'Infertility puts a couple under huge pressure ... but IVF gave us our miracle baby Oliver.'
Many people take having a child for granted and assume that, when the time is right, they will have a baby with the one they love. However, for some couples, things are not as straightforward and they have to go through many hurdles before getting the child of their dreams. AASMA DAY talks to Rachael Wilkinson about the rollercoaster she and husband Ryan experienced before achieving their longed for baby Oliver
Every parent wants a child that was created out of love.
Rachael and Ryan Wilkinson firmly believe that their son Oliver was created through love even though he wasn’t conceived in the conventional way.
Rachael explains: “Oliver was still created out of love – just in a different way.”
The couple, from Downes Grove, Morecambe, were devastated when tests revealed the only way they could have a baby together was through IVF. But luckily for them, the treatment was successful on their first attempt and resulted in their son Oliver, who has recently celebrated his first birthday.
Shaking her head with disbelief as she smiles down at a beaming Oliver, Rachael, 26, says: “Oliver is perfect and all I ever dreamed of.
“It is wonderful to have him after everything we went through and he brings us so much joy.”
Rachael, who is a bridal consultant at her mum’s shop The Bridal Collection in Lancaster, says she always knew she wanted to be a mum and having a family was very important to her.
“My parents Debbie and Steve brought up me, my brother and sister in the best way they could have and all I ever wanted was to one day have a family like the one I had with my mum and dad.
“We wanted for nothing and were very happy and had really good holidays and family time. I wanted to be a great parent and be like them one day.
“I have never been career driven but more family orientated and for me, personally, I always wanted to get married first before having children.”
Rachael and Ryan, who is an electrician at a power station, met eight years ago through a mutual friend and got engaged the year after, before getting married.
Rachael admits she was naive in believing that, once they got married, the natural next step would be having a baby together and she did not envision any problems.
She says: “Ryan and I had the conversation about having children and once we got engaged, we broached the topic of planning the next steps in our lives together.
“I wanted to get married first and then have children and I just assumed it would happen.
“Ryan was keen to have children together, too, so once we were married, we were looking forward to it happening.
“I was so naive and just imagined it would happen straight away for us.”
Initially, Rachael was full of optimism and hope, but as the months went by, she became more and more despondent.
She recalls: “When the first two months went by, you think: ‘That’s a bit rubbish’ but you carry on thinking it will happen next month.
“But when a couple of months turns into six, then seven months, you start getting disheartened.”
When Rachael looked on the internet and spoke to other mums for advice, she discovered she had to wait for two years to see if things would happen naturally before seeking medical advice.
Looking back now, she confesses she became obsessed with her fertility and her dream of having a baby and says it was all she ever talked about.
She also admits it put immense pressure on her and Ryan as a couple.
Rachael remembers: “I would cry every month when it didn’t happen and Ryan hated seeing me so upset.
“Instead of being spontaneous, sex became planned and regimental and that puts a lot of pressure on you as a couple.
“I did not really appreciate or understand the pressure it put Ryan under.
“The most important thing I would push to other people facing the same situation as us is that it is really important to talk to each other as a couple.”
Every month, Rachael bought pregnancy tests in the hope that she’d see the result she dreamed of, but every month, her hopes were dashed.
She says: “Ryan used to joke that I must have shares in pregnancy tests.
“But although we were both trying to put on a brave face, we were both hurting inside.”
Rachael says it then seemed everyone around her got pregnant with no effort and although she was delighted for them, it underlined her own longing.
She says: “While Ryan were trying for a baby, my sister-in-law got pregnant and my best friend got pregnant.
“As much as I was really happy for them, there was a little bit of me that wished it was me.
“I told my best friend I had some news on the same day she told me she had something to tell me.
“She told me she was pregnant and I told her Ryan and I had been referred for IVF.
“I had become so obsessed with getting pregnant and having a baby, it was all I ever spoke about.
“I think that made people uncomfortable about telling me they were pregnant.
“My best friend told me when she was 15 weeks pregnant.
“At the time, I did not understand why they felt they could not tell me, but looking back, I realise they didn’t want to hurt me.
“They knew I was happy for them but that I wished it would happen for me, too.”
Despite their longing for a baby together, Rachael says she and Ryan still lived their lives and enjoyed themselves.
She says: “We still lived our lives and went on nice holidays, bought our house and went to music festivals.
“Looking back, if I had got pregnant straight away after getting married, there are a lot of things we wouldn’t have done.”
Rachael and Ryan went to the doctors in April 2013 and underwent tests and investigations.
Rachael had blood tests and was sent for a laparoscopy where dyes is put through the fallopian tubes to make sure they are not blocked.
It was then discovered that the couple were experiencing difficulties conceiving due to problems on both sides.
Rachael explains: “It sounds bizarre, but the saving grace for us was that we both had problems.
“At first, when we did not know what the problem was, we were both blaming each other.
“But when we found out there were issues on both sides, it reunited us and we supported each other.”
Doctors discovered Rachael had a mild case of polycystic ovaries while Ryan had a low sperm count.
The couple were then told they needed IVF and were put on the NHS waiting list.
After looking at their records, specialists referred them to CARE Fertility in Manchester, which predominantly deals with private patients and the treatment was paid for by the NHS.
The waiting time was only two months and Rachael and Ryan began the IVF cycle in May 2014.
The couple had Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) which differs from conventional IVF in that the embryologist selects a single sperm to be injected directly into an egg, instead of fertilisation taking place in a dish where many sperm are placed near an egg.
Rachael says: “The treatment was a bit of a rollercoaster.
“I had to give myself injections every day and go to Manchester daily for scans.
“But at day 14, when they were supposed to be doing the egg collection, the follicles had still not opened.
“So I had to keep going back to have them checked.
“They said they would put me on a higher dose of hormone drugs and then decide whether to cancel the cycle or not.”
On day 19, specialists decided Rachael’s follicles were open enough and carried out egg collection and managed to get 16 eggs, 13 of which were fertilised into embryos.
A few days later, the couple went back to CARE and Rachael had one embryo put back in.
However, a few days later, she received a telephone call from the clinic which convinced her the IVF cycle hadn’t worked and she prepared herself for heartbreak.
Rachael explains: “Four days after I had the embryo put inside me, CARE called and asked whether we wanted to keep the rest of the embryos by freezing them or if we wanted to donate them or destroy them.
“I always expected to say keep them as Ryan and I had already discussed having another child or trying again if this cycle of IVF didn’t work.
“However, we were then told that the embryos were not good enough grades for us to keep.
“I was completely devastated. I gave up in my head at this point and was convinced that this cycle of IVF wasn’t going to work.
“I thought if those embryos that were kept in an incubator in the best possible conditions weren’t good enough to survive, what chance did the one inside me have of not only surviving but attaching itself to me.
“I felt it stood no chance and was very downhearted.”
However, to her joy and disbelief, when Rachael carried out the pregnancy test, it turned out to be positive.
She remembers: “I was fully expecting the test to be negative and it was very surreal and a real shock to find it was positive.
“I would say I had done about 50 pregnancy tests which were all negative while we were trying and to suddenly see one with two lines was wonderful.
“It was a very emotional moment.”
Rachael’s pregnancy went very smoothly apart from the fact she had gestational diabetes.
Oliver was born on March 10 at Royal Lancaster Infirmary weighing 7lbs 14oz and it was a precious moment for Rachael and Ryan.
Rachael explains: “Oliver was just so perfect and gorgeous and you fall in love instantly.
“It was so hard to imagine that this little person had been living inside my tummy.”
Rachael says the past year with Oliver has been wonderful with many moments of joy.
However, she admits being a mum is harder than she had envisaged.
She explains: “When all you have ever wanted is a child, you think you have done the hard bit when you’ve been through the IVF and come through the other side.
“Oliver sleeps really well so we are lucky.
“Being a mum is better than I expected with the love and the joy. But it is also harder than I expected with the attention a baby demands of you.
“Oliver doesn’t like anyone leaving the room and I could not make a drink or go to the toilet as he wouldn’t let me leave him.
“But apart from that, being a mum is the best thing ever.”
Rachael advises other couples who think they have fertility issues to go to the doctor.
And she says the most important thing is to talk to each other.
She says: “Communication is key as it does put enormous pressure on you as a couple.
“After the rollercoaster we went through to have Oliver, to actually have him makes him even more special.
“Oliver is very cheeky and smiley and has a cute grin and big blue eyes.
“He is an absolute delight and we are very happy with what we have got.”
Glenn Atkinson, medical director at CARE Fertility Manchester, says: “We were very happy to help Rachael and Ryan have their son Oliver.
“Trying for a baby can be a tough time but with the right treatment and support miracles do happen!
“All of us at CARE send our very best wishes to the family.”
• For more information about CARE Fertility Manchester, visit: www.carefertility.com/loc-manchester/care-fertility-sc0/page-care-fertility/ or call 0161 249 3040.