When Issy asked if I could write a blog post for her about trying to conceive I instantly said yes. No questions asked. I am a huge advocate in talking about the issues in trying to make a baby. After all pretty much my entire 30's were spent trying to get up the duff.
This making babies business is really hard for me.
I spent my entire 20's doing all I could to prevent having a baby, and then the next decade trying to make my womb the most hospitable place imaginable. I was great at one and wildly unsuccessful at the other (I realise that there could be a reason why I was so good at it in my 20's).
I had just turned 30 and my clock was ticking, finally we decided it was time. Don't get me wrong. I thought it could take at least five months (cough, three) and I was not stressed in the slightest about the possibility of not being able to make a baby. I mean it is super easy, right?
I had no idea at this point about ovulation and timing I just naively assumed you went for it and 28 days later you got a positive pregnancy test. The first month in that two week wait I refused to drink. I rubbed my belly with a smug positive smile and nurtured my baby in my belly. I did a pregnancy test which was negative but it must have been wrong because clearly I was pregnant. My boobs hurt after all and I think I smelled something funny.
I wasn't pregnant. In fact I didn't get pregnant for a really, really long time.
Like any sane rational person, after three months I started to get worried. I joined a TTC(trying to conceive) forum and started talking to lots of other women going about making babies. Which was great because hey, let's share crazy together. Each month when my name didn't go on the pregnancy honour roll and I didn't get to talk about the "Big Fat Positive" symptoms with all the other ladies, I could feel my optimism start to shrivel and disappear.
I started to stress. I mean huge, big, gut busting balls of anxiety.
WHY THE FUCK WASN'T THIS HAPPENING TO ME?
If you are a type A control freak who has always had everything happen through sheer hard work and determination, then the hard lesson is that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make your ovaries work for you.
All of a sudden trying to make a baby became my life. And I inadvertently dragged my poor husband into it. I was on a mission. I had to do this. Months were sectioned into weeks and each week was apportioned to a time of my fertility cycle. My life was a cycle of before the two week wait and after. Taking my temperature at the same time every morning, having sex only at the best time possible. I cried so many red, hot, scalding, right from the bottom of my heart tears every single month. I cried more in that first year of trying for a baby than I have ever cried in my life.
Most of the time I couldn't understand why this was happening. I couldn't understand why me? Why couldn't I get pregnant? Why was the most simple thing in the world actually really hard for me? Why did everybody else had the success story and mine was of constant failure?
I turned to acupuncture after about six months. I just felt like I had to do something. Everything was falling apart. I started hibernating and not wanting to talk to people. I blocked people on Facebook. I would start crying in my office if my period arrived. I used to dread going to the toilet. No one understood except for the people that I met online who were going through the same thing. And it wasn't the stress that stopped me getting pregnant, for the love of god it wasn't stress. Stress can impact you if your periods stop. And mine didn't. Not one little bit. That fucker arrived like clockwork - Every. Single. Month.
Eventually, I gave up all of my dignity and would do anything to get pregnant.
Psychics, naturopath, Chinese medicine, kinesiology, chiro, detox diets. This stuff doesn't come cheap. And most of it didn't work for me. Every single month I fantasized that my period was actually in fact an implantation bleed. In case you were wondering, it wasn't.
Then after 9 months we started the investigations. Everything came back Mr & Mrs Normal.
So, the next step was the invasive stuff. I had a laparoscopy and a D&C, but it was all normal (surprise!). The specialist said that we should go for assisted conception, as we were young and healthy it would probably work straight away. Since I ovulated perfectly fine and he had good swimmers, we might as well head into IVF. Bugger the IUI.
Those three little letters to this day fill me with dread. In many ways, it was nice to hand the reins over to someone else who was going to fix me and I could finally relax a little bit. We entered that first cycle with so much optimism. For this little overachiever, having something to chart and document in excel was fun. It actually felt like I was taking charge of my fertility and doing something.
IVF for me was never a physically painful process. Emotionally, that was the hardest part.
The needles didn't hurt, but the emotional baggage killed me. You see when you get to the IVF stage, you think that you are finally resolving the issue and you are going to get pregnant. The reality is the first round is actually a trial run, a really bloody expensive trial run, to see how your body reacts to the medicine. And the reality is that most of the time you don't get pregnant that first time.
That first round I did well. I managed to get 7 eggs, transferred one fabulous three day embryo and froze two. The embryo we transferred was a textbook perfect 8 cell embryo. The transfer itself was not great but we left the building confident and happy.
There is nothing glamourous about IVF. Being wide awake in a room with your fertility specialist, partner, a gazillion nurses and scientists and having your lady parts out on full display leaves you zero dignity. However, I had lost all my dignity so by this stage I was completely immune to it all, as long as I could make a baby.
The first week went fast and I felt awesome.
The second week I was off the planet nuts and deeply scared. In hindsight, I must have been a really hard person to live with during this time. There was so much riding on this cycle. It was supposed to be the answer to all of our prayers and I was obsessive about every little symptom. After 14 days my period didn't arrive, I went to bed and we thought we had it. Then I woke up the next morning bleeding.
The sadness that enveloped me after this cycle failing is only on par with my first miscarriage (oh yeah that's coming). It nearly bloody broke me. It nearly broke us. I don't think I ever fully recovered from the shock of this failure. Despite all the warnings that it might not work, I never believed it would be me.
We had two more frozen embryos and after I snapped out it I knew it was time to proceed. I will spare you the melodrama but those two failed as well. Now, not only was I on the wrong side of the conception percentages, I had unexplained infertility and I also couldn't get pregnant through IVF. We took the summer off to recover and then in February 2011 we went back for round 2.
IVF 2.2 - we kicked arse. We collected 13 eggs, 1 transferred and two were in the frozen bank. Unsurprisingly, that first cycle failed as well.
We were at the end of our rope here. My specialist at the time was really lovely, but peeps, if after four failed transfers with no fucking reason why and your doctor doesn't start thinking about non conventional ways to make it work, then you need to start looking elsewhere. Or perhaps you are ok with the status quo. I wasn't. I was super pissed. I am not a bank. And I needed action.
I pushed for a D&C and a lining scratch to make sure there were no nasties hiding in my uterus and then transferred the final two frozen embryos. I was so done with it all and this whole cycle I basically convinced myself that it failed. I had pretty much stopped peeing on a stick after the first few failed months of TTC as frankly, I didn't need the further disappointment. So I waited until we had the blood test, and then I heard the magic words -
YOU ARE PREGNANT. I sobbed.
Unsurprisingly, my new pregnancy came with a warning that the blood levels were just under where they wanted them to be. It was so hard, we celebrated with apprehension. I had a second blood test and it was great – we had over doubled, so I basically announced it to everyone we knew that knew we had gone through IVF and I was finally pregnant.
Then I miscarried a week later.
It was a really black day for me. We as a community do not talk enough about miscarriage and loss. We think we don't want to upset the person that is going through the pain. Yet, by not talking about it we make the sufferers go through it on their own and in a way we sacrifice that tiny little bit of life that we created.
Miscarriage is insanely isolating. I was bleeding and losing a life I had fought so hard for and my doctor didn't even contact me to see if I was ok. A local GP who had zero interest in me, other than treating a crying crazed lady in his office, displayed more compassion than someone who had treated me for 12 months. Everything was so, clinical and cold at my clinic, and I was deeply traumatised and destroyed. I wrote him a letter and they never responded. They did send me a bill for some drugs I hadn’t paid for. It felt awful.
This miscarriage led me to having a week off work. I couldn't function. I was basically sitting around in an old pink dressing gown, with greasy hair and a horrible disposition. I couldn't eat. I could barely sleep. I was angry and irrational. It was only a week but in that one week we had so much love for this baby and our future family. This baby became a part of our lives so quickly that we were stunned by the amount of pain we had, now that they are gone. In one short week, our lives changed from grey to colour. And now we were faced with darkness again.
I left my clinic after this and we moved on to a doctor who was known for pushing boundaries and exploring other avenues. Dr Nick diagnosed me with elevated uterine NK cells. Essentially, these natural killer cells attack anything foreign in our bodies to try to protect us. It is a very controversial theory with many specialists not believing in it. However, it seemed to me I finally had a reason for everything in my fertility journey.
In order to combat this, I was put on an immunotherapy treatment that involved steroids, clexane, aspirin and estrogen patches. I also had intralipid intravenously delivered pre conception to help calm my immune system. These are all non conventional sources of IVF treatment. This cycle they only retrieved four eggs, which is terrible. Two made it to day 2 and we transferred both of them.
And we got Molly.
After three years of trying almost to the day, three full cycles of IVF and three frozen transfers, we were pregnant. For real this time. My pregnancy was smooth and uneventful. I got really fat and thanks to the steroids I had a serious beard going on. I was induced (because of course), had a posterior back labour (ouch) and at 8.31pm on the 11th of July 2012, Molly Grace came into this world. A perfectly perfect, red screaming, wide eyed baby.
Molly is amazing. She just turned five years old and was worth every bit of pain, heartache, despair, trauma, grief and dollars it took to have her. She is my best friend. She can also be a total ratbag. And she completes our family.
The story for us to make another baby was unfortunately as horrible as the first. We weren’t fixed as we had hoped. We had another three full IVF cycles after Molly that all failed. We decided to end our family making journey. Then after all of that heartache we surprisingly fell pregnant naturally, only to miscarry two weeks later. This happened two more times over a period of 18 months.
Then we fell pregnant naturally a fourth time and, to avoid the inevitability of ground hog day, I decided to take matters into my own hands and went straight back to Dr Nick. I went back on the NK cells protocol and, with a combination of steroids, intralipids, clexane and baby aspirin we should be expecting a baby in January 2018. We sold or got rid of all Molly’s stuff and are still coming to terms that we might actually have another child in six months!!!
When you are trying to conceive, you have to trust your instincts. If you aren't pregnant within 12 months, get it checked out. Don't waste time. If you go through IVF and it keeps failing, then change doctors. They are paid a bloody fortune to help you get pregnant and if they aren't willing to change something, then you do. Join an online support network of like minded women and chances are you might make some friends for life. Don't be afraid to talk about it. Blog about it. Even if it makes others uncomfortable. You do what you do to survive. And that is what TTC was for me - a battle to survive.
If I am truly honest with myself this decade long battle with infertility has made me a better mother. Not necessarily a better wife, daughter or friend. Yet, I have a level of patience I would never have had if it came easily, a greater appreciation. And that alone makes me grateful to have learned something out of all of this. I never take being a parent for granted, so even on the really bad days (which happen to us all) I try not to let it get me down too much.
Infertility changed me for life. Yet, I was one of the lucky ones. We became parents.