The crushing impact of infertility on a Hertfordshire woman desperate to be a mum – Hertfordshire Mercury

"I felt my life was not worth living if I couldnt have a family."

For some, raising a family is the be all and end all. It's the pinnacle.

So with Isabelle - a fake name given to her in order to protect her identity - the inability to conceive, having endured many failed IVF attempts, left her wondering whether she'll ever be able to live out her dream.

She's spent the last decade desperately trying to conceive and believes this could be her last roll of the dice.

Now in her 30s, Isabelle, who lives in Hertfordshire, has gone through turmoil.

She's endured a relationship break up, mental health battles and then was given the biggest bombshell of them all - she was told she had a tumour on her ovaries.

The coronavirus crisis also threw another spanner in the works as fertility treatment centres were forced to close, putting countless couples' plans to start a family on ice for the time being.

Here, Isabelle shares her heartbreaking story and the devastating effects that infertility can have on someone's life.

In vitro Fertilisation - or IVF - is one of several techniques available to help people who have fertility issues to conceive.

The process of IVF involves an egg being removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory.

The fertilised egg - called an embryo - is then returned to the woman's womb to grow and develop.

It can be carried out using either the woman's eggs and a partner's sperm, or eggs and sperm from donors.

The chances of success using IVF are low.

It can also be costly, with one cycle of treatment costing up to 5,000 or more.

According to the NHS website, chances of success are 29 percent for women under 35, and 23 per cent for women aged 35 to 37.

When a woman reaches the age of 44, chances of success plummet to just two per cent.

The process is both physically and mentally draining, but Isabelle says she would do anything she could to try and fall pregnant.

"After many years of trying, we were told IVF would be our best option," she said.

"We paid for all the controversial extras. Theyre considered controversial as some experts say these do not increase the chances of success, they just take advantage of desperate couples.

"So over the years we paid for three egg retrievals and, in total, six embryos were put back in. This was done at one of the best clinics around.

"None of these six embryos took and this made me lose faith in IVF."

The couple ran out of money and decided to call time, putting treatment on hold due to the added stress and anxiety it was causing.

To temporarily give up on a dream of raising a family, however, was soul-crushing for Isabelle.

"The process takes its toll on you mentally, adds an overload of synthetic hormones which are needed and you have the perfect recipe for a mental breakdown," she added.

"Id done everything that was humanly possible.

"No caffeine, only organic food that hadnt been processed or zapped in the microwave, I was in the middle of my BMI and kept fit.

"Some might say Id got a bit obsessed, but the way I saw it, it was a temporary thing to do for a permanent reward.

"It becomes all-consuming. You pin all your hopes on it working and, when it doesnt, it brings you crashing back down to Earth.

"At that point, the pain of trying to conceive became greater than the pain of never having children."

For the next two years, Isabelle threw herself into triathlons. Keeping herself fit became her new release and focus after the failed IVF attempts.

The pain of having to go through the process was too much, but as her egg count was good, she thought she'd give it another go.

She had to go through all the tests again, since the previous records were more than two years old, but then came the devastating news.

Doctors confirmed she now had a tumour on one of her ovaries and removing it could damage the ovary.

One of the side effects from IVF drugs is ovarian tumours, which in turn feed off oestrogen, meaning not enough oestrogen is produced to ovulate.

"The tumour was monitored over the next 10 months and we were given Clomid along with oestrogen and progesterone," she added.

"We were hopeful that the chances of falling pregnant in six months were good. After all, the infertility was, like in most cases, unexplained."

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The impact on Isabelle's mental health became overawing, and she took the decision to seek professional help.

Having to constantly battle against failed attempts, heightened expectations and the physical toll of treatment caught up with her to the point where she simply couldn't take it anymore.

She started seeing a private therapist in the hope it would help her get back on track.

The botched IVF attempts were with her now ex-partner, who was infertile, and it caused a strain on their relationship.

"Id refused antidepressants all this time as I didnt want to harm my non-existent baby, but last summer I was in a bad place," she said.

"I felt my life was not worth living if I couldnt have a family.

"My partner had suggested we take a break on trying to conceive as the stress was getting too much. I would get annoyed with him as he didnt have the same obsession of trying to conceive as me. This caused resentment.

"In a complete depressive state, I went to my doctor to seek some help as I wasnt coping. I was inconsolable.

"I started seeing a therapist privately who asked what stopped me killing myself.

"I told her hope. Its the hope every month that Ill get pregnant."

Her therapist encouraged Isabelle to write down all her thoughts, which appeared to temporarily quell the feelings of worry and anxiety.

Before doing so, she says she got so stressed that she became like a needy three year old, worrying her partner would leave her as she may be seen as hard work.

Something needed to give, so she relented and took prescribed antidepressants. She just wanted the pain and panic to stop.

Around one in seven couples may have difficulty conceiving, according to the NHS.

For Isabelle, the inability to fall pregnant with her partner led her to believe she may have done something wrong to deserve it.

She says she has also found herself playing God in her head at times and deciding who should and who shouldn't have children.

"Since the lockdown, my thoughts have got so bad at times that I hate myself for having them," she said.

"I find myself judging people with children and playing God in my head with who I think does and doesnt deserve children.

"I know how bad that sounds and I hate myself for thinking it.

"Im a fragile human being at the moment and unless someones been in this position, people just cant relate to how deep the pain goes.

"Its like grief. We can all imagine what its like to lose someone close to us but until it happens, you cant imagine how intense that feeling really is.

"Even then, everybodys experience is different, bringing different thoughts and feelings.

"I get angry at overweight people with babies, people who smoke, parents who take drugs, pregnant people drinking caffeine, people who are older than me and are pregnant, in fact, anything to do with pregnancy or babies.

"It makes me so angry that life is so unfair. Im a decent person whos always played by the rules and I feel Im being punished.

"What did I do that was so bad? Ive had to unfollow friends and family on social media who post pictures of their perfect families just for my own sanity.

"Ive learnt that the more I see of these things the more I ruminate, which leads to depression."

Overhearing people talk about their family life can be triggering for Isabelle.

And while no one means any harm, the conversations can prove difficult to listen to for those with fertility issues.

Isabelle recalls one particular example while stood at the supermarket tills.

"I was shopping a few weeks back when the woman in front was pregnant," she said.

"Id normally have avoided that till if Id have realised but Id already put my stuff on the conveyor belt and told myself I was being silly.

"She went on to tell the cashier it was her seventh child. Her remaining kids were running round the tills, she had a packet of cigarettes hanging out her pocket.

"I should have put my headphones on and ignored her but I felt compelled to listen to the conversation.

"By the time it was my turn to get served, Id worked myself up so much that when the cashier said 'Thats her seventh child!' I replied with 'And it makes me absolutely sick when I can't even have one'.

"I felt instant remorse for making the cashier feel awkward but I couldnt seem to stop the words coming out. I now feel so foolish that I avoid the cashier when I'm at the supermarket."

The problem still arises when family and friends reveal their good news, and Isabelle says while she wishes she could be happy for them, she's only ever reminded of her inability to have children.

It's a horrible headspace to be in, she says, and one she wouldn't wish on anybody.

"On the odd times when I dont feel angry about it, I see how unfair Im being. I see things rationally but the majority of the time, I dont see life through those eyes," she said.

"I see every pregnancy announcement as a kick in the teeth.

In vitro Fertilisation - or IVF - is one of several techniques available to help people who have fertility issues to conceive.

The process of IVF involves an egg being removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory.

The fertilised egg - called an embryo - is then returned to the woman's womb to grow and develop.

It can be carried out using either the woman's eggs and a partner's sperm, or eggs and sperm from donors.

"Baby pictures rub salt in the wound too and of course I have to put on a smile and say how joyous it is.

"A girl I know sent an email to announce the birth of her son. My first reaction was to send her an email back to say 'Congratulations, Im on my 16th failed attempt'. I didnt, but for the next few hours I had angry and jealous thoughts.

"Its like me talking about running and people who physically cant run getting angry with me.

"However, when you're in that state of mind then you dont think logically. One of the worst things to say to me is: 'Have you thought about adoption?

"Do they think Im going to say What a great idea, why didnt I think of that?

"I dont want someone elses child, I want my own.

"It also felt that they were dismissing my grief, as if to say 'Dont worry about losing your babies, you can just have a different one' as if it was as simple as getting a faulty item replaced.

"I have friends who have adopted and friends who have been adopted. Thats great for them but its not for me.

"I'd rather have no children than adopt. My friend who has adopted had to go through a horrific process."

If you're looking for a way to stay up to date with the latest breaking news from around Hertfordshire, the HertsLive newsletter is a good place to start.

The daily update will deliver the topnewsandfeatures to your inbox.

We choose the most important stories of the day to include in the newsletter, including crime, court news, long reads, traffic and travel, food and drink articles and more.

Signing up to the newsletter is simple. Just put your email address in the box at the top of this story and click 'subscribe'.

It's one of the many ways that you can read the news that matters to you from HertsLive.

The toll, both physically and mentally, was too much for Isabelle and her long-term partner to go through.

After a few frank discussions, the couple called time on their relationship after 11 years.

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The crushing impact of infertility on a Hertfordshire woman desperate to be a mum - Hertfordshire Mercury

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