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Home Life Weekend

Yvonne Hogan: IVF worked and I cannot believe our luck, but it almost broke me

As European Fertility Week gets under way, Yvonne Hogan shares her painfully honest account of the trials and tribulations of trying for a second child through IVF while in her 40s

Yvonne Hogan with daughters Ava (5) and Eloise (9 months) McCarthy
Yvonne Hogan with daughters Ava (5) and Eloise (9 months) McCarthy
Yvonne Hogan with daughters Ava (5) and Eloise (9 months) McCarthy

By Yvonne Hogan

My story of fertility is, I would wager, a pretty common one among women of my generation. I focused on my career for most of my 30s and put off parenthood until I was pretty much where I wanted to be.

I married at 33 and, at 37, my husband and I decided to try and have a baby. I then became pregnant with my first child, my daughter Ava, who arrived two weeks before my 38th birthday.

Motherhood knocked me for six. The absolute joy of having a little baby was matched with absolute exhaustion.

Once I went back to work, the busy schedule and bone tiredness left no room for any future planning.

I was determined that being a mother wouldn't derail my career. I more than spent myself trying to do both.

Ava was almost two years old before we even entertained the idea of a sibling, and when we did, we assumed the next baby would appear on demand.

Month after month after month of disappointment and lack of success led us to IVF.

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By this point I was 41, but in my naivety I was entirely confident that I would get a baby first time because my fertility had been proven.

I was excited to start IVF since I assumed it was the silver bullet that would right the wrong and ensure I was holding a baby within the year.

I was so confident that I didn't bother reading up on it, or paying any attention to how many follicles I had, or what size they were at each visit, or the many other things that over the next couple of years I would come to obsess over.

I didn't even Google my odds of success. I just administered the shots, took the tablets and arrived at the clinic at the prescribed time to be sedated for my egg collection.

When I came to afterwards, I learned that I had already ovulated and there were no eggs left to collect.

I wasn't devastated, but I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that IVF wouldn't work first time.

The idea that there were variables that could affect the outcome, uncontrollable variables like how your body responds to particular drugs at particular times, had never once entered my head. I had firmly believed that IVF was a certainty.

I don't know if it was entitlement, hope, arrogance or ignorance - probably a mix of them all - but over the next couple of years, it was knocked out of me, along with optimism as a default position.

For the duration of those lonely, forlorn years, I lost the ability to be wholly present with my daughter and husband and to enjoy anyone or anything fully.

Fertility treatment isolates. It dictates your schedule and events that are important in the real world mean nothing to you, whose days are charted on an entirely different, hormone-driven clinical calendar that requires forensically timed shots in the middle of the night and visits to the clinic at the turn of a blood test.

You turn down invitations, cancel important plans last minute and, as time goes by, you dissociate from everything and anything that might get in your way.

This week, to mark the start of European Fertility Week, a group called European Fertility (EF) organised a roundtable at the EU Parliament to lobby decision-makers on a number of issues related to infertility.

EF wants the EU to recognise the right to try for a child as a human right, to ensure equal, fair and safe access to fertility treatments, to publicly fund treatments, to ensure better education about fertility and infertility and to take measures to reduce the stigma of infertility.

This is all very welcome, because sustained fertility treatment slowly but surely leeches the colour and vibrancy from every part of your life - your work, your parenting, your friendships, your relationships with your family, and it absolutely invades and colonises your romantic relationship.

Although you are ostensibly on a shared quest, it cleaves you from your partner, because no matter what reason that led you to a fertility clinic in the first place, with IVF it is your body, your eggs, your womb, your success, your failure.

The second time, things went according to plan and I became pregnant. I was pregnant for 19 weeks until a scan revealed that the baby, a boy, had died.

As I waited in hospital to deliver this baby, I wondered if we were being punished for interfering with nature, for pushing through the natural order and forcing into existence what was never meant to be.

The shame was reinforced by secrecy - we had told no one of our struggles, other than one friend of mine who was in a similar position. No one knew that this was an IVF baby. This tempered my grief, made me feel guilty, ashamed, at fault and not fully entitled to feel the loss.

My daughter was now three years old and had been so looking forward to becoming a big sister. I had to fix this. I had to have another baby and, as soon as my body had recovered enough, I was back at the fertility clinic to go again.

Another positive pregnancy test. Too cautious to celebrate yet, I went to the clinic for bloods to confirm, which they did. I opted to return 48 hours later to ensure the hormone levels were doubling as they should, and they were not.

I waited three weeks for a scan to see what was going on, and two embryos had implanted, one non-viable and one with a too slow heartbeat. Over the following two weeks, I was back twice to the maternity hospital where I had my daughter and birthed my lost son, waiting for this too slow heartbeat to stop, so I could have a D&C and get back to magicking my new baby.

I say magicking, because at this point I became convinced that if I just found the right combination of supplements, alternative therapies, positive thinking and modifications to my diet, the IVF would work.

Which, if you are reading this and currently going through IVF, is complete and utter bulls***.

There are lots of people outside the fertility clinics making lots of money from people like us. Some of them mean well, but none of them have any science or proof behind them. Successful IVF is the result of a good egg, good sperm, the right laboratory conditions and a whole lot of luck.

We were blessed with such luck. We tried again and we became pregnant with another wonderful daughter, Eloise, who was born the day before my 43rd birthday. She turns two this year and it is only now that we are able to look back on those crazy IVF years with any sort of perspective.

I can now see how close to madness I came in my quest for a baby. It is only now that my husband and I have started to talk about how hard, how tortuous those years were for both of us, to both of us. It has changed our relationship utterly. We are in some ways a lot closer, but there is a lot of hurt and sadness and frustration and disappointment that is yet to be processed.

It is only now that I see my husband, that I can acknowledge that this journey was as hard for him as it was for me. I didn't allow myself to consider his feelings going through it, because I couldn't countenance a whiff of dissent, or a suggestion that maybe we had endured enough.

People are hesitant to talk about infertility and fertility treatments for many reasons. For me, the secrecy was partly pride, partly shame. Mostly, it was about self-preservation, so I could continue on my mission. It worked out for us and I still can't believe our luck, but it almost broke me.

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