CAROLINE Gallup, 41, and her husband, Bruce, 36, from north-west London, had been together six years when they started trying for a baby in 2001.
However, it emerged that Bruce, a scenic painter,, was not producing any sperm, so they began Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI) treatment, with donor sperm being introduced into Caroline’s uterus.
Throughout the treatment Caroline, a former live events producer who is now a freelance writer, kept an insightful and moving record of their journey, which she has used as the basis for a book called Making Babies the Hard Way.
Here, GOOD HEALTH presents some extracts from her diary.
5pm, the local doctor’s surgery
The doctor is finishing off some paperwork as we walk in and sit down.
‘How can I help you today?’ She spins to face us in her swivel chair and smiles.
Bruce clears his throat. ‘We’re trying to have a baby. My latest sperm test results should be here.’
‘Righto!’ She swings back to face the computer screen on her desk. ‘Ah. There we are…there aren’t any.’
‘Aren’t any what?’ I ask. No records, no results, no what?
‘No sperm I’m afraid.’
‘What, none at all?’ I exclaim. ‘Is this common?’
‘No, not really.’
The doctor is looking at Bruce. I want to give his hand a squeeze, but I can’t move.
‘Is there anything we can do?’ I ask.
‘No, I don’t think there is I’m afraid,’ she replies. ‘Now I hate to jump the gun Caroline, but donor sperm…’
What is she talking about? I don’t want sperm from a complete stranger. I want Bruce’s baby.
I watch Bruce sink deeper into the chair. The GP notices as well and says.
‘It doesn’t make you any less of a man, you know.’
Later on the same evening at our flat
Bruce hasn’t spoken since we received the news. We drink some wine and I say: ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do donor sperm. I find the idea repulsive. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would feel like…. first someone else’s sperm…and then someone else’s child growing in my body… I just don’t think I could go through with it.’
Bruce hasn’t heard me: ‘The family line will end with me then.’ He has two sisters and two female cousins.
The rest of the evening is spent struggling with what we are going to do now. We can’t accept that donor sperm is our only option. Unless I can find a way to cope with donor sperm, we have no hope of a family of our own.
We decide to keep this between ourselves until we have more information.
We are seeing an urologist – a specialist in the male reproductive system – at a Harley Street hospital. We’ve had to go private as the waiting lists are long and we have no time to waste. And at 38, I am already too old for acceptance onto an NHS list if I do need treatment.
There are more tests and the specialist confirms what we already know, but tells us there is a slim chance all doors may not yet be shut. He suggests we find a good fertility clinic on the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) website and pursue further avenues.
Bruce feels more positive, he tells me afterwards. ‘At least now I don’t feel like the only person in the world that this has happened to.’
We have had a consultation at a fertility clinic and Bruce agreed that today he would have a TESE – not a savings plan, but a Testicular Sperm Extraction.
Samples of testicular tissue are extracted under local anaesthetic and examined to find embryonic sperm, which can then be used to fertilise one of my eggs.
After the procedure, I overhear the consultant telling another couple that he’s found enough sperm for them to try and conceive their own child.
I turn to Bruce: ‘They found some – for the couple next door…’
The consultant walks in to see us. He puts a hand gently on Bruce’s leg.
‘I’m sorry, there were no sperm visible. Donor sperm is your only option.’
Now we have the diagnosis, Bruce seems to be unexpectedly comfortable with using donor sperm. He says being infertile ‘seems like a daft reason not to become a father.’ This isn’t how I feel at all. But I love him. The least I can do is to fix it for him to be father to a child of mine with the help of a donor. I have to do it for him – for us. I’m sure I’m capable of loving any child I will carry for nine months and bring into the world myself.
I am still fertile, so we have decided to have IUI (Intra Uterine Insemination) treatment as it is less invasive and more natural than IVF. With IUI the sperm is inserted into the uterus, at the time of ovulation and left to fertilise – hopefully. With IVF, drugs are used to override your natural cycle and eggs harvested which are then fertilised outside the body, before the embryo is implanted back into the uterus. IUI is also a lot less expensive, costing under £1000 each time, rather than three times that that amount for IVF.
We tell our family and close friends what is happening. Bruce’s mum, like mine, is absolutely wonderful. I can’t help but cry as I tell her the news:
‘I only ever wanted Bruce’s baby. I don’t want anyone else’s.’ I sob, ‘but this is the only way we can try to have a baby.’
MAY 16, 2002
We’re on the way! I’ve had my blood tests and I’ve been monitoring my cycle to see whether I’m ovulating. Today is day 17 of my cycle and, according to the dark blue line on my test stick, it’s happened. This means that I have a cycle the clinic can monitor. Now I can let them know and we can get going.
‘You’re really excited aren’t you?’ Bruce laughs, as I bounce up and down on the edge of the bed.
We arrange an appointment to meet my consultant and a nurse, to choose donor characteristics.
MAY 20, 2002
The nurse leans forward and peers at Bruce’s green eyes. Her pen is hovering over the options for eye colour on the page. ‘Are you happy with blue or green?’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
She moves on to hair and skin colour, build, height, education and interests.
‘I’m afraid the more selective you are, the harder it is to find a match. It’s up to you of course…’
She senses my discomfort. ‘It’s a bizarre process isn’t it?’
We’ve had our mandatory Implications Counselling, informing us of the issues we need to consider before we conceive. The right to anonymity for donors is to be removed in April 2005; we need to decide whether to tell our child of his or her origins. We decide that we will. We’ve also decided to get married, do something wonderful amongst all this struggle. It ensures Bruce’s legal paternal rights as well.
This is to be our first month at trying to get pregnant by IUI. And today my period’s started. I’m so excited! It’s Day One. I call the clinic.
‘It’s Caroline here. My period’s started, so I’m phoning to let you know that I’ll be coming through this month.’
‘When did your period start?’
‘About five minutes ago.’ Suddenly I feel silly, but the nurse is very kind and doesn’t make fun of my beginner’s enthusiasm.
‘Fine. I’ll book you in for a scan on Day 10.’
The scan will look for follicles in my ovaries that should contain eggs. When I am ovulating, the sperm will be inserted, and an egg should get fertilised.
I have three follicles, two on the right, and one on the left. The sonographer tells me that this is a good cycle. We have to come back next week. They’ve found a donor for us. He’s a good physical match – very similar to Bruce on paper.
OCTOBER 12 2002
Insemination day. We have talked so much about how it will be. We will look into each other’s eyes during the insemination, come home, have a romantic dinner and an early night.
The reality is somewhat different. The clinical nature of the procedure – the stirrups, the test tube containing fluorescent pink fluid and the catheter through which it’s inserted – means that while Bruce is gazing into my eyes, my emotions are switched off until it’s over.
‘OK then, well done. Please do a pregnancy test in 14 days and let us know the result either way. If it’s positive,’ says the nurse, ‘you’ll be four weeks pregnant.’
I touch my stomach instinctively.
My period started today. I didn’t even get a chance to do the test. Bruce was wonderful – hugged me and said ‘Ah well honey. Never mind, better luck next time. I love you.’
I feel that someone precious has died.
JANUARY 1, 2003
Do I have the strength to try again? If I do, should we ask to use drugs to help improve our chances of success? I said I’d never do that. I couldn’t bear to be one of the women who put themselves through the horrors of hormone injections.
We’ve opted to try a second ‘natural’ cycle before starting with drugs.
Scan today. I have two follicles in the left ovary. I am convinced it will work this time. We’ve paid to have an extra scan in a couple of days to see exactly what’s going on.
The follicles have collapsed. I haven’t ovulated. We had to cancel the cycle; we didn’t even get a chance to try.
Later that evening.
I feel in absolute despair. I just don’t know what else I can do.
I tell Bruce how I feel – uncertain and desperate and tortured that my life is being taken over by this process, while his seems relatively unchanged.
And then I start to cry. I cry a lot these days. This time, however, I can’t stop. The sobbing becomes an endless chasm of grief and uselessness. Bruce tries to comfort me, but I bellow: ‘Go away! Don’t touch me.’
I sink to the floor outside the sitting room. I am in our hallway curled up like a baby, aware of the cold tiled floor, but unable to move. I feel such an utter failure. So dried up, so old.
Our support counsellor helps us work through the fact that this process may not work. Ever. We decide to be happy whatever the outcome ends up being. Nevertheless, we don’t feel we can stop with this treatment until we have given it our best shot. This means drugs.
The counsellor suggests that we set a limit to the number of cycles we are prepared to do and stick to it. That’s two more for me. I’ll review it again after that if it hasn’t worked, but whatever the outcome, after that I want to take a break.
Bruce agrees that this sounds sensible. He wants me to be happy again.
Bruce is going to administer the injections so that he feels more involved with the process. To be brutally honest, I’d also like him to be more aware of how much this is affecting my life.
Today I got my period so it’s Day 1 of the drug-enhanced cycle. I’m calm, self-assured and happy.
Today, I’m worried about money. We’re spending so much and I’m not generating my usual income because my mental and physical exhaustion means I can’t work at my normal pace. My live events production company is suffering. This is not what my life is about. I feel like I want to stop all this and get things back to normal. But when Bruce and I talk about it, we can’t quite close the door. It seems so final – the rest of our lives without children.
We’ve developed a good injection routine now: Bruce prepares it, out of my sight because I don’t like to watch. Then he comes over to me as I lie on the sofa with my belly exposed. Most of the time it doesn’t hurt.
But the side effects of the drug are really kicking in: nausea, headaches and general woolly-headedness.
I feel like an old Fresian cow that someone is pumping full of hormones. Is it worth it, having children this way? If I decide it’s not, and I stop and wait long enough, the choice will be removed from me. How will we feel then?
I can’t stop crying. I have to stop after this cycle. My whole life has disappeared. I had a career, we’d just bought a house, we were happy. This emptiness and chaos has just sort of crept up on us whilst we have been focussed on having our own family.
I think I’ve been seduced into thinking that, as a woman, it’s my right to have a child. But what if this is not the right path for my life? What if I’m here for a different purpose?
The clinics don’t tell you that this process can go on for years. They don’t tell you how it takes over your life …
I am nervous, but sure things must be growing because I feel like one big egg.
I have four large follicles, two on each side. We’ve been warned that it may be twins or more! The nurse tells me to have my injection at 8pm exactly this evening and then come in to be inseminated on Saturday.
* * *
We are both quite excited. After administering the trigger injection, Bruce stands back triumphantly and proclaims: ‘Release the follicles!’ We cheer and hum The Dambusters theme to celebrate.
‘This has been a cycle that we’ve really done together hasn’t it?’ I say.
‘Yes,’ he replies. ‘I’m glad there are no more injections. I’ve hated hurting you, but we’ve come this far, let’s hope it works.’
The insemination goes as planned. The nurse and I spoke words of encouragement to the little chaps in the test tube before they were syringed in.
I am looking forward so much to meeting my children. I’ll take such great care of them. They just have to play their small part at this stage and snuggle down inside me for nine months. I’ll do the rest.
I had to do the pregnancy test at 5:35am this morning as I woke up needing a pee and you have to test the first water of the day. I didn’t want to wake Bruce up as soon as I saw it was negative. I just crawled back into bed.
If I’m honest, I knew three days ago it hadn’t worked. I’ve had bad stomach cramps and spotting. I called the clinic. The nurses tried to be encouraging by saying that the bleeding might be a good sign: of implantation. But I already knew the truth deep inside.
I’ve picked myself back up, tried to do some work, tidied the house and been for a walk with the dog.
Bruce and I seem to be drifting apart. He’s not communicating very much at all and I feel so lonely.
I emailed him today:
I have a dilemma:
I would happily stop putting myself through this, but if I do, we will not have a child of our own. My dilemma is that if we want it to be over, then we have to stop. But that has repercussions. I am fighting hard to continue, but I know you don’t want me to go through IVF for physical reasons as the drugs are stronger, and for financial reasons, as it is more expensive than IUI and we don’t think our budget will stand it. What do you want to do?
Your Caro xxx
Bruce takes a while to reply, but when he does, it is worth the wait. He tells me that the most important thing to him is to get us back, whatever that takes.
Later, we talk. Bruce tells me that he feels the decision to stop treatment is as important as the decision to start it and should be taken as seriously. He is right. We decide together that for now, at least, it’s enough.
Thank goodness for Bruce. In him, I have found that rare person – a best friend, a wise counsellor and unconditional love.
JANUARY 5, 2004
So much for ‘it’s my last try’ last year. We have spent the past 12 months talking to each other and trying to get back to ‘normal’. I became really ill following the last cycle, suffering one virus after another, culminating in a serious chest infection.
Bruce decided I needed to fully recover and has been supporting us financially. I have abandoned my career.
We had started to explore adoption, but adoption agencies don’t allow you apply to be considered until you are sure that you have finished trying to conceive your own child. We realised that we hadn’t finished. One more go. We have to do it – despite the money difficulties.
We also decided to choose a new donor, thinking that might change our luck.
But the donor change is causing a problem. We were warned, when we began in 2002, that a law change, removing the right to anonymity of sperm and egg donors, was imminent. It is applicable from April 1, 2005, but it already seems to be affecting the numbers of men donating. There are far fewer around.
We have finally found someone with characteristics vaguely matching those belonging to Bruce. We had to accept a match on just two characteristics (height and built) or cancel the cycle and wait.
The sperm arrived at the clinic last night, by courier. I have been inseminated. It has to work this time.
Day 13 of Torture Fortnight
I just can’t hold out until tomorrow to do the test. I ring my friend Beth:
‘I want to do a test today. I can’t think about anything else. I know it’ll be negative because it’s too early. On the other hand, I’ve been so positive this time. I think it’s twins, I’ve even given them names…’
‘What difference if you do two tests or 22 if it makes you feel better?’
I go upstairs to the bathroom.
Of course it’s negative, but it has eased my tension. Bruce opens the front door downstairs and I call down to him:
‘Hi honey! I’m just up here. I had to do a test, I know it’s too early.’
‘I assume then, that it’s negative?’ I throw the testing stick away. He comes upstairs to me and we both go and sit on our bed.
‘I am going to feel so empty if it hasn’t worked again.’
‘How do you feel now?’ asks Bruce.
‘A bit let down really. I’d have expected a hint of the pregnancy hormone to be detectable by now. What am I going to do?’
I can’t stop the lump in my throat forcing tears out of my eyes as I realise it’s another failure.
I’ve always been aware that of the one in six couples needing help to conceive these day, only 20 per cent are successful – it’s just that I was meant to be one of them.
Bruce and I know that we now have three options:
To try again, but our best chance is to do IVF with donor sperm – with all it’s implications for our finances and my health.
To investigate adoption – but we don’t want to replace the baby we couldn’t have. Our feeling is that we should wait, perhaps give a loving home to an older child – do a different thing for a different reason.
To remain childless – after all, our relationship has survived what is likely to be one of its toughest challenges. We can look to the future with renewed hope, having deepened our love for each other. We can explore a different life from the one we had planned.
We regret that last negative pregnancy test, more than I can say, but we have been unable to summon up the courage, strength or finances to try again.
We never say ‘never again’ but in my follow-up consultation I was warned that, at 41, my chances of conceiving with IUI are less than 3%, so IVF is the only sensible option and even then the chances are below 30%.
Bruce doesn’t want me to try again because I reacted badly to the drugs. I must admit having had another break, during which time Bruce and I have started having fun again and I have returned to work, I find it more and more difficult to contemplate paying for a ticket onto the merry-go-round that can so easily turn into a house of horrors.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret any of the experience for a moment. It’s something to do with doing as much as you can, while you can – leaving no stone unturned. I’m sure that’s how you get resolution and closure.
We realise that we began with ‘us’: Bruce and me. It was our love for each other that made us want a baby in the first place.
His infertility and my inability to conceive have not changed our feelings for each other at all. Any drifting apart that we experienced was due to grieving and at different moments, frustration, anger and a sense of being out of control.
We are just grateful to have stayed together and stayed in love, whatever the future may hold.