To celebrate European Fertility Week from 7 to 14 November, Self Health Coach Sinead Kelly shares her deeply personal and inspiring story of her own fertility journey
After 5 years of fertility treatments, Sinead and her husband gave birth to their daughter Roisin. Born on a sunny Mother’s Day, the happy couple could finally call themselves parents. After many failed attempts, the path to motherhood seemed impossible. However, her story shows that with hope, anything is possible.
I was 30 when I started trying. After a year with no success I asked my GP for a referral to a fertility clinic. I knew that my friends at that time were either getting pregnant straight away or after a few months of trying.
I’m a nurse so we tend to focus on what can go wrong however, all of our tests were good except for my lower AMH levels.
AMH (anti-Mullerian hormone) is a hormone produced in the follicles of your ovaries. An AMH test can give you an idea of how many eggs are present in your ovaries. hse.ie.
The first treatment that was advised was an IUI. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a fertility treatment that involves directly inserting sperm into a woman’s womb. nhs.co.uk. The success rates are low but I have met people who have gotten pregnant from it. Unfortunately, we were not successful.
We moved on to IVF. Halfway through my first treatment however, I was seen by a consultant for a lump I had found on my breast. I remember uncontrollably crying in the corridor of Cork University Hospital with my husband, surrounded by past colleagues of mine. The lump or having surgery didn’t upset me. I was devastated that I had to stop my IVF cycle. With each day that passed I feared that my fertility was getting further away from me.
The amazing specialist nurses and consultants at the breast clinic in CUH got me into surgery as quickly as they could. Soon after my surgery, I got my results. I was in the clear and could restart my IVF.
I should have been over the moon but, it was an extremely stressful and emotional time for us. My father-in-law had passed away whilst another parent was recovering from a serious operation.
I had two embryos put back. The start of two babies, now in my womb where they belonged and where I felt I could look after them. However, a few days later, on the morning of my father in laws month’s mind mass, I got my period. I sat in the back of the church inconsolable, my mum’s arms wrapped around me.
My concerns about getting older were growing and so, a few months later, we did another IVF. This time we had another family death – one that was extremely tragic and painful for both of us. It was no surprise that our new IVF embryos did not progress. This was undoubtedly our lowest point. Not only were we grieving our family but also our embryos, which were part me and part my husband. Hope felt distant.
Six months later we tried again with a type of IVF called ICSI – a process that was supposed to be more effective. In the ICSI process, a tiny needle, called a micropipette, is used to inject a single sperm into the centre of the egg. reproductivefacts.org.
Again, around this time, we had another family death.. I am quite a logical person but even I was starting to feel like we were cursed. With each time we attempted an IVF someone in our family passed away. It was even more disheartening to find out that we yet again, had no embryos to put back.
Everything in our lives felt outside of our control. I felt so disempowered and worn down. And yet life kept moving on anyway. So, I made an intentional decision to focus on what was within my control.
I started to eat healthier, exercised more and drank less alcohol. I also started meditating and going to bed earlier. It wasn’t easy to make these health changes however it was where I needed to direct my focus. We were also in control of what fertility treatment path to take next. We considered all avenues from embryo donation to adoption.
Up until this point most I was stuck obsessing over what I couldn’t control. This small shift in my own mindset gave me hope again and I believed very deeply that we would eventually have a child. I just didn’t know how or when.
On talking to a friend’s family member who had been successful in Prague, my husband and I discussed going there for one more try at an ICSI IVF. This was our last chance before embryo donation or adoption.
On the same week that I finished a coaching psychology course in UCC, we flew to Prague. We treated it like a holiday. It was very relaxed and we loved the city.
The IVF process was very similar to Ireland. We did our ICSI and had only one embryo. Over and over people told us, “All you need is one good one” but of course, your odds are lower with only one, and our experience up until this point had warned us not to get our hopes up.
But thankfully, this was the one. I went on to have a normal pregnancy and gave birth to a gorgeous and energetic little baby girl.
People ask me what I think worked for us in the end. Like many others, we have unexplained infertility and so without a diagnosis, it is not possible to say why this specific IVF round worked. I know that feeling of wanting to find any clue that may help with fertility. What I do believe is that looking at my own stress levels and making a few health changes, may have boosted our fertility. Even if that was only by a tiny percentage for IVF to work.
I am so grateful to be able to combine my own experience, my nursing background, and coaching psychology knowledge to support those on their fertility journey. I’m aware of the pain that others are experiencing – who long for children in their life.
This Fertility Week, allow yourself to grieve and do what you need to do to look after yourself. Surround yourself with loved ones or take time to spend the day on your own. Cry and let out all the emotions whilst binge-watching Netflix or get outdoors for an energetic hike. Do what feels right for you and give yourself permission to prioritise yourself.
Sinead Kelly is a Self Health Coach supporting those on their fertility journey online and in Cork City. For more details see sineadkelly.ie.