Nicole’s story: recurrent miscarriage and IVF
Nicole experienced 7 miscarriages and has been through IVF, including solo IVF. Here, she shares her story and talks about the ongoing impact of her losses.
I feel like it's part of the legacy of my babies, making their lives mean something, by using my experience to support others. They were my world whilst I carried them and they have shaped my world since their deaths.
At the age of 29 I suddenly found myself single again. I had assumed I was on the happy ever after trajectory, our friends were getting married and starting their families. I always thought I’d be a young mum and I had started pushing for this to happen. As it turned out we didn’t see the same future and my long term relationship ended. We sold up and that was that.
After a few years of dating with no luck, I started thinking I might need a plan B. I looked into solo-IVF using donor sperm and during initial investigations, was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis with extensive lesions needing surgery.
Going through my first IVF cycle, I felt like a rabbit in headlights. I didn’t know anyone who had been through it and felt like such a failure needing to take this route to motherhood.
At every appointment I was told more bad news. I only had one functioning ovary due to endometriosis damage. I had a low ovarian reserve. I had an infection in one of my fallopian tubes, dropping my chance of success dramatically. I had a fibroid. My remaining ovary was not responding to the drugs, they said we may have to stop the cycle.
Although at the 11th hour, it worked. Three eggs were harvested, and one fertilised. Regardless of all the bad news, I became pregnant – but unfortunately lost that baby. I was told it would be like a heavy period, but I had never seen so much blood and the pain was beyond anything I’d felt before. I could barely move.
Afterwards, I felt so angry, I had been through so much already just to get to this point, when all around me I’d seen people simply meet a partner and have children. However, although I was sad about the loss, I felt that my body would know what it was doing next time.
The following cycle was delayed because I had cysts. Again, my ovary did not respond until the final moment. Two very good grade embryos were transferred, but this cycle failed completely and with no further testing, I was told I’d never carry a child of my own. Suddenly that first miscarriage took on a much greater role. It was my only baby. I was grief stricken.
During this period I had met someone and we started trying naturally, just to see. I got pregnant almost immediately and felt sure this time. Unfortunately at 9 weeks I started spotting. I went to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU), where a scan confirmed there was no heartbeat. My world crumbled.
I had loved being pregnant and was desperate to feel that again. I wanted to pick up where I’d left off, whilst also grieving that baby. I was lucky to get pregnant again within a month. This time I was given a scan at 8 weeks to reassure me. There was a strong heartbeat and I read that a strong heartbeat at 8 weeks meant the odds of having a miscarriage dropped to 5%. I felt so confident. 95% chance this baby would be fine. That was almost 100%. I allowed myself to believe. At 11.5 weeks I started spotting.
I couldn’t believe it was happening again. The bleeding continued several weeks after I had lost my baby. The EPU would just tell me to come back again the following week if I was still bleeding. They eventually told me there may be some products of pregnancy remaining and I’d need these surgically removed. When I finally went in for surgery the surgeon confirmed I had gone into shock because of the blood loss. It took me such a long time to recover from this miscarriage, both physically and mentally.
So far, no one had signposted me to any support and had been so dismissive of my experience that I just felt I needed to be ok. I tried, but I wasn’t. Some time later, I went to my GP for something unrelated and saw a different GP. This young doctor saw my notes and confirmed that since I’d lost three babies, I could be referred to a Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic. At last, I would get some answers. Finally, I would have my long awaited baby.
The clinic took a lot of blood and confirmed that they would test for everything. I felt confident. Their first scan indicated I had a bicornate uterus and I was sent for surgery.
In the weeks before surgery, I actually found out I was pregnant (after well over a year since my last loss). However I started spotting a couple of days after taking the test. I hadn’t even really acknowledged I was pregnant and hadn’t felt it like I had during my other three pregnancies. Emotionally I felt quite numb about this loss.
Because of my age now and the time it had taken me to get pregnant again, we were advised to try IVF. The consultant mentioned we may need to use donor eggs. At the time I just wanted my family, I was snowballing just to get to the end goal, whatever was needed. I didn’t even think about what this may mean for our family story or genetic loss.
They agreed to try one round with my eggs. Three perfect little embryos were transferred. A week later, I knew. I was pregnant. I dared dream we had all three. I knew everything I had been through had led me to here, our instant family.
I had an initial scan at the Recurrent Pregnancy Clinic and they identified two heartbeats. Two! I was overjoyed! Two weeks later, the fertility clinic confirmed only one heartbeat. I didn’t know what to do, I was devastated to have lost yet another baby but wanted to send only positive vibes to my remaining baby. How do you grieve and be positive?
The next scan we had, at 10 weeks, we were told there was no heartbeat. I don’t remember that miscarriage at all, when all the others are still so vivid. This one is blocked out. I don’t know if it was day or night, if it was quick, I don’t remember any of it. The compounded grief of what was now 6 babies was too much. It feels like my brain just couldn’t compute this loss. Again, we were not signposted to any support and left to deal with everything ourselves, at home, with no support.
The follow up consultation, we asked about using donor eggs next time and the consultant told us there would be no next time. They were unwilling to proceed with us, because they felt sure we would lose every pregnancy. The Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic maintained there was no reason for my losses. I had lost confidence in them and wondered if they truly did test for everything as they had told me.
After this, we stopped trying, whilst not admitting to ourselves that we had. We were still desperate for a family but it was just too much loss. We started thinking about what next?
9 months later, we had just had a first conversation with Social Services about adoption when I found out I was pregnant. Once again my hope soared and I felt sure it had all led us to this baby. The Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic confirmed a heartbeat and that everything appeared normal and yet, a few weeks later, once again I started spotting. I was once again told at the EPU that there was no heartbeat.
This time, for the first time, I was offered some drugs to bring about the miscarriage and some strong painkillers, or surgery. Why had I not been offered this before? I opted for the drugs but delayed taking them, as with all my previous losses, I kept hoping that the scan was wrong. That maybe the heartbeat was just muffled somehow. I still felt pregnant. How could my baby not be alive? I’d done everything right.
This loss was by far the easiest. The drugs made if more manageable and because of that it was far less traumatic an experience. That said, by now I felt so lost, I couldn’t go through this again. I felt that any further pregnancy was playing Russian roulette with my baby’s life. Why would I sacrifice another baby? Slowly but surely I moved on to thinking that ultimately my dream had been motherhood, not pregnancy and that if I wanted one, I had to let go of the other.
I felt so isolated during my years of losing baby after baby and I couldn’t find anyone I could relate to. I ended up writing a book, feeling like I had climbed out of a very deep, dark pit and it was my duty to turn around and help others out of it. I hoped that those who needed it, would find my book and within its pages find someone who understood the darkness and pain that pregnancy loss and childlessness could cause.
We went on to pursue adoption, but adoption is not a cure for infertility. There is no ‘just’ adopt, it is a path to motherhood but does not cancel out my journey nor replace my babies.
I qualified as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist during my years of TTC and now specialise in working with Pregnancy Loss and Infertility. I feel like it’s part of the legacy of my babies, making their lives mean something, by using my experience to support others. They were my world whilst I carried them and they have shaped my world since their deaths.