“I had suffered with painful periods since my teens,” says Charlotte from Essex. “I just assumed that it was perfectly normal for women to want to pass out and throw up every month. I then started getting other symptoms which my doctor thought was irritable bowel syndrome and gradually over the years it got worse and worse until it was really interfering with my life”.
Charlotte’s symptoms became so severe that initially doctors thought she had bowel cancer.
“My first surgery was for a blocked bowel and inflamed kidney,” she says.
It took ten years for Charlotte to get a diagnosis for her symptoms – endometriosis – a condition which recent research has shown takes an average of seven and a half years for a woman to get a firm diagnosis from first seeing a doctor.
Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrial tissue (the lining of the uterus which sheds with each monthly period) grows outside the womb and it is estimated that up to 50% of infertile women have the condition.
The option to freeze eggs before surgery
When Charlotte and her partner Mark moved into their first home together in 2016 they started planning for the future.
“I am five years older than Mark and we wanted to have children so agreed that we would start trying for a baby that Christmas,” says Charlotte, aged 33.
Unfortunately the baby plans had to be put on hold, as Charlotte needed major surgery due to complications with her bowels, kidneys and fallopian tubes.
“My fallopian tubes had filled with fluid and I was told that I would need an operation to either flush them out or remove them. I knew that without my fallopian tubes which carry the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus I would not be able to conceive naturally and would need IVF,” she says.
Half an hour before Charlotte went in to theatre for surgery she was given the devastating news that the surgeon might also need to remove her left ovary if it got in the way of the procedure. The ovaries produce and release a woman’s eggs and the removal of one ovary would have dramatically reduced Charlotte’s egg supply.
“I faced the prospect of having one of my ovaries taken out without having had the chance to harvest any of my eggs,” she says.
“I was asked by the doctors if anyone had discussed with me the option of freezing my eggs,” says Charlotte. The conversation came just thirty minutes before a major operation to resolve problems caused by endometriosis. Charlotte was given a consent form for the removal of her fallopian tubes and, if necessary, one of her ovaries. “I said ‘isn’t it a bit late now?’
Fortunately, when Charlotte came around from the operation the surgeon had been able to save her ovaries, but the experience is still shocking to her as at the time she was desperate to have a baby.
“I was enormously relieved that it hadn’t been necessary to remove either of my ovaries but I am still surprised that throughout my many visits to hospital I was never given the option to freeze my eggs as an ‘insurance policy’ in advance of surgery,” she says.
Cryopreservation at Wickford
In February 2018 after she had recovered from her latest surgery Charlotte was keen to start a family and went to see her GP. “I felt like I was running out of time so I decided to get the ball rolling,” she says.
Charlotte and Mark were referred to the new Bourn Hall Clinic in Wickford which has a cryopreservation service that allows people to freeze and store eggs or sperm ahead of medical treatment.
“Bourn Hall made it really easy for me,” says Charlotte. “Everyone there was lovely and made everything very clear and easy for me to understand. I even didn’t mind the hormone injections to stimulate my egg production. I got Mark to do them for me. I know it sounds crazy but having spent so much of my life in hospitals having IVF was easier than anything I had done before!”
The couple were delighted when their treatment worked first time and they found out they were pregnant in November 2018. “I had a feeling the IVF had worked because I felt different,” says Charlotte. I took the test and couldn’t bear to look at it and so I put it on the side and told Mark to look at it. When he told me the test was positive I just burst in to tears, it was the best day ever. We were so excited.”
Charlotte and Mark’s daughter Eloise was born in July 2019.
“Being a mum is truly amazing,” says Charlotte. “I’m loving every minute, even the sleepless nights! I miss being pregnant too.”
Charlotte urges anyone with her condition to not give up hope of having a family.
“What I would say to anyone else with endometriosis is that even when you are at rock bottom and think you are never going to recover and get pregnant I am proof that it is possible”.
To help you preserve your opportunity of having a child in the future, egg freezing treatment is available at our IVF fertility clinics in Cambridge, Colchester, Norwich and Wickford. For further information go to our egg freezing page here.