This week’s Fertility Friday story is mine. I wrote this in February 2015. It made me sad then, and it makes me sad now. I think it will always make me sad. I believe I have come to terms with having cancer, but I don’t think I will ever be able to fully come to terms with the loss and despair that miscarriage and infertility bring. I’ve learned to live with it though, which is I guess what every single one of us who’ve shared our Fertility Friday stories has to do.
It’s Fertility Friday once again. I cannot tell you how much I am loving reading and sharing these amazing stories. I really do have the privilege of knowing some truly amazing women. This post is by Heather, who I met through my online cancer support group. We share a dry sense of humour and a love of animals and our kids (not necessarily in that order). I am so grateful to Heather for opening herself up to share this post – she has been so honest and I think her words will resonate with many of us.
Have you ever felt your heart break? I always thought it would make a cracking sound, like the snap of a dried twig underfoot or the sound a palm leaf makes when it falls from the tree. It doesn’t. It happens with a thud. The same kind of thud you hear when a kangaroo bounces of your speeding car. That kind of thud that you can not only hear, but feel, in every nerve ending, every hair follicle. It makes you shiver.
My husband and I have a wonderful life together. We are both incredibly in tune with one another. We like the same things, laugh at the same things and generally think the same thoughts. When we married 21 years ago we didn’t really think about children, ever. The only time the topic came up was when well-meaning friends and family would enquire as to when we would be expanding our family. There is some unwritten law that opens the most intimate details of your relationship to general discussion once you sign a marriage certificate. The other thing we didn’t realise was that with each year of ownership of said certificate, the pressure to actually undertake the expansion would increase beyond bearable limits. Children were not on our agenda. We were happy in each other’s company and the only family planning we did was to add a couple of dogs and a cat to our household. And besides, we were really bad planners. Preferring to saunter along and allow life to decide where it would take us next. We liked this relaxed way of life, the randomness seemed to make sense, seemed to work for us.
About a year into our marriage we found out we were pregnant. We hadn’t planned this, we don’t plan. In fact we had invested quite a bit of time and money ensuring that this didn’t happen. It took us by surprise as we had never talked about children and really hadn’t thought too hard about the whole issue. I had recently taken a redundancy package from work and was procrastinating over my future, self employment versus regular employment. The pregnancy made me ill, violently ill. I could barely drag myself out of bed and spent the best part of my days becoming intimately connected with the bath room. We talked about what we should do. My husband had never really shown any interest in children and I had just assumed that he wasn’t interested in procreating. I had thought about it, perhaps too much, and I was terrified of the responsibilities associated with parenthood. I didn’t want to be responsible for someone else’s physical and psychological development and I was certain that any child of mine would grow up to be a very proficient serial killer, or worse, due to my bad parenting skills. That scared me.
I was kind of surprised when my husband suggested that we could do this, we could become parents. I immediately stocked up on baby books and in my usual fashion, began researching the topic. I felt disconnected from the information in the books. I didn’t have the warm, nurturing feelings that the books suggested I should have. I wasn’t overjoyed by the miracle of birth. I was now even more scared. Scared and sick. I don’t know if I was just incredibly selfish, but I didn’t want to share my home and my husband with anyone else. I didn’t want an intruder introducing chaos into my perfect little world. We decided to terminate the pregnancy. I felt relief that this problem would be solved and we could move on with our life, together. I booked into a clinic, and went to my appointment alone. It didn’t seem important enough to insist that my husband miss work, just another doctor’s appointment. Minutes after the procedure, I stopped feeling sick. A great wave of relief came over me. I was happy again. The clinic counsellor wanted to talk, I didn’t. I felt like a great weight had lifted and I practically skipped out of the clinic.
Of course, the questions about children continued to come up. When people asked when we were having children we started replying with “we can’t”. This seemed an effective manner of ending the questioning in the longer term. The irony of this is not lost on me now.
We decided to move to warmer climes. Again, we didn’t really plan. My husband applied for a couple of jobs at various locations on the Queensland coast and secured a job in Central Queensland. We had two weeks to give notice to our present employers, pack up the house and put it on the market, farewell our families and travel, with our two sizeable dogs, the 1700kms to our new home. A little planning might have saved a bit of angst but people who don’t plan are remarkably adaptable and we got there in time for my husband to begin work.
We established a new life, made new friends, bought a new house, I found a new job. The country lifestyle took a bit of getting used to but the informality of our new environs suited us to a tee. We resumed our cruise through life.
I don’t know when it happened but we started talking more and more about adding to our family. I rescued a poor, forlorn kitten from a pet shop, but the conversations continued. Perhaps country life was just too relaxed and we were looking to shake things up a bit, anyway, we decided that we should have a child. We stopped using birth control and waited for our baby to join us. No ovulation tracking or temperature charts for us, we had done this before, without even trying, so we just had to sit back and wait for the waves of nausea to arrive.
I don’t know when we recognised that something might be wrong. People who don’t plan don’t keep timelines. I remember that I was approaching my 38th birthday and thought that maybe it was about time we sought a professional opinion. I rang the local Fertility Clinic and was provided with enough information to get started. I forgot about it for a few months and eventually set about obtaining the mandatory referral from my GP. Having had the referral for about 5 months I finally telephoned and made an appointment with the Fertility Specialist. I dropped the referral into the clinic only to be told that my GP, a rather eccentric old gent, had made the referral out to a non existent clinic, hadn’t included my husband and the sole content of the letter read “please help my patient to get pregnant”. I laughed. The clinic receptionist, not so much. At least I had an appointment with the specialist and a deadline to produce a new referral. I can work with deadlines. People who don’t plan need deadlines, it helps to get things done.
I had never really felt a sense of urgency about the whole baby thing. I am not sure if it is because people who don’t plan really don’t get those feelings or if I didn’t foresee any problems. That was until I met my fertility specialist. It was December. I was basking in the glory of summer, the holidays were nearly upon us, life was good. The specialist organised some immediate tests for us both and told me to come in for some further testing at the beginning of my next cycle. It didn’t matter to him that this was likely to be during the holidays, it just needed to be done. I was surprised by this and marvelled at his dedication to his craft. I hadn’t caught on. I undertook the required tests over the holidays and he scheduled some exploratory surgery that week. Again, I failed to catch the urgency and praised the hospital for their standard of customer service and their speed in being able to organise this so quickly. The surgery and the tests determined that we had unexplained infertility. Nothing obvious was preventing us from getting pregnant. We celebrated our victory and determined that we would only require some minor assistance from our specialist. Our specialist had other ideas, due to my advanced years and my quickly declining fertility, we would begin our first IVF treatment in three weeks. Now I began to panic.
We embarked on the first cycle full of hope and excitement. The clinic gave me a schedule. I liked this. They did all the planning, I just had to follow it. Nasal spray of one hormone, injections of another, scans, blood tests and finally we were ready to harvest the eggs we had been nurturing. With step one over we just had to wait to see if my husband’s contribution would get us to step two, fertilisation. While waiting for the clinic to telephone the results through I realised, to my surprise, how emotionally involved I was in the whole process and that the results really mattered to me. I don’t think I was trying to protect myself from likely disappointment, I guess I just hadn’t thought too much about it. I hadn’t planned. The eggs became embryos, started growing like mad and were returned to their place of origin a couple of days later. Life returned to normal and in two weeks’ time we would find out if all our hard work had had produced the desired result, a pregnancy. It didn’t. We were disappointed but recognising early that IVF rarely works first time, we were able to quickly move on.
We couldn’t wait to start round two. More schedules, more hormones and this time our response was too good and we lost the best eggs before the surgery. We only had one, very poor quality embryo to put back and as expected a negative result.
When we started on the IVF journey we decided that we would complete three cycles only. If that didn’t work out, at least we could say we gave it our best shot. The figure was quite random, not based on statistics or anything scientific. Not that well planned. It just seemed like a good number. Approaching round three we realised how important having a child had become to us.
The third cycle was a dream. We had record numbers of eggs collected. We began to hope. Not so great fertilisation rate but hey, we still had plenty of eggs to work with. Our scientist told us we had two great looking embryos to put back and we even managed some leftovers to pop in the freezer for use at a later date. Hope became a part of our day, our dream of parenthood a very real possibility.
I remember the exact moment that my heart broke. I was standing on the verandah, soaking up the sunshine when I felt the all too familiar cramping sensation in my gut. Our hope disintegrated like the rusted machinery littering the farms on the outskirts of town.
Our three cycle limit quickly became four cycles. We said adios to our regional clinic and organised an appointment with a clinic in Sydney. The clinic had the best labs in the country and very high success rates. It was going to break us financially but we had to try. IVF had become a way of life, an obsession.
The fertility specialist wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic as we were and explained that for a woman my age, the success rate was less than two percent. The specialist decided to monitor my FSH levels and if there was a month where they were low, we would push ahead. He agreed to one cycle only as I guess he had stats to maintain that wouldn’t benefit from hopeless cases undertaking repeated cycles. Month after month, my FSH levels were high. Our sense of urgency was not felt by my specialist. Finally, after realising that my FSH levels were only going to continue to rise and that I wasn’t going to go away, he agreed to proceed with our one cycle.
The experience was completely different to my experience with a regional IVF clinic. I was heavily monitored, blood tests and ultrasounds every few days until finally I found myself in Sydney with ten perfect eggs. These miraculously turned into seven perfect embryos and then five perfect blastocysts. Not bad for an old chick. The specialist was stunned, I was smug.
I returned to country Queensland with two embryos on board. Just over a week later, a home pregnancy test delivered the news we had dreamed about for what seemed like an eternity. We were pregnant. Many months of angst finally saw us with a healthy baby boy who was so, so wanted and so incredibly loved. Life was finally perfect and we both felt complete.
My obstetrician, at my post birth follow up appointment, ask me what type of contraception I would like. I snorted while reminding him of the lengths we had gone to to make our family. He apologised for asking.
I remember standing in a queue at the checkout in Target, my gorgeous 7 month old baby in the pram beside me taking in the surrounds. Someone tried to push in front of me and the checkout operator shoo’d her away and proceeded to serve me. I burst into tears, hurriedly completed my purchase and retreated home all the while pondering this weird emotional outburst. A pregnancy test revealed that I was a hormonal mess and that I was, in fact, 5 weeks pregnant. Our lack of planning in this instance turned out to be a wonderful surprise in the form of a gorgeous baby girl.
I have many regrets about our lack of planning. About our seemingly appalling decision making capabilities. About the length of time we waited to form a family. I do however feel extremely grateful for the people and the science that helped us get here. These days, my heart may feel a little weary but it is whole again, it is full. I feel extremely lucky.
The term ‘superwoman’ is very much overused these days, but I actually know someone who the term accurately describes. Ann-Maree has a husband and four kids, a professional career, and also manages to serve as treasurer on our school P&C as well as volunteering for pretty much everything going. She is one of those quiet achievers who makes a huge difference to the world with her energy and enthusiasm. As soon as Ann-Maree told me the story about how her youngest son came to be, I knew that other people would be as amazed by it as I was, and I was so pleased that she agreed to share it here as part of the Fertility Friday series.
My story about fertility is a little different. In 2015, I was a proud mum to three wonderful children aged 14, 12 and 7. I was in my early 40’s and happily married and the last thing on my mind was having another baby. For a few years, my husband had said we should have another and my son always said that he wanted a baby brother, but I always said that there was no chance that I was having anymore.
In February 2015, I became very ill with constant vomiting and bloating. I went to my doctor who did a few tests which were positive for the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. Apparently stomach ulcers can cause bloating as well as sickness, so it made sense. The doctor prescribed some very strong antibiotics which involved taking eight antibiotic tablets a day for seven days. The doctor told me that they would knock me flat and sure enough they did. The first day I vomited so much I couldn’t get out of bed. Over the next few days I continued to be bedridden and my children sat beside my bed with a bucket they named Chucky. Everywhere I went they made me take my new friend Chucky with me. After the seven days I started to feel better but still had the bloating and certain foods made me sick. After a few weeks I went back to my doctor as I still wasn’t well. My doctor decided to send me for a gastroscopy. The gastroscopy showed the ulcer-related bacteria was still present, so I was prescribed the same antibiotics again, which meant another seven days of taking eight tablets per day.
At that point we decided as a family to go on a holiday to the coast to help the children get over me being so sick. We went to Aussie World and I rode the roller coaster, the Plunge and the Octopus several times. I was still feeling sick but I was determined that the holiday was going to be the best fun for my children. When we came home from the coast I had a check-up with the doctor – I was still feeling tired so the doctor did a blood test to check to see whether I was anaemic. Sure enough I was anaemic, and had also lost a lot of weight.The doctor couldn’t understand why I was anaemic and started checking other things. She examined me, firstly pressing on my stomach and then she got the Doppler ultrasound and put that my stomach. I nearly fell off the examination table when I heard what sounded like a heartbeat coming from my stomach.
The doctor worked out that I could possibly be around 16 weeks pregnant, but could not confirm it. As you can imagine I was in a complete state of shock. I hadn’t had a period in approximately four months, but I was on thyroid medication so it was not uncommon for me to go months without a period. I went home after having another blood test and showed my husband the referral to the obstetrician. My husband was as utterly shocked as I was.
Fortunately, due to my age and the potentially advanced stage of my pregnancy, I was able to get an appointment very quickly, but I still had to go all weekend without knowing if I was pregnant or not. I remember driving my two older children to Brisbane to their Dad’s for the weekend, and shedding a lot of tears behind my sunglasses. I didn’t want to tell them until I knew whether it was true or not. I cried all weekend, not because I was sad about the baby but because it was such a complete shock. We had sold all of our baby things, our car was not big enough, I had my career and I hadn’t planned for this to happen.
That Monday I went to the obstetrician (he was the same doctor that delivered my seven-year old) but had to see another obstetrician before I saw mine. This doctor made me feel like a bad teenager that didn’t know anything. He asked my husband and I whether we knew about contraception. I asked him if he knew how old I was, and he told me I should know better! As if I wasn’t struggling with the shock of being told I was pregnant, I was now also being chastised for falling pregnant. Finally, I got to see my obstetrician and he did a scan straight away.
He told me that I wasn’t 16 weeks pregnant. I was actually 22 weeks pregnant, and at that first scan I also found out the sex of my baby.
It took me about a week to tell my older children that they were going to have a baby in the house. My eldest was stunned and my 12- and seven-year old both cried. 12-year old decided that she didn’t want another sibling as she already had two. They were excited but very unsure. I then went to tell my mother about me being pregnant. She was stunned but she was glad that I didn’t tell her that I had cancer, as that is what she thought my announcement was going to be. I have a really close bond with my mum so I cried and cried on her shoulder.
I think I cried for about a month after finding out I was pregnant, the whole time my mum kept telling me everything was going to be ok, but we lived with a very real fear knowing that the two courses of strong antibiotics, roller coaster rides and the food that I had been eating may have damaged my baby in some way. The pregnancy continued without any major hassles and eventually the tears stopped and I started to accept that this baby was going to be born. Everybody kept telling me that this baby was coming for a reason, but I was still trying to work out what that was!
At 38 weeks pregnant and on the 28th August 2015 with my husband beside me, I delivered a healthy and happy 8lb 8oz baby boy. He was perfect and there were no disabilities or any problems with him associated with not knowing I was pregnant for the first 22 weeks. After three days in hospital we took him home and just over a year later, we can’t imagine life without him. The older children absolutely adore him – even the 12-year-old, she decided a day before he was born that she was looking forward to having him in the family!
He is now a happy, delightful one year old and a central part of our family. Isn’t he the cutest stomach ulcer you’ve ever seen?
This week’s Fertility Friday post is by Azette. I went to high school with her and her husband Mark and we reconnected via Facebook a few years ago. When I asked her to share her story, I had no idea of how Azette came to be the mother of an only child, and I feel incredibly privileged that she agreed to open up her heart here. Only child families are unusual, and in my experience often treated as incomplete, and met with either pity or contempt. But being a family of three is as special and as ordinary as any other family. And here’s why.
When Julie asked me to consider writing something for her “Fertility Friday” series, I was firstly honoured to be asked, as I have followed the stories of her other guest bloggers with interest. But then I became nervous and unsure what to say, as I had not personally experienced any fertility issues. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t because of fertility reasons that I ended up a mother of “only one”.
My husband and I met when I was 16, starting dating a year later and were married five years after that. From the moment we were married, and then periodically for the next eight and a half years we fended off the constant question from family and friends – “when are you having children?”
Over time the frequency of people asking did diminish, and I developed a few standard responses to diffuse the situation. My favourite was that I couldn’t keep the goldfish alive, so it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to be a parent. In reality, life had been busy, we both worked long hours, travelled when we could get holidays and time slipped by. The major factor was we’d just never sat down and had “that” conversation. I wasn’t someone who had set a personal deadline for having children. I hadn’t decided not to have kids, but I also hadn’t decided to make it happen either.
Shortly before our ninth wedding anniversary, we did have “that” conversation, which ended along the lines of “well, if we’re ever going to do it, we better do it now”. We were one of the lucky couples and within a relatively short period of time (six months or so) I fell pregnant, and it filled me with terror. What had we done? I didn’t know what to do with a baby, what if I was a terrible mother? As I sat in the doctors surgery and she confirmed I was definitely pregnant, my first words were “Oh shit!” My GP looked at me and said, “but I thought this was planned?” to which I replied, “yes, but now I can’t change my mind”.
It wasn’t just the fear of motherhood, but also the fear of getting my hopes up, the fear of falling in love with this baby and what if I miscarried, what if something went wrong. I convinced myself not to get attached, don’t get too excited, not until we were sure everything was going to be OK. As we did start to tell people, the most common reaction was shock, and a few brave souls were truthful enough to admit that they thought we had been on IVF and that’s why it had taken so long for us to fall pregnant. There seemed to be this unwritten law about when it was socially acceptable to have children, and because we had waited and not complied with this guideline, it must have meant there was something wrong.
One month short of our 10th wedding anniversary, our precious son arrived, not quite as we planned, but safely. When people talk about preparing their birth plan, and which scented candles they’ll have and which music will be playing while their bundle of joy arrives, I strongly encourage them to have a Plan A, B, C, D and even E in mind. I’d thought it would be lovely to have a water birth, with calming music, and as few drugs as possible, but ended up with a caesarean and lots of drugs, after all attempts to deliver naturally didn’t work out. Then the joy of breastfeeding … well that was a total disaster and after many days of pain, tears, screaming, hungry baby and mastitis that sent me back to hospital, we switched to formula and peace and tranquillity were restored.
Our personal circumstances dictated that I needed to go back to work when bubby was three months old. Initially it was for only three days per week, but within a very short period of time I was back working full time. However, I was lucky that a close friend had decided to start family day care, and so I was able to leave my son in a family home, with someone I trusted implicitly, and truth be told, would probably do a better job as she knew what she was doing after three kids of her own. But even with these benefits it didn’t make the morning drop off any easier. For the first two years of my son’s life I cried for the entire drive from my friend’s home to my work. Every day. I wasn’t crying for my son, as I knew he was well looked after and well loved, I cried for me and what I was missing.
So inevitably, as our son neared two years old, the questions started again, “when are you having your next one?”, and we had to deflect this next round of questions. My new standard response was that I couldn’t be so lucky twice. I’d never get another baby that was so content and such a good sleeper, and that I wasn’t willing to tempt fate in case I had a devil child second time around. The truth was, I wasn’t brave enough. Knowing how hard it was to leave my bubby to go to work, and the emotional toll it was taking on me, I didn’t have the emotional strength to do it again. I believed it would be double the tears and double the pain leaving two children in someone else’s care, and decided I would rather be a good mum to one, than have more children and risk falling apart, or risk ruining our marriage and the precious family we currently had.
Some will say it was a selfish decision, but I’ve made peace with my choice that it was the best for our family. We’ve raised a well-mannered, respectful, loving and compassionate young man. Being an only child has meant he has had to learn to communicate with adults early on in his life, and often that he has been part of conversations that children are usually sheltered from. I’m proud of our very close knit little family that can openly discuss topics that others may shy away from. This was very evident when my mum was diagnosed with cancer and we needed to have some very heartbreaking conversations as each of us worked through our emotions and the impact her illness was having as it progressed.
My mum once commented about feeling pride that my son was “mine”, but I believe he is only on loan. I will only have him for a short time, and the most important job I will ever have in my life, is to guide him to be the best he can be, before he will move onto his own life.
Looking back on it all, I describe myself as being “pro-choice” and a strong believer in doing what is right for you, not what everyone else may think you “should” do ….
If natural birth works – fantastic, if it doesn’t, be grateful for modern medicine and Caesarean births.
If breastfeeding works – great, if it doesn’t, say thanks to modern science for baby formula.
If you want to have kids, and you can – wonderful, if you choose not to, that’s OK too. (Although my heart breaks for those that desperately want and would love children, but are unable.)
If you want to have 10 kids, and you can, that’s awesome (just don’t bring them all to my place for a sleepover at the same time).
And if you choose to only have one, cherish them with all your heart.
In 1963, my parents moved into a rental house in a dodgy inner-city suburb. My two brothers were four and three years old, and I wasn’t to come onto the scene for another six or so years. My Dad had been in a terrible accident a few years before, when he was hit and run over by a car which resulted in extensive injuries including a shattered pelvis. Because Dad’s injuries meant he couldn’t work for months on end, my parents plans to buy a house in a nearby street went out the window, and after living with my grandparents for a while, they eventually moved into the rental in William Street.
It was a tiny, two bedroom workers cottage, with a verandah at the front, a kitchen with a wood combustion stove, an outdoor laundry and toilet, and a huge yard with a palm tree in the middle. If you walked near the base of the palm tree the dirt would sink a bit beneath your feet, as the tree was planted where the house’s well had originally been, when it was built in 1900.
When I made my surprise entrance into the family in 1969, a bit of reshuffling had to be done to fit me in, which ended up with one of my brothers sleeping in a tiny enclosed entrance-way at the back of the house, and baby me in with the other brother. The house was not insulated, so we lay in pools of our own sweat on stinking hot summer nights, and shivered our way through winter nights with hot water bottles doing little to keep us warm. The combustion stove was replaced not long after I was born with an electric stove, which meant the only heating was from the tiny open fireplace in the lounge room. We three kids would all vie for pole position in front of the fire, and over the years also had competition for space with numerous cats, a Doberman, and even an orphaned baby kangaroo. On Sunday nights in winter we would have jaffles for dinner, which would be cooked in a jaffle-iron over the open fire. I can still taste my jaffle of choice – ham, cheese and pineapple – and still feel the third degree mouth burns I’d get from the scaldingly hot pineapple juice.
In the mid 1970s a massive storm obliterated whole sections of the city, and our house was badly damaged. The verandah at the front was closed in, and my brother and I had a bedroom at each end, with a wardrobe placed strategically at each side of the front door to afford us some privacy if someone came knocking. I remember the excitement of having my own space for the first time, with the particular luxury of a power point right next to my bed. In the rest of the house, there were only four power points – one in the lounge room, one in the kitchen, one in the main bedroom, and one in the laundry. Everything was powered from those three single points by a series of extension leads and double adaptors, so to have a power point of my very own was nothing short of wonderful.
As great as the power point was, the toilet was still outside, and when I was about six my parents started refusing to escort me at night, thinking I was now old enough to walk the five steps from the back door to the loo and back on my own. I wasn’t scared of the dark when I was indoors, but as soon as I set foot outside I was terrified. I developed the ability to pee with such rapidity that if it had been an Olympic sport, I would have been sent off to represent my country as a urinating child prodigy. The toilet itself was also a bit scary because it was of a very old style – the cistern mounted high on the wall, with a chain that you pulled to flush. Early one Sunday morning as I finished my constitutional wee and yanked down on the chain, the whole cistern came off the wall and narrowly missed taking me out as it fell down onto the dunny seat. I can still remember my father mumbling under his breath as he came out to investigate how in the hell a 6-year-old had managed to break the toilet at 5am on the one day of the week he got to sleep in.
By the time I was around eight, both my brothers had grown up and left home and so I took possession of a whole room of my own, complete with a doorway and an actual door. A couple of years later the owners of the house decided to sell, so my parents took the plunge and decided to buy it. They were both blue-collar workers, and in the late 80s and early 90s, mortgage interest rates climbed up around 17%, so rather than renovating the house, they concentrated on not losing it. Over the years, the house had bits and pieces done to it, but all by dodgy mates of my Dad who’d work on weekends for beer, or my Dad himself who was neither particular nor proud when it came to his own handiwork.
Just as the interest rates came down Dad became seriously ill and had to have a kidney removed, and on the back of that was made redundant. Owing to my mother’s working of double shifts in hard, physical jobs and money managing ability, they managed to keep the house and pay it off, but it began to fall to rack and ruin as they couldn’t afford any repairs. This continued for 20 years, with things only being repaired or replaced if they became dangerous. Despite this, my Dad loved this house with all his heart, which broke into a thousand pieces when he was taken away one day in an ambulance and was told he would never return.
53 years after my parents moved into the house in William Street, my Mum still lives there. The house is not comfortable, or probably even safe, especially for an elderly lady, but there is a magic about William Street, and the people who live there, that make her want to stay. In the past half century, the suburb has been gentrified, and her tired old tumbledown cottage sits amongst tastefully renovated homes occupied by professional families with children who attend private schools. But she is surrounded by the familiar, and the neighbours are incredibly kind and generous, and look out for and after her. Earlier this year she contemplated moving, because she cannot afford to fix the house, and whilst she made all the right noises when we visited modern brick retirement villages on the other side of town, her heart wasn’t in it.
I was at a loss as to what to do. I wanted my mother, a woman who has never had very much at all, to enjoy whatever remains of her life. She would learn to like living in the retirement village, and would make friends and maybe go on a day trip or two. She wouldn’t have the neighbours dog to pat (or chastise when it barks), she wouldn’t have the lady next door taking her to the supermarket every Friday, she wouldn’t be able to swap oranges from her tree for eggs from the neighbour’s chickens. She wouldn’t be the older neighbour that everyone kept an eye on, who loved chatting to the kids and noticing when they lost a tooth or learned to ride a bike. Part of her identity would go, and I felt helpless to prevent it.
And then, out of the blue one Saturday morning, Dave suggested that maybe we could buy the house in William Street from Mum, and fix it up and enable her to live there for as long as she wanted. And so we went to the bank, who said yes because my Mum, who back in her day had to drop out of school in year 9, had paid for me to go to university so I could get a well-paying job. And then the architect who lives next door in the impressively renovated house, that all through my childhood was the neat as a pin old joint owned by Bill Boyle whose only son had died in the war, said he’d do the plans. And the lawyer from the other neighbouring house, where an old lady called Mary lived until she died in the 80s, said she’d do the conveyancing. And so it unfolded.
Today, we have the final plans for Project Number 1608, and next week the builders will come. My beautiful Mum, who is without a doubt the most decent human being I have ever met, will come and live with us for the duration, and will no doubt shit me to tears by about day three. Possibly day two. Similarly, she will also have had enough of me by that point, but will have her beloved Hugh, and her almost equally beloved son-in-law Dave, as a buffer. We have a big house, and we will muddle through, and if it all becomes too much Mum can take her hearing aids out and we’ll all get along much better.
Fast forward a few months (please let it be a few) and she will be back in William Street, living for the very first time in her life, in a house with a new kitchen and a new bathroom. There will be not one, but two toilets inside the house! There will be multiple power points in every room, air-conditioning, a dishwasher (which will no doubt remain untouched), and big glass doors to let the sun stream in so she can sit in her favourite chair and do sudokus and crossword puzzles. There’ll be a little deck out the back where she can sit and admire her garden, where her orange tree will still grow, and where she will still be able to tell the neighbour’s dog Max to shut up. She will still be able to wave to the neighbourhood kids, get fresh eggs, cadge a ride to the supermarket, and be part of this beautiful little community that means the world to her.
My late Dad, who never wanted to leave this place, has not been forgotten in all of this. We will be sprinkling his ashes into the foundations of the rebuild, so he will always be part of the story of William Street, Project Number 1608.
Today’s Fertility Friday post is shared anonymously. Hard to tell, hard to read, but incredibly important. Postnatal depression is experienced by around 1 in every 7 women in Australia, but these stories are often not spoken about, or spoken of only in a whisper. Today’s post is no whisper, it’s an out loud, strongly-voiced, brutally honest account. Thank you to the person who agreed to share it here. I’m proud to know you and count you as a dear friend.
I have no idea how to start my story. I have started it a couple of times already, but so much of this is so hard to say.
I have two children, a loving husband and life is good. It wasn’t always so. After the birth of my first child I had undiagnosed post-natal depression (PND). It almost tore our family apart. We didn’t know what was going on or how to handle it. Eventually, I sought help and saw a psychologist. She helped me through PND, two miscarriages and the general stress of everyday life. I thought I was okay. Sure, I was still having suicidal thoughts. But doesn’t everyone?
Four years after having our first child I was finally pregnant again and past my 11 week danger zone. We were so happy and scared all at the same time. Because of work, we had to move away from my support network. But I was determined to make it ok. I found an obstetrician. Our son started preschool and loved it. I went to the hospital for a tour of the maternity ward and filled out the paperwork, and ticked yes for having a history of anxiety/depression. We had our 20 week ultrasound and found out our baby was a little girl. I was so excited. This baby that I had waited for was a little girl! We would be best friends, go shopping, talk about boys and plan a life for her. Things were ticking along nicely.
Then my husband went overseas for work purposes. BOOM! Anxiety and depression moved in. I attended obstetric appointments. I ate all the right things. I told people I was pregnant. However I didn’t feel it. I just had a large stomach and it would be all over soon. I did not want to know or acknowledge it. I was angry. All. The. Time. Our son witnessed my anger. I never raised a hand to him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t hurt by what he heard. He was four years old. How was he supposed to know why Mummy was always yelling? I spoke with my obstetrician and midwife about it. But they said to speak with my GP. So I did, and I was told to make an appointment with a psychologist. So I did. I couldn’t get in to see him for another two weeks. My anxiety told me that it wouldn’t help, so I cancelled the appointment after waiting for a week.
On a Wednesday afternoon I got a call from a midwife at the hospital. They were just checking how my pregnancy was going. “Good. No problems.” “You’ve ticked here that you’ve had Mental Health issues in the past. How has that been for you?” I immediately started to cry with this woman I had never met on the other end of the phone. We proceeded to have the best conversation of my life. I will always think of that midwife Karen as my angel. She was just doing her job (her words), but she got me in contact with a psychiatrist. I started seeing the psychiatrist weekly, and it helped a great deal. I had found the right person for me.
As I got closer to my due date I started thinking of my ‘belly’ as my baby again. I prepared the nursery and bought all the essentials. I even thought about names again. Within weeks of this happening my little girl decided to arrive exactly four weeks early. As soon as I heard her cry, I cried. All the guilt and emotion that had built up over the previous few months spilled out. My baby was crying because she needed me, however, I needed her more.
I continued my appointments with the psychiatrist. He put me on antidepressants. Turns out, that was what I needed all along. It is almost four years ago exactly since I started medication. I have had many a low moment since then. I had to try a few different types of medication to get the right one for me. I have also doubled my dose. I’m finally in a good place. I don’t like that I’m on medication, but I am and it helps. I’m exercising, eating right and meditating regularly. My hope is that with time and more of the healthy living I can eventually decrease my medication, but I know that I will always be on antidepressants.
I will also forever feel guilt about the way I spoke to my son and the feelings I pushed aside about my daughter during my pregnancy. I love them more than anything and wish the world for them. One day I will tell them my story, just as I have told you.
[Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is experiencing postnatal depression, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Australian Postnatal Depression Website.]
Fertility Friday has rolled around again, and not before time. I know from all your comments and messages that you are loving reading these stories, as much as I am enjoying sharing them.
Today I’m handing the blog over to my dear friend Kristin to talk about her journey. It is one I know well, as we shared a very similar path in both finding our blokes later in life and then having a rocky road to motherhood. Kristin’s dogged determination to become a mother has been equalled only by her love for her beautiful boy Joe. Here is her story.
When I was 12, I had my whole life planned out. In my naivety, I thought I would have successful career in Public Relations, a wonderful caring, attentive husband and two beautiful children all by the age of 25. Well best-laid plans and all that, at the age of 36 I found myself single and childless. I didn’t have a successful career in PR but I did manage a small team of business analysts (see the connection with PR? Me neither.) and I owned my own home and had a gorgeous fur baby, Charlotte.
Living in a regional town where most people got married young and who in their late 30s were either still married or on to their second or third marriage, I thought I was destined to remain on my lonesome. Then it happened, I was at a party and looked across the backyard and saw the man that was to become my husband. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight and he wasn’t my normal type but he was handsome and kind, although very quiet. I might’ve been a bit tipsy (read: drunk) as I made my way over to where he was sitting to have a chat and the rest, as they say, is history. Two years later we were married.
After our wedding we decided to try for a child. Surely, it would be easy. I had spent most of my adult life trying not to get pregnant because I always thought there was such a high chance that I could. After six months of trying with no results, we decided to undergo fertility treatment, especially as at 38 I was considered ‘geriatric’ by doctors! We went to a local ob/gyn who diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (you might know it as PCOS). It wasn’t really a surprise; I had always had very irregular periods and always tended to be on the chubby side. The specialist put me on Clomid and for two cycles, but it didn’t do anything except make me want to stab my husband in the eye with a blunt pencil when he left his shoes lying around the house. When the doctor told me he wanted me to try a third cycle, I burst in to tears. I couldn’t face the emotional and physical side effects for another month.
My good friend, Julie [editor’s note, that’s me!], suggested I try a fertility specialist in Brisbane who she had found to be excellent. And this was how I ended up under the care of Dr Warren De Ambrosis. He was unlike any other doctor my husband and I had met. His sense of humour was so dry but he was so caring and hell-bent on doing everything he could to help get me pregnant. He suggested that IVF was our best option, and so our IVF journey began. He explained that it might not work because my eggs were old, even though my PCOS meant I had the egg stores of a 20 year old. In his words, ‘there were lots of nuts on the tree but they were 39 year old nuts so you wouldn’t want to eat all of them’.
I started the hormone injections and religiously took the regime of vitamins, aspirin, steroids and blood thinners. I had bruises the size of tennis balls on my stomach but it didn’t matter because I wanted to be pregnant more than anything. Often you hear women undergoing fertility treatment say how upset they feel when they see women with babies, but I felt upset when I saw pregnant women because that was my first goal.
The day of my first egg collection came and went (well, I did have hyper stimulated ovaries so I could hardly walk on the day and every bump in the road felt like someone was stabbing me in the abdomen). Warren collected 13 eggs, I knew this because when I came too from the anaesthetic I had ‘13’ written in black nikko all over my lower legs. Over the next five days, we got regular updates from the lab on how our embryos were doing. We ended up with 4 embryos that made it through to blastocyst stage and had two transferred into my uterus.
I endured the 2 week wait and lo and behold, the pregnancy test was positive. I was so happy! One IVF cycle and I was pregnant. How lucky could I be?!? Three weeks later, my joy came crashing down around me. At work I went to the toilets and found I was bleeding. I went to my GP and she sent me for a blood test but suggested I see Warren as soon as I could. The blood test showed that my HCG levels were not rising as they should’ve been. Warren gave me an ultrasound and there was nothing in my uterus. He broke the news that it was probably an ectopic pregnancy. At seven weeks, the embryo was so small he could not see it inside the tube, as he said; it was like ‘trying to see a cockroach that had been swallowed by a snake’. I went home to wait out the weekend. I was hopeful, always hopeful, but things did not look good.
On Monday I travelled to Brisbane to be told it was definitely ectopic and I needed to have the embryo removed the next day. That night I was in agony and the next day I went under general anaesthetic for only the second time in my life, but this time it was to remove my baby. I woke up to find out that my tube had ruptured and had to be removed. So now my already low chances of getting pregnant had just halved! Even now the heartbreak I felt at that time brings me to tears.
I let my body recover and mentally prepared myself for a second round of IVF, when I found out that Dr Wazza was going to be off for a month due to back surgery. Secretly I was relieved because it meant a longer break from hormone injections and those dreaded blood thinners! I went about my daily life and enjoyed the freedom of being ‘hormone’ free. Then one day I was having lunch with one of my besties, and I started to burp. Naomi said to me ‘You’re pregnant!’ I responded with ‘No, I’m not!’ How could I be pregnant? My chances of falling naturally were less than 1%! She said, ‘I have only known you to have reflux one other time and that was when you were last pregnant’. I honestly believed I was not pregnant but I peed on a stick anyway and straight away there were two lines! I walked around the house stunned. I rang my husband and told him the good news. The conversation went something like this, ‘OH MY GOD I AM PREGNANT! OH MY GOD I AM PREGNANT!’
The next few weeks and months were filled with fear of losing this baby but also filled with wonder at the tiny human moving and growing inside me. On the 24th of May 2012 at 5:24am I gave birth to our son, Joseph Daniel. He is the coolest little man that I know. He is kind, funny and smart. He drives me crazy and he lights up my life. I have never known love like the love I have for him. He is truly our miracle baby.
Now I am 44 years old, my hopes of giving Joe a sibling are dwindling. The drive to have another baby is not so strong that I would ever go through the trauma IVF again. But every month a little voice inside me says, ‘Maybe this time…’
Today’s Fertility Friday post is by a very talented author called Yvonne Hughes, whose book One Piece of Advice is a must-read for people diagnosed with breast cancer, their families and friends. I met Yvonne at a breast cancer forum where she was a guest speaker, and was totally charmed by her honest, funny and heartfelt retelling of how she came to write the book. Yvonne and I kept in touch after the forum, as we have much in common, not least the fact that we are both breast cancer mothers of only boy children. Whilst the sibling ship has sailed for my family, I’m so pleased that Yvonne has agreed to share her story about her family’s wish to bring another child into their lives.
I’m struggling to write this piece, but I’m going to try anyway. I’m not struggling because I’m too emotional, too angry or too anything really. I’m struggling because it’s complicated.
I often say ‘there’s nothing easy about breast cancer’, and this applies to the fall out from breast cancer too. The big ticket item for the younger women with breast cancer is the affect treatment can have on fertility.
There are many ways it can affect your ability to have children – side effects from chemo, long term medication, or the fact that by the time your treatment was finished you’d missed the baby boat. We don’t all get the chance to freeze eggs before we start treatment – and even if we did, well, that’s not a sure thing anyway.
I didn’t freeze any eggs – I was given the choice, but I decided to get on with treatment right away. I have never regretted my decision – my husband and I were unequivocal in our thinking that our child needed a mother more than a sibling.
Do I feel cheated? Absolutely. But not by anyone responsible for my healthcare. I was presented with choices and I made the decision that I would make again. It’s the situation that cheated me. The fact that I had cancer. The fact that I was powerless to direct my future towards the vision I had for it.
I did make peace with the fact that I would not have a second biological child. I looked at my son and imagined what his brother or sister would have looked like. I imagined them, and I said goodbye.
I did not make peace with the notion that I may not have another child, because I didn’t – and still don’t – believe that this will be the case. I very easily switched my thoughts to adoption. I’ve never believed that I needed to have my ‘own’ child to love it. Any child in my care will be loved, I can say that with 100% surety.
But this isn’t an easy path either. Even with a clean bill of health and a spotless police record, we have not been placed with a child. All the boxes are ticked, all approvals are in place, but the wait continues. The hardest bit is hearing stories of abuse and neglect. Of kids coming to harm when there’s a safe and loving home for them here. It’s being powerless again. Powerless and frustrated.
I told you it was complicated. But it’s not without hope. I saw a movie recently, and there was a scene with a foster carer and a 12 year old boy. She said: ‘I’m so glad we found you. Sorry it took so long.’ If you’re reading this and you’re somewhere in your own fertility journey, take heart and keep hoping. Your child may not come to you in the way you expected, but there are other ways of having a special child in your life. You just have to find them.
It’s Fertility Friday time again. I cannot tell you how much I am loving reading and sharing all these amazing stories. It is a privilege to know so many bloody amazing women!
Today’s guest poster is my friend Naomi. As well as doing a frighteningly accurate Mick Jagger impersonation after a couple of drinks, Naomi is also a mother of three. However, she didn’t end up with her three beautiful kids in the ‘usual’ way. This is her story:
My husband and I had always talked about having a family and I guess it is just something that you expect to happen. We had everything planned; the length of our engagement, the wedding and then at our one year anniversary we would start trying for a family and we would have two kids, a boy and a girl. Things never seem to go as planned. We got the engagement and wedding bit right, but it took us three years to get the kids.
We tried for a year on our own to no avail. I made an appointment with my GP who then referred me to a specialist. And so the fun began! It started with blood tests, ultrasounds etc etc. In the end it turned out I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It’s quite common and one of the leading causes of infertility in women. As many as 25% of women of childbearing age have PCOS, but most don’t even know that they have it until they begin trying to get pregnant. The big problem with PCOS is that you don’t tend to ovulate regularly, making it very difficult to conceive. Generally medical assistance is required so the process for us started out with tablets to bring on ovulation which then meant more blood tests, ultrasounds etc etc. It quickly became a very tedious process and the exact opposite of romantic – particularly when your doctor gives you and injection and then orders you to have sex at 10pm that night! Totally takes the romance out of “making a baby”.
For me this cycle continued for about a year with no success, until my doctor then informed me that we might need to do a bit more to make this happen, so the next part of the journey was some surgery. “Ovarian drilling” to be exact. They didn’t strike oil down there, but instead helped stimulate the ovaries to encourage them to produce those little eggs I so desperately needed. Surgery – tick, ovaries stimulated – tick, baby – nil. So the next part of the treatment was what I lovingly love to refer to, “the turkey baster method”, or for those medically inclined, IUI – Intrauterine Insemination. Basically my husband was required to do his part of the deal in a cup, the doctor then took that contribution and spun the semen in a machine to get the sperm all excited about this conception business, and once the spinning was complete the doctor puts the sperm in a syringe and inserted them inside my clacker! Along with this process came lots of needles to produce lots of follicles that were ready to pop.
Finally, we had success and I took a pregnancy test on Mother’s Day in 2004. Woo hoo! We were so super excited but the excitement didn’t last for too long. Unfortunately at around the 8/9 week mark I suffered a miscarriage. I was so very angry and upset – it had taken us two years to get a positive result and now it was being taken away from us. Of course all around me friends and relatives were getting pregnant and I was happy for them but inside me was this little voice saying “why them and not me?”. I guess that is the crappiest part of infertility, the hormonal roller coaster ride. My poor husband at times didn’t know what to say to me. Of course I blamed it all on myself because I was the one with PCOS. I would often find myself apologising to him because I knew how much he wanted children.
I eventually bounced back from the loss of our baby and soldiered back on with trying to get our bundle of joy. We continued the IUI cycles for another 12 months and exactly 12 months to the day we found out we were pregnant again. Yay!!!!!
This time it was a little different. I didn’t feel so hot. The pregnancy test came back positive really, really quickly. Looked like my hormone levels were very high. The first sign of multiples came in the form of over stimulation of the ovaries, which was incredibly painful and not much fun at all. Then at 7 weeks we trotted off to our doctor to have our first scan. While we were driving to the appointment my husband reached over grabbed my hand and held three fingers and he indicated to me that he thought we had three. I of course just laughed it off. The doctor lead us into the ultrasound room and proceeded to probe my belly “Congratulations we have twins!” then came the “hang on a sec……………….we have a third!!!!!”. From that moment on our lives would never be the same again.
On the 24 November 2005, I gave birth to triplet girls – Imogen, Caitlin and Hayley. The girls were kept in hospital for a period of four weeks and came home on the 22 December 2005. We were blessed with three very healthy babies. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the total shock of bringing home a baby for the first time, let alone three, but the support that we received from family, friends and total strangers was absolutely amazing.
It was quite a journey to get our girls, but they continue to bring us so much joy. Of course I tell them quite often how hard we worked to get them. They still find it quite freaky that I could fit three of them in my belly. Trust me when I say it wasn’t the most comfortable pregnancy, but we got there in the end. It has definitely been hard work having three at once but I wouldn’t swap it for the world. They are three very unique personalities, and can at times have a love-hate relationship like all siblings, but they are sisters who will always share a very special bond.
The next guest post in my Fertility Friday series is written by my dear friend Sam. I’ve actually already written a little bit about Sam’s pregnancy in this post. Sam and I work together, and her struggle with infertility and IVF built an incredible bond between us, as only a shared understanding of pain can. I truly will never forget the day she told me she was pregnant – my heart felt like it was going to squeeze out of my chest with happiness that finally, FINALLY!, it had happened. Despite the fact she is now in the ‘holy crap when people said I’d be tired I had no idea that they actually meant this’ stage of new motherhood, Sam has found the time to put her experience into words here.
There were a few years in my late 20s and early 30s where I really couldn’t stand Mother’s Day. All of that commercialised bull. Or so I told myself.
In reality, I resented all of those mothers out there who would wake up on that early Sunday morning in May to hear excited little foot steps running down the hall to their bedroom. And a toothless grin from a tiny little human flinging the bedroom door open, with a handmade card in one hand and burnt Vegemite toast in the other. Or maybe it would be a painted macaroni necklace and lukewarm cup of tea? There would be sloppy kisses and big hugs and all that gooey, oozey love that only tiny little humans can give.
I resented all those beautiful mums out there who would experience all those little things that I thought I never would. My husband and I started ‘trying’ when I was 27. When I say trying I mean we ditched the pill and hoped for the best. We had been together since we were 18. We had studied, gotten good jobs, a mortgage, a fur baby, and then another fur baby. We’d done all the ‘right’ things in preparation to bring a tiny human into the world.
At first we were pretty relaxed about it all. But then a year passed, and then another. By 29, we upped the ante and started to get more serious about ‘trying’. We were relatively young and healthy, and on the outside looked like we should be in our fertility prime. But no luck.
We saw specialists and were told that we had a 1% chance of conceiving naturally. It was crazy. We weren’t even in our 30s. That kind of thing happened when you were old. Turns out that all of those years of horrible period pain was actually endometriosis. That and, as the fertility doc explained, my ovaries looked like they were wearing pearl necklaces (but not the good kind). I had the double whammy – endo and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It took years for a diagnosis because I didn’t have any of the classic symptoms.
IVF was our best option. So we optimistically went for it. And despite all of our optimism and hope (and financial expense), it didn’t work for us. Emotionally, it was a rollercoaster. Cliche metaphor I know, but all my fellow IVF peeps out there, you know what I mean. We silently salute each other when we pass in the hallways. For those who haven’t had to experience it, let’s just say IVF, when it doesn’t work, is shit. Or as my husband would say, fucking horrible.
As time passed, I found myself googling ‘how to adopt in Australia’ in my lunch break (turns out that’s not a piece of cake either). Hubby and I were having those serious philosophical conversations that went something like ‘do we really want kids or do we just feel societal pressure to have kids because we’re married and in our 30s?’ and, ‘well, if we can’t have kids, we can just be a great Uncle and Aunty to the nieces and nephews and focus on travel’ and ‘maybe we could get a miniature pig?’ (yes, we really did have that conversation because three chooks, two dogs and an arsehole of a cat still didn’t fill that void).
We’d decided to focus on our careers, do a bit more travel and then give IVF, despite all of its horribleness, another go. I applied for a new job, booked a trip to India and spoke to the fertility doc about doing another round in December.
Then one afternoon in September, after not feeling so well all week, I realised I was ‘late’. I poured myself a glass of wine and ran myself a bath. This was a ritual I had developed over the years to deal with the comedown after having my hopes up that I may be pregnant. That stupid blue line had been evading me for years. Off I went with my pee stick, waiting to stare aimlessly at that imaginary line.
Within seconds, a determined, strong, bold, blue line appeared.
I was pregnant!
No rhyme nor reason to it. After years of trying, I just was. That sneaky 1% chance finally came through for us. At first my husband didn’t believe me. After years of disappointment, he’d trained himself to be the reasoned sceptic, gently talking me around in case it was a false positive so I didn’t get my hopes up and then crash and burn. So, as you can imagine, our first scan was pure magic. The rhythm of that strong heartbeat confirmed any doubt. And both of us already so in love with our tiny little human. We couldn’t believe we could be so lucky.
Now to be honest, I didn’t really enjoy pregnancy. I was bloody tired. All. The. Time. (‘Good practice for when the Bub comes’, I was told. Yeah, that’s so not funny.) I’d gone from running daily and finishing my first half marathon just months earlier to puffing while walking up two flights of stairs. While I absolutely adored my expanding belly and still get emotional when I think about that amazing feeling of my tiny little baby kicking and squirming inside me, my body just wasn’t able to do what I wanted it to do. There was definitely some adjustment needed. But how could I complain? I was just so damn relieved and happy to be experiencing all the good, bad and ugly that is pregnancy (heartburn and all).
Then, after what felt like a lifetime, she arrived. It was an early Sunday morning in May that I gave birth to my tiny little human. My tiny, perfect, love of my life, miracle, little human.
Actually, come to think of it, it was the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day.
Happy Mother’s Day to me.