Baby joy after struggle with severe endometriosis symptoms

Natalie’s stomach used to bloat so badly on some days that she looked six months pregnant – which was cruelly ironic as she and her husband Alex had been unable to conceive.

Heavy painful periods

“I had suffered with painful and heavy periods ever since my periods first started,” says Natalie, aged 34, from Bedfordshire. “Some months I could be in agonising pain for three days, I would have to take so many painkillers just to get through the day. I had to be prescribed medication to slow the bleed down because otherwise I literally wouldn’t be able to leave the house because it was so heavy.  

“I was put on the pill for a few years to ease my endometriosis symptoms, but it didn’t always agree with me. So, when I was in my twenties, I came off the pill to try and manage it naturally. It was then that I realised that my symptoms had got even worse, but I still didn’t know what was causing them. 

“My other major symptom was bloating. My stomach was so inflamed that I looked six months pregnant on some days. Leading up to our wedding day I dieted and exercised but couldn’t get rid of it.” 

Natalie and Alex started trying for a baby as soon as they got married. 

“I was 29 and conscious of time ticking,” she says. “I had an inkling we might struggle but I didn’t think it would take us so long. I got to the point when I thought it may never happen. 

“I would take the dog out for a walk and go past people with pushchairs and think ‘why is it happening for other people?’ and feel so sad.” 

Endometriosis symptoms not taken seriously

Natalie tried everything to alleviate her ongoing symptoms as well as improve her fertility chances. 

“I tried a gluten, dairy-free, sugar-free diet,” she says. “I also tried complementary therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and massage, gave up alcohol and caffeine, took various supplements and exercised.” 

Natalie had done her own research and suspected that she had endometriosis but feels that she was fobbed off by a succession of doctors who didn’t seem to think that she had ‘all the symptoms’. She was even told to get pregnant as that would relieve the pain.  

So, she decided to pay for a consultation with a specialist – two hour’s drive away from her home. 

“The doctor said to me ‘it sounds to me like you’ve got all the symptoms of endometriosis, I can send you for an MRI.’ And the MRI showed that I had endometrial tissue growing in several different places, on my pelvis, uterus, and Pouch of Douglas; my uterus had become tethered to one of my ovaries, so I had surgery to remove the tissue and tidy things up.” 

In the meantime, Natalie and Alex had also undergone fertility tests at their local NHS hospital which had concluded that they had ‘unexplained infertility’ after a raft of tests, including to check that Natalie’s fallopian tubes were clear. 

IUI treatment with less medication

The couple were referred for NHS-funded IVF treatment to Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge but shortly after Natalie started her first round of medication, she experienced a rare reaction to the surge in hormones and their treatment had to be put on hold. 

“Bourn Hall tested me for all kinds of different things such as blood clotting disorders, antiphospholipid syndrome, and things like that to see why it might have happened. Our doctor at Bourn Hall had successfully lobbied our CCG for us to have another go at IVF on the NHS but in the end, it was agreed we would try IUI treatment which although it has a lower success rate than IVF is much more natural and involves far less medication,” says Natalie. 

IUI an alternative as Natalie’s periods were regular

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) involves placing the prepared sperm into the uterus shortly after ovulation using a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. Depending on the individual patients they may be offered a natural (unstimulated) cycle or a stimulated cycle. 

“Whilst I had always had problems with heavy and painful periods, they had always been regular,” says Natalie.

“So, we decided on the natural protocol for the IUI where basically it was all in line with my own natural period and Bourn Hall would scan my ovaries every few days to see when I was going to ovulate. 

Natalie and Arthur
Natalie and Arthur

“I just had to have one injection to mature the egg, called a trigger injection, and then two days later Alex’s sperm was inserted using the catheter so that hopefully the sperm and egg would meet at the right time. 

“Unfortunately, the first time the IUI didn’t work, and I really felt as though it just wasn’t going to happen for us. We had been trying for a baby for years by this point and so we did make some exploratory calls looking in to adopting. But then a few months later I thought maybe we should give IUI another try…

Shocked to finally be pregnant! 

“Our first IUI attempt was covered by the NHS, but for the second try, we funded it ourselves. It comes at a considerably lower cost compared to IVF, amounting to approximately £1,300. 

“I came out of Bourn Hall after the second IUI attempt convinced it hadn’t worked, I was thinking ‘why did we bother?’.  

“I spent the whole of the two weeks wait to feel very depressed and so when I took the pregnancy test, and it was positive I was just so shocked that I had to take another four just to check! I was so happy I cried and cried! 

“I had an incredible pregnancy, I was one of these lucky ones, I barely had any sickness, I actually felt better pregnant than I do normally!  

“Arthur arrived in December so this is my first Mother’s Day with him, I am so excited, it is something that I thought would never happen for me.  

“He’s just a total gift, he’s so precious and I love him so much. I finally feel as though I have got to where I wanted to be. 

“Thinking back, I wish I had been more insistent. As now I have a definitive endometriosis diagnosis I can get help from the NHS should I need any further surgery, which is really good.  

“To other women who suspect that they have endometriosis symptoms I would say ‘keep pushing your GP for answers.’ Just say ‘this isn’t normal, and I really need to have further testing, ask for an MRI scan and further investigations.’ You know your own body.”  

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More information

Find out more about endometriosis and its impact on fertility on our blog.

Since Natalie and Alex had their treatment Bourn Hall has opened a specialist Endometriosis and Fertility service