I greet you from the other side
Of sorrow and despair
With a love so vast and shattered
It will reach you everywhere
And I sing this for the captain
Whose ship has not been built
For the mother in confusion
Her cradle still unfilled
One in seven couples in the UK - about 3.5 million people - experience fertility problems. So many and yet most of us suffer in silence because of the taboo and stigma still attached to the issue.
For me, those years of trying for a baby were the darkest and loneliest time of my life, so after I got my little happy ending I felt a strong need to reach out to those still struggling.
This is how this project was born.
In the following pages you will see women who decided to share honest accounts of their journeys towards motherhood. Tales of miscarriages, still births, strained relationships, and shattered dreams. But also of incredible strength, determination, and, ultimately, joy. Their sole motivation was to help others and I’m immeasurably grateful for their openness and courage.
If you are reading this while still trying for a baby please remember that you are not alone, even if it often feels this way. We hope that these photographs and words will bring you not pain but hope and strength to carry on.
Please click 'Play' to watch the video or scroll through the following pages to view the extended content at your own pace.
To read the full stories and to share your own journey, please follow the link after the video. Let’s break the silence together!
I would see pregnant woman everywhere! On the train, at work, walking in the street, on TV, movies - just couldn't get away from it! I felt like we were stuck in this place where our lives couldn't move on. I felt less of a woman, like I had all the right bits but they just didn't work. I felt like it was my fault...
One week before I was due to start my IVF I told my husband I have a bit of a tummy ache - out of the blue he said to me: “I have a feeling you are pregnant!" I looked at him like he was crazy. No periods, no cycle, no eggs being released - how could I possibly be pregnant?! My last scan had showed my lining was not building up, so even if I did fall pregnancy it wouldn't hold!
He was quite persistent that I did a test so I did just to prove him wrong but got the shock of my life. I couldn't believe my eyes - I could see 2 lines! I was pregnant - it was a miracle!
My boyfriend and I often argued. He could not seem to ever be upset about the situation. He dealt with it all differently. He was calm and simply believed it would happen when it would. I felt like I was in a web of chaos. I was unable to control my body into doing what it should naturally do. I struggled so much and felt no one could help me, no one understood and I could not speak to anyone about it.
I’ll never forget the dark place I was in for four years. Just writing this, I have not stopped crying. Reliving this is quite painful. Hubby is in bed next to me wondering why I am crying when I have two lovely children. I don’t believe he ever understood me during my dark time, but I made it out somehow.
A few months after getting married I had a miscarriage. I found out that I was pregnant the same time I found out I was miscarrying. It seemed so cruel. On my birthday I had the last test to make sure the miscarriage was complete and a few days before had to go to a baby shower, where no one knew what I had been through (why spoil it for others?). It's in these circumstances that you learn your own strength.
We then had IVF, which failed. We found out that we were unsuccessful the day before our 1st wedding anniversary.
After a few years we started to accept it might not happen for us and just as we started to accept it the impossible happened and I fell pregnant naturally.
Our world shattered when we were told at our 20 week scan, that our baby was suffering from a debilitating condition which would severely affect its quality of life. Crushed, utterly inconsolable and completely shocked, we made the heart-breaking decision to terminate the pregnancy. I remember the hospital, the delivery, and coming home feeling everything was broken. I remember waking the next day and then realising what had happened, what was lost, and feeling like things would never be okay again. The ordeal was awful, but not in comparison to the challenge of coming to terms with the horrendous turn of events. Having triumphed with the IVF treatment it seemed especially cruel for it to all be snatched away.
My oldest friend told me about some research about the first 15 minutes after the embryos have been transferred. People who were happy and laughed in those first 15 minutes had a better success rate of embryo transfer. So Jase had downloaded 15 minutes of funny stuff for me to watch. Noel Fielding and Russell Brand had some part to play in our daughter’s arrival, but not in the way most people would think!
I’ve been really open with people about having had IVF, as I know how much it meant to me to be able to ask the stupid/practical/losing-the-plot questions. I am proud of wearing the IVF badge of honour and effort, and I think my kids will be too, when they hear about it when they are older! When the twins were nearly 18 months, I found out I was having another little one. Now I am the lucky and proud owner of three amazing little people!
I found it so difficult to hear about ‘everyone’ being pregnant around me at the time, and so I work really hard never to assume anything about other people on the baby front. It looks like ‘everyone’ got pregnant really easily, but when you open up to people, there is often a more complicated story behind the scenes, that makes you feel less alone than you thought you were. Good luck with chasing your dreams!
I am lucky that I can get pregnant quite quickly, but holding onto those babies is not easy for me. After my miscarriage all I could think about was having a successful pregnancy and I managed to get pregnant immediately after trying. However, days after finding out I was pregnant with our daughter Eloise, I thought I was losing her, and doctors told me my chances were 50/50 and not to get my hopes up.
At 30 weeks, my fears were realised when a routine scan showed that Eloise was too small and would need an early delivery. I went on immediate bed rest, with scans and monitoring almost daily. We made it to 34 weeks, when in February 2015 my beautiful daughter Eloise was born weighing just 2lbs3oz. She was tiny but so strong and after a long five weeks in hospital she was allowed to come home.
Our doctor suggested ICSI. We were so scared, but decided we should give it a go. The procedure was gruelling. I hate needles, so my husband bravely administered all of my injections for me. It went well, they collected a good amount of eggs and several fertilised. We had two embryos popped back in and waited, super anxious, but excited. Cramps started around a week later and before it was even my official test date, I had got my period and the tests were clearly saying negative.
The pain from the disappointment was like no other. Every part of me hurt, and I know my husband suffered immensely too. But we had each other still and we could, and would, get through this.
I was 17 when I first got pregnant by accident. Although I felt scared and unprepared to be a mum, I didn't imagine I would feel so strongly for this little baby inside me. Everyone around me suggested I had an abortion but I just couldn't go through with it and began to get excited about being a mum. Then at 11 weeks I miscarried. I'd never felt pain so deep and felt completely empty and alone. I felt like the miscarriage had left a hole so deep in me that it could only be filled by having my own baby to love!
I had 4 more miscarriages in my early twenties. I remember returning to work after a missed miscarriage and a kid in my class (I'm a primary school teacher) asked me if I had a baby. When I said “No, not yet”, she said “Why not?” Such innocent questions, but I remember fighting back tears thinking “Yes, why not? What have I done wrong?”
The egg collection process was horrendous. The drug treatment left me feeling bloated and 'ripe' and so unlike myself. The operation left me feeling tender and bruised. I ended up in emergency gyno because I was in so much pain as blood had collected in my abdomen from the egg collection. I was in hospital for 2 days and on the second day they wanted to implant the one and only embryo that was suitable for transfer.
With fingers and toes crossed, the embryo was transferred with no problem and, within a few days, I started to feel some symptoms of pregnancy - joy! However, this was short-lived and the pregnancy test was negative after two weeks.
To say we were heart-broken is an incredible understatement. I was devastated and didn't know how I was going to cope, so "Plan B" came into effect: private fertility treatment, even with the hefty price tag.
After the egg collection I was too ill to consider doing the embryo transfer five days later. We had to freeze our embryos on day one, so we wouldn’t have the full five days to know how they grew and if they survived. A few days later I ended up in hospital with OHSS, severe urinary tract infection and a cervical infection as a result of the egg retrieval process, as my immune system by this point was too weak to cope.
In the New Year, I had regained health and we made the decision to thaw the embryos. But by day five all our embryos had died. We felt as though we had gone through the whole process for nothing. The meds, the painful, daily injections, the pain, the emotional turmoil, the hospital stay – all of it was for nothing after none of our embryos had made it. I took a day to cry my heart out and be sad for our embryos, but my only way of dealing with it was by starting again straight away.
We finally got referred for treatment and started our first IVF cycle. I remember sitting in the waiting room opposite another woman who happened to have a child with her. We must have caught each other's eye at one point because she turned round to me and said, "It will happen someday". That comment has stayed with me to this day.
The first IVF cycle failed and we had lots of tears. Due to lack of NHS funding for a second cycle we looked into private options. The cost was an issue for us but one fertility clinic offered us their egg donation programme. I would donate half my eggs to another couple and I would have discounted IVF with the remaining eggs. Amazingly a miracle happened and my baby daughter survived! And the other couple had a baby girl too! Seven months down the line we are somehow pregnant again naturally. Another unbelievable miracle.
Although it was hard, I felt it made my husband’s and my relationship stronger. It really helped to both be on the same page. We both agreed we wanted children, and always had a plan B. If IVF failed we would adopt. It was comforting to know there would always be another option.
I kept ovulating from the right ovary, with no tube. It was so frustrating. I would often take it out on my husband. I spent evenings crying. Every little thing was a reminder - even something like Eastenders, or going out for dinner and seeing a family with a baby. I was petrified I would never have that.
I decided to go down the IVF route after no luck on chlomid. I was given all my meds and shown how to inject etc. I was feeling positive about this next step and eagerly awaited my period. But it never came! I was pregnant after two years of trying, naturally! I could not believe it!
The hardest part for me was when a close family member became pregnant - I became extremely jealous and spiteful and now when I look back, I think "Oh my God, what a horrible person I was". But my feelings got the better of me and it just felt that we were never meant to be parents, even though we had so much to give to a child.
Due to our journey of infertility, I decided to retrain as a holistic fertility practitioner - to give couples the help and support we didn't get. It is a really hard time to go through, especially with those who have not been through it and therefore, through no fault of their own, cannot help you or support you in the way you really need it.
Six months after getting married I was admitted to hospital for treatment for chronic inflammatory bowel disease. I was told that the only option to save me was to have my bowel removed, creating an ileostomy with a temporary stoma bag. However, the next surgery to remove the ileostomy and create an internal pouch, could have up to 40% chance of leaving me infertile. To me even 1% risk would not have been worth it, so I put the operation on hold and chose to live with the ileostomy bag indefinitely.
After eight rounds of ovulation induction and no pregnancy we began attending the initial appointments to start the process of IVF. In one car crash of an appointment, an unsympathetic junior doctor concluded that I would never conceive naturally and we joined the IVF waiting list. Interestingly my calculations tell me that was actually the exact same cycle that I did conceive, and naturally!
I grew up in a family that is not naturally open about personal matters and I chose to tell very few people what was happening throughout my illness and my struggles with fertility. This made day to day life, work, and maintaining relationships difficult. I want my baby girl to grow up as an open and honest young woman, comfortable in her own skin and unafraid of what people think of her. I recognise this starts with me, so I am glad to be given the opportunity to share my story with you.
Taking the drugs, injecting myself, making up excuses for missing time off work and generally going through the IVF process was a very difficult and stressful time. We ended up with just two surviving fertilised eggs, even though we had started with 11 eggs.
Danielle was born six weeks early weighing just 3lbs 3ozs. However she was healthy and grew from strength to strength with absolutely no problems. She had been born five days before my 40th birthday - I had long given up the idea of having a child in my 30's!
When we lost our twins at 18 weeks through a random problem, after several previous miscarriages, we were broken people. Our love for each other and the love from the wonderful people around us got us through. Eventually our hearts healed enough to try again.
Finding out we were pregnant was a magical moment but it quickly felt like a step in a long journey ahead. Anxiety was high for the following 8 months and the depth of empathy we have for each other got us through.
Finally Freddie joined us. The first night he slept in the cot next to me in hospital, he wriggled to the edge of the cot. The midwife said this was because he could smell me and wanted to be close to me. I felt so completely loved by this beautiful little person.
Having a miscarriage when the one thing you want most in the world is to be a mum is awful. Having in on your honeymoon, on that romantic beach, just adds an insult to a painful injury. But the worst part was after we came back. I was still bleeding but had to go back to work the next day and everyone was asking if we had a great honeymoon and when would we start trying to have babies.
In the end it took us four years, two miscarriages, four IUIs, two cycles of IVF and three frozen embryo transfers, one ovarian hyperstimulation and one episode of depression to conceive our daughter. I used to joke that, with all those drugs and supplements I had ingested, or injected, I singlehandedly kept the pharma industry going. To this day I think that it’s an urban myth that women get pregnant through sex – how is that possible?! When our daughter was finally conceived my husband and I were not even in the same country.
Please make sure you spend a few seconds to share this project with others through social media. Even if you haven’t been through infertility yourself, you most likely know someone who is struggling, you may just not realise it.
To read the full stories, share your own (you can win a family portrait session with me!), or leave a comment, please GO TO MY BLOG. You will also find a link to a Just Giving page there, through which you can donate money to Fertility Network UK – a fantastic charity which supports people struggling with infertility.