Age at interview: 53
Infertility diagnosis: Yes
Contributing factors to fertility problems: Endometriosis, PCOS, endometrial hyperplasia
Age at diagnosis: 33
Fertility treatments: ovulation induction, IVF
Background: Melissa is self-employed as a bookkeeper. She is divorced and lives on her own in a metropolitan city. Melissa has Scottish heritage.
> Click here to view the transcript
Early signs of problems with menstrual periods and seeking help
I think my problems with infertility started right from the very beginning which was when I was aged 11, my periods began, they were irregular and heavy and my mother in no time was taking me to the doctor to try and sort that issue out. I was in sixth class at school and I can remember that time being a continuous round of doctor appointments. My mum tried so many different things, alternative therapies, treatments with an osteopath, naturopaths, even acupuncture.
And when I was aged 14, I had my first visit with a gynaecologist and I was given some medication then. It was the first time I’d been given an actual drug, there was always the talk that they didn’t want to give me anything that would play with my hormones. So I continued to put up with just heavy and irregular periods all through that time.
And when I was aged 15, which was 1983, I actually had a severe haemorrhage at home overnight and I was taken to hospital in the morning and I was in casualty for several hours. I was examined. I was told that I’d be free to go home and I was going to be put on the pill to regulate my periods. I went to get out of bed and I collapsed; I had lost so much blood. And they put me back on the bed and said, “Okay, you’re going to have a D&C”, it was absolutely necessary. And so I had that overnight and after that I did take a pill to regulate my periods and that’s where I stayed for many years.
Stopping the pill to try for a baby, further menstrual problems
Then it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s for an entire year with my new partner, we were trying to conceive. And later in that year my periods became irregular and incredibly heavy and I was in hospital early January when I had just turned 33. I was rushed to hospital; I was in severe pain. I stayed in hospital for about four days; they even put me up on to the maternity ward and I had ultrasounds, I was on a morphine drip. And they really didn’t want to operate on me then, they wondered why I was even at that particular hospital rather than one closer to home. And I said, “Well there’s no way I could have stood to travel that far”, in the incredible pain I was in. Basically, my uterus was contracting that whole time.
Being diagnosed with endometriosis and PCOS and starting ovulation induction
And it wasn’t until a few months later at a visit with my gynaecologist when he said, “Well, okay, you’ve been trying to conceive for over 12 months, you’re infertile. We really need to have a look”. So I was booked in soon after for a laparoscopy and that surgery showed that I had some endometriosis which was removed. And I was told that that sort was going do like a reset on me, you know, should help with conceiving in the next few months. Anyway, nothing happened of course. I did not conceive.
And shortly after I started using CLOMID [clomiphene citrate], I did several cycles of CLOMID. And after that not working, I had another laparoscopy, a little bit more endometriosis removed and he said to me that he would need to refer me for IVF treatment. Now that upset me a lot because I knew that was the end of the line, but I went along. I was referred to a very good clinic. We went along for appointments and after further testing, I found out that I had polycystic ovaries. So we tried something there rather than doing an IVF round.
Starting IVF, further testing, and being diagnosed with endometrial hyperplasia
And then a couple of years later I tried many more CLOMID cycles, before finally succumbing to IVF. I did five rounds. Now after the first three, that was when further testing was done and I found out that I had elevated natural killer cellsi and also an indication of lupus2. And I did two more rounds of IVF after that. I had to use a different, what they call a protocol where I was using something to sort of suppress those natural killer cells. It still didn’t help me; I miscarried each time. And at the end of that year - I was still going to try for one more year - and at the end of that year I was diagnosed with a hyperplasia lining of my uterus, and that pretty much sealed it.
Stopping IVF after a marriage breakdown
My doctor said, “Well there is something we can do to suppress that and you can try again,” but my marriage had fallen apart right at that point. He was leaving me because I wasn’t going to have a baby, he had a plan, he was leaving and so I pretty much decided well this is the end of it all now, it’s all over.
I was then 43. So that was 10 years ago, when it came to an end.
Managing PCOS after fertility treatment and preparing for menopause
Interviewer: At that point when you decided not to continue on with trying to have a baby, what about your reproductive health issues?
Melissa: Well, I’ve had no recurrence of endometriosis. Having polycystic ovaries has been an issue because, you know, it’s a difficult thing with my weight, you know that’s really hard to get down, I can maintain it, but I can’t really just, it doesn’t just fall off me. So that I wouldn’t have that irregular period issue, I’ve been able to continue taking medication to suppress that and even this year I saw a new doctor, I had another check-up and I’ve moved on to something else that’s more appropriate for my age now. So I continue to be monitored, to see where that’s going in the future.
I’m pre-menopausal at the moment and we’re going to do some testing early in the new year to see where I am in that area.
i There is currently no evidence for immunological tests and treatments for infertility. To learn more please visit Immunological tests and treatments for fertility | Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (hfea.gov.uk)
Find out more about Melissa’s experiences in the following short films:
Early Signs of Fertility Problems Later in Life
Infertility and Fertility Treatment: Seeking Information and Support
Difficulties Conceiving, Becoming Pregnant, and Maintaining a Pregnancy during Fertility Treatment
Thoughts and Feelings about Infertility and Fertility Treatment
Advice for Health Practitioners and Health Services