Rebecca (my wife) and I are very much pleased to announce that we’re expecting our first child, due on Valentine’s Day (more commonly referred to as Dave’s Day Eve, as my birthday is on the 15th) of 2019. Here’s a picture of our little one, taken just over a week ago at the 12 week scan:
Our path to get to this point however hasn’t a smooth one and, in all honesty, was probably the biggest source of trauma for both myself and Rebecca over the past couple years. Many of our very close friends know our tale but it’s one I think needs to be spoken about more. I’m also incredibly frustrated by the fact that it doesn’t seem appropriate to bring up these sorts of things until you have some good news to broadcast. Of course I’ve had the means and motive to do so for years now and just haven’t, but that’s because neither myself nor Rebecca felt empowered to do so. It’s been incredibly hard to watch our friends, family and colleagues start their lives as parents whilst we were denied the same opportunity, though no fault of our own.
I say all of this not to bring you down but to give you an idea of the state of mind we’ve been in for the better part of 3 years and why I want to tell our story.
It all started a couple years ago when we decided that we were ready to start our family. We were so excited when we fell pregnant almost instantly, my wife telling me by leaving a new pair of pyjamas on the bed, lying right next to a baby sized version of the same kind. At the time I was still working in an office and my daily coffee run took me past a early childhood learning center, packed with rampaging toddlers and their carers. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking past them every day, thinking to myself that I’d have one of them soon, a little human that my wife and I created. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone.
But then, not 5 days later, Rebecca started to bleed.
It was late at night when it started to happen. The pains and bleeding didn’t seem to be getting any better and we made the decision to head over to emergency. There we sat for an hour or so before we could be admitted. Once we were in we let the doctor know what was happening and asked where we needed to go to from here. He ordered a blood test for beta hCG and told us to wait for the results. They came back as somewhat normal for this stage of the pregnancy but he wanted to test again to see if the levels were increasing or decreasing. As it turned out they were on the way down and he let us know that it was likely a miscarriage. He recommended a second test in the morning to confirm but, based on what he was seeing, this was the end of the line for this pregnancy. That’s when our whole world started to collapse in on us.
The tests the next morning confirm the diagnosis and, somewhat thankfully, also showed that Rebecca wouldn’t need to be booked in for a D&C. Rebecca took the rest of the week off work and we had ourselves a pity party at home consisting of vast amounts of chocolate, ice cream and KFC. Rebecca consoled herself with her sisters and I was lucky enough to have a friend who had just been through the same experience I could talk to, staying on the phone with me for an hour while I walked around the client site like a stunned mullet. After a week or so we started to feel better about it, thinking that we were just part of the unlucky 20% who go through this. We’d seen many of our friends and family struggle to even get to the point of being pregnant so we counted it as a somewhat mixed blessing, we knew we could get pregnant and so we’d just try again.
And so we did, and we proceeded to miscarry another 5 times.
Our first fertility expert we consulted after the second miscarriage wrote it off as just being unlucky (4% chance of it happening, so not out of the ball park) and told us that we had nothing to worry about given our age and health. So we tried again, miscarried again, and once again he gave us the same advice (0.8% chance now, if you’re counting). It was at this point my wife told me she wasn’t comfortable with him and wanted to switch, so we did. The following fertility expert proposed a raft of tests to figure everything out, eliminating all sorts of possible causes. Some of these tests were fine but one in particular, the HyCoSy Ultrasound was an especially uncomfortable experience for my dear wife. All of these came back negative and so she recommended, cautiously, that we try once again. That again ended in failure and so she went to her last resort: testing us for some kind of chromosomal abnormality or incompatibility between us.
This revealed that I have a balanced chromosomal translocation, essentially a rearrangement of my chromosome that (thankfully, for my sake) resulted in a balanced amount of information allowing the creation of a somewhat (I usually like to twitch at this point when telling people in person) fully functioning human being. When I go to create another human however that imbalance of information becomes an issue and when my DNA recombines with my wife’s it will more often than not result in an unbalanced individual which the female body will purge before it can be carried to term. The long story short is that the miscarriage rate for us is astronomically higher with 3 out of 4 of our pregnancies will result in a miscarriage.
There are options available to us though, although all it amounts to is playing the numbers. IVF with Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis allows us to make a bunch of embryos all at once and test them for balanced chromosomes before we go ahead and use them. In all honesty my wife has been an absolute champion throughout this process, going through the entire procedure no less than 7 times. Throughout that whole process we’ve managed to collect a grand total of 3 embryos, more than enough for most folks, but with all the various risks associated with normal pregnancies it might not be enough for us. We want to go until we get 1 or 2 more but our new bub has put those plans on hold for now (it happened naturally, lucky for us!).
Throughout all of this we’ve had great support from a lot of people and for that we’re incredibly thankful. At the same time though we’ve endured pressure from family, the constant reminders from seeing others with young families that we don’t get to have that as easily as they did and the stigma surrounding everything that happened. That’s the whole reason I wanted to write this: to shine a small light on the pain that we and many others have suffered and hopefully make it easier for all of us.
For me personally, whilst I have an incredible group of friends I know I can rely on for almost anything, I have a few beefs I want to air out. Whilst I know pregnancy and its many ins and outs isn’t exactly “male conversation” I’ve made a point of being interested in my friends parental journeys. Yet, when it came to the challenges and struggles we were going through, I got nothing. Part of this is because I’m not the kind of person to seek out that kind of help, I’ll shoulder the world’s burdens before I ask of it anything, but it’s not like I was keeping what was happening to us secret. This then extended to them talking about their newfound parenthood in front of me and not realising how painful that might be. Not that I didn’t want to talk about it with them, far from it, but in the same conversation I desperately wanted them to ask me about my journey. Again I feel comfortable talking about that now since I’ve at least got something good to talk about but, honestly, we should all feel empowered to ask for those kinds of things regardless.
Also there are times when someone who’s going through this won’t want to talk about what’s happened. If you’re the kind of person who needs to help others this is the point when you need to back the fuck down. I can understand how hard it is to see someone suffer and want to do something about it but people need to realise that, sometimes, talking about it just brings old trauma back to the forefront. Then it’s on us to not only deal with that pain again but also manage them. Honestly the best thing to do is let them know you’re there for them, whenever they need it, and make good on that promise when it comes due. Also, please for the love of fuck, do not tell people who’ve miscarried “Well at least you know you can get pregnant”. Trying to console someone with that platitude doesn’t help anyone, least of all those who’ve miscarried or those who’ve struggled with fertility issues in the past.
This latest pregnancy for us has been met with a lot of trepidation. Whilst all signs are looking good we’re still scarred by our past experiences. The joy I first felt long ago when I saw those toddlers playing on my coffee walk in the morning is still yet to return. The embers are there, glowing and ready to be stoked, but I don’t know when they’ll kindle themselves into a full fire. I’ve joked with many of my friends that I could be hold my newborn in my arms and still be shaking my head saying “Nope, nope, could still all go wrong!”. At least now we have a path to the future that includes us starting a family, something that has eluded us for many, many years.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from reading all of this it’s this: be supportive of those around you. I’ve read far too many stories from others who’ve felt isolated, alone and depressed about going through miscarriages, all of them feeling like they couldn’t talk about it with even their closest friends. Let’s break that barrier down and make it ok to talk about these things.
Modern in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments are a boon to couples who might otherwise not be able to conceive naturally. They’re also the only guaranteed method by which couples who have inherited conditions or diseases can avoid passing them on to their offspring through a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis. However current methods are limited to selection only, being able to differentiate between a set of potential embryos and selecting the most viable ones. New techniques have been developed that can go further than this, replacing damaged genetic material from one parent with that of another individual, creating a child that essentially has three parents but none of the genetic defects. Up until today such a process wasn’t strictly legal however the UK has now approved this method, opening the treatment up to all those affected.
The process is relatively straightforward involving the standard IVF procedure initially with the more radical steps following later. For this particular condition, where the mitochondria (which are essentially the engines of our cells) are damaged, the nucleus of a fertilized (but non-viable) embryo can be transplanted into a healthy donor egg which can then be implanted. Alternatively the egg itself can be repaired in much the same fashion before fertilization occurs. The resulting embryo then doesn’t suffer from the mitochondrial defect and will be far more likely to result in a successful pregnancy, much to the joy of numerous people seeking such treatment.
Of course when things like this come up inevitably the conversation tends towards designer babies, genetic modifications and all the other “playing god” malarkey that seems to plague embryo related treatments. For starters this treatment, whilst it does give the child three parents doesn’t fool around with the embryo’s core genetic material. Instead it’s simply replacing the damaged/non-functional mitochondria from one person with that of another individual. This will have no more influence on any of their characteristics than the environment they grew up in. Although, to perfectly honest, I wouldn’t see any issue with people going down to a deeper level anyway, for multiple reasons.
We’re already playing fast and loose with the natural way of doing things with the numerous treatments we have at our disposal that have rapidly increased life expectancy across the globe. If you indulge in such treatments then you’re already playing god as you’re interfering with the world’s natural way things get killed off. Extending such treatments to our ability to procreate isn’t much of a stretch honestly and should we be able to create the genetic best of ourselves through science then I really can’t see a problem with it. Sure there needs to be some ethical bounds put on it, just like there are for any kind of medical treatment, but I don’t see being able to choose your baby’s hair or eye colour being that far removed from the treatments we currently use to select the best embryos for IVF.
That’s the transhumanist in me talking however and I know not everyone shares my rather liberal views of the subject. Regardless this treatment is no where near that and simply provides an opportunity to those who didn’t have it before. Hopefully the approval of this method will extend to other treatments as well, ensuring that the the option to procreate is available to everyone, not just those of us who were born with genetic capability to.