25 Jul, 2020

Becoming pregnant during a pandemic

The year 2020 will no doubt be remembered for the global pandemic that posed the most significant threat to humanity in peacetime. Whilst there is little chance of forgetting the huge impact COVID-19 had on all our lives, all over the world, I will also remember it for another life-changing reason. Because 2020 was the year I fell pregnant for the first time in my life.

Those of you familiar with recent developments in my life will know that, sadly, this life-altering chapter in my story does not have a happy ending. But I think it is important to document what was, for a short time, one of the happiest periods in my life.

Falling pregnant naturally whilst waiting for IVF

There were many things I expected to happen in 2020 but falling pregnant naturally following my hysteroscopy in Greece was not one of them. I was aware that the removal of the polyp, and the masses of tissue surrounding it, would perhaps make me more fertile as there would no longer be significant physical barriers to pregnancy. I was also acutely aware that for the previous 30 months of my life, I had not had so much as a glimpse of a positive pregnancy test. So, though the possibility was there, it very much felt like the kind of wonderful miracle that might happen to somebody else. We’ve all heard tales of a friend of a friend who fell pregnant after months or years spent thinking they were infertile. Allow me to enlighten anyone who may not have come across these ‘helpful’ anecdotes shared with those suffering with infertility on a (near) daily basis.

“My friend/sister/cousin/neighbour/colleague/dogwalker”:

  • Went on holiday and got pregnant after years of trying because she finally ‘relaxed’. (Because we all know not being relaxed is BOUND to be a more likely cause of infertility than biology.)
  • Fell pregnant the month she was due to begin IVF treatment because ‘the pressure was off’.
  • Struggled to conceive with her partner for years then got pregnant with a new partner first time. (Wonderful but no, not enough to make me leave my husband.)

These stories are not new to us. As for their likelihood? I suspect it wouldn’t be too controversial to counter that the chances of them happening are slim at best. But, happen it did. Though I would imagine it was more likely due to the polyp removal than the relaxing break in Athens.

Signs and symptoms

I knew I felt different. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I felt different but I knew I felt, for want of a better word, strange. I had bled when my period was due at precisely the sort of time in the month where I had expected to. I had cried to my husband, yet again, upon my realisation that once more we had failed to get pregnant. But the bleeding disappeared hours later and failed to return. This seemed odd but not indicative of anything in particular, at that point. I had had a hysteroscopy and that could well have messed up my cycle or caused spotting, I reasoned. But days later, when my period still had not returned I noticed something else. I was very gassy – alarmingly so – completely devoid of energy and, I can say this with some certainty, the most emotional I have ever been. Finding an empty packet of breakfast bars would cause me to hurl the packet across the kitchen counter. My husband appearing reluctant to make me a cup of tea (caffeine-free, naturally) would prompt me to storm out of the room and up to bed dramatically, muttering profanities all the while. I also felt incredibly nauseous and my breasts felt sore. So, after spending an entire night tossing and turning and struggling to sleep due to my increasing symptoms I knew I had to make a decision about whether I wanted to risk seeing yet another negative pregnancy test.

To test or not to test?

Now I do not test lightly and by that, I mean that I am definitely in the camp of women who prefer a ‘wait and see’ approach to those who regularly test a certain number of days past ovulation. The reason for this is that I have been in the alternative camp before, many times in fact, in the early days of trying to conceive and it resulted in two things:

  • Extreme disappointment
  • A compromised bank balance. (I could never get to grips with the cheap strips and so became reliant on the expensive ‘heavyweights’ of the pregnancy test market.)

For some reason, the sight of a negative test had become much more offensive to me than the sight of blood, which perhaps gives you an insight into the significant impact infertility has on a person’s mental health. But I had too many symptoms to ignore; symptoms I had never had before and my period was a week late. And so, with great trepidation, I decided that I might need to test in the morning. So as not to raise my husband’s hopes too much, I only briefly mentioned that my period should have arrived by this point but was careful not to conclude that this was anything more significant than my cycle having altered.

Seeing my first positive pregnancy test

The morning I tested I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to, despite feeling that I perhaps ought to, and I headed to the bathroom after my husband had showered and gone downstairs, with conflicting feelings. Seeing that I had a digital test in the washstand, I decided I probably should. Years of seeing one stark pink line had left me reluctant to use the dye tests and for some inexplicable reason, I felt seeing the words ‘NOT PREGNANT’ would be preferable to one humiliating line of dye. So, I tested. The egg timer immediately appeared and spun around for what felt like an eternity when, all of a sudden, a word I hadn’t seen on a test before appeared: PREGNANT.

I was dumbstruck. And though I was in complete disbelief the thought of finally getting the chance to announce such unexpected and happy news to friends and family, made me feel completely overjoyed. I was pregnant. At least, I was 99% sure I was pregnant. The egg timer was continuing to turn. What if, when it finally completed its revolutions, it adds ‘NOT’ to the front of the word PREGNANT, I hypothesised? Surely, that couldn’t be the design of the test, could it? But why was the egg timer still flashing and turning? Within seconds an estimate of how far along I was popped onto the screen. 3+. The most pregnant result available on the test, I reassured myself. We’d done it. We were finally pregnant. And now I could rush downstairs to tell my husband in the same way I’d envisaged for the past 30 months! Well, not *quite* the same way. Stripy pyjamas, messy bed-hair and still-to-be-brushed teeth were not the look I’d envisaged over the years but nothing else mattered now because I was pregnant. Me. The girl who blogs about infertility. The girl who watches everyone else around her get pregnant and have babies while she stands on the sidelines. And I hadn’t needed IVF to do it!

Finally pregnant – during a pandemic

I entered the living room where my husband was finishing his cereal before leaving for work and handed him the test. Such was his excitement at this point he decided not to tell me he’d have preferred to be there when I took the test. I found that out some days later and it still makes me feel slightly guilty months later. But if he’d been present for each and every crushingly disappointing test I’d taken over the years, I suspect he’d feel differently.

For the next few weeks I struggled. I was beyond thrilled to finally be pregnant but the shine was ever so slightly dulled by the unavoidable fact that I was now pregnant during a global pandemic. Upon calling my GP to inform them of the pregnancy I was told I was now classed as ‘vulnerable’ and shouldn’t leave the house unless in an emergency. I also found it difficult to know how public to be with the pregnancy. Had it been a result of an IVF cycle, everybody would have known. But as it happened naturally during lockdown it was very easy to keep it quiet. And that’s exactly what we did – aside from telling close friends and family via video calls. During this period, a number of opportunities arose. I was approached by a few journalists and social media content creators to share my story and discuss the impact of Coronavirus on my frozen embryo transfer in Greece. This was a difficult position to be in. On the one hand, I was desperate to work with these people and thrust the world of infertility into the spotlight once more but, on the other, it felt ever-so-slightly deceptive. Plus, I didn’t want anything to ‘jinx’ the situation I had thankfully found myself in. So, I decided not to, through fear of appearing dishonest once my big news was finally revealed at the end of the first trimester.

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. It all felt that little bit too good to be true.

And, as I heartbreakingly discovered many weeks later, it was.

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