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This account is about a long, well-travelled, bumpy road; we had a destination in sight and it wasn’t some far off exotic place. It was parenthood.
Like many young women, I had difficult, painful and irregular menstrual cycles as a teen (in fact I was nearly 17 when I got my first visit from Aunt Flo). You can imagine my surprise, a few months before my 18th birthday when I got the news that I was pregnant (I expected my then boyfriend, now husband to run for the hills but he didn’t), my pregnancy progressed with little complication and in 1995 we were blessed with a beautiful bouncing baby boy.
We had discussed having a family and didn’t want our son to be an only child so in 1996 we started proactively trying to add to our family. My menstrual cycle was still quite irregular and downright painful and after many a day spent on the couch with a hot water bottle, I decided to finally consult a specialist. It was then at the ripe old age of 19 that my world was turned upside down. During the barrage of test, it was discovered that I had cancerous cells on my cervix…… I had only had a pap test 8 months earlier and was advised that I was categories as CNI3 which required immediate medical intervention. My gynaecologist then went on to explain that we wouldn’t be able to try to conceive for at least 12 months. As we counted down the days, our son talked about having someone to play with and to love, he would always say, “I’m going to be the best big brother ever” (and he is).
Our 12 month wait had expired and I was still having issues with my cycle, so back to the gynae I go….. again to be dealt another blow, I had severe endometriosis, so I was booked in for surgery and waited anxiously for my date. As I was wheeled into theatre, the surgeon was optimistic and upbeat, you’ll be out of here in an hour he stated with a smile and then I drifted off into laa laa land. I woke in incredible pain, with worried nurses and Doctors rushing around…. well my hour turned into 3 hours and of course I had to be complicated and needed the first of several blood transfusions. My specialist came to see me on the ward a few days later and explained that the endometriosis was EVERYWHERE and that I needed to give my body time to heal before trying to conceive…. so another 12 month wait… “That’s OK” I thought to myself, I’m in my early 20’s… I’ve still got plenty of time!
FINALLY!!! The wait is over and we can start trying again! Month after month passed with no success. Desperate, I saw a program on the news about the “Baby Doctor”, so we booked a flight to Queensland, paid the fee and walked away with a plan – Change our diet and habits, eat these foods etc and I guarantee you will be holding your baby in your arms…. again month after month no success.
Hmm what to do next? I saw every naturopath, Chinese herbalist, acupuncturist you can imagine! Everyone would say “Just stop trying and it will happen”, well that didn’t help the situation it just made me feel like a failure. Pregnancy Announcement after pregnancy announcement arrived in the post (no Facebook back then) which made me sink into a depression….. WHY ME?? How can this be? My mum conceived naturally at 39 and you just have to look at my sister and she’s pregnant? Why am I the polar opposite to my family?
So off we go back to the specialist. Filled with fear and dread I heard the words no woman wants to hear…. your endometriosis is back, you require another surgery and the scarring is so bad, I’m sorry to say Shona that your chances of conceiving naturally is about 60%! “60%! That’s good, at least it’s not 40%”! So off I go to another surgery, this time much less dramatic than the last!
I’m nearly 28 and figure, I’ve been with this man for 10 years, we better make it official – so all talk of baby making were replaced with dresses, flowers, cars, reception location etc (we may not have talked about it but it was NEVER off my mind)…. Just after our wedding, I got a letter in the post informing me that my Gynae was retiring… HMMMM I thought, maybe a new set of eyes may be able to assess our situation in a different light. So off I go, with a little more hope this time!
I found a wonderful specialist, who was BRILLIANT! We repeated the barrage of tests again only to be hit with a sledge hammer…. my arch enemy ENDOMETRIOSIS had reared it’s ugly head again and to top it off I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)… I sat there broken hearted crying like a banshee as he explained that there were options. I was booked for yet another surgery but this one would include drilling holes into my ovaries to try and stimulate them, flushing my fallopian tubes to ensure they weren’t blocked etc…. I was excited, a friend of mine had her tubes flushed and she conceived that very next month! I bounced into theatre that day! I woke in recovery, ate my soggy sandwich, drank my luke warm tea and then went home…… the next day I was back in Emergency with severe bleeding, pain and fever! I was admitted, placed on antibiotics and had another blood transfusion. 6 weeks passed and I hadn’t had a period… EXCITED I did what all of us have done…. urinated on the stick and then stood there willing two lines to appear! NOPE!
Next appointment booked – I was given a script for Clomid and with a grin he said “Go home and have fun for 3 months”…. well things happen and life gets busy so it was 6 months before we got back. I sat in the waiting room with love in my heart and empty arms! My specialist sat there, tapping his finger on his chin in deep thought before announcing that he had a couple more tests. I’m in my 30’s now and figuring time is now my enemy too! So off we go…. ultrasounds, bloods and another semen test… my husband informs me it’s not easy to perform under pressure and it’s not as fun as women think it is!
On top of everything else, my husband’s sperm count is LOW! How low I ask? “As low as you can go” my specialist repeats singing it in a song that reminded me of playing limbo as a kid! I try to smile but the tears flow, as do my husbands. My husband goes on to explain that now he feels like a failure! There’s ONE more option!! I.V.F! Okay, let’s do this I say!
I ring Westmead Fertility Centre and book my appointment – a couple of months to wait…. ah what the heck, I’ve waited this long right!
In the meantime I secure a new position at a higher grade at work, I started the day before my nurse’s appointment at the clinic… so I say to my new boss on my first day! Ummmmm, I have an appointment tomorrow morning and I need to take the morning off! I sit patiently until my name is called, I bounce up so hard when it is, I swear I could have received a gold medal for high jump! We go on a tour of the Centre, and everything is explained in detail and I met an angel in Cecilia! I’m told that the clinic is full this month and to ring next month when I get my period….
At a sporting function, Aunt Flo arrives (2 weeks early), so I duck off to a quiet corner and ring the clinic…. FINALLY this is happening! I’ve never been so happy to start menstruating! I’m booked in for bloods and to pick up my meds! Thank fully this all happened on a Saturday so I didn’t need to ask the boss for time off…. I sat there for what felt like an eternity with a Gonal F pen in my hand trying to demonstrate I could inject myself before we left. Every morning I jab myself then the jabs become twice a day! Ultrasound day!! I met Mr Wand! The nurse explains I have only a few large follicles but a decent amount of little ones so let’s cross our fingers at egg collection.
By now, I’ve had to explain to my boss what is going on….. thank fully they were VERY understanding as I booked another day off for egg collection! I hardly sleep the night before, tossing and turning, picking out baby names and hoping for a good egg count.
Nervously I sit in the waiting room, wearing my gown and nothing else but a smile. It’s quiet, the TV is on and this room full of women stare at it, taking in quick glances as the next person walks through the door. We don’t talk, the mood is quite sombre… I wait… I wait.. until I’m the last person in the waiting room! Shona… they call and I shuffle into theatre, clutching at my gown hoping to hell my bare butt isn’t exposed for the world to see! The nurses explain the sedation process and I drift off into darkness…. I remember sitting up during the procedure in immense pain and then I remember a calming voice and cool hand, telling me to lay back down to which I complied! I try to open my eyes but they’re on fire, in fact I’m burning… I’m hot and itchy all over and oh god my abdomen hurts! Rushed, stressed voices around me; Shona “How do you feel”! Hot, itchy and sore… I finally manage to open my eyes enough to look at the number on my hand… 04! I cry… only four? The nurse laughs and says Honey, you’re reading it upside down! We retrieved 40 YES FORTY eggs, now because of the large volume of eggs, we’ve had to give you an intravenous antibiotic and it appears you’ve had an allergic reaction, so where is your husband? In my hot, itchy sore state I replied with something crude for him supplying the “seed”. Then the Dr came back and said, I’ve just talked to your husband, you will not be going home tonight, we’ve booked you a bed on the ward! Are you in pain? I reply with another sarcastic and blunt remark and I’m jabbed in the leg with morphine!! Ahhhh this is bearable, drift back off! The next morning my Angel Cecilia comes in and explains that my blood levels indicate that I have suffered from Ovarian Overstimulation Syndrome and that whilst they will try to fertilise the eggs collect via ICSI they will be frozen to give my body time to recover! 10 long days I remained in hospital…. then we got the news that 36 eggs fertilised and were all frozen at day 2! It was a wonderful 15th Birthday present for our son who remarked he didn’t want that many siblings. Time passed and finally it was transfer day! We got to view our 2 day old embryo on the screen before implantation – I always think to myself that we are privileged to see life in such an early form! Off I go home – Feet in the air, afraid to go to the loo. MORE WAITING.. I swear the two week wait is torture! Then it’s off to the Clinic for a blood test! It’s our wedding anniversary and I’ve booked a lovely weekend away in the Blue Mountains… I leave work a little early and my husband and I have the speaker phone on, when you hear those words… “I’m sorry Shona, your test does not indicate pregnancy”, I couldn’t even finish the call before the tears flowed… our weekend away was not the celebration we had hoped! In consultation with my Fertility Specialist, he agreed that we could transfer 2 embryo’s from now on.. (well since that time studies have shown that it does not increase your chances). So we transferred…tww…BIG FAT NEGATIVE! We transferred again…..tww, BFN! We transferred again… tww… well you get the picture until my little frost babies were all gone..
Ok!! I’ve done this once, I can do it again! CYCLE 2 – lower dose this time round – we don’t want a repeat of last time!!! Collection day!! Again I read the number on my hand upside down… 31??? No dear, that’s 13! The text arrives 8 fertilised! Transfer is booked for day 3! Arrive at Transfer, we have 2 decent looking day 3 eggs, the rest sadly have not progressed as we would have liked! “Well it only takes one egg right” I say optimistically! Again the torturous 2 week wait begins – it only lasts a week though! I lay on the lounge, crying, eating ice-cream from the container thinking I must have done something wrong!
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, RIGHT? Well off I go back to the specialist, who wants to change things up a little! So instead of doing an Antagonistic cycle we are going to do a Long Cycle – this involves going on the pill for a month – THE PILL?? Well if I needed the pill I wouldn’t be here! I walk away with my script and dread (I’m Psycho Hell B%^&* on the pill)… I kept very busy for the next month, I met my sister in law for the first time as she visited from Germany and we toured this beautiful city of ours, drinking wine, laughing and to be honest, I didn’t think about IVF once will she was here. The day she flew out, my pill ran out… time to cycle again!
Cycle 3 has arrived! I do my twice daily injections, and it feels like it’s taking forever! Egg collection day arrives, again we sit stoically in the waiting room, giving occasional nervous smiles.. again I’m last on the list (I’m the problem child I think to myself)! Shona they call…. I do the awkward – let’s not show my butt shuffle and I drift off into darkness again! I wake in pain and look at my hand!! 91 – oh derr woman it’s upside down!! 19 but because my bloods are a little high, I’m off to the ward! For Crying out loud – I’m going to miss my son’s birthday again! 16 is a big one, I need to be at home! He is such an understanding teen, he refused to speak to me if I discharged myself! So instead of a gorgeous dinner I planned, it was a mushy hospital dinner for me and subway for my husband and son! At least this was only an overnight stay but I was worried about it jeopardising my chance of a “fresh transfer”…. the next day as I’m discharged, the nurse asks me to go down to the clinic before I leave….. I apprehensively walk in expecting the worse when Cecilia and Chris walk over with smiles and say… instead of texting we thought we’d tell you all 19 eggs fertilised and are growing at the expected rate…. start your progesterone today and we will see you in a few days!
Well transfer day had arrived! We were so short staffed that I couldn’t negotiate a day off, so I’m sitting in Court watching the clock tick… at least I had managed a lunch time appointment for transfer! I rush out of the courtroom, drinking my water, race down stairs and into the waiting car to head the short trip from Parramatta to Westmead! OF COURSE! No damn parking anywhere in sight… I jump out and rush into the clinic while the husband tries to find a parking spot! I’m in the transfer room, there is just two nurses, the Dr and myself – and we are ready to transfer! 2 mins later and my husband would have missed the Embryo photo opportunity! I always joke that I nearly got pregnant and there were only women in the room…. ☺! 2 BEAUTIFUL LOOKING, DAY 5, BLASTOCYST embryo’s transferred….. ok, you can empty your bladder now! No time for that, quickly get dressed do the walk to the car and back in the Courtroom before the Judge enters!! WOO HOO logistical success! That evening, too tired to cook the husband makes dinner – well he opened a can of Pumpkin Soup – that’s his idea of cooking! I eat my soup and lay on the lounge exhausted and feeling off! Well dinner didn’t stay down… up it came in… well you don’t need the visual! This time the two week wait was even more gruelling… maybe because for the first time, we had embryo’s that had made it to day 5 Blastocyst I don’t know, that couple with nausea every evening…
being the impatient person I am, I tested two days early! You can imagine my horror when there was only one line! I flung myself onto the bed, crying like a women possessed before falling asleep! I hear this gentle knock at my door, our son walks in – wearing a gardening glove and holding my test in his hand – “Does this mean what I think it means?” he says holding the test out from his body like it might bite him – Yes honey, it’s negative! UMMMM Mum – doesn’t two lines mean it’s positive?
Trying to hold myself together, I say in a shaky voice – yes it does, but our test was negative! “But mum, there’s two lines”…. oh kiddo, you’ve read it after the allocated test time. He drops his head and closes my bedroom door! Next thing I know, he is busting into my room demanding that I “PEE ON THE STICK” (he had snuck out of the house, walked 2kms to the supermarket and bought 3 boxes of pregnancy tests – which the staff told me about at my next visit ). So with the POAST in my hand I walk into the bathroom and do as I’m told! My instructions were to leave the test on the bench and leave the bathroom without looking at it! My son stood there with the timer in his hand (yes he read the instructions) and when time was up the three of us crammed into our small bathroom to look!
TWO LINES! POSITIVE!! TEARS AGAIN but this time joyful tears.
I tested every day, twice a day until the “Official” test day arrived and rang the clinic with my news!! I’M PREGNANT I just about shouted down the phone! I was booked in for my 7 week ultrasound – well if you think the tww is gruelling – imagine waiting 6 weeks for an ultrasound! I’m one of those lucky ones – who didn’t get morning sickness! NO I GOT NIGHT SICKNESS! Every evening I would be vomiting with a huge smile on my face!
Ultrasound day has arrived! I followed instructions and drank the water, and then had to wait… they were running late! Finally I get in and the sonographer says do you have a full bladder? Yes I reply and she says – you need to empty it! Then my old friend Mr Wandy and I got re-acquainted! It was at that moment that my heart just about burst from my chest!! Two perfect little heartbeats on the screen…. wait is that three… NOPE only two!
Then after nearly 17 years of trying to conceive, on 29th December 2011, our son finally became a big brother! We welcomed our miracles, our pigeon pair into the world! Sienna-Rose was delivered at 2:07pm, quickly followed by her brother PJ at 2:09pm. Now as I sit here, typing this I become teary again not because of the sadness but because of the joy that I have been blessed with, for the miracle of science, for the soft kind hands of the nurses, for well… for everything!
Don’t give up hope! Remember you are stronger than you think you are!
If you would like to share your story and help to break the silence on infertility please visit https://www.westmeadivf.com.au/breaking-the-silence/