IVF isn't as easy as I hoped it would be
We talk to a city woman who knows only too well that a happy ending is definitely not guaranteed.
THE tiny bundle had been carefully swaddled in blankets. Eyes tightly closed, he looked for all the world as if he was sleeping.
Cecilia Tymkewycz-Fife even imagined she saw her newborn son's chest rise and fall in tiny baby breaths. Maybe, just maybe, she hoped and prayed, he wasn't dead after all.
Conceived after a rollercoaster ride that began with an expensive procedure to reverse her husband's vasectomy, then the emotional and physical ordeal of IVF and the death in the womb of his twin – the baby she had craved was gone.
Today Cecilia fights her tears as she recalls her heartbreaking struggle for what many women take for granted: a child of her own.
As National Infertility Day looms – marking 30 years since the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby – her desperately sad story is a salutary lesson to anyone assuming the medical miracle of IVF is an instant solution to their own delayed plans for parenthood.
"I didn't even think about having a baby until I was in my mid-30s and I'd met my husband," says Cecilia. "It was only then that I realised it's not as straightforward as we all like to think. Anyone who thinks that if they struggle to have a baby naturally they just have to go for IVF and it will all be fine, is going to get a massive shock, because it isn't that easy at all."
If anyone should know how precious the gift of life really is, it's Cecilia. Seven years have passed since she and husband Andy took their first steps towards having a child of their own.
Since then she has endured the loss of her IVF twins, suffered the heartache of a second embryo implant failing, then faced the agony of a miscarriage.
Apart from the emotional devastation and physical agony, the couple have spent around 10,000 on their mission to conceive a child.
While IVF success stories and celebrity births grab headlines – actresses Brooke Shields, Jane Seymour and Marcia Croce are all IVF mums, along with TV presenter Gabby Logan – the reality for many couples is one of grim disappointment.
Cecilia was 35 when the couple first asked their GP for help. Andy, now 45, had gone through a vasectomy after having two children from his previous marriage, but once settled with Cecilia the couple realised a baby would make their lives complete.
"We spent about 18 months on a waiting list to see a urologist," remembers Cecilia, of Craiglockhart. "We couldn't get a reversal done on the NHS and ended up having to go to a private clinic in Hartlepool. I was increasingly aware that the clock was ticking away for us."
Andy, a sport centre manager, had the tricky procedure done, but the couple were warned they would have to spend a year trying "naturally" before being considered for IVF. Even then the waiting wasn't over.
"It took another nine months of waiting before we even saw a consultant, then nine more months before the treatment started. So, we'd had four years of waiting already."
While the couple's age meant their chances of a successful outcome were a lowly five per cent, it also meant they were exempt from any hope of free NHS treatment.
"We paid 4000 for Andy's reversal and 3700 for the IVF," says Cecilia, now 42.
"If you're determined to have a child then you find the money from somewhere. You go without holidays or little luxuries and focus on having a baby."
Despite the warnings that their chances of conceiving were low, Cecilia never considered she wouldn't become a mum first time around.
She said: "I focused on the fact that someone had to be among that five per cent success rate – why not me?
"I ate healthily, I stopped drinking and cut down on caffeine. I went for hypnotherapy to help me deal with my needle phobia and I had acupuncture to help me focus and relax. So after all that, I really did believe I'd have a baby."
The couple were delighted when medical staff confirmed that Cecilia was not only pregnant but that she was carrying twins.
Sadly, their excitement was shattered when, at 13 weeks, a scan confirmed that one baby had died in the womb. While the other twin was apparently thriving, Cecilia and Andy were left reeling from the news.
"They said to just carry on and enjoy the pregnancy, but it was very hard after that," she says. "I tried to focus and be positive but there were a lot of tears."
Worse was to come when, at almost 19 weeks, she started to bleed. "I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with the blue lights flashing which was terrifying," Cecilia recalls.
Medical staff couldn't trace her baby's heartbeat – her second twin had died. She then faced the harrowing prospect of delivering the baby naturally.
"I couldn't take it in," she says. "After all that waiting and all the treatment, I was going to end up with nothing.
"The induced labour was horrendous. I was in a room next door to women who were giving birth to their babies and I was doing the same, except my baby and his twin were dead."
A postmortem examination later revealed Patau Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality.
Devastated, Cecilia waited only a few months before her next attempt in June last year. "I was determined to be pregnant. We had four frozen embryos from the first time and all I could think of was trying again," she says.
"I got the results back on the same day that the twins were due to be born had they survived – but it was negative." This might have been too much for some people, but Cecilia was determined to continue.
Knowing the waiting list for treatment was around six months – and by then already 41 years old – she pleaded with doctors to contact her if there were any cancellation appointments.
"I had another full cycle of treatment a year to the day after my first one," she says. "Two fertilised eggs were implanted and I went home hoping that I'd get a positive result."
It wasn't to be. Staff at the ERI assisted conception unit warned that initial pregnancy hormone results were borderline, and six weeks after the procedure it was clear all hope was lost.
According to Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK and More To Life, Cecilia and Andy's IVF experience is not uncommon. She says: "One in six couples now face the prospect of needing infertility treatment to try to conceive a child, and many of these couples will never become parents.
"Many couples who never thought they would have a problem becoming pregnant are now facing the sad prospect that they will not have the baby they so desperately want. There is a perception that IVF treatment will fix any fertility problems, but it doesn't work for everyone."
Juliet Le Page runs Edinburgh-based fertility help organisation Fertility Concerns and has some startling advice.
She says many modern women tend to delay having a family in favour of their career, only to find themselves having to endure a desperate IVF fight. Infertility is a huge issue these days, and there are many reasons why men and women are finding they have problems – although the big one seems to be they are simply leaving it all too late.
"While it's absolutely possible to have a great outcome, it's also possible that it might not work. It puts enormous strain on relationships."
Cecilia is now trying finally to reconcile herself to the fact that she may never become a mum, and she has pledged never to forget the babies she had, but tragically lost.
"On the anniversary of the twins' birth we went for a walk up Arthur's Seat," she says. "It was cold and wet but we wanted to be somewhere special to remember them. We climbed to the top and just thought about everything that had happened.
"I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I even made them a birthday cake – a pretty impressive one at that, with little characters on it and the boys' names – Jacob and Noah – in icing on the top."
Eating the cake with Andy was a highly-charged moment. "It was strange and very emotional," recalls Cecilia.
"I just thought that it might be the only first birthday cake I'd ever make for my own children – it was something I had to do.
"I'd lost three babies in 12 months and had around 18 months of being poked and prodded and feeling unwell.
"To anyone who thinks IVF is an easy option, take it from me, it definitely isn't."
• National Infertility Day on July 19 will mark 30 years of IVF. For support and advice on fertility issues, contact the National Infertility Network on 0800 0087 464 or go to www.infertilitynetworkuk.com. For support on involuntary childlessness visit www.moretolife.co.uk
• Edinburgh-based Fertility Concerns which helps with infertility issues, is holding an expert-led event on July 15 in the run-up to National Infertility Day, from 6.30-9.30pm at the Gillies Centre, Strathearn Road, Edinburgh. For more information and to register call 0131-551 3171 or visit www.fertilityandbeyond.com
A BEACON OF HOPE
Louise Joy Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, was born in Oldham General Hospital on July 25 1978.
She was conceived by in vitro fertilisation (IVF), during which her mother's eggs were fertilised by her father's sperm in a test-tube, in a procedure pioneered by the British fertility experts Robert Edwards and the late Patrick Steptoe.
One drawback of the treatment is the risk of multiple births – a selection of fertilised eggs are returned to the woman in the hope of increasing the chances of a single result.
Mandy Allwood became pregnant with eight babies in 1996 following fertility treatment, only to lose them all at just 19 weeks. Most clinics now insist on only transplanting two fertilised eggs.
Since then IVF has become increasingly widely available – Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has its own Assisted Conception unit.
These days services have expanded to offer a variety of treatments, including egg and sperm donations.
A course of IVF at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary costs around 3500, depending on the kind of treatment.
The unit recently reported an average IVF success rate of 38.4 per cent among women aged under 35 – one of the highest rates in Scotland.
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