For some couples, the journey to parenthood can be long and stressful, and for others, it might not happen at all. If you’re an army family considering or undertaking fertility treatment, there is support out there. Here, Maddy & Nick tell us their story…

Nick and I wanted to grow our family in early 2018. With military-style planning, we started trying ahead of our wedding, hoping for a honeymoon baby and a family of three by Christmas. Spoiler, things did not go to plan. I still think back to how naive I was when we first started. No one ever really speaks about infertility, assisted conception or pregnancy loss. It’s such a taboo. Something we know about, but we think it only happens to other people.

I had struggled with painful periods since I was 15. I took the pill to reduce the worst of my symptoms but came off it a few months before we started trying. My old symptoms quickly returned: excruciating pain, blacking out, fatigue, bloating, and nausea. After six months, we still weren’t pregnant, and started to consider that something might be wrong. At the time we were based in Essex, where my GP advised that we needed to try naturally for two years before we qualified for investigation.

Waiting game

This period was incredibly difficult for me. I did all the research I could, ate a Mediterranean diet, followed the advice, had acupuncture and did yoga.

Trying to conceive became a second job, with all my free time thrown into searching for answers. Well-meaning friends and family pulled out cliché phrases (if you’ve been trying for a while, you know them); “just relax”, “try going on holiday”, “when you stop trying, it will just happen”.

As we approached the two-year point, we relocated to Hampshire and my new GP suggested I may have endometriosis. It’s then that things moved fast.

By January 2020 I’d had a laparoscopy, diagnosing me with severe endometriosis and we were advised to start IVF as soon as possible.

The ‘postcode lottery’ entitles you to anywhere between zero and three rounds of IVF, so we were relieved to find out that as a military family we would qualify for the full three rounds, and were thankful for the quick and easy approval of our application.

Starting the process

We began IVF in May 2020 convinced that we would end up with our miracle baby. Everyone was so positive, and we heard so many stories of success that it came as a shock when our first embryo didn’t take. Eager to avoid the grief, we jumped straight into two more transfers back-to-back.

Our third failed days before Christmas 2020 and we both knew we needed to take a break for our mental health.

After a year reflecting, we decided to transfer our final embryo and then call it a day. At this point we had been trying for four years and were exhausted. Nick was due to go to Somalia for nine months and we found out we were pregnant three days before he left. Typically, 30 per cent of IVF transfers result in a baby being born. Sadly, we were among the 70 per cent that don’t. We suffered a missed miscarriage, and I was very unwell for several months following our loss. It was then that Nick and I knew it was time for us to stop trying.

Life changing

Assisted conception really is a roller coaster. Our own experience has changed so much in our lives. It’s made our marriage stronger and forced us to learn a lot about ourselves. Our friendships have changed, with some friends and family shying away from our loss. However, it’s brought some amazing people into our lives and I’m so grateful for those that held space for our grief. The nurses, the friends, the work colleagues, and the online communities. The childless community is often hidden away but I found huge support with Jody Day’s Gateway Women – – and her book Living the Life Unexpected.

I joined the Defence Fertility Network and Defence Child Bereavement Network which have offered me a safe space to share my experiences. My due date is coming up shortly, and in acknowledgement of our loss the Defence Child Bereavement Network have sent us a care package. It really makes a difference.

Looking to the future

This month, I begin my PhD on women’s experiences of infertility and endometriosis, with the hope to inform future policy, something I would never have started had it not been for my own experiences.

And for those of you that like a happy ending, thanks to the military, we still qualify for two further rounds of IVF over the next five years so we’re not ruling out trying again in the future.

You’re not alone

The Defence Fertility Network is now an official Defence support group, giving armed forces families who are undergoing fertility treatment a way to connect with others.

Network spokesman Maj John O’Neill found that more support was needed whilst going through fertility treatment with his wife. He said: “Fertility issues impact some 3.5 million people in the UK. It can be an all-consuming and often lonely journey to take, with the reality that success is not guaranteed.

“The network exists to let all couples know that they aren’t alone and that peer support and guidance is available.”

It’s primarily a private Facebook group, which is rank-free and independent of the chain of command. You can find more info at Defence Connect or email

Assisted conception: need to know

Karen Ross, AFF’s Health & Additional Needs Specialist, explains the support that’s available for service families…

For more information on whether you’re eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, visit the assisted conception page in our health section at as treatment does vary around the UK.

You should also be aware of the Defence Instruction Notices (DIN) Assisted Conception Services and Fertility Preservation – 2021DIN01-020, available on the Defence Intranet. This policy gives guidance if you want to remain in one location when undergoing treatment, information about assisted conception overseas and details about fertility preservation.

In her article, Maddy describes how important it is for couples who are childless, not through their own choice, to receive support and to have a safe place to share their experiences. If this is something you would be interested in, contact me at

Main photo: Nick Walker

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