Tommy's PregnancyHub

IVF then premature birth was such a crazy experience

Michelle, 41, suffered anxiety after delivering daughter, Audrey, at 26 weeks. Michelle lives with her husband and daughter in Cardiff.

We always wanted a family and started trying straight after we got married in August 2015 but it didn’t happen. After a year we went to the GP and were referred for tests which came back inconclusive, unexplained infertility. The consultant recommended IVF which was daunting but gave us hope. The NHS in Wales entitled you to 2 rounds of egg collection and the transfer of any fertilised embryos. We had our first round in summer 2017 but it was unsuccessful.

Going through IVF 

A few months later a second embryo was transferred but it was a difficult time, my dad passed away just after. In hindsight I should’ve taken some time off, but with IVF there’s always pressure. It was unsuccessful again. 

We took a break for a couple of months, which felt like the longest we could afford to wait, then a third embryo was transferred but was again unsuccessful. It’s frustrating, we’d talked to the doctor about how they might do things differently but they didn’t know what the problem was for us so it was hard for them to offer much hope.

Later that year we had our second round of egg collection and that was a nightmare. They accidentally scratched my bladder with a needle during the procedure which caused a blood clot and removing it was a horrible experience and a complication we really didn’t need. Our fourth egg transfer followed immediately but didn’t work and we only had one embryo left. 

In the end, it was the doctor who told us to take a break, clear our heads, which really helped. I’m not sure I’d have stopped if not, I needed to be told.

A positive pregnancy test

In May 2019 we had our final go and we were so shocked when we saw the positive test result – but I was also terrified. I’d spent so long thinking everything would be okay once I was pregnant yet in reality it wasn’t. I bled a lot, an early scan said everything was okay but we paid for a few private scans too because I was so anxious. Once you’re pregnant there’s no support from the clinic and I felt completely alone.
By 20 weeks I’d started to relax, to believe it was really happening. We found out it was a girl and I tried to allow myself to get excited. All midwife checks were fine but then, at 26 weeks, I was away with friends and felt sick, bloated and had a bad headache, all common with pregnancy so no major alarm bells rang. 
I called the maternity unit who said not to come in because it sounded like a tummy bug, I also mentioned a rash on my face and they said to call the GP – luckily I did.
She saw me that day, tested blood pressure and urine which came back positive for protein. That’s when she very calmly told me to go to hospital, I had no idea of the severity of what to come. I went on my own but it soon became clear this was not routine. They checked blood pressure, urine and bloods and started talking about pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia and early labour 

I went to delivery where more doctors appeared and conversations were more intense. The blood test came back quickly and showed I had severe pre-eclampsia and something called HELLP syndrome – I’d never even heard of it. Once my husband arrived and they said the only cure was delivery and our baby needed to be delivered now. 

Everything became urgent, they hooked me to lots of equipment and I tried to mentally deal with the implications as they prepared me for an emergency C-section. I had arrived at the hospital at 11.30am and Audrey arrived at 3.35pm weighing 1lb10oz. They worked on her then took her straight to neonatal intensive care.
I was very poorly and didn’t really comprehend what had happened but, at 9pm, they called to say she was stable and my husband could see her. He brought back a photograph and was full of praise for the incredible team caring for our daughter.

I saw her on day 3 and it was overwhelming, lights, monitors and wires everywhere. She was tiny. 

In the neonatal unit

Then the neonatal journey began. You are strongly encouraged to express milk but I found it very difficult, pumping every 3 or 4 hours, waking up in the night. And the pressure is immense, it’s the only thing you can do for your baby. 

I slowly started to feel more confident in caring for Audrey; I’d been reluctant at first, scared I’d hurt her if I changed her nappy or even held her.

I remember feeling so much grief too. My first photo holding my daughter is 2 weeks after she was born and all you see is blanket and wires. You have to come to terms with that, you have to own it and I’m very proud of that photo now.

We spent 131 days on neonatal and the length of stay was the hardest thing. She needed a lot of breathing support, she still has chronic lung disease. 

You soon realise it’s 2 steps forward, 2 back, she’d be brilliant then 2 hours later alarms are going off.  

One of the really positive things is the bond you form with other parents, I met people who’d been there longer and they were so helpful, providing information and reassurance. One of the hardest things is when other parents lose their little ones, it happened a few of times while we were there and it’s so sad and you can’t help worry even more about your own baby.

When we were finally discharged I struggled with anxiety, I still do. I found it difficult to relax around her, to not constantly worry about her health.

Bringing Audrey home

After much discussion they sent her home without oxygen but she had bad reflux, was sick all the time and when she was sick in neonatal she would stop breathing so I expected that every time and it was terrifying.
Audrey still wheezes when she’s doing certain things but she gets stronger every day. She had an open duct in her heart and she may still need a heart operation.

She’s also had a few hospital admissions with bronchiolitis and tonsillitis which I found triggering but as she gets bigger and stronger it’s easier for me to relax around her. There’s still an underlying anxiety about her lungs, especially now with Covid, but she’s doing well.

IVF then premature birth was such a crazy experience and it’s taken time for me to come to terms with the fact she’s even here. I still feel like she could be taken away at any point, I can’t quite fully relax but I am getting better at thinking about the future.

More support and information

Premature birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Most of the time, premature births happen on their own and often doctors will not be able to find out why. 

If you have any concerns about premature labour or birth, you can talk to the Tommy's midwives on our pregnancy line. Call 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or email [email protected]

Find out more about premature birth.

Your pregnancy symptoms

In many cases, pregnancy symptoms can be treated easily and will not lead to a serious complication. But sometimes they are signs of something more serious. 

Tell your midwife or doctor if you have any symptoms that you're worried about. Do not worry if you've talked about it before and don't be concerned about whether you're wasting anyone's time. This is your pregnancy and it's important to trust your own instincts.

Maternity care is still essential during the coronavirus pandemic and services are still running. If you have any concerns about your pregnancy call your GP, midwife, nearest early pregnancy unit or maternity unit.