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It has taken me a while to commit to finding the time to writing my story of infertility. I am now a busy mum of three daughters, a 12 year old and 5 year old twins. I’ve realised that it’s not being time poor that has delayed me. It is the fact that writing this will force me to revisit the worst time of my life. The hardest time in my marriage. The time when most of our family and friends did not understand what we were going through, and as a result were not supportive. We felt alone in our suffering and some of our relationships have been significantly damaged. I’ve decided though that if sharing my story can help others in their struggle, or help those around them to be more supportive, then it is worth recording.
When my husband and I were married at the ages of 24 and 22 we had no plans to start a family. My worsening menstrual period symptoms and diagnosis of endometriosis, however, quickly changed our plans. At the age of 27 and 25 we decided to try for a baby, right after I had the endometriosis removed via laser surgery. After 6 months or so of trying we fell pregnant and our beautiful daughter was born.
After you have a natural pregnancy the last thing you ever expect to deal with is infertility. You did it once right? So you should be able to do it again. Not us. Our struggle with secondary infertility lasted 5 years and while there were likely several causes, my infertility was “unexplained”. This is tough to handle, as there is nothing you can pin point in terms of “fixing it”. It’s also difficult because people tend to make you feel that you shouldn’t complain or that your suffering/loss isn’t as bad as those who are childless. I lost count the amount of times people said “oh well at least you have one child”.
Yes, we were very blessed to have our daughter, but we were experiencing terrible grief for the children we couldn’t have. The siblings we couldn’t provide for our daughter, ones she so desperately wanted. “Why don’t I have a brother or sister, Mummy? Please can I have one?” We suffered deep feelings of loss for the family we couldn’t complete while being asked constantly “When are you going to have another one? A big age gap is not a good idea….”
We also endured witnessing our family members and friends have babies and second babies, while we continued to miscarry or experience failed cycles of IVF. This is very hard to explain to the fertile woman. When you are going through infertility and pregnancy loss, what you desire and can’t have becomes all consuming. Everywhere you look you seem to notice pregnant women. Attending baby showers and baptisms can be extremely painful to the point of needing to avoid them all together. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand and see you as jealous and selfish. And yes that’s true…but it is hard to feel any other way when you are going through infertility. One of the low points for me was being told by a family member that his wife was pregnant for the second time and that I would not ruin it for them this time.
We came to face the facts of secondary infertility after experiencing several early miscarriages. I would fall pregnant and then get my period a few weeks later. My period was often late and I would start to experience symptoms. I would buy pregnancy test kits and waste many looking for the faintest pink line. It would eventually show but then my blood test would indicate low HCG and it all went down from there. The first time this happened to me I had no idea what I was in for and believed I was pregnant with our second child. I will never forget the trauma of the miscarriage and having an ultrasound where I could see the embryo detaching from the wall of my uterus. I went through several of these very early miscarriages. Again, people would try to discount what we were going through by saying “At least you weren’t far along…there must have been something wrong…it is better this way”.
I have come to realise than any loss of an “angel” baby is devastating. This is because you envisage the baby, its birth month and even more. You truly experience loss as you do when a cycle of IVF is unsuccessful.
So we started to get medical advice. I went to my obstetrician who told me that my uterus was a “hostile environment” for an embryo and there was nothing he could do. He explained to me that I had many small fibroids in the lining of my uterus. These he said would make implantation nearly impossible. Cutting them out would just leave holes which wouldn’t be good either. He wished me luck and ushered me out the door.
Feeling desperate I researched infertility specialists and came across the website for Westmead Fertility Centre. I had heard good things about this centre and I knew we couldn’t afford one of the private clinics. I rang and was able to get in to see one of the drs “Lorance Melhem”. She was amazing. It was great to finally see a dr (and yes a female dr) who understood where I was coming from. She prescribed Clomid to start with to improve ovulation but this didn’t help, it mainly made my heavy periods even worse. I experienced really bad flooding which impacted on my daily life.
So then we started IVF. This was terrifying for me as someone with a phobia of needles. The whole process is very tricky with nasal sprays and timed injections to stimulate ovulation. This is followed by ultrasounds to check if there are any follicles of a decent size, containing eggs. There are also numerous blood tests, which I would travel to Westmead to have before work. All your hopes and energy goes into the cycle, which is why it is so devastating when it doesn’t work.
I was only 28 when I had my first cycle of IVF. Therefore I only had a moderate dose of the medication to stimulate ovulation. When I didn’t produce any eggs at all, it was realised I needed the highest dose (that for 40 year olds). I was quite infertile at a young age. I felt like a failure. I also became increasingly resentful of people who could have children easily, especially when it was unplanned or unwanted.
We went back for another cycle. This time I produced 16 eggs (this was the number written on my hand after the egg retrieval). This was excruciating. The pain women go through in IVF can not be underestimated. It is not an easy road to take. After fertilisation, 12 eggs survived then a few days later only 6 remained. They picked the best quality egg for the fresh transfer. I remember being nervous and excited and will always remember seeing the embryo on the TV screen before transfer. The two week wait felt like forever, and then the negative blood test result and period was devastating.
This whole process took a toll on my mental health. I was really depressed and anxious. I started medication and took a break from IVF. I didn’t want to go through that pain again. I even gave up working for a while. It was hard to function.
I went back to Dr Melhem and she had some tests done which showed that I had really high thyroid disease antibodies. I saw an endocrinologist who explained these could be causing early miscarriage but there was no cure. He said I could take thyroxine next time to see if that helped. I also had surgery to remove large fibroids from my uterus in a myomectomy. All this time I also continued to experience flooding during my period and anaemia as a result. I couldn’t work when I had my period.
So we decided to try to use the frozen embryos as a last chance and then be done with it. We decided to tell very few people this time. All five were thawed at once and only two survived. These two were transferred and only considered C grade quality. I didn’t expect any positive news, especially after a pregnancy test I did at home was negative (shouldn’t have done it but I couldn’t help myself). The blood test results to my amazement a few days later were positive. At this point we told our families who were surprised we had kept it secret. I will never forget the nurse at the hospital say “Oh no, it’s double trouble” at the first early ultrasound. One of my best friends, to this day, remembers exactly where she was in Aldi when I phoned her with the news. This happened after all we had been through, even with multiple fibroids, some of which grew massively during the pregnancy. We were blessed with miracle twins, healthy babies at 3.2 kg each. We will always be forever grateful to Dr Melhem and the staff at WFC. It is hard to imagine how we would have coped and moved on in our lives without completing our family and overcoming our struggle with secondary infertility. It was the most difficult experience of our lives, and having the twins hasn’t taken any of the hurt away that we endured. Our lives now though are so blessed to have them and I we feel like the rollercoaster journey was completely worth it. Sometimes people ask “were they IVF?” like it is a simple matter. It certainly was not, and only those who have gone through it will truly understand.
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/