Having written about hope yesterday, I want to write this specially for those who have had PCOS or ovarian cysts. I meet young women who are very downcast after such a diagnosis and, if I can, I always try to tell them that I went on to have 3 children, our youngest daughter after further surgery and on 1/3 of an ovary.
Everyone’s infertility story is different, but sharply poignant. And you don’t forget the hurt and the hopelessness, the humiliation and the emptiness. So if this gives encouragement at a low spot, then I am happy to share it.
I was diagnosed with ovarian cysts after having my fallopian tubes checked. I was 25 and hadn’t got pregnant in two years. Yes, we were young, but with a husband in the military, my actual opportunities to conceive would be much reduced once he started going to sea. The current service format was 18 months away, six months at home, 18 months back at sea.
I had a friend who, unable to have children, finally got the adoption paperwork through when they at a naval air station in Scotland. Her husband was at sea and was refused leave to come back for the placement. Without both parents present to receive the child, the adoption couldn’t go forward. Heartbroken, they let the baby go. His next posting was within England, where the Scottish home study was invalid. We lost touch and I don’t know in the end whether they ever had a child.
In our case, I was due to go into hospital for surgery that might make it possible for us to have kids. Three days beforehand, there was an accident on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. The pilot was killed and my husband was sent to replace him.
I went into hospital numb with fear. Coming out of the anesthetic, I heard dimly over the ward radio that another plane had crashed on Ark Royal. The surgeon came by and told me he had removed 2/3 of my ovaries (a wedge resection), that I was unlikely to have a child, but my only hope was to try to get pregnant at once before the remaining ovarian tissue became scarred. I would have a few years before they would probably have to remove my ovaries completely.
And my husband was at sea for the foreseeable future. I had no visitors, the hospital being 45 miles from the base. My mother phoned daily, saying, “You must have a child before he is killed.”
And I waited dumbly, numbly for news that he too had been killed. A young girl, Trish, whose baby had died at birth, was put in the bed next to mine. A devout Catholic, she wept every night because the baby had not been baptized and therefore, she believed, was stuck for eternity in limbo. Every night, I crept out of my bed to sit with her, quoting endlessly, repetitively Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come unto me.”
After about a week, my husband managed to get a call to me. Haltingly I told him my news. Then there was a God. Ark Royal needed a night deck qualified pilot, which my husband wasn’t yet. He was only able to do daytime landings. He was being sent back for two weeks before being sent to HMS Centaur.
Two weeks – and a chance. As I left the hospital, I said to the staff, “I’ll be back in 10 months.” Their looks were pitying, but Trish called after me, “If you do get pregnant, I will give you all my baby clothes.”
We had two weeks leave, bittersweet. We discovered that the RAF had a system whereby an empty seat on transport plane could be given to a service wife for a nominal charge. I immediately applied for passage to both Malta and Gibraltar where Centaur would be stopping.
A month later, at a few hours notice, I flew to Malta with a kernel of hope in my heart. In those days, technology was out of the ark. No email, of course, ship-to-shore phone calls very difficult, no quick pregnancy tests and finally no epidurals. I thought I might be pregnant, but didn’t dare hope. I remember climbing up onto the ramparts to watch Centaur enter Grand Harbour, wondering, hoping.
Two weeks later, she sailed again for a 10 day exercise. I had done a pregnancy test and was waiting for the results which would take two weeks. I drove into Valetta in our hire car to meet another naval wife.
Coming over a hill on a dual carriage way, I saw a large truck on the central reservation. Without warning, it pulled straight across the road in front of me. Time lengthened. Very slowly, my car ploughed into the side of the truck. I could see it happen in minute detail and couldn’t stop it. Then, time collapsed again. The crash was done. I was bleeding amid shattered glass.
“The baby!” was my instinctive thought. I flagged down a passing car, whose driver extracted me and drove me to the local air force station from which Centaur’s air crew had been operating.
The medical officer was appalled. “You can’t bleed here! We are about to have an inspection.”
I forgot my husband’s lowly rank and swore at him – that I was pregnant and had just gone through the windscreen head on. Reluctantly, he patched me up and had me taken back to my apartment. “Let us know if you miscarry,” said the nurse cheerfully as she tucked me into bed – and left.
I had no phone, no transport, half a loaf of bread and half a book unread. The apartment was in a small Maltese village where no one spoke English. Instinctively, I knew that the book was the most important asset. “I mustn’t think of the crash. I mustn’t embed that moment of impact in my brain and I must keep still and rest for the baby.”
The medical officer must have repented his surly treatment, because shortly afterwards he radioed Centaur. Halfway through his explanation, the radio went dead. The ship scrambled a helicopter, threw my husband into it and, not knowing if I was alive or dead, he was flown back to the base, stuffed into a military transport and driven to the apartment. Finding I had locked the door, he kicked it in and raced up the stairs, arriving minutes before the police.
I wrote to my mother, very impressed by his gallantry – and not mentioning the possible pregnancy. Her reply was short and to the point, “How much did it cost to repair the door?” Ever frugal and unromantic!
A week later, I flew back to England. Still not knowing if I was pregnant – I said those days were out of the ark technologically! A telegram awaited me at home, “You have passed your test!” My husband had got the results before me from the clinic. I was officially 2 1/2 months pregnant.
Triumphantly, I went to my GP. He looked at me sourly, “You can’t be pregnant with that medical history – and (when I told him about the car accident) if you are, you have done your best to get rid of it.”
I went home and cried all night. I didn’t go back to a doctor till I was 6 months pregnant. Today, I would find another GP, but as a woman then, I was too cowed. But the baby grew. In Gibraltar, she kicked for the first time, like a feather tracing just above my scar.
Back in Wales, where we were stationed, my husband was mostly still away, but I prepared a nursery with a special “father’s chair,” so she could be cradled by her dad. I was determined he would be as closely connected to his child as possible. I had seen the results of absent fathers from the war, when men came back often to kids that didn’t recognize them and never bonded.
It was a happy, hopeful time. Recently I found video of me, six months pregnant, long hair blowing, dancing on the beach with our black lab Sally. It is something I cherish as it epitomizes the triumph of hope over (apparent) impossibility. Only 6 months earlier, I had been numb and empty with despair, now the future was blossoming with promise.
Sally was my great companion, barely more than a puppy, she was my friend and comforter during the weeks on my own. I worried that my husband was safe, flying from carriers, and that the baby would be healthy, but never about Sally, sleek and shiny, bouncy with health.
When I was 7 months, we heard that my husband, having been shore based although frequently away on exercises, would be sent to sea for 18 months a few days after the baby was due. So he might see his child – or he might not.
In those days, husbands were not present for births. But I was determined he would know the baby and begged and cajoled the hospital. Could he be there? I promised he wouldn’t faint or throw up. And they relented. So we waited….
The date came and passed, snow fell deeply. My contractions started and I curled up in bed while we timed them. Sally was very quiet. She lay very close and I felt her icy cold through the blankets. It was now 2 am, she was clearly, suddenly very sick, and my contractions speeded up. We were 45 miles from the hospital and the snow still fell.
My husband ran downstairs to phone the vet. While he was gone, Sally gave a great shudder and died, spread across me. My husband tried to give artificial respiration; the vet came. She had galloping kidney disease – at 15 months old.
I remember standing in the garden in my nightie, holding a lamp while he buried her, everything blurred by soft snow falling. Then we drove to the hospital. And that night and the next, I drifted in a Pethodine mist, caught in some place between life and death, a strangely peaceful place.
The room was softly lit, my husband’s eyes steady behind his green mask. Our daughter was placed in my arms. We had done it – we had our child. Our miraculous child who beat the odds just by being, a child I had been determined we would have, but at times had despaired of ever meeting. Our daughter.
Follow up: we had a son two years later. When he was three months old, I had surgery to remove a large (size of a grapefruit) ovarian cyst and with it my right ovary. On my remaining 1/3 of an ovary, we had our younger daughter three years later. I still have that 1/3 of an ovary, though it is being watched for cysts. The main side effect has been the scar tissue from the two surgeries which were more radical back then. This has been a major contributor to my chronic back pain today. I had two major surgeries and two pregnancies in three years and, in those days was given no physio or exercises. I heaved babies over into the back seats of two-door cars and carted heavy children with no idea that my back biomechanics were way out of whack.
I hope this story gives hope and optimism to anyone who is facing the disheartening diagnosis that we did. There really is always hope.