Causes & Treatment

Things I Changed for a BFP (Big Fat Positive)

Eloise Edington  |   24 Aug 2021

Words by Eloise Edington, The Ribbon Box founder & CEO

When I was trying to conceive, I went into our first round of IVF like a bulldozer.  This is our personal story and perspective on the big fat positive (BFP), which readers often ask me to share.

The Diagnosis

We got my husband’s diagnosis of Azoospermia on 3rd November 2015 – a date we will never forget. From that moment of despair, we were then flung into six weeks of genetics tests for him, to find out why he produces zero sperm. These tests later revealed (just before Christmas) that he has Klinefelter Syndrome – a genetic condition (a fluke which happened at his conception and means he has an extra X chromosome) which negatively affects sperm production. At this point we were told IVF was our only option of conception, but it was more complicated than that, as we were missing a main ingredient, sperm. So, we had two options:

1) My husband could have an invasive operation called Micro-TESE, to see if the urologist could extract viable sperm to fertilise my eggs during IVF (my fertility specialist wanted my eggs fresh at the same time);

2) We jump straight to IVF with donor sperm.

IVF Abroad

After some research, my husband told me on Christmas Day that he had found a urologist in New York who was a pioneer in Micro-TESE, and the chances of a successful sperm retrieval were around the 70% mark, versus 30% in the UK. At this point we hit the green light and started preparing for my husband’s sperm retrieval operation and IVF abroad in America, just two months later.

With only eight weeks to prepare, I stopped drinking alcohol and naively assumed that because the ‘issue’ was on my husband’s side, my egg reserve looked normal for my age and I’d had regular periods all my life, that it would work first time (even with donor sperm). I was wrong and things did not go to plan.

My husband’s Micro-TESE date was triggered (excuse the pun) by when my eggs were ready for extraction, it would be the day before egg collection, in the hope of finding fresh sperm with which to fertilise my eggs. His operation lasted five hours (it normally takes about two) and, when the surgeon came into the waiting room with his head lowered and pulled down his mask, we knew it was not the news we wanted. At this point, donor sperm was our next option and would be fertilising my eggs the very next day. It was not enough time to grieve loss of genetics.

In my original fertility tests, my ovaries showed eight follicles on the left and nine on the right – a good number. However, in this very first IVF cycle in America, the fertility specialists extracted only 13 eggs from me, which was fewer than we had anticipated. However, an amazing twelve eggs fertilised with the donor sperm, and we thought a blastocyst transfer would be guaranteed. It was not.

By Day 3, my fertility specialist called to say that only four embryos were looking good, and we should consider transferring two that day, as she didn’t want to send us back to the UK without a transfer. We were devastated, having read that blastocysts at Day 5 have a higher chance of successful pregnancy. We had been through so much to get to this point and we felt defeatist even before the transfer.

Back in the UK, we took a pregnancy test around ten days after a transfer of two Day 3 embryos. I had had every pregnancy symptom under the sun and was convinced it had worked. On Easter Day of 2016, we snuck into a bedroom during a big family gathering and took the pregnancy test early. Bang – a BFN (Big Fat Negative). I was inconsolable and we were back to square one. After huge expense and six months of hell, we felt no closer to holding a baby in our arms.

Things had to Change

At this point I spiralled into a depressed state where I didn’t want to socialise or see family and friends, which is totally not my character. Everyone was worried and no one could help.

I started wondering, what if it’s me? What if my body rejected the embryos and I can’t carry a pregnancy? What if my egg quality is bad?

At this moment in time, I did some research and realised that whilst you can’t control IVF, there are certain things you can do to advocate for yourself and get yourself into the best shape (mentally and physically) that you can.

Related Article – How Long Does the IVF Process Take?

Holistic Support and Immunology Testing following the BFN

A few friends had recommended The Zita West Clinic to me because of their holistic approach and, after doing some reading, I soon realised that tweaking my diet and exercising more could be options worth exploring.

We still had two frozen blastocysts left waiting for us in New York and, at this point, we had to decide whether to go back there for a final frozen embryo transfer or start from scratch with a new cycle of IVF with a new sperm donor in the UK, as our original sperm donor hadn’t consented to having his sperm shipped to the UK (we weren’t able to move our two blastocysts either!).

I immediately picked up the phone to The Zita West Clinic and this was exactly the plan I needed. Within a week or so, I had a consultation with Dr George (who is awesome) and saw their nutritionist, Isabelle. Dr George looked at my fertility tests, my age and our medical history and said, “By this time next year you will have a baby”. Whether he would be right or not, that was the encouragement I needed to try again.

We decided that we would go back to NYC for the frozen embryo transfer in three months’ time (June). Because I was so convinced that it wouldn’t work again, we booked in for an IVF cycle with The ZWC for the August, as a backup plan. This wasn’t enough reassurance for me and, given we had spent so much money and time getting to this point, I wanted to ensure we weren’t placing the two remaining frozen embryos back into a body (mine) which I was worried might reject them.

For this reason, we had immunology blood work done. This went off for testing and results came back a few weeks later. They revealed that I have two hereditary blood clotting issues (one of which my mother has).

Whilst not everyone in the medical field believes in immunology treatment for fertility, if it wasn’t going to harm anything, I wanted to give it a try. Whether or not my two blood clotting disorders could be an issue for implantation or miscarriage, it was useful to have this information for general life and wellbeing anyway, such as: flying with compression socks, being high risk during pregnancy, not taking the contraceptive pill (not that I needed it).

4 Things I did Before the FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer)

  • Followed a tailored nutritional plan from Isabelle at The ZWC. This included protein powder, the right fertility supplements for my needs, cutting gluten, cutting sugar, eating more fish, eggs, green veg and less starchy carbs.
  • Saw Maureen, the Hypnotherapist at The ZWC a few times. (It was amazing having all this fertility help under one roof). She gave me coping and visualisation / breathing techniques to guide me through the anxiety and my racing negative mind.
  • Had intralipids at The Zita West Fertility Clinic prior to flying to NYC, which relieved the pressure and made me feel we were doing everything in our control to be as prepared as we could for the upcoming FET.
  • Started running – losing a few pounds was what I had wanted to do for a while, and I hadn’t yet had the time or motivation. Running (or jogging!) every morning for just twenty minutes (with our dog before work) got my heart rate going and helped with a positive mindset and weight loss – making my body fitter (as did the healthy eating).

The Frozen Embryo Transfer

Fast forward to June and we were back in New York. Leading up to and after the frozen embryo transfer of our two remaining blastocysts, I exchanged many emails with the nursing team and Isabelle (fertility nutritionist) at The ZWC, who guided me on the immunology drugs protocol, as well as which supplements to take (how much and when etc). I felt empowered and in control. Of course, I couldn’t predict the outcome, but either way I knew, if it wasn’t successful, that we had tried everything in our power to give us the best chance of IVF success.

This time, back in the UK, the two-week wait was a dark time, I went to see Maureen (fertility hypnotherapist) again, to help with my mental state, which truly made me feel more relaxed.

My husband and I decided I wasn’t going to pee on a stick early to learn our fate, given our previous experience had been so devastating. We decided that we would wait for the lovely nurse at The Zita West Fertility Clinic to ring us with the HCG BETA blood test results. I went in for bloods at 7am before work and then tried to keep myself busy all morning waiting for the call around midday.  I answered the phone shaking and immediately blurted out: ‘It hasn’t worked has it’ and the nurse replied, ‘YES, IT HAS’! We then had the pregnancy confirmed by a scan at 6 Weeks and learned that it was not twins. At last, in February 2017, our first daughter was born. She is four and completely rocks our world.

Related Article – Preparing Your Mind and Body for IVF by Zita West Fertility Clinic

Trying for a Sibling

When she was almost a year old, we decided to try and make more embryos, as we had none left for a sibling, but we did have more vials of our donor’s sperm left for this purpose. We went back to New York to do so, so we could use the same donor sperm we used for our daughter, in the hope of a full genetic brother or sister.

This time, I spent the four months leading up to this fresh IVF cycle preparing my body as I did before our successful frozen embryo transfer. Once again, I was straight onto the phone to The Zita West Clinic, booking in for all the holistic support and immunology which helped during our successful IVF cycle with our eldest daughter.

January 2018 and the IVF stimulation started all over again, back in snowy, stormy New York. This time there were fewer eggs.  I was concerned but kept reminding myself it’s quality, not quantity that’s important.

Transfer day came and, miraculously, three out of eight fertilised embryos were looking great by blastocyst stage, Day 5. Again, I assumed it wouldn’t work ‘fresh’ because it didn’t the first time with our daughter. Our specialist had called and advised we transfer two embryos because one was doing better than the other. We agreed to take her advice (deep down I was really hoping for twins). The next ten days waiting to test were a complete blur: I woke up one morning at 4am, ran into the bathroom and grabbed the emergency pregnancy test.

BANG! Two VERY strong lines appeared immediately! Blood tests then confirmed I was pregnant – and with twins! This time I felt different, my HCG hormone levels came back four times higher than my previous pregnancy and I was being physically sick from 4 Weeks, as well as waking up in the night starving! There we have it: after nine long and extremely hot months during the peak of 2018’s UK summer heat wave, our boy / girl twins were born at 37.5 Weeks, both healthy and gorgeous. I still pinch myself as if this isn’t real.

Whether or not the immunology treatment and holistic support helped we will never know, but what I do know is that both times we tried it, we ended up with a BFP and it certainly helped my mindset. I also know that despite my being older and having fewer eggs on our second round of IVF, we had more Day 5 embryos of better quality and still have one in the freezer. This is why I am always delighted to share my story with readers and am a big advocate of holistic support for fertility and The Zita West Clinic.

Holistic therapies can be at an additional cost and may not suit everyone. Please speak with your fertility specialist or Doctor to decide whether this is something worthwhile pursuing.

If you would like to find out more about The Zita West Clinic, click here. To read more shared stories like this, download the FHH App.

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