“You know, your husband’s reaction just reaffirmed to me that God is out there working on us. How his experience readied him for this situation, how God brought you two together so that you wouldn’t have to deal with fragile masculinity while also navigating through this challenge. God knew what he was doing when he brought you two together.” – @anisiamichael
So let’s take things back to a couple of weeks ago… It was a Friday and we had our appointment at 3.30pm to get my husband’s semen results. Already I knew something wasn’t right because they had called him to come in to ‘discuss’ – usually if it’s all good they will just tell you that it’s looking good over the phone. Anyway I went to work and for pretty much the whole day I was having anxiety attacks. But the thing is I wasn’t worried about the results – I was worried about my husband and in my mind I kept playing the scene where he gets the bad news and I thought how am I going to be able to be there for him ENOUGH for him not to internalise this. I worried about him and for him as a man, as a Nigerian man but also just as my husband receiving not so good news. I am not even joking when I say I had to keep going to the toilet at work just to do breathing exercises so I didn’t self-combust. Eventually, the closer it got to 3.30pm my anxiety had calmed down and I was in strong supportive wifey-mode at this point and I met him at the surgery.
I tried not to make a huge fuss about it in case he was worried but while we were waiting to be seen, I just said to him “Whatever the results babe, it doesn’t matter. We are going to be parents and I would hate for you to internalise any part of this process because we have many options ahead of us. It doesn’t matter what we hear today, what matters is KNOWING what is available to us and what to do next.” My husband, being the chilled guy that he is, was like “I am not even worried… I have dealt with devasting news before (when his kidneys failed at 22) and I was in it alone, this time I’m not on my own and I am more emotionally evolved. I am not internalising this at all.” I know my husband and one might think oh maybe he was putting a brave face on but I felt it in him – he had a real acceptance of the dissonance that can happen between one’s physiology and one’s own vision of how it should be. And to be honest, at the very beginning of this process, the gynae had said that having been on dialysis for over 10years now, it is likely that his sperm will have been affected by this over time. Anything that affects the general health or natural functioning of the body can affect sperm quality. Just a quick one on dialysis – what my husband has is Renal failure which is when one or both your kidney fails i.e. stops working completely. In my husband’s case both his kidneys failed when he was 22 and at the time he didn’t really know what was going on but he wasn’t feeling well and he went to see a doctor and his BP was incredibly high and they were shocked he was still conscious. So when your kidneys don’t work properly you have to have dialysis a certain number of times every week; which involves being attached to a machine to remove waste products and excess fluid from the blood. You are connected to the machine via 2 needles linked to 2 tubes; one to take the blood out of the body into the machine and the other to bring the clean blood back into the body. Because Afro-Carribean people generally do not donate their organs, my husband has been on the waiting list for a kidney transplant for about 8 years because he has the rare blood type that is commonly found in Afro-Carribean people.
Studies looking at the sperm of men receiving dialysis treatment do show that many men have reduced sperm counts, and the sperm that are present are underactive. This seems to be due to failure of the sperm to develop in the testicle. Sometimes there is associated testosterone deficiency, but it is not clear from research whether testosterone treatment restores the numbers and function of sperm in men with kidney failure. After successful kidney transplantation, sperm numbers generally rise and there are reports of men who were infertile whilst on dialysis fathering children after transplantation. (© National Kidney Federation). So a huge part of me, although I hadn’t even looked this up at the time, wasn’t entirely shocked by the results because I mean 10 years of anything will have an effect on someone’s physiology. The GP basically explained to us (what most studies which I have now read up on say) that my husband’s sperm count was low and the motility (movement) wasn’t great either and that this significantly reduces our treatment option down to IVF. My husband did have some good sperm in there, what they call ‘progressive’ sperm and with IVF they would only pick the best sperm out of the lot to use for fertilisation with my eggs. Not long after seeing the GP we also saw the gynae who reiterated the meaning of the results but he said something that gave us so much hope… he said “The reason you haven’t fallen pregnant is because you haven’t been exposed to (healthy) sperm and since we pick the best with IVF for fertilisation, I don’t see any reason why the embryo would not embed itself in your uterus once we put it in the right place – because you have no underlying condition that might affect that process. So the chances for successful IVF are very good in your case.” It was so good to hear this but of course we know we have to maintain a level head because as we all know it is not always successful. I should add at this point that I had another transvaginal scan that did not show anything this time and whatever they saw last time was gone (YAY!). It is most likely that it was a collapsed follicle before my period.
So what is IVF? The process of IVF involves retrieving eggs from the ovary and combining them with sperm in a dish. If they fertilize, one or two embryos are returned into the womb to, hopefully, produce a healthy baby. We are doing IVF under NHS so we should be getting 2-3 cycles which is basically works out as 2-3 egg retrievals. Any embryos that are not used are frozen, so even if it is successful the first time any remaining embryos are frozen and stored for future use. I will do a full post on the IVF process as I know it but for now, in a nutshell the IVF process is as below:
A lot of people have been asking me how I am and how I feel and the truth is I don’t necessarily feel anything. And a huge part of that is just so I can maintain a level head about it all. I want to be prepared for both any good or disappointment that can come with this and I just feel that not getting ahead of myself and also not over-worrying is a good place to be. What I am happy about is the KNOWING, I talk a lot about the gift of knowing on this blog and for me that has been the best thing to come out of this journey. A knowing about our fertility health, about the options out there and more so the options available to us specifically because every case is different. My worst fear was to get to the end of all this and be told that we have unexplained infertility – for me personally – I wouldn’t have known how to process that. Although yes the results were not good news, they are concrete and something we can actually work with and I’ll be honest there is an element of relief on my part that we are going straight to IVF because after almost 3 years of trying the last thing I would have wanted is another prolonged process of trying out all the other treatment available before IVF and then not having success with that and then having to face IVF carrying all that disappointment. Going straight to IVF means the trying process is not extended and also there is a cut-off with IVF because once your cycles are done you have to re-evaluate and decide where or not you want to self-fund and go private or become parents in a different way. I personally want to be able to draw the line at some point and I feel the benefit of being funded by the NHS vs the cost of self-funding makes you consider drawing the line at some point. That’s not to say we would never go private if the NHS cycles were unsuccessful, but the end of the cycles offers a chance to just stop and figure things out as opposed to a long and disappointing stretch of failed treatment. I don’t know if I’m making sense but there is some relief for me in this being our only ‘assisted’ option.
I am however, extremely anxious about shutting down my natural menstrual cycle and the hormones that do all that (more on this in next post). I have always been quite conscious about what I put into my body and even when I was on contraception, I had the copper coil which releases no hormones at all because I can’t be sure what all these hormones are doing to our bodies. So that part I am worried about and there are so many stories from women who’ve had IVF and what it did to their bodies before they even fell pregnant. But the desire for a baby outweighs all of the anxiety and I have to deal with it, obviously. I don’t know exactly what to expect and as they say, ignorance is bliss so at the moment, I’m seeking solace in that. Of course this ignorance can’t last forever and I will have to have a moment of reckoning but for now, having signed the dotted line on the referral form and begun this journey, I am taking it one day at a time. I would like also like to add at this point that I will NOT be blogging about our IVF process in real-time – my husband and I would like to have that experience in private (the same privacy afforded to people who conceive naturally) because we don’t know what lies ahead and protecting that outcome, whichever way it goes is important to us. I will continue to blog about in/fertility related stuff but nothing about what is going on with us until we see it fit to do so again. Please know that this is in no way a response to any stigma, or shaming or silencing. Silence is okay if it is your own choosing and in this case, it very much is my/our own choosing. I hope to be telling you good news in the near future and if that is the case, I want this time to be about my family – and not about the blog. I will continue to be here for any questions, suggestions for posts or one-to-one chats.
Please keep us in your prayers – for God’s will to prevail.