It’s not often you get to see Johnny Depp in the flesh. In 2010, not only did I get to see him in the flesh (so to speak), he also stopped to say hello to me twice; once at the People’s Choice Awards and then a week or so later at the Golden Globe Awards.
It had been a truly horrendous year. We had moved to LA with almost no money to our names but with the knowledge that our property in the UK was on the market and that we would soon have some money with which to live and to endeavour to make our dreams come true.
At that time our biggest dream was to become a family; instead of there just being the two of us, there would be at least three. I had already suffered two miscarriages and because I was already over the age of 40, the NHS had written me off and no one was remotely interested in helping with, finding out why or fixing the problem.
Knowing that money was soon to arrive we started doing our research into IVF clinics and a friend suggested that we check out a clinic in Glendale where she knew the proprietor. The friend was an acupuncturist who specialised in women’s issues, specifically fertility and so we trusted her judgement to a great extent. Didn’t think for one minute that perhaps she would be getting a ‘bonus’ for any referrals. We still don’t know for sure but it seems quite likely.
We went to visit the clinic and were impressed by it’s state of the art equipment and everything we saw and read about it underlined our friend’s recommendation. The doctor was young and enthusiastic and the staff all seemed very friendly. We had a free consultation and during that time we were given a prescription for a drug called Clomid which increases the chances of natural conception by fooling the body into releasing two eggs instead of one each month. All it did was almost overnight fool my body into putting on 30lb and turning me into a bloated whale.
After three months we returned to the clinic with the proceeds from our property sale and signed up for three attempts at IVF. It was extremely expensive: $21,000 for the IVF and then more money to cover the cost of drugs and the anesthetist etc.
At that initial appointment I explained that I don’t take any drugs (not even caffeine), never have done and would respond very quickly to anything that I was given. Just check out the whale transformation from the Clomid! The doctor said that he would take note of that and prescribe accordingly. He estimated that for all three IVF’s (should we need them) all that we would have to pay for the drugs would be an extra $1,500 total.
So, we waited until my period started and the first IVF cycle was underway. It starts with drugs to put you into menopause so that they can control what happens there after. Then drugs are given to start a period, then a drug is given to ‘ripen your eggs,’ then a drug is given to stop you ovulating, another to make you ovulate and so on. Some days, most days poor James would be given me up to five, or was it seven injections?
If during the natural course of a monthly cycle women get PMS, just imagine what it’s like to go through one cycle of IVF! Your body has no idea what the hell is going on, your weight goes sky high and emotionally you haven’t got a hope.
Presumably it’s a medical way of stopping you get pregnant the natural way because nothing romantic is going happen, I can assure you!
During all of this you visit the clinic every other day to have internal ultrasound scans to see how your ovaries are doing, to make sure that they aren’t going into overdrive and producing too many eggs. No worry about that for me. The doctor may have made a note that my body would go into shock if given too many drugs but clearly he didn’t take any notice of it. For that first cycle alone he prescribed me $9,000 of drugs and it was too late once I had started taking them to do anything about it.
Everything looked fine, albeit only a little ovary activity and when it came to D-Day we had three eggs removed under anesthetic. James meanwhile did his thing and we waited for news of whether any eggs fertilised and survived.
Two of the three eggs did fertilise and I was asked to go in to have them implanted. Firstly, however, I headed over to my acupuncturist friend and had a special IVF treatment that supposedly makes your uterus super welcoming.
Back at the clinic you watch the process on a screen as the doctor uses the ultrasound to guide him as he placed the embryos into my uterus.
For three days you are advised to be on bed rest and then to spend the rest of the next two weeks doing next to nothing. I was very good at this part of the process.
On day fourteen you return to the clinic to have blood taken to ascertain whether or not you are pregnant.
We were not.
During the follow up meeting with the doctor, I expressed my shock at how many drugs I had been given, especially after having explained to him what would happen and he again said that he would take note.
For our second unsuccessful cycle I was given a prescription for $3,500 worth of drugs – still more than twice the amount he had quoted for all THREE cycles being given for this one alone.
By this point I was enormous, emotional and desperate.
I had taken a job on ‘Extreme Makeover – Home Edition,’ and it seemed that it wasn’t going to be as easy to take time off for appointments etc as I had been led to believe.
I left the job after a few weeks. At this point, regardless of how amazing the job was or how lovely the team, I was invested in and hoping that the IVF was going to work and had to do everything I could to help that happen.
But it didn’t during cycle 2. Not helped by the acupuncturist friend who the night before implantation and my appointment with her, decided to up the price from $75 to $400 (or something equally ridiculous). I told her where to stick her $400.
By the third cycle, I was done with the doctor and his drugs. James and I both felt far less confident that the treatment was being tailored to us in particular and felt that we were on a baby-making treadmill. I obsessively read everything I could on every forum and made friends with people who had successfully started their families with IVF.
Instead of being injected many times a day with too many hormones, I had a far more natural cycle. I found another acupuncturist who was wonderful and dedicated to helping. I religiously did a routine of yoga exercises that forced blood into the ovary area and also pressed down on the artery that does the same for 90 seconds a time every day. Wheatgrass and royal jelly became staples and I rested.
By the time we were ready for egg retrieval I had three big eggs – the same as the two previous cycles – but this time without any drugs. Two of the three fertilised, as before, but this time one of them was referred to as being text-book perfect.
We felt hopeful that this cycle would be successful.
A couple of days before I was due to have my pregnancy blood test, we went out to dinner with a friend and a soup that had a lot of garlic in it made my nose run and my throat hurt. I have never been allergic to garlic and so we all sat there and wondered whether something magical was causing my symptoms.
I was pregnant!!
We were called in for our first ultrasound to check that the embryo had implanted in my uterus and not my fallopian tube. It had not.
The doctor then started making weird comments about the pregnancy only being 50/50 because there was no heartbeat that could be heard. However, you could see it beating clearly on the screen.
As soon as we got home I did my research online and every pregnant woman on every forum said that the heartbeat for them could not be heard until around week 9 and even then it wasn’t guaranteed.
Ten days later we went for another ultrasound and the doctor again started talking about 50/50 and complaining that the heartbeat could not be heard although it could be seen.
My heart started beating out of my chest as I began to panic that he knew something that he just wasn’t telling us.
I began to get a rounded tummy and feel very pregnant but now instead of every twinge and thought being joy-filled, I was instead filled with panic that we were about to lose this baby. We did everything by the book but I was getting more and more anxious with every passing moment.
By the time we returned to the clinic for our nine week scan I was beside myself and hyperventilating.
I lay on the bed could see our baby was clearly on the screen. It looked enormous and baby shaped, where it had previously looked like a pulsing white blob.
The doctor shook his head.
Not this 50/50 crap again, I thought to myself.
“I’m sorry. There is no heartbeat,” he said.
“Look again!” I screamed.
“No. There’s no heartbeat,’ he said.
Time stood still as James and I looked at each other and the screen.
No one said anything else.
A minute or many went by and the doctor said that he would leave us alone for a few minutes.
James and I were in complete shock.
When the doctor returned we asked for another scan and again he said that he couldn’t see a heartbeat. He then said that he could prescribe me something which would cause a miscarriage, or I could be given a ‘procedure’ to remove the now dead baby, for which I could have an anesthetic or be given a painkiller.
I was in shock and suddenly felt sick to my stomach that I had a dead baby inside me.
It was December 23rd and our Christmas which was going to be full of dreams and hopes for our future and our child would now be a day of mourning.
As James didn’t drive, I couldn’t have an anesthetic because I would be unable to drive and at this time of year it would be difficult to find someone to not only collect us from the clinic but to also bring us back the following day so that we could fetch our car.
I didn’t like the idea of the drugs that would cause a miscarriage. Having already had two miscarriages, I wasn’t keen on going through that again, so after discussing it with the doctor and each other we opted for the procedure and the pain killer.
The doctor said it would take one minute and would only be a little bit painful.
I was given a painkiller – like a Panadol – and 15 minutes later taken into theatre. Everyone was in a rush as it was their Christmas celebration that afternoon, which may explain why no one asked me whether the painkiller was working yet. It wasn’t.
For at least twenty minutes I underwent what was ostensibly an abortion but without any form of painkiller. One of the staff held my hand throughout, as I lay there and didn’t make a sound. Having just been told that our baby was dead and having been sexually abused for 15 years, what was happening to me as I lay on that operating table under the glare of the bright lights was the stuff of nightmares. Only I wasn’t asleep and could feel every single scrape and hack of the blade that was inside me.
At one point the doctor shouted at a nurse to put the blood pressure and heart monitor on me. In all of their ‘excitement’ no one had thought to do the basics, including to sterilise me. Hopefully at least the instruments had been.
At the end of this interminable horror, the doctor in a jolly voice said that it was all over and left the room. I looked down and saw that the table was saturated in my deep red blood.
It was everywhere.
I was in shock.
It was instant. PTSD.
Who wouldn’t have PTSD after having been operated on without any anesthetic, especially after just losing a baby?
Eventually I was able to leave the clinic and was given a prescription for the drug that would cause a miscarriage anyway. At the pharmacy, to add insult to injury, the pharmacist asked whether I was pregnant because if I was she couldn’t give me the drug. After what I had just been through, I wasn’t even able to speak. I just shook my head at her.
We got back to our apartment and I started to cry like I never have before.
I went to the bathroom and peed on a stick. It said I was still pregnant. I wasn’t. As I wiped, bits of grey baby remnants were on the paper. There are no words.
A few days later, on Christmas Day, I was aching from head to toe and running a very high temperature. We were both worried that perhaps I had developed an infection and so followed the instructions we had been given by the clinic, to call one of the nurses.
Clearly the nurse was too busy enjoying her Christmas Day to answer her ‘phone.
Eventually a couple of hours later, as my temperature got higher, she called back and said that she would now call the doctor to tell him what was going on and she would call us back with his instructions.
Talk about cutting out the middle man. They didn’t.
Again, at least an hour passed and she called back and told me to take Tylenol. Paracetamol for the English amongst us. What?! That’s it? Hours spent waiting to be told by Chinese Whispers that I needed to take Tylenol?
I managed to sleep and when I woke up the next morning, not only was I aching and hot, I now couldn’t breathe properly. We got in the car and I spent the day in A&E as I was checked over for every possible cause, including having the horror of an internal scan to check whether any baby had been left behind and causing and infection.
The doctor saw a shadow on my lung and thought perhaps I had a blood clot but they couldn’t be sure.
They wanted to give me a CT scan, nuclear thermo imaging or an MRI. With my PTSD and severe claustrophobia, I wasn’t willing to do anything further and asked to leave. The doctor tried to terrify me that I was about to die from a blood clot, so I signed my life away whilst asking what would they do if I did have a blood clot? Give me Aspirin?
The doctor said yes, so I said that I would take Aspirin every day for a week and if anything changed I would call him immediately. It is now more than six years later and I am still here and if there is a clot, it has been behaving very well up until now.
We went back to the apartment and for the following two weeks I could barely speak. James let people know that we would call them when we were ready. It’s surprising how many people over-ride your wishes, even when something this awful happens arrogantly thinking that their call will magically change everything.
The worst thing was that I discovered upon emailing the woman who had held my hand throughout the procedure (with an official complaint), was that the doctor did the 50/50 thing with everyone. He’d seen nothing untoward.
Even worse, when my cousin was pregnant and went for a scan at around 15 weeks the baby’s heartbeat couldn’t be seen or heard. She was told to walk around for thirty minutes and then they would try gain. She gave birth to a perfect princess.
After all of that horror, our baby may have been shredded for no good reason at all.
During this time, a lovely friend emailed me to send her condolences and her love. During the course of this email conversation she asked whether I wanted to work on the People’s Choice Awards with her – if I was up to it. I asked her if James could sit with me in the office because I was in complete trauma and she said yes.
With red-rimmed eyes, one of which had started to develop a massive stye, a red flakey nose from all the crying and the inability or energy to match the rest of the team’s excitement, I took my place at a desk and carried out my duties by email. No one knew what I was carrying in my heart and because of that I was able to do my job.
Many times a day I had to wipe away tears that would just start to fall slowly down my cheeks as James and I sat there and looked at each other.
On show day, the excitement around the office built and when someone announced that Johnny Depp was in the building about 40 of us somehow found ourselves standing in the corridor that he would soon be walking down.
Moments later, as if it was the parting of the Red Sea, everyone moved out of the way as Johnny’s bodyguard cut a swathe through the congregating staff.
I stood apart from the crowd feeling like the saddest person on the planet and had tears in my eyes – including the swollen, stye infected one.
“Hello,” said Johnny. His face had a gentle smile and he looked right at me as he said it.
“Hello,” I weakly said back as he walked past us to his dressing room.
James looked at me and I said, “Did you see that? Did he just say hello to me?” James smiled and said yes.
A few days later, both James and I were working on the Golden Globes and Johnny was there.
As I was about to walk through a door, Johnny walked through from the opposite direction and held it open for me. Again, he smiled his gentle smile and said, “Hello.”
Things are supposed to happen in threes, so whenever you are ready Johnny, just let me know.
*For all the posts in this series, please click here: