Trying for a baby when your body won’t cooperate
After two years of trying, Noemi Denish was ecstatic to be pregnant with her first child. But 10 weeks into the pregnancy, she lost the baby.
Noemi and her husband were devastated but more determined than ever to have a baby. But because she was already 38 and it had taken so long to conceive, her doctor diagnosed her as being infertile and recommended in vitro fertilisation (IVF), a widely used assisted conception procedure.
IVF involves removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries, fertilising them with sperm in a laboratory, and then returning the embryo(s) to the womb to grow and develop. “At first I didn’t want to go down the IVF route because I felt it wasn’t what nature had intended. But a friend convinced me that if it really wasn’t meant to be, then there wouldn’t be medical procedures available for women in my situation,” the former police officer says of her decision to go ahead with the treatment.
The IVF process was gruelling. Each cycle began with a mix of synthetic hormones that Noemi had to inject into her belly to stimulate her ovaries into producing multiple eggs, rather than the one that normally develops each month during ovulation. “I was giving myself injections for weeks on end, and I also needed my husband to give me some injections. I had to get bloodwork every day because they were giving me a cocktail of drugs tailored for me,” she explains.
About two weeks later, Noemi had an ultrasound scan and blood tests to make sure the eggs were ready for the egg retrieval procedure. Soon after that, she was sedated while doctors removed the eggs using a thin needle guided by a transvaginal ultrasound. Several days later, she had three lab-fertilised eggs transferred back into her womb with a syringe.
Then there was the wait to see if the treatment had been a success…followed by the crushing news that it had failed. “It’s so draining physically, psychologically, emotionally, and you feel like you’re going through it yourself, but your partner is going through it, too,” Noemi recalls.
Each IVF cycle takes about 4-6 weeks, and your body needs time to recover in between cycles. Noemi was ready to give up when she fell pregnant on the third try. That was over two years later. At the age of 41, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy called Aiden. His brother Ashton came along two years after that. Beyond her wildest dreams, Noemi had gone from being infertile to being a mother of two.
Why me? Coping with infertility
As a general rule, a couple is diagnosed as being infertile if they haven’t managed to have a baby after one year of trying.1 Infertility in women can occur for many reasons ‒ for example, age, lack of regular ovulation, certain medical conditions such as endometriosis or chlamydia, and lifestyle factors such as stress, smoking and drinking alcohol ‒ but there’s no identifiable reason in about 25% of cases. The most common cause of infertility in men is poor semen quality.
There are various tests to determine the cause. This can range from blood tests to check certain hormone levels to ultrasound scans of a woman’s ovaries. In Noemi’s case, after ruling out a number of possible causes, the doctor concluded that her fertility problems were most likely age- and stress-related, as her husband’s semen tests came back normal.
Treatment depends largely on the woman’s age and the cause of infertility, if one can be identified. For example, a woman with endometriosis may need surgery, while someone testing positive for chlamydia would be prescribed antibiotics. The two most common assisted conception procedures are IVF and intrauterine insemination.
Noemi believes that a critical part of coping with infertility is having the support of family and friends. She therefore gives regular talks to a local infertility network of women. “When I tell them about my IVF story and that I finally had kids at age 41 and 43, it gives them hope,” she says.
NHS Choices, Infertility