Our IVF Journey

Nathan Dippie

Nathan Dippie

I am 35 years old self employed soon to be working at home Dad and I can’t wait. We tried to conceive for 3 years naturally and in the end are lucky to have had successful IVF treatment. I love performing arts, gaming, reading and self development.

Rachel Herlihy

Rachel Herlihy

I am a 33 year old nurse currently working in critical care. I’m currently pregnant with our first child (our IVF baby) and excitedly headed towards maternity leave. I enjoy chocolate, baking (although somewhat dubiously), eating baked products and ice cream! I think you get the picture.

Our IVF Journey

How we met?

We met online of all places! We had both kissed our way through a number of frogs (not literal if any of our past flames are reading) till each found the sprinkles to our cake – a strange analogy but we love cakes. Nathan didn’t reply to Rachel for 2 weeks after her first message, a fact she still hasn’t let him forget.

But since then our relationship grew with a bang.

The catalyst of this was a marathon 9-hour first date in the new year of 2014: Yes, that’s right 9 hours! We went for coffee, food, Rachel pretended to like art and I tried to get Rachel ice skating, which she managed to avoid (I now know that she has the balance of a new-born giraffe), since then we have been inseparable. We went through early dating life quickly and ended up moving in together in London after a year. We had already talked about what we wanted from life and knew children where important to both of us, so we started trying…so the fun began!

For those more  visual out there check out out IVF journey video below.

Trying to conceive part 1

Rachel had, up to this point, been on the depo injection for contraception so she stopped that in December 2014 and gave her body some time to recover.  A few months later when her periods returned we decided to spend some time “not trying but not preventing” pregnancy. This was a lot of fun and we knew that the injection could take a long time to get out of her system, so we didn’t feel any pressure.

As the months went on we started formally trying to concieve with a few gaps here and there for moving to the North East, holidays and job changes. We consistently started trying to concieve in August 2016. By the time we hit early 2017 we began to think maybe there may be some fertility issues. Nathan has a brain that enjoys maths, so went to look at the chances of conceiving and worked out what our chances should be and realised that maybe we have been unlucky, but there could be something not quite right, but it was too early to be sure.

So, we kept on having fun or so we thought.

The change in our sex life

After about 6 months of ‘formal’ and consistent trying Rachel started tracking her cycle more carefully (we got lovely graphs like the one shown on the right). We started to change our sex life to Rachel’s cycle. This had impacts neither of us were expecting.

Sex when not trying for a baby has a goal of closeness, fun and expressing love with a partner but when you are trying and struggling to conceive, you’re having sex for a purpose. You must have sex every 2-3 days, you must have sex over your fertile period, you must do this and must do that makes it almost transactional.

Even after a long hard 12.5-hour day at work, with 2 hours travelling and the emotional capacity of a slug, we still HAD to have sex because it was Rachel’s fertile period.

Things were getting stale! Where was the spontaneity?

We started talking about it and started putting things in place to reduce the pressure and stress. We started to put the romance back and stopped worrying about it so much, we have an article with some of the helpful tips we found for trying to maintain a healthy relationship whilst trying to conceive.

Rachel became an expert in sending me funny memes about her cycle like the one to the right.

Trying to conceive part 2

We read advice, cleaned up our lifestyle and tried to ‘relax’…. that advise is infuriating and will definitely be the subject of another post later. We continued to try for another few months and Rachel worked through a lot of tips about trying to help to conceive which we distilled into our 9 Tips to help getting pregnant naturally. We’d been trying for about 15 months and the math’s, our heads and hearts said we need to get this checked so we went to speak to our GP in October 2017.

Fertility Testing

We both went to speak to our GP. As a man I found this pretty difficult, I know it’s ego and isn’t based in logic. I found my self feeling guilty and inadequate even before knowing whether I had a problem and didn’t really want to know and found that I put that initial appoint off for a further 2 weeks because of ‘work’. I could have found time, but I used this excuse until I was ready.

But we took the jump and GP was great said no problem and referred us to our local fertility clinic. We were very lucky that it was only small clinic and only a 5-minute walk down the road! Result.

We had an initial appointment where we gave a detailed family history, lifestyle, sexual and Rachel’s menstrual history and the fertility specialist nurse designed a fertility test plan which took about 6 weeks in total.

We have done a detailed article on fertility testing if you’re interested and want more information.

Nathan had 2 semen analysis, testicular examination and a full blood work up and Rachel had a full blood work up, a physical examination and a Hysterosalpingography (HSG).

The results

The Diagnosis?

primary unexplained infertility + below average normal forms.

Great we had a title – but what on earth was that! Well it means that they don’t know why we are infertile. The low normal forms which were less than 2% for anyone who cares, mean that 98% of my sperm have 2 heads, 3 tails and swim in left-handed circles! I jest, but ultimately it does mean they don’t have a normal morphology (shape and structure). However, I had a high count circa 70 million per ml so it shouldn’t be the reason we’re not getting pregnant.

It was a bit of a kick in the teeth for both of us because if we had a physiological or hormonal issue at least there is a reason and they may be able to’ fix’ it and away we go, but nope we have primary unexplained infertility and no idea why (the start of another post most likely).

When we met a final time with the registrar for our diagnosis, we were quickly informed that as there was nothing for them to ‘treat’, our only option other than keep trying by ourselves was IVF. ‘So where do you want to go?’ she asked.

We both knew the answer to that The Centre for Life in Newcastle as Rachel worked for the trust, it has world class research into many area’s including genetic research and it had a really good reputation locally, nationally and with patients. We were referred in.

A complication

Towards the end of fertility testing, Nathan started getting pain in his stomach and some other strange symptoms which no one needs to know about. However, between being referred to the Centre for Life and our initial appointment, I had a number of treatments, tests and operations and got diagnosed with Chronic Prostatitis… oh s%$t I thought something else to complicate things.

IVF Cycle One

The wait began. It felt like an eternity, seasons came and went, city fell and civilisations changed; well at least it felt like it. It actually only took 6 weeks for the letter and 8 weeks till the initial appointment! Plus, we had a great 2 months TTC with no pressure which was the most fun we had in a while.

We won’t go into detail of the particulars of exactly what an IVF cycle entails but you can find out more in our article what to expect from an IVF cycle

That initial appointment we both walked into the Centre for Life a little hesitantly but excited about what could be to come. But boy oh boy…they don’t prepare you for the forms…so many forms. We agreed at that appointment that we would go ahead with the treatment and that ICSI may or may not be required depending upon the specific quality of my semen sample.

 This is because unfortunately chronic prostatitis had resulted in a serious negative impact on my sperm count which had gone down to 18m/ml which with the normal forms meant they weren’t sure until they got the sample on the day whether we would require ICSI – we have written about ICSI in this article.

We were doing the long protocol (the standard protocol in the UK). The first cycle seemed to rush-by Rachel; got her medications…it’s a big bag of drugs, make sure you have a shelf in your fridge… that Nathan wasn’t expecting. I mean seriously look at the amount of medications that Rachel had to take! It’s nut’s we could have started a small pharmacy with that.

Rachel began taking the down regulation drugs (Buserelin) which made her feel pretty grotty! From Nathan’s perspective he thinks it was like a little menopause! We had an ultrasound scan towards the end of this section of the cycle, it showed that her ovaries were inactive and that her lining was very thin just as they want it so onto the next step.

Rachel then had to do the complete opposite and put her system into overdrive using Menopur and turn her ovaries into a bunch of grapes or a follicle incubator as Rachel liked to call it! This is called stimulation and it made Rach feel bloated, moody, angry and sad, it was not a fun time. We had another scan to check the development of the ovaries and make sure Rachel wasn’t becoming overstimulated and at risk of suffering with OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) which she wasn’t and her follicles were developing nicely. They gave Rachel the time to take her HCG injection and a time to come into clinic for egg retrieval.

The IVF drugs are essentially synthetic hormones they can cause a range of side effects and impact women in unique ways, check out our article to learn more about the medications used in IVF

IVF is not for the faint-hearted. Once this challenging 5 weeks were over, we went for our egg retrieval day! Big day number one was the 3rd August 2018 we both went into the ward Rachel put on this fetching gown and Nathan had a date with a cup and the most pressurising card any man has ever received (more on that in a future post). Rachel was given a combination of drugs which mean that she doesn’t remember much other than being asked her name and address about 20 times (that isn’t an over egg-sageration )sorry couldn’t resist and then eating tea and toast after the operation which she was very happy about as she hadn’t eaten for 16 hours. Oh and in case you were wondering Nathan went and brought socks and coffee…. Not even for Rachel!

An important piece of advice to partners…don’t do this…. Get the sleepy, tired sore person who just had an operation something! But I helped her to the car, and we went home to rest and wait for the call the next day from the embryologist. It came and…

We had 5 eggs fertilised

We were upset and pleased at the same time, at least we had some. Your view of UK IVF can be warped slightly as in the USA where people are paying for cycles, women often get 10-20 eggs but their stimulation protocols are generally more aggressive than in the UK. We then had to wait 3 more days to hear how our little embryos were developing.

The results were in:

 1 x 7 cell, 2 x 6 cell, 1 x 5 cell and 1 x 4 cell

Not the news we wanted and because they weren’t as you would expect (at this point 8-cell division is what they’re looking for) so we got called in for a day 3 implantation.

We went in and had a 7 and 6 cell implanted; we named these Emby 1 and Emby 2. This only took 15 minutes we had to get into clean gowns and shoe covers and we got to see the embryos before they were implanted and then they implanted them and we were sent home for the dreaded two week wait (TWW as it is commonly known in the fertility community).

That two week wait is hell we have written an article to help you survive the two week wait so check it out, but we sort of suspected the news that came with Rachel’s blood results.

Not pregnant!

The aftermath of IVF cycle one

It hit us hard. Nathan didn’t expect it to hit him as hard as it did. We talked about this a lot and in our eyes it’s because you get to see the embryos, it’s something that is a bit of me and a bit of you and you pin all your hopes onto it, then when it doesn’t happen it’s grief and it hurts. But overall, we were lucky! We lived in an area that offered more than one cycle of IVF on the NHS so we had another chance. Unfortunately, there is no consistent number of cycles across the UK with some offering the NICE guidelines suggested number of 3 and others offering NONE! You can find out more about this in our article on the IVF Postcode Lottery. We made the decision to start our second cycle as quickly as possible.

IVF cycle Round 2

Round two began ten weeks later, the same protocol and drugs, the side effects, as ever, were charming and, if possible, even worse the second time around. Nothing too exciting happened and the process was the same, the only real difference was that Nathan was stabbed whilst at work, luckily only in the arm, but had to have surgery in November. Fortunately, he was fine, and it didn’t impact our IVF cycle.

5 weeks into treatment, on the 5th December 2018 with trusty gown and cup in hand we did retrieval number two. This time round collecting 7 eggs and 5 fertilising. The transfer protocol had changed this time around and day 3 transfers were no longer offered so we nervously awaited the day 3 update with trepidation. We were provided an update by the embryologist the morning after retrieval

1 good quality, 2 borderline and 2 not making progress.

Seemingly a similar position as last time although numbers of cells were not confirmed and we both felt very low about these results.

We then anxiously turned up to the clinic on day 5 to discover:

We had one had make it to a top-quality embryo

We went through the same implantation procedure and left with one happy growing blasty shown in the picture  (pet name for a blastocyst) on board. Another agonising two week wait. The day arrived, Rachel and I went in for the blood test and then awaited the call, it came……



We were PREGNANT!!!

The jubilation and relief was instantaneous we were so excited, but also knew that the risks in early pregnancy were considerable so we tried not to be too excited… but that failed. With IVF you have a 7-week scan before being discharged to normal maternity services.

We got a positive result

December 2018

The Rest is History

We are currently 33 weeks pregnent and expecting on the 30th August 2019. Mum and baby are doing really well, we had a few challenging weeks with additional scans as Rachel had a low lying anterior plancenta which we got the all clear for at our 32 week scan woop! Also had some blood pressure issues which meant that she has been on asprin throughout the pregnancy, but other than those it’s been a completely normal pregnancy and we can’t wait to update you as our lives and family grow. We are currently in super nesting phase where we are trying to tidy the house, organise baby chaos and decorate. It has been madness especially as we have been putting up Nathan’s parents for 4 months whilst they looked for their perfect retirement home.

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