In this webinar session, Sheila Lamb, DEIVF, Mum & Author of the Fertility series and Infertility Doesn’t Care About Ethnicity shared her struggle with infertility and IVF journey. Sheila has been supporting women for years and talks openly about her journey and how it was to become a mum in her late 40s.
Sheila started her story by explaining that most women don’t expect to wait until the late 40s to become a mother, but life happens, and that’s what she wanted to share on how she got to becoming a mum and the things she went through.
Sheila was 40 when she started trying to conceive, and her husband was 11 years younger. After a year without being able to conceive, they decided to see a doctor, and he said not to be worried and keep doing what they’re doing, and you’ll be pregnant. After 6 months, nothing happened, so they went back to their GP practice, but they saw another GP, and he referred them to a fertility consultant.
All the investigations were done, and the diagnosis was unexplained infertility. Sheila and her husband were referred to a clinic that was well known for having success with older women. They decided to do IUI first because it was less invasive and cheaper, and the clinic was happy about that, so they went through with the injections and the ultrasound scans, etc., but unfortunately, it was unsuccessful.
They went back to the clinic and were immediately advised to move to IVF, and they also suggested doing chromosome testing, which back in 2005 was very new. They went through IVF, and she got 6 eggs, which were collected, all of those eggs fertilized with ICSI, which was very good for someone Sheila’s age. The genetic test was performed, and out of 6 embryos, 5 were abnormal. One day-4 embryo was transferred, it was 10 cells, and it seemed to have stopped developing, but the clinic recommended to ahead with it. Unfortunately, it was an unsuccessful cycle.
When they went back to the clinic, they were advised that those embryos were typical of a woman in her 40s and proposed donor eggs. As Sheila’s explained, they weren’t ready to hear about donor eggs as she was only 41, they were diagnosed with unexplained infertility, so they still could get pregnant naturally. They carried on trying, and though she was doing 6 months of acupuncture, Chinese medicines, and she tried to do anything to make this work naturally. Sheila also had a couple of hypnotherapy sessions. Sheila emphasized that there wasn’t much online support back then, there was one forum, but people were mainly discussing the medical and physical health side rather than the emotional health side.
We didn’t actively look into donor eggs at this time, but I think it was something that was always in the back of my mind. In April 2009, I was now 45, so time was getting on, and we had a consultation with a very well-known fertility specialist in the UK called Zita West. I had my vitamin D levels tested, and they were very low, so I started taking vitamin D, but she was also very much of the opinion that we ought to start thinking about egg donation if we wanted to be parents and we wanted to be parents through me getting pregnant we didn’t know anyone who’d gone through egg donation.
That’s when the couple decided to proceed with the egg donation cycle. In the UK, when the child reaches 18, they could contact the donor, the clinic would have the last known address of the donor, but the donor didn’t have to reciprocate, and if any child got in touch with them, they didn’t have to then keep in touch with that child if they didn’t want to. However, my husband had a preference that we didn’t go down that route, we used an anonymous donor.
I don’t know why but I didn’t mind either way at that point, it didn’t worry me that if we had a child, they would want to contact the donor because I always knew that I would be that child’s mum, but because my husband did have a preference for anonymous and it is quite difficult when you’re not on quite the same hymnbook if one of you has stronger feelings towards a way of carrying on with this journey that can be quite a difficult conversation to have but again at our appointment with Zita and she did speak about egg donation in Spain it wasn’t very far for us to travel, and it was quite cheaper at the time, and we were aware that the donors were anonymous over there so we just carried on bumbling along for a few more months still not able to make that decision still hopeful that I’d fall pregnant naturally, but finally, we contacted the clinic.
They were matched with an anonymous donor, and they were given information on the donor’s hair, eye colour, weight, height, age, job, and interests. The whole process started, Sheila had scans in the UK, and the information was sent across to the clinic, and in November 2009, they went over to the clinic in Marbella, and 2 embryos were transferred, and after 2 weeks Sheila’s got a positive pregnancy test.
It was surreal, and we were in shock that it happened, we have booked a scan at roughly 6 and a half weeks, and when we went through that scan, the doctor thought I was having a miscarriage, and unfortunately, it did end up in an early miscarriage. To say we were devastated is an understatement because we couldn’t understand why, we’d used eggs from a younger woman, we just couldn’t get our heads around it. I immediately started searching implantation failure and miscarriage, and through the wonders of Google, etc., I came across a book called: Is your body baby friendly’ by Alan Beer and what I learned in there, I firmly believed.
Later on, Sheila came across a miscarriage consultant in the UK who agreed to do some blood tests for thrombophilia, the NK cells, all came back normal. The doctor suggested doing the drug protocol if they were going to do another donor egg cycle. At the clinic in Spain, they recommended doing a scan of the uterus, and it didn’t show any abnormalities. That drug protocol was baby aspirin and blood staining injection, which was called Clexane, and a steroid called Prednisolone. A new donor was found, the only reason for a new donor was because it was only a few months later, and it would have been too soon for the other donor to have cycled again and produced some eggs. Once again, 2 embryos were transferred when Sheila turned 46. She also had acupuncture before the transfer as well as afterwards and 2 weeks later, and it again was a positive pregnancy. The hCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin) level was 487, while in her previous pregnancy was 27, which was very low.
I was extremely worried that I would miscarry again and I would lose the baby. I didn’t have any pregnancy symptoms, so I knew that being in my mid-40s, now I should have every problem going, and that’s what the midwife told me at my appointment, you know the age you are, don’t be surprised if you don’t have all sorts of problems. I had no pregnancy symptoms, I didn’t even have any cravings, so it was worrying, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy because I didn’t have any nausea, so I didn’t know if I was still pregnant.
Sheila stopped the checks and injections at 34 weeks. It was just a regular pregnancy, and a week after she turned 47, her daughter was born via caesarean section.
I have to say it was a love at first sight, I would go through it all again because she’s amazing, it didn’t matter that we used the donor egg, I was a mum, and that was the main thing. I don’t know whether it was because I was older than I was more tired than a younger mum and the recovery from the C-section was quite slow. I now know that I had Postpartum depression (PPD), but I didn’t seek any help because I didn’t know. I don’t want anyone else to feel that they can’t seek help from other people because you’re not ungrateful if it’s a struggle. I was anxious a lot of the time. I often dreamt that something bad would happen to her, and I know now that that’s common after going through infertility and going through a miscarriage and the loss of perhaps having the biological child.
Sheila was always open that they used donor eggs, even with people she met through having her daughter. She mentioned that she used to say that it took them a while to get pregnant and that they used a donor and somebody was very kind and generous and donated her eggs and that’s how Sheila became a mum. That didn’t affect her relationship with any new mums. As they didn’t have any frozen embryos from either cycle, they knew that their daughter would be an only child, so Sheila made sure that they spent a lot of time with other children because they didn’t want her to be lonely and to be shy.
I think it’s quite important that people know that not everyone falls pregnant at the drop of a hat and I know it’s not even then it wasn’t unusual for people to get pregnant in their late mid to late 40s and I used to chuckle when someone used to say to me out of the blue that my daughter looked like me because I knew we’d used to join an egg they might not have known and I still do if we meet new people wherever and they say she’s got your eyes or she’s got your mouth it makes me laugh because that’s what I used to worry about that’s what I know a lot of people worry about when they think of donor egg conception or men think about donor sperm. A child doesn’t always look like one parent or the other or even a mix of both.
Sheila’s daughter is now 11 years old and knows that her parents used a donor egg, they sometimes have various conversations about that but they do not talk about it all the time. Apart from being an author, Sheila is also involved in supporting people trying to conceive or experiencing a miscarriage or struggling with their own IVF journey. Sheila decided to put her series of books that are collections of short stories about infertility but also on Two-Week wait as well as pregnancy loss to raise awareness outside the community and also support in the community.
Menopause was never mentioned, and that’s why I share what I share because I think it should be. I know that you can be perimenopausal in your late, even mid-30s, that that doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. It just means that your estrogen levels are changing. When we were doing our second cycle because we were using donor eggs, nobody ever mentioned it. The only reason I mentioned this is that the only symptom is not hot flushes, and if you’re waiting for a hot flash and you’re not going to have any, then like me when my GP said, but you’re in it, you’ve been through the menopause. It’s only now that I look into more about menopause.
I was very worried to go on HRT (Human Replacement Therapy), but it doesn’t matter that I’ve done infertility treatment, it’s no more dangerous for me to go on HRT. Whereas I talk about infertility and miscarriage, I now talk about menopause a lot, there’s nothing I wouldn’t talk about, but unfortunately, the consultant didn’t say anything. I think it definitely should be something that is on their radar.
I was talking to a lady in Scotland a while ago, and she was exactly what you’ve just written. I’m coming to terms with it, but my husband can’t get his head around it, and she told me that he wanted their child to be part of her, he wanted them to be biologically her child, and that was what he couldn’t get past. I remember talking to her about it, it was more his problem, and what I remember is I explained more about epigenetics. The fact that I’m carrying the child, my blood through the placenta and the umbilical cord will be feeding, developing, and nurturing the baby that I am going to have if that egg or that embryo shall we say was put in the donor or another woman the resulting baby child would be very different because it’s my body that’s ticking the genetics thing that comes into play
I’m not saying it’ll change the eye colour, but lots of other parts of what makes us, us. If you haven’t already spoken to someone who is a trained therapist in helping people move on with donation, whether it be sperm egg or embryo donation, then find somebody who is very experienced in that, and who can help your husband see or for him to explore his concerns as to why he can’t move on with it yet. It took me and my husband over 3 years, it’s not something that happens overnight. We had a long time to think about it, but I would say seek out someone who is an expert in the donation side and also maybe try to get him to listen to webinars or if anyone’s doing any Instagram lives. I think sometimes men don’t always do as much research as women do.
I never got to that position of freezing embryos, so I haven’t got experience with that. I’m not medically trained, I just always go on instinct, and I think that’s always a good thing to also read that book: Is your body baby friendly’. I’m not really up to date with a lot of the advances in medical fertility treatment that they do nowadays, I know they can test your implantation window, so that might be something you want to look into if you want to do some cycles with your frozen embryos where they can tell a little more precisely what your um endometrium is doing because you do need good quality eggs, but you also need an endometrium window lining that is open to receiving an embryo and for that embryo to implant. That might be something you want to consider, you’ve got 9 frozen embryos, and I do believe that you can get pregnant, my cousin did at 45, she wasn’t that healthy, she smoked, she drank, and I didn’t do any of those things, and she got pregnant at 45, so it can happen.
Maybe speak to a nutritionist, somebody who knows a bit more about egg health because we do know that the quality does drop off, however, it takes a bit of research, and it can take some time to find someone who might be able to help you get your body into the best place it can be. If you are going to decide to do the frozen embryos again, I can’t say for sure, but if I had 9 embryos, I think I would go down that route because as you’ve said, you are both open to having a donor, but you may not need to because you’ve got 9 embryos.
You lost your baby because it was your baby, and I do understand how painful that loss is. My miscarriage, it’s not something that will go away, that was my baby. If you haven’t spoken to somebody who is experienced in supporting people who’ve gone through loss, that is something I would advise you to do. We have a charity they do have people that you can ring up and talk to, so it doesn’t have to cost anything, so speak to somebody because I don’t want you to hurt, I don’t want it to keep hurting. I know you’re going to be worried when you do your next cycle, there’s no reason that it will happen again because it’s a completely different embryo, your body is different, so that doesn’t mean that you will miscarry again. If you need to speak to people, to just find people to speak to, validate how you’re feeling because I know that doesn’t happen a lot, and I wish you well.
It’s so hard because you had a natural pregnancy and you had the miscarriage, and now you’ve had 8 failed donor transfers with 3 different donors again I know I go back to it, but I don’t know if you have had investigations into the NK cells and thrombophilia etc. I don’t know if you’ve changed clinics, I don’t know whether those 3 donors were at the same clinic or whether you went to a different clinic to have those different cycles, maybe that would be a case. I know when you’re coming up to 50, it is harder, as there are a couple of clinics in Greece I think that has just updated that they will carry on treating women in their early 50s. If you’re not in a Greek clinic, that might be somewhere where you want to investigate. Again I would say speak to a therapist, you’ve been through a lot, and I do believe there is a mind-body connection.
The donors are a lot younger, therefore, testing isn’t suggested. If your clinic doesn’t think the ERA test is not necessary, maybe do a bit of research on it and get some more information, and then you can go to your clinic and ask them. At my clinic, I don’t think they would ever have recommended I had those tests done and took the aspirin, prednisone and Clexane, it just wasn’t something that was on their radar, so you can go outside your clinic, find the information and take that information to the clinic and say this is what I want to do and that might help because you are struggling.
We all expect that it’s going to work, and it’s always so shocking when it doesn’t, and it’s like that with egg donation. We were using donor eggs, I never expected myself to have a miscarriage at all because it wasn’t on our radar, so that might be something you want to look at. Getting endometrium checked out and again, as I said before, maybe find a therapist because they do a lot more talking, they may be able to help further.