When Love and Science Collide – part two

Just the same as no two births are the same, neither are any two pregnancy or fertility journeys. After receiving such an incredible response in the birth story chapters, I wanted to take it a step further and delve into another aspect of family planning. Infertility may not be a first hand experience for everyone, but I believe that should not stop us from wanting to understand it ourselves and harnessing that knowledge to better support those around us who are having to navigate that path. As a collective, we should share a growing interest in the lengths many go to in order to finally cherish the family they have dreamt of for so long. And more importantly, release any stigma on the topic and celebrate their strength, sacrifice and courage for doing so. This series ‘When Love and Science Collide’ will offer a first hand look at IVF journeys for those who have achieved their breakthroughs and those still waiting for their medical miracles..

Age when you first began trying to start your family:
My husband and I had been married for a year when we first decided to try for children of our own. I was 24 years old and my husband was 25 years old.

How long before seeking medical insight and assistance for conception?
I had been on the pill for a little over a year, which in comparison to some people was not long at all. I was aware that in some instances the pill can take a little while to leave your body, and it can take a few months for your body to adjust and get ‘back to normal.’ I had a friend tell me that after getting off the pill, it took her and her husband 4 months to fall pregnant. So this was my marker – allow ourselves four months of trying, while knowing that if it didn’t happen within these four months, that didn’t matter.

So, after four months, I began to get excited at the prospect of falling pregnant. I know that for some people, struggling to fall pregnant for a couple of months is nothing (and in hindsight, it wasn’t really that long), but by the time six months rolled by, then eight, and then ten, I was really getting down about it. So many people I knew were falling pregnant, or had fallen pregnant when they wanted to, whereas I had downloaded an app on my phone to help track my period, monitor my ovulation and plan out when the best time was for sex. Personally, my period is super regular. I can track it down to almost the hour, so I knew that everything seemed, at least from my point of view, to be going along as it should.

From memory it was at about the 10 month mark that I was seeing my doctor about something else, when she asked me if there was anything else I wanted to discuss. I broke down. I told her of our struggles and admitted that I knew we hadn’t been trying that long, but that it was really having an affect on my mental health and getting me down. She kindly set up a whole array of blood test to help track what was going on. So, for over a month I was having weekly blood tests to see what my hormone levels were doing. She also organised for my husband to have a sperm test to see if there was anything wrong there. We got our results and my blood test all came back as normal, and while my husband’s sperm count was a little low, it wasn’t low enough to be causing our infertility.

We were then referred to a doctor at an IVF clinic. It was around this point that I attended Colour Conference – a Sydney women’s conference run by Hillsong Church, and there the topic of all those women longing to be mothers came up. This broke me. I sobbed and cried, hearing the words I had yet to say out loud to myself, let alone those around me. I was surrounded by love that day. The mum, Aunties and a dear cousin – it was then that I started to talk about it. And I knew, hearing the words of hope and the stories of women who had sat where I sat, and now were mothers, that one day, God would bless us with a child of our own. I wasn’t to know when, but I knew it would happen in His time.

In May 2017 we had our first appointment with the doctor at the IVF clinic. It was a welcoming place, and I felt comfortable talking with our doctor and sharing our story with him. He gave us some paperwork to read through and instructed us to go home, have a chat and decide what direction we wanted to go in.

When did your IVF journey begin and at what level?
In June 2017, we got the shock of our lives. We were pregnant! Naturally! This was the most incredible discover and we were both so excited! We started planning on how we would tell people, we talked about names and got excited about planning the nursery. However, at our 8 week scan, I was told there was no heartbeat, but not to lose heart too quickly as sometimes it can just be a bit too early for a heartbeat to be detected and to go and see my doctor and have a repeat scan in a few days. And yet, I had this sinking feeling that it would not end well. And unfortunately, it didn’t.

At 9 weeks I began to bleed. And the bleeding didn’t stop, and the pain started. We lost our beautiful first baby. This is when I went to a bad place. Not many people knew, and I was very good and hiding the pain, but it was there and my husband was the only person to really see my true pain and I cried myself to sleep every night for a very long time. Because of this pregnancy, we had put our visit with the IVF clinic on hold. It took us a while to feel ok enough to go back and talk about our next step.

We took our time to process our loss. I went to Cambodia to help out in a cataract surgery clinic. My husband went to the Solomon Islands to help out in a building project, and we planned and went on a road trip around Victoria and NSW. During this time, bubs due date came and went. No one knew but me. It was a sad day, a day full of what ifs and if onlys, but we survived.

In February 2018 we were back at the IVF clinic. From there we planned our next step.

Did you have any idea you may have trouble conceiving on your own before?
Neither my husband or I had any family history of trouble conceiving. We were both (relatively) fit and still young. I had no history of any fertility limiting issues and as I mentioned before, my period had always been like clockwork. So, although this was never spoken, I believe we fell into the category of unexplained infertility. I found this hard. I was SO frustrated knowing that our bodies were fine and there seemed to be no obvious issues, so why wasn’t it working? And to this day, I have no idea why this was happening to us.

What understanding of IVF did you have prior to beginning the process?
Due to my slight medical knowledge (as a Registered Nurse), I was familiar with what IVF was and what it meant, but I had never really looked into it and never really understood the process. And I didn’t fully realise that although a form of treatment, IVF wasn’t always the first treatment option. Medications and IUIs were also options, and then IVF was a treatment recommended if those initially don’t work.

What major treatments/procedures have you gone through so far?
Our first treatment option suggested to us was IUI, where they take the sperm and shoot it up into your uterus with hopes that the sperm will then reach the egg in order to fertilize it (not the worlds best explanation, but it gives you a rough idea of what it is). Our first IUI was not successful. Our second one, much to our surprise, was! And once again, we got excited, but cautiously so.

We were 5 weeks along when I started to bleed. At that point I just knew what was going to happen. Because it was a weekend, we ended up in emergency. Due to my negative blood type, I required Anti D injections if a miscarriage was suspected. A scan and some blood tests confirmed it. We were losing this baby too. Our biggest blessing was that the doctor caring for us was an acquaintance and he prayed for us. He prayed for God to give us strength and to guide us through this next stage. This was, I believe, what gave me the strength the get through the next few days, weeks and months.

We opted for a D&C (dilation and curettage), a surgical procedure that helps to manually clean out the uterus lining after a miscarriage. It was then that we decided we were sick of all these, what we felt were half hearted attempts at a successful pregnancy. We decided to take the next step. So the next time we went in to see the doctors at the IVF clinic we asked to start the IVF process. From there, the lovely nurses (including an amazing ex colleague of mine) spent their time going through the process and explaining all the medications and injections that were required.

By October 2018 we had started the process for our egg retrieval. This meant daily injections, medications, and not just the oral type! We had a successful egg retrieval which ended up leaving us with 6 healthy embryos. Our first transfer was unsuccessful. The next month however, was a different story. We were pregnant once again! And thankfully all my bloods came back looking positive. The next step was for this bub to stick!

Any major obstacles or health concerns along the way?
We were super exciting when we found out our little embryo had taken, but also a little nervous. We had booked ourselves a cruise with another couple when we were 6 weeks pregnant. I had all my medications with me and was feeling happy and excited about our holiday. When the boat left the harbour, I started to feel a little unwell, which I put down to a bit of motion sickness (which I do suffer from and looking back, why did we think a cruise was a good idea??). However, as the day went on, I started throwing up, which I absolutely HATE! And this kept on going.. for the entire time! It was the most horrendous thing ever and I just wanted off!

I assumed that this sickness was due to a mixture of both motion sickness and morning sickness, and I just told my husband and friends to keep on enjoying their time, which thankfully they did to some extent. After many conversations with my husband, we decided that it would be best for me if we jumped off the ship at the next port (Vanuatu) and flew home. It took a bit of convincing the cruise staff to let this happen, but after sorting out a hotel and flights home, they allowed us to get off the boat for good. I finally felt like there was a light at the end of this tunnel.

We arrived at our hotel, got out of our taxi when I felt a strange, warm sensation down my legs, like I had just wet myself. I looked down to see blood pooling at my feel. I just said my husbands name and pointed. The staff ushered me to the closest bathroom, where I desperately tried to clean myself up. This was it, I was convinced that we had just lost this baby too. My husband came in and together we made our way to our room, where I went, clothes and all, into the shower and just sobbed and I watched the blood wash off me. The pain was also there again, and it was almost unbearable. I spent most of my day in the shower, the heat helping the pain. But it didn’t end there.

The nausea continued. There wasn’t much left for me to throw up, so it became painful to vomit, and my husband forced fluid into me so I at least had that to throw up. It had now been almost a week since I had last eaten anything. My husband ended up calling the hotel doctor, who came in and, although there wasn’t much he could do about the miscarriage, he could at least help out with the nausea. He gave me an injection of some anti-nausea medication and wrote a script for some more. This helped a little, but I was still unable to tolerate any food.

My husband had also been in touch with our parents back home and our IVF doctor. He asked us to try and obtain an Anti D injection, indicating that it was vital that we received it as soon as we could. We tried to hard to get this injection. We went to a private hospital, who had just run out, then travelled to the public hospital, who also had none. My husband was sharing this news to my mum, who was then passing this information on to some friends. One particular friend held a position in which he had a bit of sway in the medical sector and he got onto a doctor friend of his.

All these people were trying their hardest to obtain an Anti D injection for me. I had no idea about any of this at the time, but hearing about it later, I look back and see just how many people were looking out for me. It was all very much a God thing. After a few days, we left Vanuatu and flew into Sydney. We headed for a hospital, who took us in straight away, and after a very sleepless night, I received my Anti D injection and we left to the airport for our early flight. We arrived home where my parents picked us up and took us home. It was there that my mum fed me some of her amazing chicken soup, the first food I had been able to keep down for over a week.

My husband got back in touch with our IVF clinic and the next day we headed in to see what was to happen next. Our doctor brought us into the room and straight away, got me to lay down for an ultrasound, to see what was going on. The next thing he said, was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. There was a heartbeat! My husband and I just cried when we heard this. It was a miracle! Our little baby had survived all that drama! And now, that tiny little baby is our beautiful 13-month-old boy!

Have you received your miracle baby already? If so, how long was the process from start to finish?
We were so blessed to have been able to welcome our miracle rainbow baby in June 2019. Looking back, it seemed like the longest journey ever, but I also know that for many others, our time spent trying is nothing compared to them. We spent over two and a half years trying for our son.

How much of a financial investment has IVF treatment been for you in total?
To be honest, I cannot remember the cost. But keep in mind, you aren’t just paying for the procedures, there are all the medications and injections, and they all add up too!

What were the main or most intense emotions you experienced during any part of the treatment?
The main emotion I remember feeling was extreme loneliness. I felt so alone in the process. My husband was amazing and supportive, but as much as he tried, he just didn’t quite get it. For me, all I have ever wanted was to be a mum, so when it didn’t work out the way I had planned, I was devastated. And I just felt so alone in it all. I didn’t know of anyone else going through this journey. I had some great friends who I opened up to, but it just was not the same. They didn’t get it. They either had kids or weren’t at that stage in life yet. And this is not their fault at all. They were great and they all tried their best to support me, but I just didn’t have that someone to go to, to share my feelings with and have them in turn understand my pain.
I did have a friend who had lost her baby late in her pregnancy, and although our losses were different, she still understood loss, and this was a great comfort to me. To be able to open up and share with each other was such a blessing and I can see why God put her in my life to be a comfort during that time.

What surprised you the most about the entire process?
Once we shared the news of our pregnancy, as well as our journey of loss, I was so surprised by the number of people that later messaged me or told me in person the story of their own miscarriages. I am saddened that it is such a taboo topic and my own aim is to make it something we aren’t afraid or ashamed to talk about. Not only miscarriage and infant loss, but infertility too. I only wish I had made our journey more public. Sure, a few friends knew of our struggles, but I believe that if we had made it known, then I may have been able to get the support I so craved.

What was your partner’s take on the overall situation or specific stages?
My husband was my rock. He is one of the only reasons I am here today to tell this story. I was in a dark place for so long that I never thought I would be happy again. Sure, he never fully grasped my desire to have children. In his mind, if we never got pregnant, it didn’t really matter, as long as we had each other. But he tried. He tried to understand, and he let me cry on him more times that I can remember. He was supportive when I wanted to take the next step during our journey, and he was always there for me to hold my hand and be the strong one in our relationship.

What is something you wished others knew about IVF or infertility in general?
Infertility is a cruel beast. It can happen to anyone! I never imagined it would happen to me, but here I am sharing our story. It can be lonely, painful and a quite battle that we are forced to fight each and every day. It is one of those things that is not talked about enough, but when it is brought up, it will surprise you just how many people have gone through a time of infertility, loss, or have needed just that little bit of help from a doctor. It is nothing to be ashamed of either! I remember feeling so ashamed that my body could not do the one thing it was designed to do But don’t ever be afraid to ask for help!

Any further notes to be included?
I just want people to know that infertility is hard. For those that know people going through it – please ask, and listen. Don’t try to fix it or suggest miracle options, because we know. We have heard it all. Just be there and listen, be a shoulder for them to cry on and help them when needed. Make them a meal, bring them some flowers to brighten their day and be company for them.
For those trying, whether that is for 4 months or 6 months, for 1, 2, 3 years or more – keep hanging on. I pray that God will grant your so desired wishes. We all may be at different points in our journey, but we need to support and love each other. Be there for each other!
For those of you who have been trying for years, look out for those who are only just starting the journey – be the person they can go to. I genuinely believe that God took us on this journey so that we could help others. If I can help just one person, then my story has all been worth it. God is good.

All births and pregnancies are worth celebrating, and the stories detailing what many go through to get to that point alone are just as important, if not more so. We lift taboos by raising our voices. So if you have a past or present IVF experience you would like to share, please get in touch and I would love to add your voice to the conversation we all need to hear.


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