19 April 2007
author, 'Making Babies the Hard Way: Living with Infertility and Treatment' (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)Appeared in BioNews 404
In mid-2003 I was in the depths of despair. My husband - the love of my life - could not father our much-longed for child as he was born with azoospermia (a zero sperm count, probably caused by a missing section of the Y chromosome). I had overcome my initial misgivings about using donor sperm, but after three cycles I had failed to fall pregnant and now my health was deteriorating and we had run out of money. I looked around for information on the Internet, from which I discovered the possibility that sperm may be present in the tissue of the testes in some individuals with this condition. However, this was not true in my husband's case - when he had opted to have a TESE (testicular sperm extraction), no sperm were found in the fifteen biopsies taken by the surgeon.
I sent off for books from the US as there were none on male infertility available in the UK at that time, but when I looked up azoospermia all I found was 'the absence of sperm in the male ejaculate'. I didn't want to adopt; I just wanted to succeed. I became desperate to get pregnant, so began to keep a diary as an outlet for my feelings, which were growing in intensity. The diary became a book and has now just been published as 'Making Babies the Hard Way'.
There seems to be a misconception amongst the uninformed or unaffected that couples wishing to have a family using fertility treatment have somehow deliberately left conception until later in their lives as some sort of lifestyle choice. This is simply not the case. My partner and I met when he was 28 and I was 32. I had always wanted children and shared my dreams of being a mother with him from very early on in our relationship. He was also keen to be a father, but we felt that it would be irresponsible - since we were both self-employed - to bring a child into the world if we couldn't provide for it. At the time, Bruce was living in rented accommodation in South London and I had just bought my first, tiny, one-bedroom flat in North London.
It took five years for us to save the money to buy our first place together - another one-bedroom flat but this time, it had a garden. However, we still had no space for a child's bedroom and it was another 18 months before we stretched our finances to the limit to buy a house. At this point we had been trying for a baby for 6 months but nothing was happening. We went for routine tests, slightly earlier than we had been advised, because I had a history of minor ovulation problems. It was a shock, not only to discover that I was fertile, but that my husband was unable to father a child and had been born that way, and also that at 37, I was already too old to be placed on the waiting list for treatment on the NHS. It seemed ridiculous that we had no chance for even one free cycle, despite Bruce having a genetic medical condition.
I have taken our experience, woven in many other stories given to me by our friends, and also worked with clinicians and counsellors to provide as comprehensive a guide as possible to our journey through fertility treatment. It will inform and educate couples faced with the option of treatment, as well as providing them with a book to give to family, friends and colleagues if they find it too difficult to speak about themselves. My book shows what it feels like to be infertile, from both male and female perspectives, and will give some impression of the physical, emotional and financial impact that fertility treatment has upon your daily life, and the lives of those you care about.