It was a Sunday afternoon, the 6th Feb 2020 and I was working. I’d not really been tracking my cycle much, but realised I was 2 days late, and thought I better do a test. James and I had only been together for 3 months, so I was a bit nervous, and also had a little excitement brewing of ‘what if’. I was 41, had been single much of the previous 8 years, aside from one very on-off 2 year relationship I ended before moving back to the UK. I hadn’t found‘ the one’ and had decided to build a life alone. Not what I thought was in my life plan, but I’d found my peace with that by the end of 2019, and I’d even decided to adopt, on my own. Then I met James, quite by chance at a mutual friends party. In fact it’s divine timing that either of us made it to that party, because he didn’t feel up to going out that night and I, having relocated back to my home city, didn’t know anyone at this party other than my friend and one other, so was apprehensive about going on my own. But the stars were aligned, Unbeknown to each other, we had a word with ourselves, and decided to go.
We were introduced by our mutual friend, and James and I hit it off. There was a spark right from the get-go, he made me laugh, with this charming humour and has continued to do so since, even on the days I’ve not wanted to. He has an energy I’d not experienced, I was drawn to lots of things about him, and his positive outlook on life, and, go-getter mindset. We were two peas in a pod and soon inseparable.
On Sunday 6th February at 1pm I did a pregnancy test. It was positive. The wait to get home was endless, but once home I couldn’t get the words out. Eventually after what seemed like forever, 3.5 hours later to be exact, I told James, blurting it out. I will never forget his reaction. Shock. A few OMG’s. Then silence. Then much to my surprise, he burst into hysterics. Honestly. How he laughed and he laughed and he laughed. And he laughed some more. In fact it was contagious, because I soon joined in and we howled together for ages, then we’d stop, only to look at each other and burst into laughter again. We couldn’t quite believe it and were both definitely in shock!. That still makes me smile to this day. That night we didn’t sleep, we got up at 3am and walked around the village talking things through.
We were both very happy though.
Once the heightened emotions calmed, James asked me to move in with him and we settled into our impending parenthood effortlessly. The truth be told, we were utterly thrilled actually, this had cemented our already blossoming relationship even further. We shared our news with family and a few close friends and then began preparing for our new chapter. With me being older, to put my mind at rest, we had a private early scan at 6 weeks, 8 weeks and 9 weeks; all looked perfect for the stage.
As our 12 week scan approached, we were genuinely excited. It never crossed our minds that anything could go wrong. With Covid and lockdown in full swing (the first time round) I had to go into the hospital for the scan alone. James dropped me off and went to the supermarket to buy a few bits while he waited for me to finish up. Pregnant women filled the waiting room, all waiting their turn, and that was the point I felt a pang of nerves. Gosh, Is this happening? It felt surreal to be sitting there. I’d wanted a family for a long time, but never thought it would happen for me with the passage of time. Yet, here I was. My appointment came, and I went into the room with the sonographer. I can’t tell you what she looked like and can not remember her name but I will never forget her kindness to this day. I laid on the bed, she rolled up my top, squeezed the jello on my belly, it was freezing, I remember catching my breath a bit and she began the scan. The room was really cold, I was shivering, it was dark and I remember thinking how uninviting the place was. Just distracting my thoughts while she did her thing. It seemed to be taking ages!
My thoughts came back to her and I said “is everything ok”. The silence for what seemed like ages, was probably a few seconds that’s all, but in those situations time stands still doesn’t it. She looked down at me, and despite the mask I could see the sadness in her eyes. Oh god. She put her hand on mine (strictly prohibited in those covid times) and said “It’s twins Marti, but they are conjoined. I’m so so sorry”. Twins, oh wow! Amazing. Wait. Conjoined? What does that mean, Oh. I know, what?! No please. no. My mind raced trying to catch up and take in all her words, and then nothing. I went blank. Numb. I’ve only ever experienced that numb feeling once before, it’s almost an out of body sensation. I was laying down but everything went fuzzy.
The next hour went by in a blur, I called James, and another sonographer came in to confirm what the first had seen. James came back at some point, through a back door entrance, because partners were still not allowed due to covid. They made an allowance for us. Then the obstetrician on duty was called immediately, to confirm (again) and sit with us to discuss our options. Numb. I don’t remember anything she said or who else was there. We were referred to a foetal specialist at Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, England.
One week later we were in a room with the consultant, the room full of screens, computers, scans and high tech equipment as I recall. He did another scan, there was a massive flat screen TV in front of me so I could watch. But, I looked away this time, scared, feeling too frightened to see. Despite the babies both growing well, he explained where they were attached, and that it would be near impossible to successfully separate them. He explained one twin was not well and would naturally drag the other down. He explained the dire odds of survival of both pregnancy, and birth, as low single figure percentages, and even if they survived those odds, would face years of surgery ahead in the first few years of their little lives. He also explained the increased risk to me if I were to continue with such a pregnancy.
It felt so unfair. My mind was a swirl of ‘what the hell is happening’ ‘there must be something we can do’ struggling to take it all in, while my mind chat was in overdrive. We left, and spent the next week researching ‘conjoined twin separation success stories’ and deciding if we should let nature take its course or opt for a medical termination for medical reasons (TFMR).
On April 13th 2020 I had a medical termination. It was long, painful and utterly heartbreaking, because at the end, there was nothing but emptiness. I gave birth to our baby boys at around 6:30pm after a 9hr labour. They were perfect little humans, very teeny, about the size of a small avocado each and joined at the abdomen. They had fingers, toes, ears, eyes, nostril holes, and you could definitely see they were boys! They were put in a mose’s basket because babies that young, although fully formed, are very fragile, but I was able to hold them for a few minutes. I tried to soak up every detail so I could etch it on my mind forever!. I wouldn’t watch them grow up, so I wanted to absorb every detail in those precious few, and only moments I would ever get with them. So I did, and we named them William and Leo. We now have 2 memory olive trees growing in the garden, with their ashes in. James bought me the trees a couple of months later as a birthday present, a William tree and a Leo tree. I look out the kitchen window every day and see them.
In all honesty, the next few months went by in a blur, I got an infection following the termination that required 3 rounds of antibiotics in the end, and I actually didn’t start to feel myself in my body again until late October 2020. James and I continued to flourish together, stronger than ever before. He made me laugh when I wanted to cry and he was my rock. He was going through his own grief too but we leant on each other for support. The twins’ experience had definitely deepened our bond, I think experiences like that do, also we’d been locked down together 24/7 due to covid, and it was a joy. Two months after the boys passed, we did start trying again, but nothing happened. On what should have been our due-week at the end of Oct 2020, we went away on our first ever vaca to Wales, and James proposed too. It was a welcomed break for us.
We didn’t know it then, but our fur baby Forrest the newfie was born on 29th October, that same week. After patiently waiting for a puppy since May, losing out on 5 puppies, one breeder gave our allocated puppy to someone who’d just lost her dog, and we took another one back 6hrs after we got home due to him being very poorly. We welcomed little Forrest into our home on 24th December 2020 and excitedly spent the next few months wedding planning.
Still trying to conceive each month to no avail. It gets robotic, doesn’t it? After a while. Living life in limbo, every month around green windows, and timing sex to match that. The monthly disappointment and anguish that follows when AF arrives. Again. James has been a real trooper though. The first anniversary of the twins came and went. It was so hard. I was struggling to keep my emotions together generally. Every new baby announcement would follow with me being in floods of tears. I was still grieving the loss of my babies but also now the loss of potentially never being a mother! I felt my body had let me down. No one can imagine those feelings, unless you’ve been there.
There have been 15 baby announcements and births I’ve encountered to date. I came off facebook and insta for a while, as I found it so triggering. With each month I was getting more saddened, and desperate. A year of ‘trying’ came and went. Now 42 coming to the realisation it might never happen again. Behind closed doors I was finding the emotional side of not conceiving very very hard. I was scared too. Then I turned 43. My best friend, and nurse, had said at one point, I think you have postnatal depression, you’ve been through so much and you’ve not been right since losing the twins and urged me to get some help.
Our wedding was in August 2021. What an amazing glorious day that was. We spent it in London with 4 friends, we were tourists for the day around our wedding service in Mayfair. The next day we had a small wedding party with family and a few close friends in our garden. It was utter bliss, just fabulous. Our marriage fully cementing our love, we did it babe. Woo hoo.
Four months prior to our wedding In May 2021 I’d had my covid vaccination and had been increasingly feeling off since. I had my second in July. Following our wedding my health nose dived, amongst other symptoms I couldn’t sleep more than 1-2hrs a night, I had a worsening tremor, an erratic high resting heart rate of well over 115bpm, high blood pressure and lost 10kg in weight very quickly despite an insatiable appetite. This went on for a few months and I was subsequently diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, triggered by the vaccinations. My consultant drew this conclusion because, I’d had all my Fertility blood work done a month before the jabs, we’d decided to go for IVF later in 2021, and my blood work was perfect, the clinic were happy and we’d booked the date to go in. But by mid September, I knew something was very wrong and we had to cancel the IVF.
I initially asked my GP for help but she was useless and told me I was probably starting the menopause and refused to do the additional tests I requested. Which was a full thyroid panel with antibodies. So knowing I didn’t have the luxury of time and also having some knowledge of female hormone health from my own work as a nutritionist and health coach, I booked a private appointment with an Endocrinologist. He requested urgent blood work that day, a full thyroid panel with antibodies, which showed I had an overactive thyroid. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with Graves Disease.
Our fertility journey stopped there. Without a normal functioning thyroid the chances of natural pregnancy or with ART was not likely. So, here my quest to regain my health as quickly (and naturally) as possible started.
In September I met Tammy, my acupuncturist. She has been both an angel in my life and a source of inspiration. I originally went to see her specifically for fertility but we quickly realised I needed to focus on all the horrible symptoms due to the thyroid imbalance. So there we began, weekly. For the initial few sessions, the needles were incredibly intense, painful and she wasn’t able to use certain points because I literally could not tolerate it. Acupuncture isn’t painful, but for those initial few weeks It was. I sobbed every session as she put the needles, and dreaded going after a while. But I persevered, trusting Tammy and her process, after a couple of months I started to see improvement and the intensity lessened. I still was not on any medication. I made other dietary and lifestyle adjustments and also started taking Chinese herbs from her TCM herbalist. The two began to work beautifully, synergistically together. Within three days I noticed a shift in myself using the herbs and after 4 months I feel the best I’ve felt in nearly a year, and the most vibrant I’ve felt in 2 years since the twins.
Our health is definitely our biggest commodity. I’ve learnt a lot in the last 2 years about fertility, conception, and TTC as an older woman, in recent months that has been liberating, empowering and restored my faith in my body. I also started to work on my emotional health, because it has taken such a hit and I’d reached a point where I felt so emotionally worn down by everything and started to feel low and down a lot of the time. Every baby post shook me to my inner core and I’d deeply sob. I felt my own loss over and over and over again in those moments. It was strange, all seasons of emotions in a few minutes. So I have worked on all that, I’ve found a way to navigate the feelings, to let go of my fearful panicky grip of wanting a baby, and found peace in my onward journey.
The triggering times are getting less, I still have them, but they don’t last very long and I’m able to hold others’ babies, be around babies’ and feel joy in the moment without wanting to break down or hold back tears. I genuinely feel I’ve come out the other side. The thyroid issue is improving and returning to normal. I have purpose in my life again, I’m no longer living in limbo, my life paused waiting every month for my baby. I’m inwardly happy and enjoying life again. I’m finally back to being ‘me’, as James said today.
We haven’t got our rainbow yet, and I don’t know how, or when it will be, but one thing I do know is, our baby is on its way!.
Thank you for reading my story.
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