Planning for our third IVF cycle is something we hoped we would never be doing. In the same breath, planning for our second cycle wasn’t something we hoped we’d be doing either. Honestly? We hadn’t ever anticipated that we’d be planning our IVF at all, and yet here we are, 6.5 years into trying to conceive. We have had two failed cycles of ICSI and we have only ever had one embryo make it to transfer day. We have no embryos on ice, we have no clearer idea as to why it isn’t working for us, and we regularly feel like we are still stuck on square 1. You would hope that after spending thousands of pounds and going through the process twice already, we would be that bit clearer, but the truth is we know as much as we did at the very first appointment we ever had with an IVF consultant.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with blocked fallopian tubes. I had those removed in March 2019, and I also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. As a result of this, it is physically impossible for me to get pregnant without IVF. My husband has low morphology, which means whilst he has a great amount of sperm, they aren’t quite formed the way they should be. Put the pair of us together, and we are far from the most fertile couple around.
Our first two cycles ended miserably; our first cycle retrieved 7 eggs and only 2 of those fertilised. Out of the two embryos, neither made it to transfer. Our second cycle saw 10 eggs retrieved, 5 of which fertilised, and this time only one made it to transfer. The one we transferred however wasn’t quite ready; it was an ‘early blastocyst’ and so wasn’t where it should have been. It goes without saying that unfortunately, that didn’t implant, and it wasn’t the time for us to bring home our little ‘Dotty’. After this, we made the decision that it was time to move clinics.
We have spent the last 12 months researching clinics across the whole of the U.K. We live in Cambridgeshire, and as a result of the IVF postcode lottery, we have not been entitled to any treatment funded by the NHS. So far, we are about £10,000 deep. We have had a look at multiple clinics and towards the end of last year, we began toying with the idea of IVF in Alicante, Spain. Over the years, we have experienced so many people tell us about their friend’s cousin’s dog walker who had a mysterious disease that stopped them getting pregnant, who flew to another country and fell pregnant with triplets and x, y, z. I have always been pessimistic about it for a multitude of reasons; you hear stories about people travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery and coming back with uneven noses, strange fillets bursting in their breasts, and bum implants so hard they break benches when you sit down (okay, exaggeration), that I suppose I always dismissed the concept of going abroad through fear of a ‘bodge job’. We warmed to Alicante, I had spent hours scrolling through Pinterest looking at things to do, and with the U.K lockdown getting longer and longer, an excuse to go abroad didn’t take too much convincing.
It didn’t last long; within a few weeks we had changed our mind. Who would look after our Labrador? Who would pay the bills whilst my self-employed husband took two weeks off work? How much annual leave would I need to take, and would it be approved? What if my contract wasn’t made permanent and I didn’t have the leave in the first place? We decided it was too much hassle, and that it was better to stay at home where we could come home to a nice home cooked meal and sleep in our own beds.
We found a U.K clinic that we loved, we spoke to them via Zoom and discussed our previous protocols and everything we wanted from a clinic; they ticked every box and we loved them. Marco and I ended the call and felt both elated and emotional; this clinic was perfect, they offered everything we wanted, gave us the protocol we wanted, had a staff team we needed, but for our cycle we were looking at close to £13,000. It was a price tag that gave us chills, but we felt confident in the clinic so we had to make a decision; if we went with this clinic, if it didn’t work then that was it, our IVF journey was over. It was our last chance, and so that is a pill we have spent the last 4 months learning to swallow. We would work multiple jobs, we would save even harder than we already were, and we would pay the price for the clinic we loved. If it worked, it would be worth every penny, but if it didn’t… well, all we could do was learn to live and love our lives on a path we never thought we’d be on. We knew in our hearts we couldn’t justify spending that money again.
For me, the decision to make this our last cycle has been a hard, bitter decision. We know there are other options available to us; options we will potentially explore, but knowing that it was our last chance saloon almost made this cycle feel more pressured. The excitement soon wore off and instead it was anxiety inducing; whilst I knew there was every possibility this cycle could work, knowing that there was a good chance I would have to face the third and final negative test was making me feel a different level of emotion. I felt a sadness I hadn’t felt since my first diagnosis; it was a cloud looming in the distance, unsure of whether the storm is coming or if it too shall pass.
A lot of conversations have happened in our house over recent weeks, and one night we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for this to be our last cycle. We knew that if we stayed in the UK, it had to be. Our case has meant that we need a clinic that will focus on our embryo quality, are happy to increase my dose of medication, are interested in sperm quality and are happy to perform further tests to get the best possible result for us. In the U.K, this was always coming with a hefty price tag, so we began toying with the thought of going overseas once more.
We have done a lot of research into clinics overseas, looked at countless clinics and totalled up multiple price lists. The more we browsed, the more we knew that we were enjoying the prospect of a little holiday thrown in with treatment. We knew that if we really wanted to make it work, we could find someone to dog sit, we could shut the business for 10 days or so, and if needs be I could go abroad with a friend for the first few days. It just seemed to make sense.
We really wanted to find a clinic in Italy. With Marco being Italian and being fluent in the language, it made sense to us to travel somewhere he considered home, somewhere we knew we would feel really comfortable and somewhere we love to travel to. It turns out in Italy the rules on IVF are extremely strict. First and foremost, it’s expensive, but in addition you are only allowed to fertilise 3 eggs and you cannot freeze any subsequent embryos. Immediately, it ruled it out.
We had a consultation with Your IVF Abroad which was so helpful. Emma & Adam kindly gifted us their clinic match service (I was not under any obligation to write this post, so this is not an ad!), and as we quite literally had no idea where to start, it made sense for us to use them. We spoke to Emma in so much detail about what we wanted from a clinic; what we felt was most important to us and what we absolutely didn’t want. We narrowed it down to three clinics, and we are now about to embark on consultations with each of them.
I spend my nights scrolling through Pinterest looking for things to do in each place, looking at Airbnb’s and looking through ASOS for summer dresses that will look lovely on the beach in Alicante or strolling through the hidden streets of Athens, and the spark, the hope and the optimism has been reignited. Whilst we are painfully aware that it may still not work, we know that somewhere abroad in Europe, whichever clinic we choose, we will receive care that is second to none and so much more medically advanced than the UK.
But above all, we know that if it doesn’t work, the bank won’t have run dry. We know that it doesn’t have to be the last shot, and that is enough for us.
Sun, sea, and hopefully… a sticky bean.