Another stage on this journey that I couldn’t post about while Leah was alive was the harvesting of her eggs from her ovaries in June 2013 – a procedure that was intensive, invasive, exhausting and painful and one that tore at my heart as her mother.
As soon as Leah heard that the chemotherapy cocktail she was to receive would leave her infertile she wanted to know how her fertility could be preserved.
Anyone who knows Leah knows that she adored babies and children. At her request she was referred to the Regional Fertility Clinic in Belfast and we were subsequently told that she was the first woman in Northern Ireland to have her eggs harvested (cryopreservation) on the NHS, as well as one of the youngest in the U.K..
It was a process similar to IVF and Leah had to give herself two hormone injections per day for around 10 days and attend the RFC at the Royal in Belfast on alternate days during this time for scans of her ovaries. This necessitated a 140 mile round trip each visit.
We spent up to 3hrs in the Waiting Room of the Fertility Clinic waiting on blood results on the days we attended, interspersed with trips over to the main hospital for an ice-pop – Leah loved ice cream.
We must have looked a strange sight – a menopausal women and a young teenage girl – surrounded by anxious couples holding hands, desperately hoping that medical intervention would enable them to produce a beautiful little baby.
We never communicated with any of these couples nor they with us – we didn’t belong in their world and they didn’t belong in ours.
We looked for the quietest corner of the waiting area and Leah used this time to study for her GCSE maths module exam on the 11th June (in which she achieved 100%).
I marvelled at Leah’s calmness and composure and her ability to focus.
I remained calm on the outside for her sake, but inside my heart was breaking, because my daughter was having to grow up so fast and deal with so much.
The days that we didn’t have hospital appointments I spent prolonged periods of time reading my Bible and praying and seeking God for the strength to become the Mum that Leah needed me to be.
Eventually on Wednesday 5th June 2013 the day came for Leah’s eggs to be harvested under deep sedation, but the anaesthetist was nervous about Leah’s low blood counts. What should have been a 2 – 3 hr hospital visit turned into an all day stay, with the consultant wanting to admit Leah overnight for observation and Leah insisting on going home.
Leah was taken to the operating theatre in the Maternity Suite. I sat quietly in the Waiting Area, alongside relatives of women having babies.
When the procedure was finished the doctor came out and cheerfully called over to me “Everything went very well.”
As soon as the Dr disappeared, some grandparents sitting nearby beamed at me and cheerfully said “congratulations“. I took a deep breath and replied “It’s not what you think” and explained our situation as best I could. The woman took it not so bad but I could see that the man was really struggling with what he was hearing.
Leah had 22 eggs harvested from her ovaries, 18 of which were described as being of “good quality”. The staff were all amazed at such a good result. We had to sign a form to say that if Leah died then her eggs would be destroyed.
Leah wasn’t allowed to take the stronger pain relief normally used in those circumstances due to her low blood counts. She had quite severe abdominal pain for several days afterwards as her body gradually returned to normal.
The painkillers that she was given made her vomit and caused gastritis. Her greatest ease came from a hot water bottle.
On Friday 7th June Leah took part in the Presbyterian General Assembly Youth Night in the Waterside Theatre as part of the LOST team.
I’m sure very few if any of the people there knew how unwell she was feeling, but it was so important to Leah to be able to honour all her commitments, especially those connected with her Christian faith.
The staff who attended to Leah at the Regional Fertility Clinic were absolutely lovely and the Dr there told me since that she was “so impressed with Leah’s strength and maturity in dealing with her situation“.
I am so proud of Leah but I know that she herself would not want to take the credit for her strength, but would say that the secret of her strength was in her daily walk with God.
During the times this past year when Leah was too weak and ill to lift the Bible to read or to pray she always ensured that I – or Nic, her boyfriend – read to her and prayed with her.
2 Corinthians 12:9
‘Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.’
Another song that Leah and I liked was
“Your grace is enough” by Chris Tomlin