I've done my research, I've chosen my donor, and I feel like I know what I'm doing. It's going to be expensive, but worth it.
I decided to do home insemination. A cost of over £1500 to have the donor sperm delivered to my door in a nitrogen gas cylinder. I'd been tracking my cycles for a while, but thought I'd have one more go using ovulation kits to see if I ovulated when I expected. I seemed to have fairly short cycles of between 21 to 23 days, which I guessed, meant I wouldn't have to wait too long after to see if it had worked.
I spoke to the sperm bank, to get advice on when exactly I should order and I watched videos on how to optimise my chances of success. The sperm bank advised me I'd need to get a letter signed by a health official to say that I was using the donor sperm as it was intended and that they would inform the bank as to whether it was successful and confirm any live births. A sperm bank must know when a donor child has been born. Firstly they need to make sure that not too many babies are born from one donor, and secondly, that baby must be added to the register so that when they are 18, the clinic can pass on the donor's information to them. God, what health officials did I know, that I was happy to know my business at this stage? My auntie! She worked as a manager at a doctor's surgery, but she also carried out care in the community to people including giving injections and treating patients. I phoned her and told her my plan, she was very supportive and excited for me, but she didn't think she would qualify to be able to sign. I was gutted but promised I would phone her back after I had spoken to the sperm bank the next day.
Unfortunately, they confirmed she wouldn't qualify. I booked a doctor's appointment that afternoon and decided I would ask my doctor directly to help. Although he was very supportive and told me to fill out a form, he didn't think that he would be able to help me, as it was then the responsibility of the surgery and he didn't think they would take the risk on the basis that the donor sperm wouldn't be being dealt with by them directly. I phoned my auntie, and she said that she would ask my cousin's wife to do it, who was a sister in a hospital ward. What a result! With my forms signed, and my ovulation dates confirmed I was ready to go on my next cycle.
I was excited, scared, and desperate to just start already. Two weeks later a knock on the door and a delivery driver with a huge blue gas cylinder was standing on my doorstep. Perplexed he asked, "what the hell have you got in that?" Rude, you don't normally get asked and to be honest I wasn't sure what to say, so I joked and said "body parts". He nervously laughed as he walked down the drive. I wasn't able to open the cylinder until it was time. I was by now using ovulation tests several times a day, scared to miss the exact right moment. I had a lot of money and hope riding on getting this right!
Finally, it was time, I got my smiley face on the clear blue ovulation test and went home from my mum's house feeling sick with nerves. After opening the canister, wearing gloves to stop my skin from getting burnt from the dry ice, I nervously removed a tiny vial from the canister.
After the deed was done there was nothing more to do, but wait. Wait patiently. Keep waiting patiently. I'm not an overly patient person at the best of times, and it felt like torture. I obsessed over what was happening with my body and when. It consumed my whole thought process and I scanned the internet looking for promising signs. Just over a week later, I looked in the mirror, and my boobs did look veiny, and bigger, definitely bigger. I felt sick for sure. Oh my god, I was pregnant wasn't I! The next day, I had a metallic taste in my mouth, this was it! This is how my mum knew she was pregnant with my sister. I couldn't wait to test, but it was too early.
By 10dpo I was almost due on my period as I had short cycles, I couldn't wait. I tested, with my sister, so excited to see those two lines! Negative. It must just be too early I thought. I'll test again tomorrow. Who was I kidding! I tested again and again, every time I needed to go to the toilet. The tests were obviously wrong. Could I see a line? I think I can. I'd hold it up to the light, beg my mum and sister to look and keep looking, praying for that second line to appear. It didn't. Two days later I got my period. To say I was devastated was an understatement.
I knew that it didn't always work the first time, even when trying naturally, but I'd followed all the instructions to a tee and had every symptom going. All that money and hopes just gone like that. After having an emotional pity party and a pep talk from my mum and Lucy. I agreed I'd give it another go, straight away on this new cycle. It gave me hope and something to focus on, and I'd only have to wait under two weeks to do it again.
Before I knew it, it was time to order again. I think if I'm being honest with myself, I was feeling less positive this time. I know it sounds stupid, but I just expected to get pregnant straight away. Lucy has fallen pregnant both times immediately and without even trying, I naively thought that as I was tracking my cycle and knew I had ovulated, it would be the same case for me. I ordered more vials than before, so that I could go for the start of ovulation and then 24 hours later too. Surely that would work? This time I felt under more pressure as it was an even bigger chunk of money, and I worried that if it didn't work again, I wouldn't know what to do to increase my chances.
As my cycle was coming to an end I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that it hadn't worked again. I couldn't shake it, and by now I didn't feel like I was just being a negative Nancy. I kept reading up on the luteal phase and realised that mine seemed on the short side. Not so short that I couldn't get pregnant, but I just felt like my body wasn't been given a chance for a fertilised egg to settle in before my progesterone level dropped. I was emotional and miserable.
I sat on my mum's bed again, where I'd sat just weeks earlier full of hope, and cried. How long could I carry on doing it myself and wasting money? What were my options? Although I'd been told 6 months prior by my doctor everything was fine with me and I'd even had an ultrasound to check (I worried I was having perimenopausal symptoms) I felt like something was wrong with me. Mum and Lucy both suggested I go to a fertility clinic, just to get a health check and make sure there were no other reasons why this wasn't working. True to my style of being impatient, I phoned the London Women's Clinic in Canterbury immediately. I asked when was the soonest I could be seen and discussed having a procedure called IUI, which is where the clinic tracks your cycle and then inseminate you by putting the sperm into your uterus, cutting out some of the journey and therefore increasing your chances. I was told I could go for a blood test the next day, and then be seen by a doctor and be scanned two days later. Perfect, back on track, more money but at least it would take all of the pressure off of me, and I would have someone who knew what they were doing taking over!
The next morning my mum drove me to Canterbury and waited outside while I had my blood test. The clinic was lovely and welcoming, nothing like an NHS waiting room. I was offered a drink and a magazine and it was warm and cosy. The blood test didn't take long, but I ended up having a lovely long chat with a man that worked there, who dealt with the men's side of fertility. He was so kind and reassuring and I immediately felt at ease in this new environment. I felt excited again! Now only two days left to wait to see a doctor and get the ball rolling.
Two days later I was sat back in the waiting room again, this time my mum came in with me. I'd be being scanned by the doctor and then have a meeting to discuss my results and the way forward. The scan itself was OK, it was internal, which meant I had to have an empty bladder rather than a full one, so in some ways a lot more comfortable. As soon as I was dressed she called me into her office. "You have something called a low AMH level," she said. "It means that you have a low egg count". What? My doctor had told me I was fine, I'd had blood tests and a scan on the NHS to prove it! "Your other levels are currently normal, but it means that you are perimenopausal, and if you want to have a baby, time is not on your side". I felt myself go cold inside and then hot, I struggled to talk as I fought back tears. She showed me charts and my level was the same as a typical 45 year old, I was 35! I thought I would have plenty of time left. People had babies much older these days. I was given the option of a medicated IUI cycle or a round of IVF. Her opinion was that although the IUI cycle was cheaper, she personally wouldn't waste any more time and would start straight off with IVF. I stopped listening. How was I supposed to afford IVF on top of all the money I'd paid out, and for a typical success rate of 25%? The doctor told me if I wanted to go for the IVF she would recommend an SHG scan (an internal scan where your uterus is filled with water by a catheter to get a better view) first, as I also had a heart-shaped uterus, to make sure there were no other problems, although she didn't envisage there being any. This would need to be carried out at their Harley St clinic. I was given paperwork and told to think it over throughout the weekend but if I wanted to do it, I had to do it soon, scan first and then start the IVF on my next cycle.
The second I left the clinic I burst into tears. In the car with mum, she hugged me, while I sobbed down the phone to my sister, that I would never have a baby and I'd left it too late. My sister is the calm one, I am not. She told me to come straight round for a coffee and we would look at the paperwork together.
A few hours later, with time to breathe and take the news in, my mum and sister convinced me I would never be able to rest and know that I didn't give it my all before giving up. We would find the money and give it a go. I think mum and Lucy were equally devastated by the news. Lucy had spent years encouraging me, to finally get me to go for it and have my dreams shattered in just a short few months. I'd make the call on Monday and book in for my SIS scan. I was going to give it a shot, and I had to believe it may just work.