In Vitro Fertilisation treatment (IVF) is a tough journey, but the success rates are on the up as science and knowledge improves. I never really understood what friends, who were having IVF treatment had gone through, until I did it myself.
After 2.5 years of trying naturally Chris and I realised that we were going to need some help, by now I was 44 and the clock was most definitely ticking away. IVF seemed the best next option, we talked about adoption but knew that this could take years and that at our age, it was unlikely that we would be given babies. I was also worried about how Chris would cope with the invasive process, that you understandably must go through, so it was IVF or nothing.
We started researching clinics, it was a minefield, there were many, all professing to be the best and to having the best results. Some were less keen to treat older moms, by this I mean people of my age because the more failures the clinic had, the more it affected their statistics.
After research and speaking to people I went to visit a clinic on Great Portland Street, London. Their results were good, and they were accessible to us, given I was in London a couple of days most weeks. I went on my own to meet with them, it was an initial meeting and didn’t feel that Chris needed to come with me. If it was the right clinic, he would join me at the subsequent meetings.
They were very expensive and if I’m honest I just didn’t get a good feeling, I didn’t enjoy my initial meeting. The consultant that I saw was a big character, quite trendy, not your stereotypical doctor, nothing like the NHS consultant that I was under when I was considering doing this alone however, he was very positive. I can’t put my finger on as to why it just wasn’t right, it just wasn’t for me. To anyone looking into IVF, your clinic must feel right to you, visit more than one.
Other people had talked to us about clinics abroad, Spain, Cyprus and Crete seemed to be the go-to places and so we started making enquiries. We started with Spain, purely because of the travel time and accessibility to us. There was one clinic which repeatedly came up in search results and we had also heard good news stories about them. I arranged a telephone appointment with the clinic, their English was good, and they were able to answer my initial questions. They roughly outlined the process and sent me more detailed information it all. The next step, if we wanted to take it, was to fly out there and meet a doctor and start the process. Chris and I talked at length, it was far cheaper to go to Spain than to use the London clinic, even taking into consideration the flight and hotel costs. Also, they just seemed to be more scientifically qualified, I’m not sure how we assessed that, but it felt that way.
After much discussion we booked our appointments and flights. We selected the groups Valencia clinic, mainly because that was their main clinic. It was where most of the research team and scientists were based. What we didn’t check at this point were the flight times and availability, in hindsight this should’ve been something that we did.
On line there were resumes about the team, we were allocated our Doctor and coordinator. I researched him, he was a Professor in his field, a President of the clinic, he is ranked on of the highest in his field and is still active in Valencia University and also a member the American Reproductive Society. He is one of the main medical team leading for research in the IVF field and has written several books about it. We had a good feeling, we were meeting with one of the top guys.
We booked a long weekend in Valencia, we couldn’t get the flights to do a day return. The clinic offered us transport from the airport and gave us a list of hotels that were close by. They were extremely helpful, which is exactly what we needed as there was a lot to think about. On arrival to the clinic, we were met by our coordinator who talked us through our visit. Whilst there, we were to have several initial tests; basic blood tests and Chris was to provide a sample of his sperm. The appointment at the clinic was to last 3-4 hours. It made sense to us that we just did everything then rather than flying back out there to get everything done. So really, there wasn’t much thinking time, albeit there was a lot of waiting time between each process.
Our coordinator was with us all the way, apart from when we got led into a consultant’s room and he started talking about our transfer. Chris and I tried to stop him to say that we hadn’t even been through the egg or sperm collection yet, but he carried on regardless to say the transfer would be in the next few days, his English wasn’t great. We were rescued by our coordinator who was confused by our disappearance and came looking for us. Quite hilarious really, although at the time we were horrified that they had got it so wrong and it did set our nerves running.
Our consultant was a lovely man, very matter of fact but not in a cold way, he was warm and gave us confidence. He didn’t give false hope, he wasn’t a salesman, he was just a very nice, intelligent man who knew exactly what he was talking about. He explained to us the process and gave us a plan, told me what medication I would need and what protocol I would follow. He scanned me there and then to check that everything looked ok, he was happy.
The clinic was an impressive building, not at all showy, not too clinical, there was a small courtyard of plants and shrubs in the centre, surrounded by ceiling high glass. That gave it quite a calming feel, I guess that’s what it was designed for. The chairs were all black, lots of magazines but no English ones frustratingly! There was a TV screen with a video on a loop, it was talking about all the research and development that was going on within the group. There were a lot of people of all ages, from various countries but it never felt busy.
Our coordinator then took us into a room to explain everything and to give us our prescriptions. Basically, I had to take a pill to control my cycle and then I would need to start injecting myself daily. I was to notify the clinic on the day my next menstrual cycle started and they would give me further instructions then. I could get the drugs from Spain and take them home, which they explained was probably the easiest. And, indeed it was, most of the pharmacies within a close radius to the clinic stocked the relevant drugs.
Valencia as a city is fantastic, we loved it! A lot if see and do, filled with culture and a great beach. That all felt really important as we assumed, we’d be spending some time out there, we were romantic about the fact that our baby would start its journey in such a beautiful city.
Once we were home, we got the results of our blood tests, they were all fine. We also received the feedback that Chris’s sperm deteriorates once frozen and therefore we would need to provide fresh for each collection cycle.
My menstrual cycle started later than normal, I emailed the clinic to say this and they explained that was normal due to the pill and that it would start within a week. They hadn’t explained this and apologized for not communicating this, as a result I was really worried thinking that my body wasn’t responding as it should. At this stage, it becomes so important that you worry about everything, looking back sometimes quite irrationally.
On day one of my cycle, July 2015, I emailed the clinic to request my schedule and to ask where I injected, as I hadn’t been told. My schedule arrived 3 days later, that felt like an endless wait, I was so keen to start. So, July 11th 2015, I had my first Gonal 75 units and Menopur 225 units injection. I was to inject in the evening. At this point, I still had no idea how to inject myself, luckily one of my neighbours knew a nurse. She was really kind, and this nurse came around to see me to show me how to inject in to my tummy, she offered to come and do the first couple for me but I didn’t take her up on it.
That first injection was horrendous, I wouldn’t say I’m needle phobic but equally, I don’t like them and injecting myself seemed impossible. Chris prepared the injection for me, but as much as I felt sick about having to inject myself, I couldn’t let him do it either. I remember, I was sitting in the kitchen at our old house, at the table. It was a glorious sunny day and I chose to inject about 7pm. I selected the area in my tummy and I wiped it with a sterile wipe….several times, delaying the inevitable. I can’t remember just how many times I picked that needle up and put it down again, I though I’d never do it. I cried, I felt sick but one thing that was for sure, that needle had to go in but not within a 5cm radius of my belly button.
Eventually after telling myself to pull myself together, the needle went in. Immediately I felt light headed and was convinced I was going to pass out. I literally threw myself to the floor, lay on it and put my feet up on a chair. Yes, very dramatic I know, and it was that and some. Now, I never passed out and I wasn’t sick, all was fine. I wiped the area with a sterile wipe and that was it for another 24 hours!
The injections were to stimulate the follicles, so that when they did the egg collection there would be as many eggs to collect as possible. I was to inject for 4 days, it never got easier, I found it easier to let Chris prepare the injections and then I’d inject. After 4 days I had to have a scan to measure the size of the follicles and the number of them. Dependent upon the scan results, I would then carry on or change the medication. Then 2 days later I was to scan again and if that went well, we could fly out to Valencia the following day.
This process presented a couple of challenges, I had to make sure that I could get an early morning scan due to the time difference and working hours of my coordinator, as I needed her response that same day. Relatively easy to overcome, once you knew you had to plan that way. What was more difficult is the fact that they cannot confirm whether you should fly out until that scan, therefore ideally you wouldn’t book flights or hotels until you knew, just in case the follicles weren’t growing well. However, leaving it that late meant it was costly and flight availability limited, so really not practical. Through all of our 5 IVF treatments, we opted to go ahead with booking the flights as early as possible and booked the hotels on booking.com ensuring they had free cancellation.
Of course, the other challenge is planning work and annual leave, mine had to be booked and it wouldn’t have been easy to suddenly move it 48 hours before it was due to start. I had a busy diary with clients and management meetings, so I couldn’t just move it at the drop of a hat. Luckily, most times it worked but not all of them!
These are the things you don’t consider when planning treatment abroad and its quite stressful to be honest. Especially when you are so desperate for everything to work and go well, every little hurdle seems like a mountain.
We opted to stay out in Valencia for 10 days for our first treatment, people thought we were just going on holiday, if only they knew!
That was it, it suddenly felt real, I was filled with positivity, we were going to have a baby. ^^7r^77^r