Sweet Dreams xx Bec
My fertility story– a Blessed Journey.
By: Lee-Anne Whitten.
For many women the road toward parenthood can be tumultuous. When things don’t go to plan, or there are difficulties in conception, many women feel ashamed and isolated. It is very important that fertility stories are shared so that anyone going through challenges knows that there is no ‘normal’ passage toward parenthood and there is no shame in how we achieve pregnancy, or for that matter how we choose to deliver and care.My journey toward parenthood started when I was very blessed to fall pregnant easily with my daughter. I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and was told that due to irregular periods it would be difficult to fall pregnant. However, due to luck and likely the fact that I was incredibly young (only 27, what was I thinking!) conception came easily.
In 2007 a beautiful little girl came into our lives. She was the light of our lives, and we thought how lucky a sibling would one day be to have her as their big sister. Such thoughts are only natural to any family, and we simply assumed it would not be difficult to have another child.
When my daughter was around 20 months old we were ready to try for baby number 2. We tried the first month to no avail, and then due to the fact that my cycles are not regular we went to the fertility doctor to assist me with ovulation tracking. My doctor explained that it would be best to keep me more regular through the assistance of the most basic of fertility drugs, Clomid. We tried Clomid for 3 cycles, with no success. Then my doctor suggested we try injectable fertility drugs which stimulate follicular growth more intensely and would likely result in a successful pregnancy. I agreed. We tried this for another 3 cycles, to no success.
Before I knew it, 6 or so months down the line my journey toward parenthood had taken quite a different turn. I was enveloped in daily trips to my fertility clinic, daily blood checks, internal ultrasounds, daily ovulation tracking and anxious phone calls waiting for results. Every cycle we would attempt to fall pregnant, I would wait 2 weeks in anticipation of a positive result, and we would end with a negative result. In between working, looking after my daughter, using the correct drugs at the correct time of day and my husband and my sex life being dictated by follicular growth and my hormone levels, there was little space left in my life for much else.
We persevered. My doctor suggested IVF. He told me based on my age, and my history IVF should be successful. So, without too much thought, we took what seemed to be the logical next step.
As can be attested by any person who has gone through it, IVF can be a difficult process taking its toll on the mind and the body. The drugs that are put into a woman’s system are hugely impactful playing with emotions, weight, skin, hair, you name it. Then there is the very real chance of hyper stimulation of the ovaries, a condition that can result in serious complications and hospitalisation. There is the further physical impact of a ‘pick up’ where a needle is surgically placed into the ovaries to pick up embryos.
The process is also extremely costly; every treatment, medication and transfer costing hugely. This places additional stresses on already very fragile relationships.
This is not to mention the emotional impact. There is the torture of waiting for daily results. There is the very real fear that you may not have any eggs at pick up, and if you do, that they may not take and become embryos. Your sex life is dictated by days and numbers and laboratories and any intimacy is taken from your relationship. Then, there is the painful 2 week wait for the pregnancy result, which for us on transfer number one, was negative. We accepted this and went for transfer number 2 where we did indeed fall pregnant. Finally. However, this was not a good pregnancy, and at close to 12 weeks I miscarried.
I was starting to despair that I would not be able to have another child. My body seemed to be failing me and I felt disconnected from myself. IVF can be an incredible gift, but by its very nature it generates anxiety, obsessive monitoring and can dominate your thoughts and cloud your world, even for the most positive of people. This is not something that can be controlled – it is the process.
We told almost no one what was going on. Many people guessed as my daughter was getting older. Some had no tact and simply asked when we were going to have another baby. For those who knew, some were incredibly supportive, but by and large responses fell in to 2 categories. The first were those who were pregnant. Due to the fact that they felt ‘bad’ they were pregnant and I was not they felt it too hard to see me. The second were the women for whom falling pregnant came with great ease, who still felt they could judge my responses. They would say things like ‘you should be grateful you have one healthy child’, and ‘you are so lucky, it is so easy to just have one child’.
If I am going to be completely honest, I think it is truthful to say that the reality of having one child is a lot easier in the minute to minute of life, then having a lot of children. My one child was particularly easy. She has never given us any trouble and being her parent has never been difficult. I never denied this. Most fundamentally it needs to be made very clear that there is not a single day of my daughter’s life where I have not woken and actively expressed in word and in writing the depth of gratitude I have for the miracle that is her. Every single day I am awed by the fact that she is ours, that we have her as a gift, and that her life is precious.
However, long term, being an only child comes with a whole set of challenges that I did not wish for my child. Is it not right for me to wish for her all of the wonderful experiences of growing up with siblings? What about the future if something were to happen to myself and my husband? This is not to say that I judge those who choose to have one child, but for me this was not my choice if I had any control over it.
However, even more simply, I like anyone else had an imagined vision of what I wanted my family to look like, and that included at least one sibling for my daughter. I had the right to want another baby just as much as anyone else, and I had the right to pursue that dream until it was not an option any longer. I would then begin the journey of accepting an alternative but that would when I was ready for it and not when anyone else thought it was the right time.
After my miscarriage, I decided to have a break from the rollercoaster that is the fertility world. I felt that my body needed to be given a break. Up until this point I had blamed myself for the entire process. I had PCOS, I couldn’t fall pregnant. But what if my husband had something to do with it? What if his lifestyle – working hard, caffeine, stress had something to do with it? So, I asked my husband to join me on a very different journey.
I felt our future deserved one last try, this time a Chinese alternative method, together. I had been working throughout my IVF with a wonderful acupuncturist and naturopath who now put both of us on a strict clean diet, no alcohol or caffeine, acupuncture and Chinese herbs. And what would you know –we fell pregnant. According to my fertility doctor my body was ready to hold a pregnancy, but in my gut I believe it was the method we used. 9 months later I gave birth to our very vibrant son, who is now almost 4 years old.
And the story does not end there. Due to the fact that I had such challenges falling pregnant, I didn’t think about having any more children. I was truly grateful for my son and brother and felt like our circle was complete. I also didn’t think about contraception! When my son was 8 months old, I was shocked and surprised and shocked and shocked again to find out I was pregnant with my 3rd child!!! My youngest son is now 2.5 years old, and we cannot imagine a world without him.
I was absolutely right about the gift my daughter would be to her siblings. She is the best sister in the world. She is my other mother and they worship and adore her. My life as a mother is harder – I have 2 boys, 17 months apart, and they are at times hugely challenging. I am busy mum of 3 kids, running, washing, cooking, managing, working, and at times I am overwhelmed. As a mother of 1 this was not my challenge, but I am so grateful and content in the knowledge they have each other that those days are worth it. And every day to come will be worth it.
A happy ending! But, every experience is life’s teacher and certainly this was a big teacher, so what was I supposed to learn from this journey?
During this time I met so many woman going through their journeys. We were all so different, but we all had a lot in common. Everyone felt to varying degrees isolated, misunderstood, judged and trapped by the process. I didn’t feel it needed to be like this. Suddenly an idea came to my mind – a non-profit organisation designed to support women and couples going through infertility.
I was connected with some wonderful women already doing work to financially assist couples who could not afford IVF. We joined forces and started the Australian Jewish Fertility Network (AJFN) with the aim to create a vibrant on-line community where women and couples experiencing infertility could find information and feel connected and supported. In addition to our website, we aim through our events and fundraisers to educate other women who have not experienced infertility how hard this experience can be, peeling away the sense of judgement and isolation. We also continue where possible to financially assist women and couples who cannot afford the huge costs associated with fertility treatments.
AJFN has really grown over the last few years which I think is testimony to how big this issue actually is. We are breaking down barriers and helping people feel supported. And we get to help in the creation of life, which is really very cool.
I know that my story is not harrowing, I do not claim this. It is in fact common and because so many women go through these sorts of experiences, it is essential that we talk about them openly and honestly, so that no one should ever feel ashamed or isolated for simply going through something commonly experienced by millions of other women all over the world. I am immensely blessed and AJFN is one of the avenues in which I express my gratitude.