fertility friday

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: The Power of One

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.

Azette photo