Yvonne Hogan: 'I can see now how close to madness I came in my quest for a baby'

My story of fertility is, I would wager, a pretty common one among women of my generation. I focussed 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 and hey presto, I was 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, and once I went back to work, the busy schedule and bone tiredness left no room for any future planning. Also, I was determined that being a mother wouldn’t derail my career and I more than spent myself trying to keep both shows on the road. Ava was almost two years old before we even entertained the idea of a sibling, and when we did, we assumed, like their big sister, the next baby would appear on demand.

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Month after month after month of disappointment and lack of success led us to IVF. I was now 41, but in my naivety I was entirely confident that I would get a baby first time as my fertility had been proven. I was excited to start IVF as 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 at success. I just administered the shots and 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, for me at any rate, a certainty.

I don’t know if it was entitlement or hope or arrogance or ignorance, probably a mix of all of the above, but over the next couple of years whatever it was, it was knocked out of me. Along with optimism as a default position. And for the duration of those lonely, forlorn years, I lost the ability to be wholly present with my daughter, with my husband or 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.

Yesterday, to mark the start of European Fertility Week, a group called European Fertility organised a round table at the EU Parliament to lobby decision-makers on a number of issues related to infertility. European Fertility is comprised of interested groups from various countries, including Irish organisation The National Infertility Support and Information Group, co-founded by the wonderful Corkwoman Helen Browne, who set up NISIG after experiencing a dearth of resources and support as she underwent years of fertility treatment without success.

EF want 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 the 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 I undertook an IVF cycle, 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 that 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**t. 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. A successful IVF is the result of a good egg, good sperm, the right laboratory conditions and a whole lot of luck.

And 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. And 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, as I couldn’t even 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 but 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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