British actress ALICE EVANS reveals her struggle to have a baby at 38 – and how her family is now the real life Fantastic Four
Alice Evans and Welsh star Ioan Gruffudd were living the Hollywood dream.
The two British actors met on the set of the Disney hit 102 Dalmatians, soon became a couple and married. Ioan landed starring roles in Fantastic Four and his own TV series, Forever, while Alice worked constantly in hit shows such as Lost and The Vampire Diaries.
Yet behind the success was a secret heartache as they fought – and failed – to start the family they both longed for.
Today, in a brave and extraordinarily candid account, Alice, now 44, writes about the highs and lows of their desperate journey through IVF – and issues a warning to the millions of young women like her who might be tempted to leave it late to start a family…
I ALWAYS knew I would have children. And by that I don’t mean I always hoped or dreamed. No, I knew. Because having children – or so my 13-year-old self thought – was inevitable.
It would happen, on schedule, after I was done chasing all the important things I wanted in life: to become an actress, learn foreign languages, live in France, find a man who loved me as much as I loved him, and, obviously, meet Shakin’ Stevens.
It was optimistic of me to want all those things, as I grew up in a very ordinary family in an ordinary house in Bristol and went to a pretty rough comprehensive where learning how to avoid being beaten up was a skill that served you a lot better than planning a career.
But I had it all planned out. By the age of 50, I would kick back and watch my large brood of kids running around – so I’d better make sure I had the money for that before I did something stupid like have unprotected sex.
How very wrong I was. The fact is that Ioan and I left it late – very late – to start our family. And the worst thing is, it was deliberate.
Looking back I ask myself how could we have been so complacent about the simple facts of life. But that’s what they say: When you make plans, God laughs.
So we found ourselves playing a traumatic and expensive IVF lottery game that we were lucky to win.
And if just one person reading this makes a decision to start trying for a baby at 33 instead of 36, or if a single woman makes enquiries about the best way to freeze her eggs, then sharing my story will have been worth it.
Until I started trying for a baby at 37 life had been going according to plan. I managed the acting and the travel parts of my goals, knocking on doors until they finally opened, and slowly climbed the career ladder.
I also met my decent man along the way –Ioan – who did, unbelievably, turn out to love me as much as I loved him.
As soon as we’d established that we both felt the same way, we got straight down to the exciting process of making the hordes of babies we both knew we wanted.
Actually I just made that bit up. Of course we didn’t.
Acting jobs are like buses – none come and then three arrive all at the same time, usually shooting on opposite sides of the world.
Finding the time to chat on the phone becomes complicated, let alone finding time to… well, you know what I mean.
There’s never a right time to breathe that long sigh of relief that says: ‘I think I’m ready now.’
We were delusional about a woman’s dwindling chances of getting pregnant after 35. That’s not anti-feminist, by the way – it’s just the plain truth.
The whole of my 38th year was spent reading studies about fertility, taking my morning temperature, planning ovulation graphs, standing on my head after sex, and fastidiously avoiding tea, coffee, alcohol, pineapple pizza and anything else I’d read about that might possibly prevent pregnancy.
Each month I excitedly ran to the bathroom at least five days before my period was due with a white stick in hand, and waited, my heart beating practically out of my chest for that second little red line to come up. And each month it didn’t.
I went to acupuncturists who told me they could ‘revitalise my eggs’ (b******t), a dietician who told me to cut out dairy (even worse – one of the best long-term studies ever done shows drinking one to two glasses of whole milk a day correlates with higher pregnancy rates).
Well-meaning but ill-informed friends swore I just needed to ‘relax’, which, when you’re trying to quell a rising panic, is kind of ridiculous.
Months went by but it seemed like years. I didn’t have a clue what to do or where to turn.
Mum had passed away unexpectedly a few years earlier and Dad had a new wife and new kids. My best friends had all done the sensible thing and had their children in their early 30s.
Then one day I found myself reading The Stork Club, Imogen Edwards-Jones’ brilliant account of her struggles with infertility.
Next thing I knew I was on the phone to her, sobbing uncontrollably; she understood and told me: ‘Alice, go see a doctor. A real doctor.’
Six days later I found myself lying on a padded table with a large piece of tracing paper over my naked bottom half, while a doctor slid a probe the size of a small rolling pin into my nether regions to look at my ovaries.
The blood tests had already revealed that my healthy eggs were few and far between, but this test – the antral follicle count – was the clincher.
Fifteen follicles (indicating the possibility of 15 eggs) was more or less what the doctor was expecting for somebody of my age.
Ten follicles would be about the lowest he’d need to do an IVF cycle with a decent chance of success.
We stared a big screen on the wall that showed my magnified uterus and watched open-mouthed as he started counting the black holes that represented my follicles. I had eight.
It became a journey of decisions. A round of IVF would cost upwards of £7,000 and we had about a 20 per cent chance of success.
I’d also mistakenly bought into the myth that the world is full of orphanages with lots of unwanted babies desperate for childless couples.
In fact, the waiting list to adopt a baby from China turned out to be upwards of five years. The average expense is about £35,000.
Adoption in the US is probably worse, full of hidden fees, false promises, lawyers and shady agencies, and the simple fact is this: there are many more desperate childless couples than there are babies who need them.
Adopting was more expensive and even less likely to succeed than IVF. So there we were – £7,000 and a 20 per cent chance of winning. Take it or leave it. We took it. And we won.
Seeing a faint red line one Saturday morning after I’d decided in my head the IVF cycle had clearly not worked was one of the most breathtaking moments of my entire life.
Ioan didn’t believe it. He said I’d been staring at it for so long that I was seeing things that weren’t there.
The next day there was a slightly darker line (we’re still talking shades of snow here) and the next one looked like it might be pink… until finally there it was. A second red line, staring back at me, unmistakeable.
Extremely high blood pressure earned me total bed rest for the last two months of the pregnancy and then there I was, in a hospital bed, sweating and screaming and writhing about – just like on television.
A mere 40 hours later Ella arrived, a 6lb 2oz lobster-red baby-alien.
Instantly none of my other plans mattered. This was the thing I should have done years ago. The only thing.
It was as close to being in heaven as I’d ever get. Neither of us had any doubt about the fact we wanted a second child, yet, despite what we had just been through, the luck of being part of that 20 per cent went to our heads and we thought it was OK to wait a year before starting the whole IVF process a second time.
This time our first cycle failed. As did our second. Our third didn’t even produce any eggs to fertilise. Our fourth gave us a few to freeze.
It wasn’t working. Finally, physically, mentally (not to mention financially) depleted, we decided sadly that cycle eight would be our last.
Elsie Marigold Evans-Griffith was born on September 13, 2013. She has her dad’s big brown eyes but not his unfeasibly long tongue, thank goodness.
I’m writing now because if we’d started trying even three years earlier we might have avoided everything I’ve just told you about.
I know how lucky I am. I won the lottery. I get to kiss goodnight to the two most precious human beings I’ve ever met.
My goal now is to get the word out. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
As for Shaky – I guess some things just aren’t meant to happen…