I’ve been dating my boyfriend Freddy for just under a year now, having two children of my own already and us both being around the age of thirty the natural discussion about moving in together, getting married and having children of our own one day has taken place. I had concerns about my ability to conceive after previous complications which led us to having a couples fertility test a few months ago and the results were shocking!
Never in a million years did we think that we would struggle to conceive as we’re both fit and active youngish adults leading a healthy lifestyle. To be told at the age of 27 that Freddy has a low sperm count – 5million per ml instead of 15million per ml – really surprised us and made us question our plans as a couple wanting a child “one day”. Undoubtedly we love each other regardless of if we ever have a baby of our own together, yet it’s been instilled in us since birth that having a family is a rite of passage; you meet, fall in love, move in together, have children and retire, that’s just what people do. To potentially not have that chance goes against the grain and makes us feel rather uneasy. We thought infertility happens to other people, not us.
The thought of having our choice taken away through male infertility, or rather for life not to be how we’d planned it, is somewhat unsettling. We live in a society that is incredibly disposable, relationships end, families are broken and freedom and careers come far sooner than settling down and planning to have a family. Very ignorantly we’ve always believed if we want a baby we can have one as and when we choose to and I’d certainly never panicked about age or thought about my fertility before. Whilst the media highlights the ‘ticking biological clock’ of a woman I never put myself under that same umbrella or recognised a deadline for having any future children, especially with a new partner. I recognise how blessed I am to have my two children from previous relationships and am now discovering the pain and suffering that so many face when trying to conceive.
My daughter Millisent is soon to be 11yrs old and my autistic son Gabriele is 6yrs. I first became a single parent at the age of 19 when I discovered I was half way through a pregnancy and the pill had failed because of an undiagnosed hormone imbalance. I was petrified to become a mother so young, working, studying and raising my daughter alone because her father wasn’t ready to be a parent. My daughter taught me everything that is beautiful about life; true love, patience, selflessness and empathy. She changed my life entirely and made me the person I am today. Millie is my life and my inspiration and despite having to grow up very quickly I’m grateful for the independence becoming a mother has given me.
Shortly after giving birth I met my ex and spent my entire adult life engaged. Sadly I miscarried on the pill a few years into our relationship (still unaware of my hormone imbalance) and the thought of being pregnant again, of having a life inside of me and never meeting the soul who wasn’t ready for us absolutely crushed me. I had this hollow aching inside of my chest that just wouldn’t pass. I was mourning for the baby we knew nothing about, the one who slept silently inside of me until it was time to say goodbye, but I wasn’t ready to let go because I’d only just understood the feeling of saying hello. It made us think about having a child of our own together sooner rather than later, as having being together since I was a teenager, engaged and preparing for marriage with my daughter already at pre-school it seemed like the perfect time for us to think about trying for a baby.
And so my son Gabriele was born in 2012, but shortly after my ex left because he decided against wanting a family at the age of 30 whilst his friends were all still single and care-free. I didn’t see it coming and heartbreakingly I was left alone again to pick up the pieces with two children at the age of 25yrs. Despite the financial and emotional struggles I’ve faced as a single mum and the challenges of raising a disabled child, it’s been the most rewarding, beautiful and worthwhile moments of my life seeing my two children grow, nurturing them and teaching them all about life. They remind me to live in the moment, to appreciate the little things and treat others the way that I’d like to be treated. Everything is so open, honest and genuine with children, their hearts are so precious and their love unconditional – I wish the rest of the world could behave in the same way and be so genuine. My children mean everything to me and I wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t have had them. They make the struggle worth it and given the choice to do things differently I’d pick the exact same way to have them over and over again everytime.
Meeting Freddy at the age of 30yrs was the turning point in my life as a woman and it touched my heart to see how kind and gentle he is with my children and my own heart, he is a gentleman in every way possible. As a teenager I never thought I’d meet somebody who would accept me as a young woman with a baby, let alone now with two children from two different relationships; but Freddy has and doesn’t see it as a negative, baggage or issue in any way. Oddly after my son was born I thought I would feel closure for my family, to have one boy and one girl, bouncing kittens and bunnies filling our home but something felt lacking, I felt like there was a third child I was yet to meet. Sadly it wasn’t to be as I became a single parent directly after and have spent almost 6yrs alone raising my children and throwing myself into work to provide for them. Over the years I have wondered why the feeling and longing for my third child has never subsided or gone away – I put it down to the pain of losing a child through miscarriage but I still feel something inside of me that I’m yet to complete my family.
It may sound selfish to others that a woman with two wonderful children longs for a baby with her new partner whilst others have no children, but every circumstance is individual and infertility can strike at any time in anyone. I never thought I would find my happy ending, I never thought I’d meet a man who loves my children just as much as I do and sees the same future that I dream of – to share the pride, joy, love and magic of raising a child, a small piece of one another together forever. Some may sadly never have children of their own, others have children who pass away so very young, are stillborn, suffer the heartache of multiple miscarriages or forever struggle to conceive losing their cars, homes and livelihood in the process of paying for private IVF.
Whilst our case may seem the mildest of them all in comparison, we are now tentatively discovering the issues surrounding male infertility. It has opened our eyes massively to this silent world and community where we are but the tip of the iceberg that is infertility and my heart aches for all involved and affected by it. I realise that nothing is given in life and wishing, wanting and doing everything that you can to prepare for a baby doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever have one at the end of it. But we can all live with hope, all make lifestyle changes to improve our chances, raise awareness and support research and campaigning to bring fertility issues to light.
Upon discovering Freddy’s low sperm count we were approached to speak on BBC Three Counties Radio about male infertility and I know that it was an incredibly big and brave step for him to talk about his experience and feelings so publicly. Male infertility in particular is somewhat of a taboo in society and we hope that in sharing our story we can make a difference to others and let them know they are not alone, there is hope and help. We’re both very fit and active and to look at Freddy you would think he’s a strong, tall, dark and handsome man in great health – the alpha male and not somebody who could be affected by infertility. The reality is, 1 in 6 people, or 3.5million UK residents face fertility issues, yet it’s something people never seem to speak about, instead suffering in silence. It’s reported that 37% of fertility issues are down to male infertility, 30% female infertility and a shocking 33% left unexplained – giving absolutely no reason as to why couples fail to conceive. There needs to be more research!
As it stands the NHS offer varying IVF choices for couples struggling to conceive providing strict guidelines are met. NHS-funding for IVF is governed by location and budgets so it becomes a postcode lottery for those who have the best options and most chances dependant on where you live. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) fertility guidelines recommend who should have access to IVF treatment on the NHS in England and Wales, offering women under the age of 43 who have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for 2 years, or who have had 12 cycles of artificial insemination. These treatments vary from 3 cycles of IVF in Scotland to just 1 in areas of England.
Seeing as I already have children I am not applicable for IVF on the NHS in England, but as Freddy doesn’t have a child of his own and is a male with a low sperm count, if he were to have IVF with a different woman who meets the guidelines he would then be applicable – but not us as a couple. Despite my desire to have a baby with Freddy I see this decision for us not to be applicable as fair, I’m thankful to have my children and I would never want to take away funding or support from others who are childless and need it so much more than us which is why we want to use our journey to raise awareness and help for others. Together we can make a difference, both now and for future generations.
The final decision over who can have NHS-funded IVF in England is ultimately made by local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) whose criteria may be stricter than those recommended by NICE and take into account health, weight, smoking, drinking and lifestyle as well as local annual budgets. Being ineligible for NHS IVF we have the option to seek private treatment which varies with the procedures required for each individual case, but typically costs around £5,000 per cycle and doesn’t guarantee a sustainable pregnancy. Because of this, many hopeful couples have lost everything at the cost of trying to have a baby, face financial ruin and sadly some end up separating because of the heartache endured. It breaks my heart to think that something so beautiful as creating a life which two people will love, cherish and be incredible parents to could cause so much pain through infertility, but it’s a reality that needs to be addressed, listened to and properly funded to bring about change.
Whilst NHS-funded IVF will never be an option to help with our own fertility issues we recognise the importance and difference that it can make to so many others and offer our support in whichever way it can be best used. Everybody has an individual fertility journey, some are lightly effect whilst others may sadly never have a child of their own, but we are all in it together. Upon our journey into discovering our options for family planning we came across the Fertility Network and their campaign #Scream4IVF which calls for fair access to fertility treatment no matter where you live. They say the screams of childbirth are loud but the screams of frustration from not being able to have a child are just as loud yet go unheard. Horrifyingly 1 in 6 couples in the UK experience the pain and devastation of infertility, but 98% of England’s NHS services and all of Wales and Northern Ireland ration IVF treatment unfairly. This is why they’re launching a campaign to end unjust access to IVF by creating the world’s loudest scream and gaining 100,000 signatures to force a debate in parliament where legislation can be changed and give a voice to couples with fertility problems so that their frustrations can be heard.
The charity launches its campaign on 6th September 2018 and urges people to post a screaming video or selfie on social media using the hashtag #scream4IVF and share a link to the petition. The screams will be collated to form the world’s longest scream for IVF which will be played at a rally outside Parliament on Wednesday October 10th 2018. “The scale of damage infertility wreaks is vast,” says Aileen Feeney, Fertility Network’s Chief Executive. “It can destroy relationships, lead to serious mental health problems, create social isolation, and cripple people financially. Facing a life without the children you long for means screaming in pain, despair, frustration, desperation, and rage. But these screams of infertility are not being heard. This suffering is in silence.”
In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, access to NHS fertility treatment is determined by where a couple lives and their social circumstances such as our case of having a child from a previous relationship. 98% of England’s NHS services and all of Wales and Northern Ireland unfairly ration IVF treatment; by contrast in Scotland all eligible couples have access to the recommended fertility treatment of three full IVF cycles, including access for couples in which one person has a child from a previous relationship. Those who can’t afford it but who still want to try for a family either have to move to an area that does enable access to NHS fertility treatment or travel abroad for treatment; treatment for the disease of infertility should not be determined by your postcode.
The consequences of infertility include serious mental health problems with associated long-term financial costs to the NHS. “England was the pioneer in developing IVF however that achievement means far less if only those who can afford to pay for private fertility treatment benefit from this life-changing technology. The scale of disinvestment in NHS fertility services is at its worst since NICE introduced national fertility guidelines in 2004. The Government should be ashamed that, after 40 years of IVF, it is your postcode and your pay packet, and not your medical need, that are the key determinants of whether you will be able to try IVF. We urge them to take action now to change this.”
Fertility Network UK is the nation’s leading patient-focused fertility charity providing free and impartial support, advice, information and understanding for anyone affected by fertility issues. The charity works to raise public awareness of all aspects of fertility issues, to highlight the need for equitable access to NHS fertility services and to promote the need for fertility education to protect and maintain future fertility. During in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), ovulation-stimulating drugs are taken to encourage a woman’s ovaries to produce more eggs than normal. Eggs are then removed and fertilised with sperm in the laboratory with a fertilised embryo placed into the woman’s womb. IVF should be considered by couples who have only a low chance of conceiving otherwise and couples with severe male factor infertility, severe endometriosis or tubal disease that affect both fallopian tubes should consider IVF at a relatively early stage. For couples with unexplained infertility or minor endometriosis, particularly where the woman is younger than 35 years, there is a reasonably good chance of conceiving spontaneously in their first two years of trying and they should consider IVF after this period has elapsed.
I hope that you may find it in your heart to help us to help others; please take part in this campaign for change, take twenty seconds of your time to sign this free petition and if you can please show your support on social media by posting a selfie, sharing the link and encouraging others to do the same. Together we can make a difference, no matter how small. My love and best wishes go out to all suffering in silence with infertility and I hope that one day they may have a fair chance at experiencing the blessing of parenthood.