How did you meet your husband?
My husband and I got together 14 years ago, and he loves to tell the story that I broke up with him after just six months because I “wanted a baby”. The reality is after six months, I found out he had had a vasectomy years before and didn’t want any more children! Here I was madly in love with someone but knew we wanted different things. I had dreamed of being a mother since I was a child! So I ended it as there was no future! Another six months later he came back and said that if we were together in another few years he would consider having a baby. It was enough, so we got back together.
Talk us through your journey to motherhood and your experience with IVF…
Roll on five years and a vasectomy reversal later and I still wasn’t getting pregnant. It isn’t unusual, it can be hard to get pregnant after a reversal but it was eating me up. All I could think about was getting pregnant. I constantly worried I would never get pregnant and after a year or so of trying I literally couldn’t get to the IVF clinic fast enough, I was desperate to have a baby. I think that by a few people being open it can help hundreds of others in similar situations and give them hope. I cannot tell you the relief I used to feel hearing positive stories and it’s because of that I am as open as I can be about our story. I was lucky enough to go to a superb IVF clinic, the ARGC and all the months I hadn’t got pregnant I had thought that IVF was going the answer to my prayers, that it would just “work”. I was young, 29 at the time, and just presumed that it would work the first time. Although I didn’t find the actual process of the IVF, the injections, the drips the daily blood tests and scans difficult, I found the emotional stress of it incredibly tough. You are so desperate for it to work, and you know that getting pregnant is going to change your life forever and you hope beyond hope it will work and give you a family. My first IVF failed, I had a chemical pregnancy where the embryo takes but in my case only stuck for a day or so. NOTHING could have prepared me for that heartache. I cried and wailed like I had never cried before, the only time I have ever cried more was when my father died. Everything was invested in it being successful and suddenly I felt I had nothing. It didn’t help that out of the 10 girls I was cycling with, I was the only one who didn’t get pregnant. Of course then came the irrational thoughts. What if I could never get pregnant? What if I never had a family? How was I going to live without children? I then, like many people with failed cycles, spent the next two weeks submerged on google looking at surrogacy, adoption and egg donors. I was terrified of the worst-case scenario. Also, when you are struggling with infertility I swear babies are everywhere, and every second person you see seems to be pregnant! Plus, your best friends seem to just sneeze and get pregnant and as overjoyed as you are for them, you wonder if it will ever be you. It’s a horrific situation to be in. But, as I am quite a positive person I picked myself up and started again. I was luckily modelling every day for Net-A-Porter as one of those headless models! It was probably one of my favourite jobs ever as a model. The team were hilarious and it was a routine modelling job and helped me to bounce back. Luckily from my first round, we had 11 frozen blastocysts which are the best quality embryos and we had been incredibly lucky that nine were good enough to freeze. By the September I felt mentally ready to try again and was so incredibly lucky that we transferred two frozen embryos and one stuck. I still cry when I think of that phone call when they called to say I was pregnant, I was shaking euphorically that I was finally going to be a mummy. I then spent the next nine months paranoid that I was going to lose her! I honestly ran off every week for a scan. I had morning sickness, or more accurately morning noon and night sickness, for the entire 39 weeks. However, I literally used to throw up saying “don’t worry, it’s fine, it means I am still pregnant”!
Can you talk us through the time when you fell ill with chronic vestibular migraine…
What came next was my illness, chronic vestibular migraine. Nearly four years ago I was hit on the head. People presume I had a major car accident or something similarly as gory. It wasn’t that, but it has altered my life probably forever. I went for acupuncture for a cold spot in my leg, I will add that what caused this was not acupuncture, which I am still a great believer in, but the crazy guy I went to see for some reason pretty much assaulted me during his assessment! The guy asked if I had headaches and neck pain to which I answered no as he said he thought it was a nerve problem. He then hit me hard directly down on the top of my head to see if it hurt! Oh yes, it hurt and I ended up in the hospital with a concussion, damage to my neck and severe damage to my vestibular system. Your vestibular system is what you balance with and if it is compromised your brain has to work overtime to balance using other stimuli. To put it simply, my brain can’t seem to readjust to the damage that was done to the vestibular system. Every time I move or do something, all the brain signals that are normally second nature now disagree with each other when they cross-check which makes the brain “irritable”. Every movement is unnatural, you put your feet down and you feel like Alice in Wonderland falling, like walking on marshmallows! Daily tasks like supermarkets and driving and department stores are difficult. There is too much visual input for your brain to handle and it makes you feel dizzy and nauseous. At my worst, I could barely get out of bed, but I had to as I had a three-year-old child to look after. I lay in bed for nights on-end feeling nauseous and with rocking sensations like I was on a boat. I have spent several long periods sleeping sitting upright in bed for weeks on end as laying flat made me feel sick. I still get these symptoms now, but fingers crossed this intensity only lasts a few days. It’s not endless, like it was. I’ve also learned the hard way how to manage the illness better. At my best now I am about 80% normal, sometimes I just have a mild headache or a bit of ringing in one ear, at my worst I can’t function at all. I got sick when Soleil was just three and starting nursery. For an entire year, I felt nauseous and incredibly discombobulated. I had thought my morning sickness was bad when I was pregnant with Soleil but that was NOTHING compared to the nausea I had when I first got ill – gut wrenching, spinning feeling and nausea. My illness was still new to me, I didn’t know how to manage it, and the most difficult part of it was that I wasn’t able to be the mother I wanted to be. I had gone from being super mum, running around all day organising play dates, tea parties and baking cakes with Soleil, to barely being able to get through the day without feeling uneasy and nauseous and there was no relief. Simple things you take for granted like taking your child to school on a scooter were impossible for me as I couldn’t turn around back and forth to look at Soleil and check for traffic – my brain could not cope with it. Children’s birthdays were, and still are, a nightmare for me, lots and lots of tiny children darting back and forth, all too much for my brain to comprehend. Every tiny job felt like an incredible effort. I would stare out the window and just cry at people walking normally down the road, it wasn’t that I couldn’t walk but I just felt so sickly and nauseous doing it, and I wanted to be able to run down the road, skip with my daughter. Then I would be angry at myself, I didn’t have cancer, I wasn’t dying and there were thousands of people worse off than me. People would say to me, ‘oh I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to do it,’ but honestly, I had and continue as I had a three-year-old daughter that needed a mother. What do you do? Give up and go to bed for the rest of your life, or push onwards? I did vestibular rehabilitation (essentially learning to rebalance) and eventually found myself the best neurologist there is in this field. I also got better at spotting the warning signs and got to the point I had as many goodish days than bad. I had to learn how to manage everything and accept that I simply cannot overdo, it’s all about pacing. The worst is, as it is an invisible illness, you simply don’t look ill. You are still up and about, you can still function and look fairly “normal” but inside you feel just shocking. People see my Instagram and wouldn’t know I am quite often feeling nauseous and dizzy, they assume because you are out and about you are well, which is often not the case. Sometimes I feel that people almost don’t believe me, it’s very frustrating. Especially as the illness doesn’t go away and I’ve had it now for years and I worry that I am boring everyone talking about it.
When did you decide to try for another baby?
We had been about to try for another baby before I got ill, but once my illness started I simply could not contemplate it at all and the doctors said it was a no-no. But after the initial two years when I had started to come to terms with the condition I allowed myself to start thinking about another baby but I was terrified. I was just about coping with one child – how would I cope with being pregnant and then coping with a newborn? I was so torn because I love being a mother and was desperate for another baby but I also wanted to be the best mummy I can be so I was wracked with indecision and worry. Finally with advice from my neurologist I decided to let fate take a hand and see if I fell pregnant naturally. Needless to say, this didn’t work and I was peeing on sticks every month getting more and more depressed that it wasn’t working. The penny finally dropped for me when I had a visit to one of my wonderful doctors and she said to me that if I looked back on my life when I was 90 would I want to have had two children or one. I accepted that it was crazy to ignore the fact that I still had seven really good quality blastocysts at ARGC and that I should properly go for it with IVF cycle and have another baby. It again took a few frozen cycles but then when I finally fell pregnant I was just as ecstatic as the first time. It was amazing. I was terribly ill during the pregnancy, my head and vertigo was off the charts and as the brain regulates your autonomic system that all went crazy and I had tachycardia, breathing issues and hypoglycemia, but I was pregnant and that was all that mattered. I tried not to go on and on about how I felt, in fact not many people knew how sick I was, if you looked at Instagram you wouldn’t have known, I was still there, feeling somewhat shocking but there all the same! Winter is truly my miracle baby, she was frozen for six years, she is from the same batch of embryos as Soleil. If they had put them both in together they would be twins! How crazy is that… I feel like this tiny little girl was sitting waiting to come and join our family. I am now almost thankful of the failures as, without them, they wouldn’t have been “them” All the trepidation I felt in my decision to have another baby seems silly now. It is the single best decision I have ever made. I was so terrified that I was going to have this beautiful baby that I just couldn’t look after – as I had struggled for the past few years looking after myself and Soleil and had been terrified I would never be able to cope. From the moment she was born I have felt so much better, I have had periods of being well-ish and a few periods of being ill, but the fear has gone, I will be able to cope somehow with a little help from my wonderful husband and fabulous mother, and even despite the bad patches, I am still the happiest I have ever been; now I have my little Winter to add to my perfect little Soleil. I look at my little miracles and just want to burst with pride. I am truly beyond happy. Am I completely recovered from my illness? No, but it doesn’t matter so much because I have these wonderful gifts of these two girls. It’s like I’ve had an epiphany that I’ve realised that despite being ill, I can be truly and wonderfully the happiest ever. I am so excited to go through every stage with Winter. I literally can’t wait to do with Winter all the things I did with Soleil – but with Soleil helping too! The age gap is working out perfectly for us – Soleil was asking for a little sister and is the most doting and loving big sister EVER and to watching them together is just magical.