‘I Had a Baby After IVF. There Are Challenges People Don’t Talk About’ 

I was 25 years old when I was told I would need an ovary removed. At the time, I was taking a year out from my university studies in England to live in Spain. Prior to my trip I’d had a medical examination with my doctor, who had noticed a small lump on my tummy, but suspected it would resolve itself.

After three months abroad, I returned for my Christmas vacation and the lump had grown considerably. Although I told her it was impossible, my doctor was adamant that I was six months pregnant. Despite my objections, she continually looked for a heartbeat and insisted I took a blood test to rule it out.

Once we had confirmed I wasn’t pregnant, I was sent to a specialist who told me I had an ovarian cyst. He knew it was large and would require some sort of surgery to remove. He said the procedure would leave a large scar and mean I was unable to do so much as make a cup of tea for several weeks. I was due to be going back to Spain any day, so I was a bit bewildered.

Karen Deulofeu
Karen Deulofeu is a fertility, pregnancy and postnatal coach based in the United Kingdom. She told Newsweek about undergoing IVF after having an ovary removed aged 25.
Karen Deulofeu

Around a month later, I was sent to another consultant. After examining me, he just said: “Right, this is really serious now. This could burst at any time, and if it does, you won’t be here. Go home, get your stuff. Don’t eat anything. They’re operating tonight.”

I was shocked. I just thought: “What do you mean?” I knew I had a cyst, but I couldn’t believe I needed to come back and have surgery that night. It suddenly felt scary and very real.

Why I didn’t consent to a hysterectomy

Before the operation, doctors did not know what they were going to find. They knew that it was a cyst, but had no idea if it was cancerous, or whether there were any other issues. They wanted me to give my permission to remove my entire uterus if it came to it.

I was presented with a form to sign, consenting to a full hysterectomy if necessary, but I refused. Although I was in my mid-twenties and had never really considered when it would become part of my future, I knew at that point that I wanted to be a mother more than anything else.

I didn’t want them to take that chance away from me. And if that meant I died, then so be it; having children was just too important to me. Everything shifted and I had a revelation—I thought: “What’s the point of living a life where I’m unhappy? I’ve done quite a lot, I’ve traveled, I’ve had a good life, so if this is it, this is it.” But it turns out that wasn’t it.

Life-changing surgery

Doctors discovered I had a cyst the size of a 6-week-old baby. It was the size of a watermelon; they couldn’t believe how big it was. I lost almost two stone in weight after the procedure.

During the surgery, the ovary my cyst had developed in was removed, and a biopsy was taken from the other; it felt as though I had been left with one incomplete ovary.

I had a large scar on my stomach, and as a 25 year old, that definitely impacted my confidence. It was a time of low-rise jeans and midriffs, but from then on I became obsessed with covering my tummy and wore bodysuits underneath my clothes.

I really felt from that point on, that I was broken. I questioned my femininity, I questioned my purpose in life and I fixated on knowing when my last chance to start having a baby would be.

It was something that was at the forefront of my mind all the time; I would ask doctors and gynecologists constantly and eventually I was told the latest I could start trying for a baby was 27.

Facing my fertility issues

At the time, my head was all over the place. I had changed in so many ways after the surgery and was living a type of teenage fantasy—nothing too crazy, but I was definitely partying more. It was a strange time and I felt nobody really understood what I was going through.

Karen Deulofeu
Karen was told she would have to undergo an operation to remove an ovarian cyst when she was 25. During the surgery, the ovary the cyst had developed in was removed, and a biopsy was taken from the other.
Karen Deulofeu

Like many people who face fertility issues, I tried to distract myself from my reality by throwing myself into my job. I was progressing further into my career as a lawyer, but underneath I always knew it wasn’t right; my life felt like theater. I was focused on work, but really I wanted a family.

I was with a partner at the time of my surgery, but we separated shortly afterwards. Over the next nine years I dated different people, but they were always the wrong people. I was obviously concerned and there was always one question on my mind: “Do you want children and when?”

I met my ex-husband when I was 34 years old and three years later, we found out we had been fast tracked for IVF. But after hearing the news, it felt like the floor had come away from under me—I cried harder than I ever had in my life.

Nobody could understand my reaction; they saw what was happening as a good thing, because we had a chance of having children. But for me, needing science to become a mother felt awful.

It felt like my last chance; like there was nothing else I could do. Throughout the entire process, I had this real strong sense of, if I can’t have kids, then who am I? What am I here for?

Having a child was something I desperately wanted, but for so long the seed had been sown that it might never happen and I really began to question my identity. I’ve always been quite a feminine person, but I didn’t feel like I was fully a woman. I didn’t fit into the corporate world, but I didn’t fit in with the mother group. I was a bit of a lost soul, not that anybody would have noticed from the outside.

On the surface I was bubbly and sociable, the first person dancing at a party, but inside I was really struggling. I didn’t have the support that I needed. I would hear the saying: “You might be hit by a bus tomorrow” and think: “God, please just hit me.” I didn’t want to take my own life or feel any pain, but if it happened I knew my suffering would end.

The link between IVF and mental health

My IVF was successful, but after falling pregnant I lived scan to scan. There were no issues at all physically with my pregnancy, but I could not connect to the idea of being a mother, because I was so scared.

I would go to a scan, become really excited, and then feel that drop off as the fear crept up again. That happened after every single scan. When we bought the things for his bedroom, his toys and pram, I kept the receipts for everything in case he didn’t come home.

As it turns out, it was a traumatic birth; we both nearly didn’t make it. Luckily, we were both fine physically, but the emotional impact was more severe. I struggled to attach to the identity of a mother. There was almost this fatalistic acceptance that I couldn’t be a mom forever—that my son just wouldn’t reach his teenage years.

Karen Deulofeu
Four years ago, Karen left the corporate world and became a fertility, pregnancy and postnatal coach. She later qualified in hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and a form of therapy called emotional freedom techniques (EFT).
Karen Deulofeu

Many women who have gone through IVF struggle with their mental health after giving birth, and I believe it’s because there’s such an awareness of how precious babies are, so there’s a shame attached to finding being a mother difficult.

I tried going to therapy, but felt like the counselors just didn’t understand. Antenatal classes are amazing, but they tend to stop when you give birth; there’s not much support out there about the postnatal stage. At the time I was still in the corporate world and started to become interested in coaching, particularly people who were going through a difficult fertility journey.

So, four years ago, I trained as a fertility, pregnancy and postnatal coach, later qualifying in hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and a form of therapy I had undergone after birth called emotional freedom techniques (EFT), which involves stimulating acupressure points which represent areas of personal trauma.

Now, I can support people throughout their entire fertility journey, from people like me when I was 30 years old and not even trying to conceive, to people who are pregnant and struggling or already have a child and just need that extra help.

My life now is completely different. I’m planning things for the future, because I know both myself and my son have one. Everything has changed, particularly the way I manage how I’m feeling on a day to day practical level.

What I’ve learned from myself, and from other people, is that having emotions makes us human. We can look at where that sadness has come from, but not let that take over our current world or lives. Often the feeling is still there underneath, but I’ve been able to understand myself more and understand what my triggers are and how to deal with those in a way that is positive and proactive.

My mom has always said that on the day of my operation, all those years ago, I lost my spark. She recently told me that my spark has come back.

Karen Deulofeu is a fertility, pregnancy and postnatal coach based in the United Kingdom. She is a hypnotherapy, EFT and NLP practitioner who supports people at all stages of the journey to motherhood; fertility, pregnancy, postnatal and childlessness.

You can find her at lilyamacoaching.co.uk or follow her on Instagram at @fertilitycoach.lilyama

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

As told to Newsweek’s My Turn associate editor, Monica Greep.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com

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