Opening up about the battle to have children
A COUPLE who became parents to twin girls last month following a seven-year battle to conceive are today telling their story in the hope of breaking down the taboos over infertility.
Leah and Kevin Black, from St Helier, welcomed Hallie-Rae and Harlow into the world on 26 April just one minute apart and weighing 6lb 3oz and 5lb 13oz respectively.
While Leah (28), a former finance worker, described the pregnancy as ‘easy’, the journey to get to that point was anything but.
‘I was lost for a good few years,’ she said. ‘I felt like I was failing as a woman; my body was failing at the one thing it was meant to do. I felt like I was being punished and I didn’t know what for. I was very close to depression for a good couple of years.’
At her lowest, even going to family parties and weddings was difficult, as people around her shared news of pregnancies, new babies and, inevitably, asked if she and Kevin would be next.
‘Of course I was happy for them, but sad for myself. It is hard not to become bitter, but it really is not because you are angry that they are happy, it is that you are sad that you are so not happy.
‘There is also a lot of stigma around infertility, and people don’t talk about it.’
The couple would also like to see the States do more to support Islanders who need IVF, as currently there is little financial help from the government.
Kevin (30), a bus driver, added: ‘From a man’s point of view, you can never feel what a woman feels and it can be hard to understand. But watching your wife go through something like that is very hard.
‘I also think the States could help people who need IVF. You have to pay for everything, including your flights and accommodation in London.’
Leah agreed and added that infertility should be treated as the illness it is, including by employers and the States.
‘We put into the system for years and never asked for a penny, but when we needed help we didn’t get anything,’ she said.
The couple – who had been told doctors could find nothing wrong with either of them that appeared to be preventing them getting pregnant – tried every fertility treatment offered to them by Jersey’s Assisted Reproduction Unit and Consultant Neil Maclachlan over a period of around six years.
They even sold up and went travelling for six months in the hope that nature would take its course while they took a break from normal life, but to no avail.
However, Leah eventually found a way to help herself through the process by talking openly and honestly about it to friends and family and online on Instagram.
‘My mental wellbeing became better at that stage. And I realised that if I felt this way, then maybe others would too. I now get messages all the time on Instagram from people around the world saying that I have helped them by just talking about it. If I have helped one person by talking about it, that is amazing.
‘I have also met two of my closest friends through infertility. One had IVF and she’s now got twin boys and the other one is due any time now.’
In the end, the Blacks became pregnant with Hallie-Rae and Harlow following IVF carried out by the Lister Fertility Clinic in London, which works with Jersey’s ARU and Mr Maclachlan.
The couple described them, and Dr Clare Purcell and her team, as being ‘like family’.
Following yet more drugs to prepare her body, 29 eggs were collected, 15 of which Leah donated for use by other women requiring egg donors. As well as giving hope to other women, she also halved the cost of her IVF treatment by doing this. She will be told if one of those eggs leads to a successful pregnancy, and if it does the child will have the right, at the age of 18, to be told who the donated egg belonged to and contact her if they wish.
Of the 14 eggs they kept, ten fertilised, and six became embryos. Cue further drugs to ready her body, and two of those embryos were then transferred into Leah, including one that doctors had said was not high quality and was unlikely to lead to a viable pregnancy.
Just four days later, unable to wait the 14 days recommended by doctors, Leah got her first ever positive pregnancy test – and woke Kevin up at 4am to tell him.
‘It was pretty crazy!’ said Leah. ‘There were more tears than I have ever shed in my life. It was like all the years of pure pain were just overtaken – it was all gone.’
A few days later they found out both embryos had taken and they were expecting twins.
Casting a loving eye across to her husband as he cradled one of their precious newborns, Leah added: ‘And then the girls came along. Now I just look at them and think they are so perfect – and they are ours.’
Asked if they had any advice to others facing fertility issues, Kevin said: ‘Don’t ever give up, but also don’t bottle it up.’
Leah added: ‘Yes, definitely – talk about it to people if you can.
‘Don’t give up, no matter how tough it gets, because it is so worth it when you finally get your dream and someday you won’t remember this pain you thought would last forever.’