Emma & Angus Menzies began their fertility journey over ten years ago. Years of investing both financially and emotionally in invasive tests, IUI, IVF, ICSI, and virtually every treatment ‘add-on’ possible has sadly resulted in recurrent miscarriage, pain and heartbreak. And yet, they stand strong together having found the positives in an otherwise cripplingly disappointing fertility journey. They are a shining example of ‘courage in the face of adversity’ and are uniquely using their experiences and professional skills to help others.
Clare: When did your fertility journey start?
Emma: We started trying for a family just after we married in September 2011 – so a long time ago!
Angus: Yes, over ten and a half years ago at the time we’re speaking.
Clare: What challenges have you encountered on your journey?
Emma: We’ve had difficulties conceiving and unfortunately, when we have conceived, I’ve miscarried.
Angus: We certainly didn’t expect to encounter any challenges. We had no reason to believe we would have any issues and we were very relaxed about it all to begin with. After a year of not conceiving, we became more diligent in our efforts, and conceived naturally in early 2013. We took for granted that everything would work out well from there.
Clare: What happened?
Emma: We went to our scan at around 12 weeks and there was no heart-beat. We’d had a missed miscarriage. Ultimately this needed to be managed with surgery. It was an enormous shock and absolutely devastating. It still haunts us both today.
Angus: The medics were quick to reassure us that in the not-too-distant future, we would be on a labour ward welcoming a baby into the world, but actually, things just seemed to go from bad to worse. It became more difficult for us to conceive and subsequent pregnancies ended in miscarriage at an even earlier stage.
Clare: When did you decide to start fertility treatment?
Emma: After the missed miscarriage we were more desperate than ever for me to be pregnant again. We tried naturally for around seven months, without success, then registered with a fertility clinic in early 2014. We had all of the initial screening, consultations and investigations, then decided to start fertility treatment straight away.
Clare: What fertility treatment did you have?
Angus: We started with IUI and when that wasn’t successful, we moved on to IVF, then ICSI and frozen embryo transfers. For a time, we accepted all of the “add-ons” offered to us and heavily indulged the controversial immune therapy treatments too. Sadly, none of it changed our outcome.
Emma: And when we weren’t getting anywhere with fertility treatments alone, we also changed our diet, took vast qualities of supplements daily, changed our exercise habits, swapped all of our toiletries, cosmetics and household cleaning products for natural alternatives and experimented with acupuncture, hypnotherapy and other complementary therapies too. Many of these things helped us personally, but unfortunately, they didn’t result in us becoming parents.
Angus: There was a time when we just threw everything at it – too much. We realise now that we were too desperate, too militant and too disciplined. It was unsustainable.
Emma: Yes, over the years we’ve become far more discerning about what we will and won’t do, inside and outside of fertility clinics, to try for our family. We do our research and we listen to experts, but we trust our instincts too. It’s definitely made the journey more manageable and it’s enabled us to persevere for as long as we have. We’ve continued with various fertility treatment cycles, interspersed with periods of trying naturally, and actually, the majority of our pregnancies have been conceived naturally. We’ve also continued to engage in whatever self-care feels right for us.
Clare: Have you ever received a clear diagnosis?
Angus: No! We’ve been thoroughly investigated in several fertility clinics and the recurrent miscarriage clinic. We’re not aware of any tests, evidence based or otherwise, that we haven’t had, but our diagnosis remains ‘unexplained’. It’s a diagnosis that felt like a blessing at the beginning – we were relieved there seemed to be nothing wrong with either of us. But over the years it has felt more like a curse. With no clear problem, there’s no clear solution – nothing to fix. I’ve found that deeply frustrating.
Clare: It’s been a long journey with a lot of disappointment. What impact has this had on you both?
Emma: I used to say the fertility journey was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. But for the last five years I’ve said it’s the worst and the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
It’s been difficult, for sure – physically painful and uncomfortable at times, financially demanding, socially isolating and most of all, mentally and emotionally draining. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’ve been consumed by grief and overwhelmed by sadness. I’ve felt incredibly lost and lonely. I’ve been chronically stressed and exhausted and several years ago I completely burnt out.
But that was a real turning point for me. That was when the journey became a catalyst for discovering who I really wanted to be and the life I really want to lead, and for taking responsibility to make it happen. I started to think differently, feel differently, behave differently, make different choices and take different action and ultimately, I became a happier person living a more fulfilling life than I ever imagined possible without having my own baby. To that extent the journey has been a real gift, for which I am truly thankful.
Angus: The journey has definitely impacted all aspects of our lives, personal and professional, and it’s been a real challenge. I’ve found it particularly difficult feeling so helpless – unable to provide any solutions as I’ve watched Emma bear the brunt of the physical aspects of the process only to be left devastated by the outcomes.
But it’s also been great to watch and support her personal transformation and to make positive changes in my own life too – changes I’m not convinced I would otherwise have made. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves and each other and I think it’s brought us even closer together. It’s also enabled us to have other adventures that we now remember fondly.
I still hope we eventually find ourselves as parents, but even if we don’t, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved on the journey and I’m grateful for how much we’ve grown as individuals and as a couple. I would never choose to go back to the people we were and the life we led before the journey started.
Clare: What are the most significant changes you’ve made in your life as a result of your fertility journey?
Emma: I’ve made the most significant changes in my professional life. I used to practice employment law in a large corporate in central London, but it wasn’t true to me or the life I wanted. As I struggled to manage the fertility journey alongside my career, it became increasingly obvious that this wasn’t the work I wanted to do, where I wanted to do it, or how I wanted to do it. I now work for myself, from home, running my own Coaching and Consultancy business, Ready Steady Coach, and I love it.
Angus: I’ve also made the most significant changes in my professional life. Unlike Emma, I still practice employment law, but I now corun my own law firm, Horsfield Menzies. It was important to me to be able to exercise more control over my life – the fertility journey, which can leave you feeling very out of control, helped me to realise that – and running my own business makes this possible. I can fit my work around my life far more easily now than I ever could when I worked for large law and accountancy firms, although working practices seem to be improving in such organisations, especially since the pandemic.
Clare: You both now use your work as a means to support others on a fertility journey. Tell me more about that.
Emma: As employment lawyers on a fertility journey, we both identified with the current lack of support for fertility in the workplace. This is something we want to change and we use our training, qualifications, skills and experiences to do just that.
Through my coaching programmes, I help people to manage the impact of fertility challenges on their career and working life, and through my consultancy work, I help organisations to manage fertility in the workplace.
Angus: And where an individual or organisation requires legal advice on fertility at work matters, that’s where I come in. We’re also both keen to be involved in lobbying government for changes to employment legislation to improve the support that is available to those for whom starting or extending a family doesn’t come easy.
Emma: We’re a real husband and wife team! We originally met at work and it’s lovely to be working together again on something we’re both passionate about, that enables us to make a positive difference to others who are struggling as we have done.
Clare: What’s one piece of advice you would you offer others on a fertility journey?
Angus: Make it even more of a priority to do the things you enjoy in life, both individually and together. It will help you to cope.
Emma: Work on being the person you want to be, living the life you want to live and bring a baby into, now, while you’re on your journey. It will help you to look forward to the possibility of a baby coming along and enhancing your life, without you waiting for it, and relying on it, to save your life.
Heartfelt thanks to Emma & Angus for sharing their inspirational story with Fertility Road.