3rd May 2017. My alarm went off at 5am.
Today was an important day.
It was our lifeline and, naturally, we were very apprehensive about what it would bring. We got up, climbed into the car and set off on the 20 minute journey to the train station. We had left hours of ‘danger time’ (I hate being late for anything) to get to our 9am appointment at the Zita West Fertility Clinic with the renowned Dr George Ndukwe.
The train was packed full, as it was morning rush hour, so we had to stand all the way to Marylebone train station, in London. It’s just over an hour on the train but the journey seemed to take forever.
Navigating our way through the hoards of busy commuters, carrying their coffees, laptops and briefcases, all in their own worlds on their familiar journeys to work, we eventually found ourselves out on the street in the bright May sunshine.
Of course, nobody noticed us but it felt like there was a big flashing light hovering above us letting everyone know that we were outsiders on a crucial trip to the capital, desperately seeking answers – and solutions.
We walked the 15 minutes to the clinic – a walk that my feet expeditiously memorised and would soon effortlessly pace like a savvy Londoner, rather than looking like a bumbling tourist, phone in hand barking directions loudly at me. As we neared the clinic, we had veered away from the bustle of the main roads and found ourselves walking down a picturesque street of soaring, white, terraced buildings with very little traffic on the road. It was quiet. I took a few moments to drink in the peace before we went to find out where the next steps in our journey would take us.
Walking up to the immaculately painted, shiny, black door, with the familiar logo neatly attached to the wall, was a surreal moment. I had no idea what we were going to find behind the door, what we would be told or even if they could help us.
Craig pressed the buzzer and we walked into the fresh, airy reception where we were warmly greeted by a receptionist who pointed us in the direction of the waiting room. Sitting down, the first thing I noticed was the furniture. It seems odd to say that but it’s what I remember most. The chairs and sofas were all different and quite quirky. I sat in a huge ‘bucket’ chair and felt tiny in it. The arms wrapped around me giving me a much needed hug.
Something caught my eye on the coffee table.
A laminated newspaper article which had a heading saying something along the lines of, ‘Can mayonaisse cure infertility?’ It had a brightly coloured photo of lots of women and their babies with Dr George in the middle. I picked it up and began to read. It filled me with enormous hope.
Long before we had even considered going to see Dr George, I had heard plenty about him from Sally Lissaman who I had been visiting for acupuncture. She had talked about the distinguished Dr George many times as she used to work with him and he had also treated many of her patients. She spoke very highly of him and, after I met him, it didn’t take me long to see why. Furthermore, after I received the results from my Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells) test, she had advised me that I may need to see him if steroids alone didn’t help (which they didn’t).
I had researched a lot. Without going into too much detail, it was the late Dr Alan Beer who believed that a woman’s immune system could be responsible for miscarriages. NK Cells, which are usually responsible for attacking viruses and cancers, could also be attacking a woman’s pregnancy. Dr George Ndukwe is one of the pioneers of Dr Beer’s theory. It’s still unsure as to exactly how immune therapy works but women who are given an intralipid drip of egg-oil appear to have a greater success of carrying to term; the thinking behind this is that the fats bind to the killer cells preventing toxins attacking the pregnancy. There is much more to this; if you’re interested, a simple google of Dr George Ndukwe or Dr Alan Beer will explain this further.
Sitting in the waiting room, we were trying to squash our nerves. Craig kept squeezing my hand and giving me reassuring looks. We were the only people in there however it didn’t take long to hear footsteps coming up the stairs.
It was George. I recognised him instantly. He said my name and gave me a deeply warm smile.
We shook his hand and then followed him to his consulting room.
Anyone who has met George at the clinic will know what I am talking about now. We stepped inside and the first thing I saw was a wall full of photos of gorgeous babies. There were big frames, small frames, plain frames, shiny frames; each and every single one of them smiled at me and instantly calmed my nerves, reassuring me that we had come to the right place.
Noticing me staring at them, he turned to me and said, ‘I have a feeling that your frame is going to be the biggest and sparkliest!’ How did he know me so well already?!
We sat down and I immediately went into ‘NHS mode’. Previous experience had taught us that you have to start right at the beginning every time you have an appointment – even if you’ve met a doctor before – I used to feel like I had to ‘pitch’ our case. I had come armed with photos of my miscarriages and also details of our embryos from our first round of IVF incase George thought we should move our frozen embryos to London for a frozen transfer. This wasn’t easy – I had to fight to get a meeting with the embryologist and beg for a copy of the notes (which I still find frustrating seeing as they were our embryos, made up of us). No wonder I was mentally exhausted. He looked at the embryos and said to me, quite frankly, that based on his professional opinion, he wouldn’t have even frozen them. It wasn’t worth moving them and he was advising us to do a fresh cycle – which means egg collection etc all over again.
I felt like I had been the project manager with our last round of IVF; if I hadn’t have been pro-active, things would have been missed and not even considered. It was me that had in fact brought up NK Cells with our previous hospital and requested the test. If I hadn’t, I doubt I would ever have been tested.
George slowed me right down. He had my notes (again, which I had had to battle enormously with the hospital to release) and also the detailed paperwork we had completed for him. He knew I was seeing Sally and we chatted a little about her. He told me that I was in the best hands with her and that he highly rated her work – I didn’t need him to tell me this but it was wonderful to hear.
He then explained to me what would happen and the additional drugs that I would require. He was also prescribing me different follicle stimulation drugs because of my PCOS – he said these would make me more comfortable. I hadn’t even known this was a possibility before.
Everything was being tailored to me and to my body.
Additionally, I was required to come to London once every 4 weeks to have the intralipid drip administered which takes about 2 hours; I would have a few sessions before we started the IVF round. This time actually became a highlight for me due to the amazing people I met and talked to. Whilst sitting in the reclining chair, drip attached, in a room with other patients was like therapy; it was so good to finally talk to others on a similar path to us.
When he was finished, I immediately starting asking him sensible questions such as ‘when do I take this…?’ ‘What do I do if…?’ ‘How do we do that…?’ He stopped me again. He showed me a programme that is used which personally tailors everything you have to do, is printed out and you just follow it.
I suddenly felt relaxed! (As relaxed as you can feel when embarking upon IVF but nevertheless…relaxed in comparison to the previous three years.)
We didn’t have to do anything other than just be compliant, well-behaved patients. The clinic was taking charge.
It was freeing.
He opened up the diary and started looking for a start date. He looked up at us and said, ‘end of June?’ END OF JUNE? I was expecting it to be months away and, even with that, I was fully prepared for it to be cancelled a few times, like I was accustomed to.
I said, ‘but what if I get cysts and it gets cancelled – that’s happened to me so many times before?’ I knew it. I had thought of something this super, clever doctor hadn’t.
‘You don’t need to worry about that, Lucy. I would like you to go on the contraceptive pill the month before we start which will stop you from getting any cysts.’
I couldn’t believe it.
There was a simple solution to prevent cysts from making our cycle become abandoned. Why on earth hadn’t a doctor suggested this before? Instead, we had to go through months of build-up that IUI or IVF was starting, only to suffer emotional torture when I had a cyst and it was postponed. Part of me wanted to hug him and part of me was so angry that something so easily avoidable hadn’t been dealt with before.
That was that. He had explained everything we needed to know. It was the happiest meeting we had had after a whole heap of awful ones over the years. We felt heard. Listened to. Individual. Cared for.
I still felt emotional however and I’m sure he could tell. George comes across very quiet in nature but warmth beams out of him, immediately putting you at ease. He peered across the table and looked me straight in the eyes.
‘Give me a year, Lucy, and you will have your baby.’
3rd May 2018. Our perfect daughter was 5 weeks old exactly, sleeping in my arms.
He was absolutely right.