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Shared experience

My IVF journey

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 15, catering company owner Sarah Patterson shares her IVF journey and how it led to the birth of her son Hugo.

Type 1 diabetic mother stood cuddling her baby in her arms as he smiles whilst reaching to touch her face

I went to a diabetes clinic for the first time in twelve years. The doctor asked about family planning, and a casual sentence about making sure my HbA1c was OK made me open up about wanting to have children.

She was so compassionate and kind, changing insulins and even needle sizes to more modern versions, getting a diabetes nurse to give me a new blood sugar monitor.

A few weeks later, I was at a pre-pregnancy clinic and over a glass of wine that evening, I told my husband that if we were serious about children, the time had come.

Trying to get pregnant

The years that followed were the most intense of my life. I self-funded a FreeStyle Libre CGM to try and keep my blood sugar tightly within range.

I jumped at the chance to do a DAFNE education course, managed to get an insulin pump and attended a pre-pregnancy appointment every 12 weeks. All to keep my blood sugar as tightly in range as I could. Sort of acting like I was already pregnant.

Except I wasn’t. And every month, I would inevitably blame my diabetes. So I tried to perfect my blood sugar even more. I gave up carbohydrates, forced myself to exercise in a way I didn’t find enjoyable. I started to take metformin alongside insulin in the hope of hormone regulation.

A waiting game

We were referred for fertility testing. My results came back with flying colours. Our issues were entirely male factor. It had nothing to do with my diabetes.

We went to see a male fertility specialist who gave us our 1 in 20,000 diagnosis on the spot and told us that, with surgery, pregnancy had no reason not to work.

Advice for diabetes and IVF is quite hard to come across. Each IVF cycle follows a different protocol of hormonal drugs which will affect everyone differently. It is a very individual experience.

It is especially agonising during the two weeks of waiting between embryo implantation and the official test day. The progesterone pessaries I was taking meant that my blood sugar simply would not come down. Common advice is that in the first trimester you see a lot of low blood sugar, so of course I was convinced it hadn’t worked. It was agony.

Waking early on that fateful day, peeing on the stick and shoving it back into the wrapper so we could look at it together will forever be one of my favourite memories.

Managing type 1 during pregnancy

Type 1 diabetes means a LOT of medical appointments throughout pregnancy.

I had a diabetes appointment every two weeks and the first one was two days after a positive pregnancy test, so there was no breathing space to wrap my head around it all.

I was left in no doubt as to how important managing my blood sugar was. The single most important tool I had to manage my diabetes throughout IVF and pregnancy was DIY looping, where my Freestyle Libre and insulin pump talk to each other to act as a sort of artificial pancreas.

At 34 weeks pregnant, I had two appointments on the same day. The morning one was with the diabetes team, and I had noticed that my insulin needs were dropping because my blood sugar levels were low

At the second meeting, as soon as I produced a urine sample, I knew something was up. My blood glucose was still very low. By the time I was seen by the consultant, I was being admitted for observation. Her goal was to get me to 37 weeks before having the baby.

That night I had the worst hypoglycaemic incident of my life. Four entire bags of Percy Pigs couldn’t keep my blood sugar up. I was still suffering the next morning – we all knew that the baby needed to come out.

The birth itself is a blur. But finally, my husband got to cut the cord and tell me that our baby, years in the making, was our darling boy. Our Hugo

Finding your tribe

Throughout my journey, I had a tribe of people to answer all my questions, big and small. People with type 1 who gave birth 20 years ago and 20 days ago. People who delivered emergency replacement pumps when things went wrong.

To anyone with type 1 considering IVF, I would say find your support network – through a diabetes charity, social media, or through people you meet at clinics. They will help you. That is the most valuable thing of all.

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