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When I married my husband (DH) back in 2000 I was still very young and very un-worldly. I had led quite a sheltered life, until life had other ideas. I had not had much life experience but my DH had, so I looked to him for guidance and support whenever life tripped me up, which became quite frequent after we married, nothing to do with him I assure you! 😉 If you have read previous blogs of mine, especially Mature Age Renaissance (Oct 2011), you will know that most of the challenges I have experienced since I married have been health related. This blog is about my reproductive journey and it has not been as easy one. I have friends and family members who have experienced pain in this area too: some of it much worse than I have experienced, others have just had completely different experiences, and a few have simply wanted to have a reproductive experience but has never eventuated and the lack of it is keenly felt by them.

When we were newly married DH and I decided to wait for 12 months and then start trying to fall pregnant (where does this term come from? How can one ‘fall’ pregnant?). Unfortunately, we ended up delaying this another 12 months as I was experiencing some health problems that just needed some time to pass before putting myself through pregnancy and labour. So, two years after we married we felt ready to embark on this new journey. We were so excited and were wondering: how long it would take? Would it be a boy or girl first? Who would they look like? What would their personality be like?

Then the disappointment came. Month after month the arrival of my period was the reminder that I wasn’t pregnant. Why wasn’t I falling pregnant? We were doing everything right. I was only 27 yrs old, I was fairly healthy, and I had no history of gynaecological problems – why wasn’t I pregnant? After nine months I started to find it really hard to accept. I kept thinking “I could have had a baby by now”. Friends and family members were falling pregnant all around me and I was happy for them but it hurt that most of them, no matter how old they were, fell pregnant within four months of trying. Everywhere I went I saw heavily pregnant women, babies and prams. It was like someone was playing a cruel joke on me, saying “See this? Want this? Well you can’t have it!”

After about two years of trying we went to my GP to get a referral for an infertility specialist. This specialist has turned out to be a great doctor for me. We talked over my gynaecological history, or lack thereof, and suggested that I could put on a few more kilos (I was still about 4 kilos underweight at this time) and declared in a fun, cheeky way, with my hubby sitting next to me, “If I can’t get you pregnant, no one can!” He suggested we first do some investigative surgery to find out why I wasn’t falling pregnant and then, if necessary, discuss the possibility of trying IVF.

Well, I don’t remember much now from the Hysteroscopy and Laparoscopy other than when I went to lay down on the operating table, I put my feet in the stirrups, lay back and then burst out laughing: I noticed the one metre in diameter spotlight that was being directed on my nether regions! My genitalia was going to be the star of the surgical show! Apart from that I do remember being sore for a good week after the keyhole surgery and feeling relief that there were no major impediments to my falling pregnant, only some minor endometriosis that my Doctor gave only a 3/10 for severity.

So, to cut a long story short, we did pursue IVF and had success on our first go! We were shocked but grateful. It certainly wasn’t easy going through IVF but the success we had made me forget most of the ordeal pretty quickly.

I had a relatively easy pregnancy, not that pregnancy is easy, and had a fairly textbook labour except for two things. I never dilated past three centimetres despite enduring all of labour and so needed to have an emergency caesarean, which brought up the second problem: my pancytopenia reared its ugly head, specifically, the platelet count was down to 63, so I couldn’t have an epidural and so had to give birth under a general anaesthetic. So needless to say I wasn’t ‘present’ at my son’s birth. I was there physically but in no other capacity. It is the biggest regret of my life, not experiencing his birth. It’s something you take for granted, especially being female, that you will be present for the birth of your children and you will have those memories forever.

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This is what I missed out on – my son being born

So it was a very surreal experience being forced to wake up over 2 hours later by the nurse, my husband and sister, and being shaken and  told “it’s time to feed your baby, wake up”. I remember struggling to think where I was and what on earth were they talking about. I tried to think of the last thing I remembered and realised I had been pregnant, I recalled being wheeled frantically to the operating theatre and the hospital fire alarm sounding off and feeling so much pain that I was almost convinced I was going to die. I then said to myself “oh that’s right, I was pregnant, so that means the baby must be born and they’re telling me to breastfeed…..hang on, how the hell to I breastfeed!!! I haven’t even met my baby yet!” I was being rushed so quickly to breastfeed that I didn’t get a good look at my new son until after I was finished feeding. I was struck by how much he looked like me in my first baby photo. I couldn’t believe we finally had a healthy baby, I was so thankful and so relieved.

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This is me shortly after I’d woken up and in a pethadine haze as I couldn’t take the usual pain killers as my blood pressure was too high when I arrived at the hospital.

So, 12 months later, knowing it’s not easy for us to fall pregnant, we decided we were ready for another baby. We went back to our Doctor and started our next round of IVF…..no success. So a few months later we tried again…. no success. At this point money was getting a bit tight so we decided to wait six months or so until our finances were in better shape. Then we tried IVF for the fourth time and before I explain what happened I’ll now relay the IVF journey for you.

To begin the IVF journey (this was how it was for me in 2006-7 but it may have changed since then) you have to call the IVF clinic the first day of your period. Then, they book in a time for you to come and collect your first batch of drugs to take from about day 21, which is taking a nasal spray morning and night (12 hours apart) at the exact same times each day. This drug is used to ‘down-regulate’ your own hormone system (using the IVF jargon). Then when your next period comes you call again and arrange for your regular visits and to collect the next batch of drugs, and this is where it starts to get really fun. These drugs are administered by an injection near your belly button everyday from about day 4 to 14 during which time you attend the IVF clinic every second morning before work to have an internal ultrasound. This is done using a device that’s basically like a big but narrow dildo to check how many follicles are developing eggs and whether their size is on schedule to be ripe for harvesting (another delightful IVF term) by about day 16. These injections basically override your own hormone system so that instead of producing one healthy egg ready for fertilisation your body will produce about 10-20 healthy eggs. So imagine the affect on your emotional state! I became volatile to say the least. I was an emotional mess, which is bad enough when it’s just your partner having to live with you but when you have another child at home with you the effect on them can be terrible. Then, around day 15 you have a different injection that’s labelled the ‘trigger’ that lets your body know your eggs are almost ready for harvesting. This injection has to be done at exactly 36 hours prior to the harvesting operation at the hospital. At the hospital you are sedated so they can perform the procedure and when you wake up you will find written on your hand how many healthy eggs they retrieved.  My results varied from 10 to 16 eggs. These eggs are then invited to party with the fresh sperm provided by your partner. Then every day the scientists call to inform you of how many eggs have fertilised and how many are still developing each day. Five days after the harvesting a blastocyst (five day old embryo) is inserted back into your body in a procedure very similar to a pap smear and you are given the last batch of drugs to take, this time the drug is in the form of a  pessary, inserted each day, which are used to provide the optimal environment for an embryo to attach to the uterus wall and grow therefore making a possible pregnancy more likely. This goes on for nearly two weeks, unless your period comes sooner, and if no period has arrived you then have a blood test to confirm whether or not you are pregnant.

blastocystPicture courtesy of http://www.regionalfertilityprogram.ca

If everything goes according to the textbook, say you get 12 eggs harvested, of those you should expect about 9 of them to fertilise. By five days later you should expect to have about three blastocysts, one for inserting back into your body and the other two are frozen for later use.  The numbers vary from woman to woman and differ depending on the woman’s age. The success rate of the blastocyst turning into a viable pregnancy will also depend on the woman and her age.

Read Part 2 of My Journey Through Infertility here

Summary of IVF process (www.ivf.com.au):