PINNING YOUR HOPES
After having one baby naturally, most parents believe the path to child number two will be smooth, but this isn’t always the case. JAI BREITNAUER speaks to three couples who are still hoping to grow their families
When trying for another baby hits a snag
When high school sweethearts Elle and Tom Johnson* decided to try for children, they didn’t expect any problems and nature didn’t disappoint. They fell pregnant almost immediately with daughter Willa, now approaching five. “I wanted a two-and-a-half to three-year age gap and, because Willa had been so easy, we waited until we were bang on the dates to start trying again,” says Elle. “I fell pregnant easily that second time too, but miscarried at six weeks.” Elle admits she and Tom weren’t too worried after that first miscarriage, and carried on trying. They fell pregnant again within weeks, and again miscarried at seven weeks. “We spoke to our GP, who reassured us they wouldn’t be concerned until we’d had three pregnancy losses in a row,” says Elle. “We decided to have a break, let my body recover. Five months later we started trying again and fell pregnant straight away.” As this was their third pregnancy after two miscarriages there was some trepidation, but Elle had the morning sickness she experienced with Willa and other pregnancy symptoms. At 12 weeks, they told close friends and family, and even Willa who was excited to be a big sister. “But at my scan toward the end of my 12th week, there was no heartbeat,” says Elle who noted the embryo was complete, and they dated its growth to 12 weeks. “That one was really hard, and we began to think something was seriously wrong. I also felt a sense of grief that the family I had planned wouldn’t happen. We were already up to a four-year age gap and we weren’t pregnant yet.” Elle was admitted to hospital at her request, and they did some tests on her and the embryo.
She and Tom were then referred to the Fertility Plus recurrent pregnancy loss clinic for further investigation. “We were told that while the baby we had just lost was fine – it was just bad luck – I did in fact have a chromosomal abnormality. Two of my chromosomes were the wrong way round.” This condition, called a balanced translocation, explained the first two early miscarriages, and they were offered publiclyfunded IVF PGD, where the embryos are screened for viability. Elle and Tom suffered another natural pregnancy loss in March this year, before being offered the IVF in June. They managed to produce seven embryos, but when biopsied, none were suitable for transfer. “That news was quite scary,” says Elle. “Is that how bad our chances of a second child are? Our reality is that it’s going to be very hard to fall pregnant again.” Elle and Tom are considering whether to go ahead with another attempt at IVF PGD. They admit the process of trying for another child has been very consuming, taking its toll physically and emotionally. “Your whole life seems on hold, and although we’ve coped well so far, you don’t know when you might break,” says Elle. “We feel the need to put a timeframe on it, to have a moment where we can move on. But equally, we are desperate to have another child. Willa is amazing and very fulfilling, but our family doesn’t yet feel complete.” Elle and Tom have benefited from counselling at Fertility Plus, an important service that helps couples gain some perspective. “It’s really quite unexpected for these couples to find they are struggling to conceive a second time,” says Fertility Plus Counsellor Megan Downer. “They suffer feelings of shock and disbelief that it’s happening to them, and a loss of control. After all, the first time they were just able to get pregnant.” Megan says many couples talk about the loss of their dream family as the imagined age-gap begins to widen. “Both the age gap and the size of the family planned can be affected by delayed fertility. We try and help couples regain some perspective by exploring their dream and adjusting to their new normal.” Megan also notes that many couples feel guilty that they are at Fertility Plus at all, bearing in mind they have a child already, and she is keen to stress this guilt is misplaced. “Some friends and family who, meaning to be helpful, say things like ‘You should feel grateful you have one child’, which can make the couple feel like their feelings aren’t valid. But this is a non-judgmental place where couples can openly discuss their experiences and express their frustration and sadness. Everyone’s experience is unique.”