series The Baby Makers.
Viewers will also get to see the step-by-step process of IVF and the delicate scientific procedure which takes place in the fertility clinic laboratory.
The first programme also features the story of Alison and Shean, who long for a second child.
During the series, viewers will also meet Jude and Brian, who are having fertility treatment for the first time, and Eilish, a woman whose IVF treatment resulted in the birth of twins.
Plus, the documentary features a 24-year-old who has made the unusual decision to donate her eggs and a woman who wants to freeze her eggs for use in the future.
The Baby Makers witnesses the work of embryologists, doctors and nurses who specialise in fertility treatment, hoping to make would-be parents’ dreams come true. Director Edel O’Mahony says: “We are very privileged to have witnessed the real journeys of these women and men as they go through fertility treatment.
“While it can sometimes be a harrowing experience, with no guarantee of a successful outcome, these stories show us how scientific advances have not only given us more choice but more importantly, more hope.”
The Baby Makers, a Waddell Media Production, is on BBC One NI, tonight, 10.35pm