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Tanya Tighe Donohue talks openly about the emotional rollercoaster of four failed IVF attempts before the arrival of baby Taidhg
Tanya Tighe Donohue and Taidhg.
Tanya Tighe Donohue and Taidhg.
February 09 2022 02:00 AM
Tanya Tighe Donohue stares into the beautiful big blue eyes of her son Taidhg and pinches herself.
She finds herself doing this a lot lately – for the last five months in fact, ever since Tanya and her husband Michael Donohue welcomed their son into the world. The Gorey couple just can’t believe their luck.
It is an emotion most first-time parents can relate to, that feeling of staring at their baby and realising just how lucky they are to have a child in their lives.
But for Tanya and Michael, that feeling is multiplied 10-fold. Their boy Taidhg is the end result of five long years on a journey of IVF – a journey that saw four heartbreaking failed attempts along the way.
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When Tanya started her IVF process in 2017 at the age of 41, little did she realise just how emotionally and physically challenging her journey was to become. Tanya endured four unsuccessful trips abroad to clinics in Prague, an ectopic pregnancy as well as the loss of her father Tim Tighe.
The beaming Mum has been open about her journey from the beginning and says it’s always important to “put your bright side out” but said that the couple kept it hidden about how deeply the journey affected them.
“I read a quote once that said ‘there’s no dipping your toe into the infertility world, you’re either underwater or by the side of the pool’ and that sums it up brilliantly because going through this is all consuming, and at times you feel like you’re drowning.
“But after each failed round, you take a deep breath and prepare to go again,” she said.
Tanya said that really only people going through IVF will understand its demands, whether they’re same sex couples or heterosexual couples.
She wants to see a more open conversation about the realities of infertility after a large number of women reached out asking for help, experiencing the same fears and anxieties Tanya and Michael had when they started out.
The pair both come from big families and it was 2017 when realised they would need medical assistance to become parents, and they sought out the best fit for them.
They booked a number of consultations with clinics in Ireland but decided to go with the IVF Cube Clinic as they had friends who had success there.
An important factor too was the fact that they clicked with their consultant, Dr Kent Aynes, who runs a Dublin based practise that acts as a satellite clinic abroad in both the Czech Republic and Spain.
She added that a good consultant will first see if any and all other options have been exhausted before recommending IVF.
IVF (In vitro fertilisation) is one of several specialised techniques to help people with fertility problems have a baby. During the process an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.
IVF medication is used to encourage the ovaries to produce more than one egg at a time over a number of weeks. After this, an ultrasound scan is carried out to check the development of the eggs. Once an egg is fertilised or combined with sperm to create an embryo, it’s placed into the womb and the woman will need to wait two weeks before taking a pregnancy test to see if the treatment has worked.
Tanya said that from her experience the biggest mistake people make is that they don’t think about fertility until they’re considering having a baby.
“Most couples are optimistic and just assume they’ll get pregnant when the time is right. However there are things that can be done prior to this moment and I would encourage any woman to check in with their GP if they are experiencing menstrual issues.
“There are clinics here that quite open offer a free open day so you can get your fertility levels checked and your egg count. A woman is born with all the eggs she will have in her lifetime and over time they slowly deplete. These can be checked quite early on and I would recommend that girls in their 20s go get it checked even if they aren’t with a partner. It’s always better to know particularly when it comes to issues like fibroids on the womb, Endometriosis (excess estrogen) and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as finding these things out later can delay the fertility process. People always think they have loads of time, but it’s important to remember that no two couple’s journey will be the same as our bodies are made up differently. It can be difficult for a man to make the step to have his sperm count checked, but it’s as important as it is for a woman,” she said.
Tanya added that herself and her husband had every test done that they possibly could, including genetics.
“Finding a consultant who gears your therapy plan specifically towards you is vital as you have to feel like you’re being looked after. Building a good relationship with the team of professionals from the start was key for us as it ended up being a longer journey than we initially expected. We never thought it would take five rounds but our consultant was honest with us even when we had a number of failed attempts.
“I fell into the unexplained infertility category while everything on paper appeared perfect. I remember the doctor saying: ‘it’s a lottery, and conceiving depends on so many factors, we just hope that everything aligns’.”
Tanya explained that everything seemed to align on the second round, but this turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy.
“We felt distraught and like we were fighting a losing battle. Although it was tough, we had to remain positive. I remember saying that we hadn’t come this far to only come this far as we knew we wanted this more than anything. But looking back now, like a lot of people we honestly thought we were going to get pregnant straight away with IVF”.
She said that a lot of companies out there can give couples false hope, and she also noticed that some Irish clinics still hold a Catholic ethos but that she was glad to report that her own clinic was championing change in this area.
“There’s no doubt that this is massive business, and some places will promise too much and take advantage of people’s panic. They could be promising women the sun, moon and stars, things that they simply can’t deliver on. One in six couples struggle with infertility but when you’re in this space you can be easily led astray, particularly if you’ve only a certain budget. But if you find an experienced consultant, stick with them.
“There are a lot of people out there saying it’s so much cheaper to go abroad but that’s not always the case as you need to take into account your travel costs and time, as well as having scans done here. The cost will depend on how many transfers you do but to date we have spent over €35,000 on IVF.
“Anyone going through infertility will understand that there’s always this panic and you feel like time is everything as you’re constantly thinking about getting back to the clinic for another transfer”.
The pandemic proved to be the bump in the road that the family needed, as they took some time out after Tanya’s father passed away in 2019.
“At first Covid-19 was just another hurdle because I needed certain tests done before I went to Prague again but infertility health care wasn’t prioritised for hospital access. I had to put everything on hold but looking back now, taking time out might have actually helped us as we hadn’t done that before.
“We were always in it together as a couple but when we had time out again to talk about it, go out and exercise and spend quality time, we spoke about the process and took more time for us. It’s something I’d advise everyone going through this to do. You need to be kind to yourself and mind yourself and in a way become a little bit selfish with your time. You have to remember that you are the temple that’s going to carry that precious little cargo and if you don’t look after yourself you’re at nothing”.
A very important phone call finally came in late 2020.
“My consultant got in touch to say that they had a window to go to Prague before Christmas. We felt relaxed and refreshed, and we flew out to Prague on December 10. My transfer was done six days later and we flew home on December 18, the same day that the Czech Republic went into lockdown. I remember we got such a narrow window and we were sitting on the plane home thinking that we weren’t going to be so lucky to have had this work but by New Year’s Eve, I had a positive home pregnancy test. I’ll never forget sitting on the toilet in the middle of the night and I was simply astounded to read the word ‘pregnant’ on the test. Myself and Michael decided to keep it to ourselves for a couple of hours before I had my to my doctor.
“With IVF, you don’t know for definite until you do a blood test. When I got the phone call my doctor told me my hormone levels were very high and this was definitely a viable pregnancy, we were delighted.
“The truth is though when you’ve experienced infertility and loss through IVF, you will never enjoy a pregnancy as you can’t relax until that baby has arrived. Physically I was fine throughout, but things were tough over the last three months and I was put down for an emergency c-section. I was very sick and had a number of false labours, but the team at Wexford General Hospital under the guidance of Dr Con Murphy were amazing.
“Physically this journey brings hard times as you’re pumping yourself with hormone medication al the time. In the beginning it was difficult having to inject myself 50 times over, but it just became a normal part of it and wasn’t stressful. The whole process is tiring in every sense of the word, but we always came back to the idea that it was our goal to be parents and that’s what kept us going.
“On reflection the most stressful part was always that two week wait after the transfer as it’s the hardest overall. You’re afraid to lift things and even at times to move, as you’re constantly thinking about this potential embryo you’ve to protect. When you test yourself and find out it hasn’t worked that’s just devastating. There’s no feeling like it as it’s so draining before you have to pick yourself up again. It doesn’t come down to the money, but you’ve sacrificed so much and the biggest thing is probably your time as you feel it’s wasted. In the meantime to everyone around you is having babies and whilst you’re delighted for them, it’s at the back of your mind that this may never happen for me”.
All that changed in August of last year when baby Taidhg came into the world, named after his late grandfather.
“The hospital knew our history and how precious we were being about but I’ll never forget the treatment we all received. We realise now that we’re one of the blessed couples to have him every day as he has been the best thing to have ever happened to us.
“I have older friends again where IVF wasn’t an option or other tragedies which have occurred when it comes down to loss and really you just have to be kind as you never know what people are going through.
“Infertility is a sensitive subject, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s down to so many things and a lot of times, issues that you’re not even aware are there. It’s a lifestyle thing as well as people are very busy and waiting longer to think about having kids. We’ve come a long way but it needs to be talked about more and I found great support from those who had gone through this before me, who I connected with via social media groups.
“It takes time to get used the medical language used, people often get very bogged down with it and I’m happy now I’ve been able to explain the assessments to people who have contacted me. I’d recommend that women have their doctor write a referral for Gorey’s ultra-sound clinic and ask for a trans-vaginal scan for an in-depth assessment for about €250 to find out if there is anything blocking implantation”.
She said that every couple must understand that IVF is a long and expensive road to go down and it’s impossible to predict at the start how much this could end up costing you.
“We don’t take it for granted that we were in a privileged position to be able to afford this. We had two wages coming in but we sacrificed holidays and doing things with our home to pay for this. At no stage did we feel like giving up, but I can understand why a couple might not be able to consider IVF and my heart goes out to them. If you want to be a mum or dad, that’s a yearning like no other and it’s unfair that there aren’t more routes to access this. I understand how it feels, as while going through this with my job at Tusla I was working with families and assisting parents, and it really brought it home for me how much I wanted to be a parent. Going back to work after a failed IVF attempt at times was very raw.
“Some other countries have limited free access but it was prioritised for those with the highest chances, so that needs to be looked at in terms of how fair this is. IVF medication is so expensive and it was thanks to the drug payment scheme card that we could afford that. Health insurance will cover a certain amount of scans but not near as much as the whole thing”.
Tanya compared infertility healthcare to our current mental health system.
“It’s commonly known that you get the best care and advice if you go private, or unless you know what to ask of your own GP. It’s important to know that you won’t be taken seriously on infertility unless you’ve been trying for 12 months. My advice would be that if there’s any indication you could struggle with getting pregnant, don’t leave it too long. The quicker you can get a handle on it the higher your chances are as it’s a challenging road.
“To get through this mentally, I always needed a Plan B about what to do if it didn’t work. Honestly if Taidhg wasn’t here now we’d still be looking at the process and I would always tell people not to give up. Now that he’s here, we have to pinch ourselves sometimes and ask whether we ever thought this would happen. Secretly both of us probably did doubt that it’d happen at times, but never would we admit that to each other but that was so important and it made us a stronger couple.
“I can’t thank my husband, family, friends, my job, our consultant Kent Ayers and my doctor Rob Williams enough for being so supportive. We couldn’t believe the amount of gifts and messages we got throughout from all over, and we’re still just astounded by it. I meet people and automatically they tell us how delighted and thrilled they are as they’re aware of our journey. All the time we’re aware that there are still couples going through this and we think about them often. I’m 45 now and having gone through this for four years, it’s something we’ll never forget”.
To reach out to Tanya to discuss IVF, you can contact her on Instagram ‘Home at Wild Rose’.
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