As I sit here looking at my gorgeous, happy, perfectly formed 8 month old son and rubbing my expanding baby bump I can barely believe I have one child let alone another on the way. Two years ago it looked very likely I would never have children.
My whole life I wanted children, I played with a real life looking doll until I was 11, I couldn’t imagine not having children. Everyone had children…..
In my 30’s I became almost obsessed that time was running out, that is after all what we hear all the time. I was surrounded by statistics telling me that after 35 your chances of getting pregnant are massively reduced; it seemed as if everyone around me was getting married and falling pregnant. I was, of course, happy for them and would share in their joy but if I am honest I also felt sadness that my goal of becoming a mum myself was slipping further and further away. By 36 I still hadn’t met the right person. I was constantly being told to freeze my eggs or check how many I had left. People looked sadly at me when I said, ‘no, I don’t have children’; I found the pressure immense.
Eventually at the ripe old age of 37 I met my now husband. Everything was so different in this relationship and we quickly knew we were each others’ forevers. Early on we talked about marriage and children and I felt such relief that I would finally have children. Interestingly my age didn’t really concern me at that point. I was sure now I had met ‘the one’ that I would go on to have children, after all that’s just what happens, isn’t it?
About 6 months into our relationship, I started getting horrendous pain in what felt like my rectum a few days before my period. I had never had period pains so this seemed very odd. The pain was so bad that for 3 days each month I could barely function, even speaking was an effort.
I went to my GP who told me it was probably haemorrhoids, so I reluctantly started using haemorrhoid cream but to no avail. I endured the pain for another 6 months until I could take no more. I turned up at the GP’s surgery, in floods of tears demanding she do something.
I had spent the intervening months researching my symptoms. One of the illnesses that came up was endometriosis but I had very few of the symptoms so I hoped and hoped that it wasn’t endometriosis as I knew from my research it could cause infertility.
I was sent for a scan of my ovaries and told by the sonographer that it absolutely wasn’t endometriosis. He said there was quite a lot of fluid around my ovaries and prescribed antibiotics.
I felt such relief that I didn’t have a disorder that could stop me from having children. An appointment with a gynaecologist at the hospital had been made for me a few weeks later. The gynaecologist asked me some questions and then examined me and without hesitation told me I did in fact have endometriosis. The floor went from under my feet, as I had by now convinced myself I didn’t have endometriosis.
My first words were, ‘But you can’t treat that can you?’ He reassured me that he could. He then asked me if I wanted children, I replied I did. He said if my fallopian tubes had been affected my only chance would be IVF. I was 39 and my partner had a child from a previous relationship so I knew my chances of IVF on the NHS would be near impossible; another blow. I have grave concerns about the fact that despite NICE guidance, research by Fertility Fairness, in 2018 showed that certain clinical commission groups (CCGs) in England are rationing access to NHS fertility services by setting their own access criteria. Accessing IVF is therefore inconsistent, and thus penalises certain individuals due to where they live – a postcode lottery.
The gynaecologist said he would put me on the waiting list for a small operation to see how bad the endometriosis was and whether my fallopian tubes were affected.
About 3 months later I had the operation and found out my endometriosis was pretty extensive – stage 4. My ovaries were fine but my bowel and vagina were affected and, crushingly, one tube was blocked. I was told that without the operation to remove the endometriosis my chances of having children were very, very slim. I knew from my research and the forum groups I had joined it was pretty much impossible. I think being told you absolutely cannot have children must be so, so awful and my heart goes out to those affected by this diagnosis. I always held onto hope that I would have children and in a funny way that kept me sane and focussed.
I was told to go home and try to get pregnant over the next 6 months. If in 6 months I wasn’t pregnant (which let’s face it I probably wouldn’t be) they would put me on the waiting list for the endometriosis to be removed. Now my age really became a worry. I kept calculating the time, 6 months to try and no doubt fail to get pregnant, then to be placed on a waiting list which could be months and maybe even a year, then to recover from the op, then to even try to get pregnant. I have known healthy younger friends take months and even years to get pregnant. I was now 39 and absolutely terrified!
I became obsessed with reading about the illness, something that was probably not healthy but it is how I dealt with it. Actually some of the forums offer great encouragement and the success stories really helped me. Before being diagnosed I had never really heard of the illness let alone met alone affected by it.
I was also put into a position of feeling I had to try for a baby when the timing wasn’t exactly right. Being married before having a baby was something that I felt strongly about but I knew that wasn’t an option now.
Month after month we plotted my cycle and ensured we did everything to increase our chances. I also felt sad that I might never be able to give my husband a child. Not only was my age a barrier, my health was now too. My fear was that he might leave me for a younger woman who could give him children. Of course this was nonsense, but it was how my mind was thinking at the time.
Six months later I went back to the hospital and the surgeon agreed to operate. I was told that the operation was major surgery, worse that a hysterectomy and there were a number of risks. I was extremely anxious but I knew for certain that this was something I had to do.
Eventually the day of the operation came. I was terrified of what could go wrong but at the same time excited, as after the operation my chances of conceiving would be pretty much the same as anyone else my age, which if you read the statistics wasn’t necessarily great but even so there was more of a chance than there had been.
The operation was a great success. The endometriosis was removed and I recovered quickly. I was a bit sore for a week or so, but considering I had been told there would be a 6 week recovery I was doing well.
After my 6 week check-up (mid November) we were able to try for a baby. I was due to get married in the December and we had an amazing 3 week honeymoon booked so actually I didn’t think too much about getting pregnant. I was convinced we would need IVF and we had decided that we would book an appointment with a specialist in the New Year after the wedding and the honeymoon, so I just relaxed.
The day after our wedding we went on a mini-moon for a few days. I remember being absolutely exhausted and I spent a lot of time in tears. I just assumed I was tired after all the wedding planning and put my emotions down to the ‘wedding crash’ everyone talks about. However, by the weekend I realised that I hadn’t had my period and so took a test…. it was positive. Honestly, we could not believe it. I had only had 2 periods since the operation so it had happened amazingly quickly.
I fell pregnant with the baby I am carrying now first time (I am 41). I know that it becomes harder to fall pregnant with age but I honestly think it is sad that we are programmed to worry so much about getting pregnant before 35. I spent my 30s terrified I wouldn’t have children because of my age and in actual fact I have fallen pregnant both times much quicker than the majority of my friends who had their children years ago. Please don’t feel there is no hope because you are a certain age, there is almost always hope.
Endometriosis is so much more common than most people realise. One in 10 women suffers with it and often they don’t even know they have it. Given that it can take 7 years to diagnose the condition, it is absolutely vital that if you are suffering with any of the symptoms please speak to your GP and demand that you are referred. I had no symptoms till I was 38. If I had carried on without symptoms I probably wouldn’t have my son and another baby on the way now as I would have just assumed that I was too old to conceive.
I also think trying to focus on other things besides getting pregnant is important. The first time we conceived I was convinced we wouldn’t and would need IVF so I wasn’t really even thinking about it. The second time we had a 5 month old baby, so we were definitely not worrying about getting pregnant. I think if we had been forced to go down the IVF route knowing myself as I do, I would have put so much pressure on myself that I honestly think I might still be trying. I realise this is easier said than done when all you want is a baby but perhaps investigate some techniques to help for example, yoga, mind-fullness, spending time as a couple or even taking up a new hobby. Above all good luck, remember there is always hope. x