Them’s the Breaks

For those of you who don’t follow Boob in a Box on Facebook,  here’s why I’ve been quiet of late. On April 8, quite literally as we were about to head off on Easter holidays, I tripped over in the garage at home and smashed my shoulder into many pieces. I also cut my head open, but the pain of a broken humerus meant that I had no idea from where the ever-increasing pool of blood on the floor was coming. All I knew was the pain in my shoulder, which made me alternately scream and moan. I’ve had a breast cut off, chemotherapy and burns from radiation requiring daily hospital treatment, but nothing, NOTHING, comes close to the pain of a broken shoulder. When the wonderful paramedics arrived, they gave me morphine, but it seemed to do nothing. The ambulance ride to hospital was agonising and continued to scream and moan.

My left arm broken, my right arm compromised by a lack of lymph nodes,  the doctors in emergency searched my feet for a vein to give me more pain relief. They had no luck, so decided to risk going in through my right arm, and pumped me with more morphine, then something else, then something else.  I started to lose my grip on reality, but the pain was unceasing. I went for an x-ray and the pillow supporting my shoulder slipped off the side of the gurney, and I heard my own screams reverberate through the lead-lined room.

I spent three days in hospital as the orthopedic surgeon contemplated surgery and attempted to get my pain under control. The first 48 hours was spent in the clothes I’d had on when I fell, the pain too severe to risk the movement required to change me. Eventually, the pain was dampened to a dull roar, and I was sent home in a shoulder immobiliser, with five different painkillers and anti-nausea meds to counteract the painkillers.

This paragraph should be all about my slow but positive progress towards healing, interspersed with hilarious tales about sponge baths, but alas dear reader, that was not how the cookie, nor for that matter my shoulder, crumbles. Almost ten weeks on, and I have just been told that I now need surgery to put a plate into my arm to support my humerus, which has not healed properly. The surgery carries with it the risk that the nerves will be damaged and my hand paralysed, but without the surgery my entire arm is useless, so I signed the waiver this morning and will turn up to hospital again next Wednesday, with all my mustered hope clasped hard against me, and trust the surgeon to do his best.

Part of being someone who’s had cancer is when shitty things happen being grateful that they aren’t cancer. I’ve had ten weeks of awful pain, near-constant discomfort and a mindset see-sawing between sad, angry and sad about being angry, all the while with the back of mind mantra but at least it’s not cancer. That was, until today, when the orthopaedic surgeon confirmed that the break was so bad, and the healing so poor, because I have osteoporosis. At 47, my bones are brittle and fragile, thanks  to months of chemotherapy, and years of subsequent drug therapy in the form of the gift that keeps on giving, Anastrazole. The cancer’s not back, it’s not cancer, but you know what, it actually is bloody cancer because if I’d never had cancer in the first place I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this blog post with my fucking nose now, would I?

And breathe …

But at least it’s not cancer.

 

 

 

Mise en Place

Dave and I both work full-time, with Dave in particular doing very long hours, leaving home by 6am most mornings, getting home around 5pm and then spending an hour or two working after dinner. In order to maintain some order, our lives are routine-driven. I meal plan each week, we do our washing to a schedule, and stuck to the front of our fridge is a calendar detailing appointments and events, surrounded by flyers, notes, invitations and reminders. When we get home each weekday around 5pm we go into a whirlwind of making and eating dinner, unpacking lunch boxes, loading the dishwasher, feeding pets, doing homework, music practice, repacking school bags and eventually, falling into an exhausted heap in front of the TV. By the end of the week, the house is untidy, (clean) washing is piled in numerous overflowing baskets, and the weekend is spent trying to set things right again.

About eight weeks ago, my Mum Shirley moved in with us so the renovations at her house could get underway. She actually came to our house from hospital, where she’d spent a few days getting checked out for some issues. She was tired, unwell and weak, sleeping for hours, picking at her food and asking me politely (and then telling me not so politely) to stop fussing. It was actually a relief to have her with us while she recuperated, as during a normal week I am usually only able to get to Mum’s house once or maybe twice, and Dave can sometimes stop in on his way home from work. We had a routine where I would ring Mum on a Wednesday morning, and she would come to our place every Sunday afternoon and stay for dinner. But if she is ill, a phone call and a Sunday visit is not enough, caring for her becomes very difficult and I am guiltily reliant on the kindness of her friends and neighbours to pick up the slack.

Gradually though, Mum started feeling better, got her colour back, started eating properly and wasn’t nodding off every 45 seconds. She started to make her presence felt in our household, and my prediction that living with my mother for the first time in 30-odd years would not be pretty has been proven completely wrong. She provides an extra set of hands to help out, and extra set of ears to listen to Hugh’s stories, and an extra set of eyes to see where things need doing.

Every morning, I get to lie in bed for an extra 15 minutes as my Mum makes Hugh his breakfast. If I try to get up and make him breakfast, she tells me everything is under control, so I stay in bed. I can hear them chatting away happily, Hugh busily telling his completely bamboozled grandmother about various Pokemon characters, both of them laughing at her inability to correctly pronounce Pikachu. While I shower and organise myself for the day, she unpacks the dishwasher, all the while narrating her activities for the enjoyment of our two small dogs, who have come to adore the person whose lap they happily time share all day.

As Hugh and I are leaving the house, she’s firing up the Dyson and doing her daily vacuuming, all the while plumping cushions on the sofas and dusting and tidying. None of this is necessary or expected, but it is very much appreciated, and I know she loves it when we come home from work and comment about how tidy the house looks. If there’s washing to be done it’ll be hung out, brought in, folded and put in neat piles neatly on the end our beds. She’ll then settle into alternating between reading and feeding her addiction to her new love – Netflix. She’s gotten through The Fall – asking me to get on the Google and find out of Gillian Anderson’s name is pronounced with a G or a J sound – and is now onto season two of House of Cards. There are no ads! And the next episode just starts up! She has to be careful she doesn’t just sit there all day she tells me, it could become a problem you know.

Mid-afternoon, with a few episodes of the Frank and Clare show under her belt, she begins the dinner preparation. Mum used to be a professional cook, and still has the most incredible knife skills. At 82 she can dice an onion into the most mise en placeprecise, tiny pieces. Each morning before I leave we discuss plans for dinner, for which she does all the preparation. My mother knows me very well, and understands how much I enjoy cooking, but how little time I have mid-week to do dishes that involve lots of fiddly preparation. She has become my sous-chef, carefully doing all the meal preparation so that when I arrive home, all I have to do is bring the meal together. She slices, dices, grates, peels and chops all of the ingredients that I’ll need for each meal, which chefs call mise en place – everything in place.

During and after dinner we sit and chat about our days, watch Hugh practice his musical instruments (Mum applauding loudly after each mangled attempt at his latest piano or saxophone piece), and enjoy some TV together. We then all drift off to bed, another day of business and purpose done and dusted. On weekends we go food shopping – Mum loves going ahead of me at the supermarket and hunting out bargains in the meat department – and she and Hugh sometimes watch movies or sit together in amiable silence doing their own thing. We usually have a takeaway meal or go out for lunch, and Mum has developed quite the taste for Thai food.

In about four weeks, Mum’s house will be renovated and ready for her to move back in. She’s so looking forward to being back in her neighbourhood, where she knows everyone and everyone knows her, and to having all her things around her. I also know that she is feeling a tinge of sadness about leaving us behind, and as much as Dave and I are excited to see the culmination of what has been a massive undertaking of basically rebuilding my childhood home, we are also truly sorry to be losing our wonderful housemate. She’s easy to get along with, tidy, incredibly helpful, and hasn’t once brought home a random bloke.

I’m at the point of wanting to ask her to stay, but I know that it would be terribly selfish to suggest that she misses out on the wonders of her old house made new, so I won’t ask, at least not now. Maybe in a few months, when the novelty has worn off, I’ll tell her how much we miss her help and her care, and she’ll come back to live with us. And once again, we’ll have mise en place.

The Cost of Change

There’s currently a lot of discussion in the media in Australia about the ever-increasing cost of childcare. I know this cost because Hugh was in long daycare for three years. I agree that it’s hideously expensive, especially in capital cities and especially when multiple children are in care. Whilst school education in Australia can be accessed pretty close to free of charge, care for pre-school aged children can cost upwards of $200 or more per day, per child. There are government subsidies and rebates, but they are fairly limited and don’t serve to significantly reduce the cost for many families.

As much as I believe there needs to be reform of our childcare system, there is one aspect of this entire debate that is really very wrong. Most of the time the cost of childcare is discussed, especially in the media, it is discussed in terms of what percentage of the mother’s wage it takes up. We hear that some women are working for $60 per week after childcare costs are taken out, or that there is no point in women working because their wages are inconsequential because of childcare.

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The underlying assumption is that the cost of childcare is borne solely by women. Obviously they are in cases where the woman is a single parent or sole income earner for the family, but in the majority of cases, where there are two parents in a family, the cost of childcare is still always described in terms of its relationship to the mother’s income. There is no mention of men working for a pittance each week once the cost of childcare is taken out. There is no discussion of men simply deciding to stay at home because they don’t see the point in working full-time for less than $100 bucks after childcare costs are considered.

Childcare needs to be treated like all other household expenses. That is, genderless. We don’t hear discussions about how much a man’s take-home pay is reduced by the cost of his electricity bill, or how the cost of council rates really impact on a woman’s decision to return to work. That’s because we see these expenses as joint/ family/ household bills that need to be managed, they are not gendered responsibilities.

Attribution of childcare costs to women, is at its heart, sexist. Until the cost of care of children in two parent families is discussed as a family expense, until we are talking about a couple only bringing home $760 a week combined after taking out the shared cost of childcare, and until we fight this fight on the basis of childcare being too expensive for families, then I don’t believe we’ll see change.

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Given gendered rhetoric like this from our current Prime Minister, it’s clear that this change is a long way off.

 

 

 

Renovating Memory Lane

The builder has started work on my childhood home. The place is ancient, sagging, tumbling down. A ramshackle pile.

Dave and I spent last Saturday, in blazing heat, moving the entire contents into storage. Thankfully, my Mum had carefully wrapped and packed all her china and ornaments and keepsakes, so I wasn’t caught up in reminiscing. That is, until I found my Bunnykins mug in the kitchen cupboard. I remember sitting up at the old kitchen table, being finally old enough to use my precious china cup. I was given a weak, luke-warm tea and as I sipped I felt so special. I must have been 4 or 5.

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The next day, with the packing all done and the house empty for the first time in more than 50 years, I took my Mum around to visit. She wandered the rooms, stopping and starting, touching the walls, staring along the hallway. She was full of emotion, and didn’t say much. What is there to say, really? At 81, the majority of her life was spent in this house. She and my father moved two toddlers into this house in the early 1960s, and then a newborn surprise almost a decade later. They raised us there, in the tiny old cottage, with much love, hardship and grief, and then grew old there. This house is part of the fabric of our family. There are bits of us all here, and we all bear the imprint of this house.

She’ll go back to the house when it’s all fixed up and fancy, but it will be different, and at 81, difference is not often easy. She could walk those halls blindfolded and not miss a beat, knowing every creak of the floorboards and groan of the walls shrinking and moving at night after the heat of the day. She can lay her hands on every light switch, all original giant black switches without looking. Except the morning the hospital rang to say my Dad had died. That morning she reached for the light switch and couldn’t find it; knowing what that phone call would be made her lose all sense of what she knew.

That’s not to say she’s not excited about her new, old house. She asks all the time about paint colours, and where cupboards will be and where her favourite chair might sit. She looks at furniture catalogues and picks out things that might replace the things she sent to charity. She can’t wait to be back, surrounded by her neighbours, holding court from her remodeled palace. In the meantime she’s living with us, keeping our house tidier than it’s ever been before or will be again, and ensuring that our pets all get equal amounts of time sitting on her lap.

Apart from my Bunnykins mug, I’ve only taken one souvenir from the old house. In one of those nobody really knows why kind of stories, what was originally the front door became the bathroom door sometime in the 1960s. One of my earliest memories is of the ornate door knob on the bathroom door; I remember spending hours gazing at its sparking, faceted beauty. It was such a fascinating anomaly in our bare-bones, basic house, so I asked our builder to save it for me before the demolition started. He handed it to me this morning, and its heaviness in my hand was a surprise, and a comfort. For all the stress and cost of this project, it feels very, very right.

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The Reason for the Season

If you’ve been reading Boob in a Box for long enough, you won’t be surprised by me telling you that I’m an atheist who loves Christmas. Whilst the festive season holds no religious significance for me, I love this time of year because it’s all about family, friends, food and festivity. (As an aside, I am now wondering why it is that all my favourite words start with ‘f’? Fuck knows.)

The past few years, Christmas has offered up a mixed bag of blessings .. and other stuff. December 2012 I was in the middle of chemo, so spent Christmas Day bald, sweaty and unable to eat the fresh prawns on offer. My beautiful friend Kylie flew in from interstate and wrapped all Hugh’s Christmas presents while I lay in bed. I  resisted all offers to help make Christmas lunch, and once it was on the table collapsed into a chair from which I was, quite literally, unable to move for several hours. The following year we flew to beautiful Vanuatu the week before Christmas to mark the end of a very difficult year, and I remember flying home on Christmas Eve feeling like maybe, just maybe, I had some life ahead of me. In 2014 we had a pre-Christmas holiday in Thailand, sweating our arses off (not literally, unfortunately) and last year we did a driving holiday, ending up in Dave’s tiny hometown for Christmas.

This year we will be at home, where we are hosting extended family for a huge lunch. I am obsessed with food (see also: arse) and love searching for recipes, menu planning, preparing and cooking. For those playing along at home, on Sunday we’ll be having port and cranberry marinated turkey with sausage and parsnip stuffing, apricot glazed ham, beef Wellington with Madeira gravy, potatoes roasted in duck fat and various salads. For dessert I’m making a berry pavlova, after which I plan to stretch myself out under a shady tree and reflect on the year that was 2016.

First and foremost in my mind will be nine kids who this year lost their mums. I’ll be thinking about gorgeous little chubby-cheeked Jenny, who lost her mum Nat. I’ll be thinking about four beautiful kids – Piper, Matilda, Violet and Isaac – who lost their mum Antoinette. I’ll be thinking about Dakota, Indi, Tana and Georgie who today will attend the funeral of their mum Jules. And then I’ll look at my boy Hugh, who will, if Santa has gotten the many messages, be playing with a brand new Nintendo DS, and think about just how very, very fortunate we both are. I have been allowed to be a mother for four years since my diagnosis; I’ve seen Hugh start school (Jenny and Issac will both do that without their mums), I’ve travelled to different countries with my boy (something Jules so desperately wanted to do with her girls), I’ve seen him learn to read music, perfect his tennis backhand, be awarded certificates at school. I’ve prepared the same sandwich for his school lunch every single day, filled in excursion forms, checked his homework, held a bucket while he vomited, listened to his endless (and often tedious stories) about Pokemon, made birthday cakes, made beds, made friends with school mums for the purposes of play dates. I have lived the routine, and often monotonous, privilege that is denied to many. This Sunday, I am determined to take a quiet moment to be thankful, truly thankful, for this privilege.

Whatever your reason for the season, from me and my Boob in a Box, Merry Christmas.

 

 

Tin

Sitting our kitchen bench is this tin:

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Although it’s the festive season, this not a Christmas decoration. It actually sits on the bench all year, with its manky bit of peeling of sticky tape on the side and rust around the top. It’s filled with plastic bags, bank deposit receipts, $5 notes and assorted coinage.

Dave had the tin when we met, and it’s been a part of my life ever since. It’s ugly, it gets in the way, and it annoys me greatly that there’s a Christmas-themed item on our bench all year round. A couple of times I’ve tried relocating it, but it always ends up back on the bench.

As much as the tin gives me the irrits, it’s also really handy. Every time I realise I don’t have any money in my purse for Hugh’s tuckshop/excursion/gold coin donation I raid the tin. Every time I forget that the cleaners are coming and I’m $10 short to pay them, I raid the tin. Every time I’m going into town and know I’ll need money for parking, I raid the tin. The tin always has money in it because at the end of each day, Dave puts all his $5 notes and change into it. Every so often every he bags the cash up and banks it, but he always leaves something in the tin.

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary, for which the traditional symbol is tin. And it occurred to me this morning that, for all its ordinary-ness, this tin that sits on our kitchen bench is the perfect symbol of what Dave means to me. Like the tin, Dave’s always within easy reach and always has just what I need, just when I need it. He is practical, unassuming, but incredibly important. I  may take him for granted, but I am eternally grateful that Dave (and his tin) are central to my life. On a daily basis, without Dave (and his tin), I would be lost.

Happy Tin Anniversary, honey. I love you more than words can say.

 

Ago

Four years ago, I was about to start chemo for the first time. In so many aspects, my life has moved on from that awful point. I am doing well professionally, my boy is now 8 years old and thriving in school, and Dave has graduated and is just about to finish his second year working as a teacher. As a family we’ve been on two overseas holidays, we’ve gone camping, to the outback and to the beach. We’ve driven thousands of kilometres through country towns and spent time in big cities. My Dad died and we’ve bought my family home and are embarking on an enormous renovation project. I’ve connected with some new friends, disconnected with some old ones and stayed beautifully bonded to others. I’ve started this blog, kept at it, bared my soul and my empty right chest, and had the privilege of sharing so many stories.

But for all that moving on and living of life, a part of me remains back there on November 18, 2012. That day before I started chemo, I thought I was prepared. But the thing is, there is nothing that can prepare you for the physical and mental assault of chemotherapy. In the days after my first infusion, I searched our house high and low to try and ascertain where the bad smell I could smell was coming from. I asked everyone who came to the house to try and locate it, until one evening as I was about to get into the shower, I realised the smell was coming from me. I was being poisoned – essentially, that’s what chemotherapy is – and what I could smell was the chemicals attacking my body. It was an incredibly confronting moment, that was the first of many such moments. Hair falling out, feet and hands losing sensation, mind (quite literally at times) going blank. Pain thresholds met and then broken through. Patience and reason gone, sanity on the brink. Constant thoughts of death, withdrawal from loved ones initiated to spare them the pain. My mother commented only recently how quiet I had been during my treatment. Quiet is perhaps the exact opposite of my normal state, but in the vice grip of taxotere, doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, my usual roar was dulled to a whisper.

I’m loud again now, no doubt, but in a different way. There’s a hollowness to my voice which perhaps only I can hear. I live life with as much gusto as my depleted body can manage, but the pain makes me whimper. I laugh, a lot, but my deepest guffaws are at the blackest of humour. Death is deeply funny, being one breasted and scarred is hilarious in the extreme. My experience of living on the edge of being alive has made me unforgiving of so much, and yet more vulnerable than I care to contemplate. I know what is precious, have seen it in such sharp focus, yet the very reason I know is the reason I loosened my grip on it. 

The words I wrote four years ago have never rung more true.

First round of chemo tomorrow. I think this is where I get to say fuck you stupid cancer.

Not Just 1 in 8

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I’ve written this post in support of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA). BCNA is the peak national organisation for Australians affected by breast cancer, and consists of a network of more than 110,000 members and 300 member groups. When I was diagnosed, BCNA provided me with so much support via resources, information and understanding. It’s wonderful to have a chance to shine al light on the work BCNA does.

 

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in Australia, and also the month in which I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Within a week of my surgery, I had been contacted by the BCNA who sent me one of their amazing My Journey Kits, and information about how to join their online forums. It was then I started to realise that I wasn’t alone, and that this amazing group would be with me, whenever I needed them, every step of the way.

The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is 1 in 8 for women in Australia. It is estimated that in 2016, 15,934 women and 150 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Approximately 43 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia every day this year. The statistics are frightening. Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women. But the numbers don’t tell the story. Each of us with such a diagnosis is an individual. We are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends. We are professionals, carers, sporty types, brainiacs, crafters. We speak English, other languages, do sign language. We walk, we run, we hike, we wheel. Our experience of cancer will vary, but we are tied together by a common thread: breast cancer does not discriminate. There are so many women with so many stories.  We are 1 in 8, but not just 1 in 8.

As I sat in my oncologist’s office yesterday waiting to get the results of my mammogram and ultrasound, I tried to focus on not being just 1 in 8 – I reminded myself that I am not, and have never been, just the sum of my statistics. And true to my form thus far, despite being given a 50% chance of not being alive at this point in time, I was given the all clear for another year.

This past month I was also asked to speak (in a pre-recorded video) as part of a symposium called Empowering Women Through Adversity. At first I was a bit taken aback by being asked – after all, I am just a middle-aged, part-time blogger who swears too much – and I was being asked to speak alongside the Executive Director, UN Women and the Director, National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security, Office of the Chief of the Defence Force! I mean seriously, what the actual fuck?! And then I remembered. Four years ago I felt powerless. Stricken with fear, grief and pain. Lost and broken, crying every night after I put my four year old to bed – big, fat, anguished tears as I felt my grip on my world slipping away. But I gradually got it back, grasped the remaining shards of my life in my distinctly unfeminine man hands and stuck them back together as best I could. I reinvented the bits of my life that were beyond repair, and accepted that other bits were neither reparable nor replaceable. Without even realising it, I had empowered myself through my own adversity.

Here’s me, talking about being not just 1 in 8:

Fertility Friday: A Long Story

Fertility Friday started out as a bit of a half-baked idea, but it has grown into something very, very special. When I started the series I contacted a few women who I knew had stories to tell. One of them was Viv; I contacted her with some hesitation because I knew her story would be incredibly painful for her to relive. Viv told me she would think about it, and as the weeks passed and I didn’t hear from her, I thought that she had decided – understandably – that she wasn’t able to share her story. Then, last week, out of the blue her story landed in my inbox. It is a story of incredible love and unimaginable loss, told with humour and grace. Viv, you are an amazing, courageous woman. On behalf of everyone who reads your story, thank you.

This is going to be a long story …

After meeting my Mr Right at 34, we decided to start trying for a baby after about eight months. Given my advanced age and all we thought maybe sooner would be better, just-in-case. Well, Justin proved to be a bit of a bastard. After trying for six months without success, we decided to go and get checked out. Turns out I had a fibroid the size of a grapefruit, which wasn’t exactly helping the whole process, so out it came… Once all that was over we went back to the specialist for a review to be told that if we wanted to have a baby then IVF was our only option. BUT, we should still take contraception, just-in-case.

At that point were undecided about how we felt about IVF, and in the end we just figured that a baby wasn’t in the plan for us… so I went and bought a motorcycle. It was a Triumph America, 960cc motor, and as comfy as a lounge chair, and we made a plan to ride (my husband was a veteran motorcycle rider as well) down to Melbourne for the October 2010 Moto GP at Phillip Island. We made five-star bookings at all the wineries we fancied all the way down to Victoria, and then a week before we were due to leave, it suddenly dawned on me that my period was late. So I peed on a stick, and lo and behold, it was positive. We were so shocked that we got on our bikes and took a ride to the country for breakfast. On the way home we made a pit stop at the pharmacy and bought more pregnancy tests, as you do, just-in-case (you gotta love Justin) we got it wrong the first time. Needless to say, the motorcycle was summarily parked, the winery trips were cancelled, and I flew to Melbourne as my husband rode past fields of yellow canola.

We welcomed our little Thomas on 24 May 2011 with a kiss, and whilst the obstetrician sewed me up standing on a box (he was a little on the short side), we were told that Thomas had Down Syndrome. The nuchal scan and blood tests done at the 13 week point in the pregnancy gave us a 1 in 400 chance of Down Syndrome, but nonetheless it was still a surprise.

As Thomas blossomed we started thinking about another little one because we didn’t want Thomas to be an only child. For a while I was plagued with ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ nightmares in that I was afraid that I wanted another baby for the wrong reasons (I’m a bit of an overthinker…).  Anyway, ultimately we decided to give it a go, so back for fertility advice we went, and the Clomid merry-go-round and IUI started. So did the detailed plotting of my husband’s murder, much to my angst. After a few months of the hormonal and emotional roller coaster we decided to give it a rest for the last couple of months of the year, and lo and behold, we fell pregnant in January 2013. Back to the obstetrician we trotted and, in utter surprise, he asked ‘how did that happen??’

12 weeks came and went and all was going well until our morphology scan. We found out that our baby had a diaphragmatic hernia that meant her stomach was in her chest cavity, which was causing her heart was pushed over to the right side and to not be developing properly. This in itself wasn’t a total kidney in an esky, but after an MRI at 26 weeks we learnt that there was a bigger issue with her heart than originally thought, in that there was a break in the aorta. The ‘not a kidney in an esky’ situation suddenly changed, but we needed to wait until they could do a chest ultrasound after her delivery to know for sure. Then decisions would be made as to what to do about the hernia in her diaphragm. Regardless, we remained hopeful that the situation wasn’t as dire as all that. At 32 weeks we moved two hours from our home into Ronald McDonald House at the Mater Mother’s hospital in Brisbane, and our Bailey was delivered on 22 October 2013. Immediately, Bailey was taken to the neonatal unit and I was summarily dispatched to the ward after hearing that she was doing better than expected (oh the relief…). The following day we met with the team of specialists who told us that her aorta was intact. Oh thank God… the relief… and then they told us that there was a problem with her mitral valve, and they could do nothing to fix her. And so we had to make the decision that no parent should ever have to, and we kissed her good-bye on the morning of 25 October 2013.

Shortly after, we heard about a legendary fertility specialist by the name of Dr Warren de Ambrosis… so I called in November 2013 and burst into tears on the phone when they told me that they couldn’t fit me in until July 2014. I’m not sure whether it was out of ‘Ohmigod there’sahystericalwomanonthephone’ pity or what, but they managed to squeeze me in around March. And so the IVF journey commenced… After two egg collections, a few failed cycles and countless self-administered injections of blood thinners, growth hormones, cycle suppressants, ovulation stimulants, blood circulation pads, pills etc, we still weren’t fortunate to have any viable embryos after PGD (pre-implantation genetic testing) was carried out.

After the last round of disappointing news, sitting at the dining table with my step-niece, I told her that I thought that the most challenging thing in life was having to accept that there are some things that you just can’t change, no matter how determined you are and how much you try, and I told her what had happened. With tears pouring down both our faces she offered to donate her eggs to help us given that she didn’t want kids herself. Well, that was Thursday morning, and needless to say, we didn’t need much convincing. By lunch time Thursday I had an appointment for her to see Warren de Ambrosis on the Friday (thank you G20 summit for freeing up all the appointments!) at which time he tried to convince my niece to get her mates together for an egg donation party. We then had an appointment with Queensland Fertility Group and a counsellor the following Monday. She then flew to Melbourne on Tuesday to start a new job with a bag full of IVF drugs. Her new employer was, incidentally, a fertility endocrinologist. After a few months she decided to move back to Queensland and got a job in Brisbane, about 5km from Warren’s offices, so things became a little easier for us.

At the end of February 2015 she had her first egg collection, and we ended up with two viable embryos after another round of PGD, and managed to finally arrange a transfer of the embryo. Well, needless to say I was howling after that, all the way through the shot of drambui I had been instructed to bring along to the procedure. A week later we got the news… the embryo had taken. Wow… Warren’s referral to my obstetrician of choice was a one liner – ‘She beat the odds’.

The pregnancy progressed but was fraught with tension and concern, and a lot of bleeding in the first trimester. Second trimester I lost two-thirds of my hair, so much so that I was convinced it was all going to fall out! The morphology scan was fine, but the worry was still persisting, even though we had a scan every month.

On the morning of 17 November 2015 we dropped Thomas at kindy. My parents in-law were kind enough to come and stay in our home with our son so that we could make our way to Brisbane’s Mater Mothers’ Hospital (the Fetal Medicine Unit had been caring for us through the pregnancy and we were fortunate to have the head of FMU as our obstetrician). I cried all the way to Brisbane, I’m not sure if it was because I was leaving Thomas or if I was terrified…

By mid-afternoon on 17 November 2015 we were crying lots, and kissing and cuddling our little Shelby, which we have continued to do for nearly 11 months, along with a few ‘OMG what’s in your mouth’ statements lately. She loves her bother to distraction, along with his trucks, legos and his glasses (much to his pain and grief), and I’m pretty sure he loves her too. But the gift in the middle will always be missed, and will never be forgotten…

Fertility Friday: Trainee Mama

Today’s Fertility Friday post is from Peta, who blogs at Trainee Mama. I knew Peta a little bit through our day-job work before she had kids, but over recent years have kept track of her via her Facebook page and blog. Although she calls herself Trainee Mama, I don’t think the name fits anymore – a trainee could not possibly manage three kids under three as well as Peta does!!

My fertility journey started, not because I had the desperate burning desire to have kids, but instead on a referral from a GP after a puzzling pain which we were trying to establish the cause of. I mean, we were at that stage in our life where we’d been married for a couple of years, had done some travelling and were comfortable financially, so we sort of just assumed the natural progression would be to the next chapter in our story – kids.

Even though I hadn’t made an appointment with the specialist to get pregnant, he did ask if we were trying. At that stage we had been actively trying, but at nearly 30 years of age I of course knew about the birds and the bees but didn’t really know about how it all worked with things like ovulation. I didn’t think it was that abnormal that all of the theory says a period cycle is 28 days and mine was on average around 33 days. To be honest I really didn’t even know about the small window someone with a regular cycle has to get pregnant. Obviously, someone with a longer cycle has even less opportunity. The doctor performed an internal ultrasound and some questioning around my cycle revealed that perhaps I might need some help in getting pregnant.

Day surgery was scheduled to properly check out my reproductive organs and see if I had any ovarian cysts, but it revealed no evidence and as such, the doctor flushed my tubes just in case there was a blockage. My husband was also tested and although he had no problems with the amount of competitors in the swimming race, the quality of competition wasn’t overly fantastic.

So at 29 years of age {my doctor advised that fertility for women decreases after 25 }, the recommended plan was to trial letrozole – medication to regulate my cycle and know exactly when I was ovulating to increase chances of falling pregnant.

First month was one tablet for five days at the appropriate time in my cycle and blood tests to confirm that the medication was doing what it was supposed to be doing. The medication worked for day 14 ovulation as planned but I did not fall pregnant.

We repeated the same dose for month two and again, did not fall pregnant.

Month three the dose was doubled but my enthusiasm, ironically, halved. I was unconvinced that the medication would work and on the verge of our fourth month of treatment I was at the chemist ready to fill my script for the medication and for some reason took a pregnancy test in the toilet of the medical centre … and it was positive. I couldn’t quite believe it and still filled the script anyway.

I took a further five tests over the following hour and days and there was no denying the pregnancy.

The pregnancy was easy and after a relatively straight forward {but long} labour, we welcomed Ned into the world in August 2013. You can read his birth story here.

Fast forward a couple of years and we started trying again, medication-free and with a good deal of scepticism on my behalf. I wasn’t desperate to have another baby – we both just agreed that we didn’t want Ned be an only child. Again, after months of trying I made an appointment with a fertility specialist (a new one, since we had moved since Ned’s conception) and explained my story and that letrozole had assisted us to get pregnant with Ned.

The doctor performed an internal ultrasound that day and asked me if I’d ever heard of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I had heard of it but didn’t really know anything about it. The doctor and nurse explained the symptoms but the only one obvious to my scenario was the menstrual cycle length. He also mentioned something about large ‘follicles’ and at the time that sort of medical jargon just flew over my head without a thought. The doctor agreed to prescribe the medication, with the double dose from the get go.

First month, nothing.

Second month, nothing.

Third month, I forgot to take the tablets and fell pregnant naturally only to lose the baby early on.

Two months or so later we had a family holiday – a week in Perth visiting one of my best friends and then a cruise from Perth to Brisbane. About half way through the cruise I started to feel really nauseous and was not at all interested in food – or wine for that matter. I immediately knew I was pregnant and started to get excited at the prospect of having a girl as I wasn’t sick at all with Ned so surely it must be a girl, right? I took a pregnancy test at Port Douglas on one of our land days and it was confirmed. Given the previous miscarriage it was difficult to get excited so I remained kind of neutral about the situation for quite a few weeks.

The 13 week ultrasound was booked and thankfully I’d mostly gotten over the all-day nausea and inability to eat. As I lay on the bed ready to have the baby checked, the sonographer muttered ‘oh’ and immediately I knew it was twins. We’d forgotten that our first doctor mentioned the risk of multiples when ovulation drugs are used, and I suppose because Ned was a single I never even gave it a thought. You can read more about us finding out here. You see those large follicles {probably from having some form of PCOS} with any sort of stimulation {the letrozole} greatly increased the chance of multiples and well … suffice to say, in June 2016 we welcomed our daughters Frankie and Evie into the world. You can read their birth story here.

Some days I feel guilty when the madness of three young kids overwhelms me and I wonder if I’m cut out for the job when there are so many people out there desperate for the sleepless nights, the tantrums, the messy house and the baby brain. Trust me though, I really do appreciate this wonderful gift and only wish all people who wanted to become parents could.

petas-kids