An Open Letter to My Fertility Consultant

Dear Consultant,

It might have been a fertility clinic I visited this morning, but I am more than my ovaries and fallopian tubes.

You might not be a head doctor, you might not care what happens inside my damaged head, but I do.

I am a whole person.

Nearly two years ago you saved my life.

In February 2014 I was happily pregnant with my long-awaited first baby. My midwife at my routine 24 week appointment had some concerns and sent me to the local hospital for further checks.

There you gave me the news that I had HELLP syndrome and severe preeclampsia, and that I was likely to have to deliver my baby that very night. My baby was at that time just one day over the legal liability limit, and I knew the chances of survival were slim.

The next couple of days consisted of crying a lot, being surrounded by all sorts of health professionals from different disciplines, and having all sorts of medical paraphernalia either attached to me or inserted inside me.

Thankfully I was able to hold on for another three days, and I was transferred to a bigger, specialist hospital in the meantime. Hugo was born by emergency Caesarean section at that hospital.

Sadly, Hugo was too small and premature, and he died in my arms 35 days later.

I am heartbroken.

I have since been grateful to the hospital and to you for saving my life, and for giving Hugo the best-possible chance.

My beautiful Hugo.

My beautiful Hugo.

The time since Hugo’s death has, I am sure you may understand, been incredibly challenging for me. I have been dealing not only with grief relating to the death of my precious boy, but the trauma of everything that happened to me, too.

I had never heard of HELLP syndrome before being diagnosed with it, and I did not know preeclampsia could strike so early in pregnancy. My illness, not to mention the drugs I was on meant my brain did not work properly for a good few weeks, and memories of several days are somewhat hazy.

For many months after Hugo’s death I blamed myself. For failing to be able to carry a baby to term. For putting myself first (I thought ‘consenting’ to the C section was that, not understanding in the maelstrom of grief was sacrificing my baby to save my own life). For Hugo not coming home (surely there must have been something I did not do right during his life, because the only stories about preemies you usually hear are the success stories where the proud parents say all the prayers and everything were worth it).

Now, I understand intellectually it was not my fault. I understand that no one truly knows what causes HELLP syndrome. I understand that if Hugo had not been born that morning I would be dead, too. I understand that I did not have a choice.

It is important for you to understand that knowledge does not make it any easier for me.

Finding therapy has been a battle, to say the least – I’ve only just started therapy for my needs in the past two weeks. It has taken that long for the local well being service to realise that I am perinatal (the lack of a baby confused them, you see).

Last year, my partner and I decided we’d like to start trying for another baby. After a few months of no blue line we went to the GP to ask to be referred. Hugo was conceived after one cycle of Clomid, and the GP agreed (as did my St George’s consultant when I had my debrief appointment) that would surely work again.

I had my first appointment at the hospital last September, with a junior colleague. We were a little frustrated to be told we would have to go through the gamut of fertility tests again (I’d done them all before Hugo). My follow-up appointment was last Wednesday, at 9am.

After waiting about 25 minutes, I asked the receptionist how long I’d be likely to be waiting, and we were told not long. I thought it unusual to be waiting that early in the morning, and my partner and I were  uncomfortable waiting in the same area as I had when I was waiting for my scans when I was expecting Hugo. Of course, that morning there were pregnant women waiting for their own scans, and holding their green books.

It transpired the person we were due to see wasn’t actually there. In fact, they have retired. Yesterday, I had a letter via my GP telling me off for ‘failing to attend’. You really couldn’t make it up!

A kind staff member rearranged my appointment for this morning. I had a feeling the appointment was going to be with you, and felt rather anxious.

You see, I have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A symptom of PTSD is flashbacks. One of my most regular flashbacks is you giving me the news about HELLP syndrome. It is the moment when my life started to fall apart.

Mummy, Daddy, Hugo

Mummy, Daddy, Hugo

Being in the consultation room brought things back. I was surprised that you got straight to business with our results – no mention of what happened two years ago, asking how I was, and how sorry you were that Hugo had died. All human, compassionate, empathetic things so you would think.

I was told the test results revealed that I am not ovulating. You also referred to my BMI, which has increased since my last appointment. I was told my weight is the problem, and that I should ask my GP to refer me for slimming treatment and to cut out the carbs.

It’s all related to evidence and guidelines, apparently. Because everything in life is that black and white, isn’t it?

In my head, this is what I heard:

You are fat, stupid, and useless. A failure. You will never have a baby you can take home.

I started crying – wailing like an animal, in fact.

My partner asked you if he remembered us from two years ago. You did. Of course you did. So why no kindness or compassion from you?

The clinic nurse was kind and tried to comfort me, and was firm when I started to hyperventilate.

I was astonished, however, to be told that losing weight shouldn’t be too difficult because she can do it and I’m younger and prettier than her.

If we are talking about evidence, I am fairly certain there is none to support that hypothesis.

You mentioned a drug that can help ovulation, but it causes ovarian cancer. I asked if it was Clomid, which of course it is. I reminded you that drug helped me conceive Hugo – so, by inference I have added to my list of woes with the potential of ovarian cancer.

Except of course it doesn’t. Clomid may increase the risk of ovarian cancer. You weigh up pros and cons. And let’s not forget in my last pregnancy it was the pregnancy itself that proved to be the most life-threatening.

And let’s talk about the link between weight and ovulation. Yes, evidence shows a high BMI can cause ovulation problems. But what about all the women with ovulation problems who have a BMI in the ‘healthy’ range?

We also need to consider the assessment that “I am not ovulating”. That was based on one month. The tests were done in October 2015, the month where I had my meltdown. You did not know about this, no. But that is because you judged me. You did not engage with me.

As we are talking about evidence, evidence also suggests extreme stress can stop ovulation. Even without stress, not every woman necessarily ovulates every month.

Your manner this morning was that you were right, and that you knew everything. There was no compassion, no invitation to discuss anything.

You might be a consultant and therefore a specialist in your chosen field, but you are not superhuman or infallible.

Yes, I got incredibly upset in my appointment this morning. I cried a lot, and shouted a lot. I said lots of words beginning with ‘F’. I then stormed out.

I make no apology for any of this. It surely could have been avoided with a bit of kindness, compassion, and empathy.

An open dialogue, with open questions.

An open conversation about what the guidelines suggest, and what the local CCG’s guidelines around fertility treatments are.

Since everything that happened, I have had issues with anger. Zero to 60 in milliseconds. It’s the PTSD. From that traumatic time, remember?

The trauma and loss, you would hope, would carry an understanding that I have endured a lot already. An appreciation that it is good I am still here, even if there is too much of me.

I hope you will consider everything I have written here, and reflect. I have written it is an open letter on my blog in the hope that other clinicians will be able to learn from the experience, too.

It is wholly unacceptable.

I am submitting this open letter to the hospital as an extension to the formal complaint I made after last week’s incompetence.

Yours hopefully.

33 Comments on An Open Letter to My Fertility Consultant

  1. Kay
    April 8, 2016 at 11:53 am (5 years ago)

    I find this incredibly sad for the consultant, actually. You are extremely lucky to have such medical skills available (and for free, no less). They cannot build another waiting room because you don’t like the one you are in. There are medical reasons for being within a healthy BMI and as a doctor he would have failed you by not pointing out that this will give a higher risk of a healthy pregnancy. Your loss is terrible. is it fair, no. Is it the consultants fault? No. He is a medical professional, employed to give you the best MEDICAL advice he can. If you don’t like the advice, that’s up to you. If you need emotional support instead of medical, that is also up to you.

  2. Tim
    January 22, 2016 at 5:55 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh, Leigh. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said by others, other than to add that you and Martin deserve so much better than this.
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks Tim x

  3. Amy @ Mr and Mrs T Plus Three
    January 22, 2016 at 12:45 am (5 years ago)

    Oh Leigh good grief this is horrific. I am so sorry for you. You are completely right about the ovulation, when we had IVF for Rose I most certainly did not ovulate every month in the time leading up to it as I did all sorts of tests with basal body temperature and blood tests etc. I just can’t believe that you’ve been put in this position and had to endure this. I’m just so sorry, I hope to goodness that the consultant realises the consequences of treating patients like statistics rather than real people and you see someone with compassion next time, it’s shocking.

    I am positive you will get your rainbow and I am so happy that you are trying to get pregnant that is a big step and one I know you won’t have taken lightly.

    Love you lots xxxxx
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm (5 years ago)

      Exactly re the ovulation! Sadly I was too upset in the consultation to remember all of those points…Thanks for your kind comment Amy xxx

  4. Mrs H
    January 21, 2016 at 6:41 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh my darling, Leigh. Reading this breaks my heart. It also makes me incredibly angry. How can anyone treat you like that? That is horrendous. I loathe how consultants feel they have the right to treat you however they want. You are not people. You are just names and charts. I really hope your complaint is listened to. And I really hope that you get the care that you deserve especially as you and your partner have made such a momentous decision to try for a sibling for Hugo. I love you loads lovely Leigh. You deserve so much happiness. Hugs and love Lucy xxxx
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:23 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you lovely Lucy xxx

  5. Zana
    January 21, 2016 at 4:25 pm (5 years ago)

    “Consultants” should consult, surely? The clue is in the name. They should consult with you and they should consult the evidence. My dictionary says that “consult” means (among other things): “…to consider (wishes, feelings, etc of others); to discuss …” Consultant means: “A person who gives professional advice or takes part in consultation; the most senior grade of a doctor; a person who seeks advice or information.” If Consultants dictate rather than consult, then surely they should be renamed “Dictators”? Well done for putting together your open letter. I hope you receive the apology and closure you deserve and that you are treated with far greater compassion and consideration on your continuing journey.

    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:25 pm (5 years ago)

      Those are really good points. Thanks so much for your kind comment xxx

  6. Tara
    January 21, 2016 at 3:53 pm (5 years ago)

    So sorry to read this, Leigh. I can’t believe how careless the consultant was. I often felt like I was just a number. It’s not good enough. I hope the right people read this.
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm (5 years ago)

      It’s really not good enough. Thanks Tara xx

  7. Louise Parry
    January 21, 2016 at 1:28 pm (5 years ago)

    I’m so sorry you’ve been treated so appallingly Leigh. I wish I could make it even a tiny bit better for you. I don’t understand what on earth some heathcare professionals are thinking on some occasions and it makes me ashamed to have to call them colleagues.
    You are strong, brave and beautiful and you will get through this, no matter how many stupid and thoughtless people you meet along the way.
    Much Love
    Louise Parry recently posted…Light in My Darkness, Counterpoint of My SoulMy Profile

    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:25 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you lovely xx

  8. ShoeboxofM
    January 21, 2016 at 6:56 am (5 years ago)

    There are too many stories like this to be ignored. Rather than looking at these wealth of stories of bitter, terrible experiences made worse by lack of compassion and decency the instinct is to close ranks and attack the patient. The terror of litigation and lip service to a no blame culture underpin this attitude. The number of blogs like this gives an indication of the failure of the patient care mechanisms like PALS to protect patients and to listen and more importantly act on concerns raised. The same consultant that left my wife in tears is the one being lauded in the newspapers for his role in taking action on stillbirth. You wouldn’t have known it from the way he treated my wife and the quality of care during her last pregnancy which was marked by missed measurements, failure to pick up on anolomalies and follow up appointments all with full knowledge of our history.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this and hope that through the network of sympathetic health care professionals you have developed through tenacious hard work that this culture will not be allowed to stand and that no one else nee suffer the treatment you did.

  9. Beth
    January 21, 2016 at 6:48 am (5 years ago)

    Oh Leigh – I seriously want to scream with you and hug you so tight. How can anyone, let alone a health professional, be so lacking in compassion or empathy. I’m seeing more and more that those in charge of “care” are often those most detached from what caring could actually mean. Never go back lovely – you & Martin deserve so much better. Sending love xxx

    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:29 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you lovely Beth xx

  10. oana79
    January 20, 2016 at 10:13 pm (5 years ago)

    Can you go privately, Leigh? I dread getting pregnant and having to deal with the same midwife, she was exactly like the doctor you met yesterday. Cold, rude, heartless. I hope to be able to go privately if it happens, as I know I will react in the same way you had. Hugs, Leigh, you didn’t deserve any of this and that man is an idiot and should not be working there.xx

  11. Jo
    January 20, 2016 at 10:02 pm (5 years ago)

    Such a sad read .. The wrong person was consulting that day !! You deserve so much more than this .
    Don’t give up … X

  12. Katie / Pouting In Heels
    January 20, 2016 at 7:43 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh Leigh, this is just so wrong on so many levels. 🙁 Goodness, I’m not surprised you used the ‘F’ word a few times. I think I’d have probably turned the air very blue if it was me. You’ve been through hell over the past few years and you absolutely deserve compassion, empathy and kindness. The care you have received seems to have been lacking so much in these fundamental areas and I’m truly astonished and upset for you. I’m glad you have written this and I await to hear the response. But please know my lovely friend, you are far from the words you heard inside your head. You my dear are courageous, intelligent, bold of heart, beautiful and a fighter (just like Hugo). Don’t ever lose sight of that. (But if you do, come and give me a nudge and I will happily remind you.) Much love. Thinking of you X
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:30 pm (5 years ago)

      That’s so kind Katie, thank you xxx

  13. Hannah Budding Smiles
    January 20, 2016 at 6:27 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh darling Leigh my heart aches for you and sobs for the repeated displays of incompetence, ignorance and heartlessness you have to endure. It’s disgusting that anybody should ever be treated with such a lack of compassion, even more so two bereaved parents who desperately want the chance to have a second much-loved child.

    You are a beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, compassionate, kind person and all I want for you is that you are happy, that you get your second baby and that next time you and your baby are both healthy and not endangered. You deserve that. Sending so much love, always here for you xxx
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:30 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you lovely Hannah xxx

  14. Astrid
    January 20, 2016 at 6:01 pm (5 years ago)

    Wow, I’m so terribly sorry you got treated this badly. I totally understand you’re mad. This letter shows how strong you are, not stupid at all.
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:11 pm (5 years ago)

      That’s really kind, thank you xx

  15. Tess
    January 20, 2016 at 5:17 pm (5 years ago)

    BMI my arse….. Sorry Leigh it makes me really angry when these experts open their mouth without a thought of who they are speaking to. Whatever happened to bedside manner. I read an article about a girl being sent home with a letter stating that she had a high BMI, her Mother is a fitness instructor & a nutritionist, she was furious. The wee girl did not eat for 2 days & her Mother had to convince her that she was not overweight.

    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:16 pm (5 years ago)

      Oh goodness that’s awful. BMI is not black and white – and there are many HCPS who need a lesson in communication sadly xx

  16. Stephanie Robinson
    January 20, 2016 at 4:44 pm (5 years ago)

    Leigh, this is shocking. Absolutely shocking. I’ve met you once and I can tell you you are not fat, useless, stupid or a failure. You are intelligent, caring, sensitive and grieving and should have to deal with numpties like this. Sending love and hugs xx

    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm (5 years ago)

      That’s really kind Stephanie, thank you xx

  17. Honest Mum
    January 20, 2016 at 4:40 pm (5 years ago)

    How are these emotionally ill equipped, insensitive practitioners allowed to give advice or care. This has made me sad and so frustrated and angry. You have been let down over and over again from the counsellor to now the consultant. There is great care out there, best practice care Leigh and you deserve it. I await their response. This is horrendous. Sending you love darling, I’m here for you OK x
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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:12 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you lovely. Just feels like one hell of a dreadful journey. I’m drained xxx

  18. Angela at daysinbed
    January 20, 2016 at 3:42 pm (5 years ago)

    This is not right and I have very similar experiences. I went to the fertility clinic and was told your too fat to when a baby. You should not have one and we won’t help you while your ill. Rather Han look at ways to help me get better it’s just go on a diet but hello a diet is not so easy when I’m on steroids and the doctors are so unemotional and judgemental. I bet if they had serious traumatic events or illness they would better understand how hard it can be to have a perfect BMi. Sorry but your letter made me sad and angry! I hope you get an apology!

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    • Leigh
      January 23, 2016 at 12:13 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m so sorry to hear that, Angela. We are all more than just numbers on a chart – and need to be seen as a whole person xx


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