Personal // My IVF journey: Lola is my one in nine

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My beautiful, feisty and fierce little one is about to turn three and I finally feel ready to share how she came to be. I’ve ummed and ahhed for a long time about sharing such a personal part of my life, afraid of opening up, especially to those that know me in real life. But I want to be able to show my daughter one day how hard we fought for her. And if it helps someone going through something similar to know that they’re not alone, then I’ll be happy I shared such a personal story.

My story is one about secondary infertility. You see, my firstborn, Max, was conceived quickly and easily. We got back from our honeymoon in June 2010, decided to start trying and within the first month, I was pregnant. I knew I was lucky, but I didn’t grasp just how lucky I was until we started trying for number two.

Just after Max turned two we started trying. I was 36, about to turn 37. I naively thought it would happen as quickly and easily as the first time. I had no idea of the journey ahead of me and my hubby. So we tried for a couple of months. I thought it was odd that nothing was happening. I started getting concerned and frustrated after a few months. By that stage, I had turned 37 and whilst I knew I wasn’t in my peak fertility years I didn’t think my age presented that much of a problem. I personally knew of lots of women who had conceived in their late 30s and early 40s.

At the 6 month mark, we went to see a Gynaecologist who was also a fertility specialist. We started doing all the tests to work out what was going on. The most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, was a test called a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG). The HSG checks whether your fallopian tubes are blocked, or not. The procedure uses an X-ray to look at your fallopian tubes and your uterus. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, so off I went on my own on Christmas Eve, for what I thought would be a relatively quick procedure. Essentially, you lie down, bit like a pap smear, under an X-ray imager, and they insert a thin tube called a cannula into your cervix and fill your uterus with a liquid containing iodine. They take images and the liquid shows them the outline of your uterus and your fallopian tubes and where and how the fluid moves around. This is how they can tell whether your fallopian tubes are blocked, or not. Apart from childbirth, I’ve never experienced anything more painful in my life. For some reason, they couldn’t quite get the tube and liquid working and had to call doctors in and out while they are moving the tube in and out of me, all the while causing me excruciating pain. Did I mention I was alone? I was in absolute agony. There were a number of people in the room and a nurse held my hand to comfort me as I was absolutely terrified. I wondered why it was so bloody hard, shouldn’t this be a quick 5-minute procedure? After what felt like a very long time, one of the senior doctors took over, got the X-ray images she could and I left. I was so upset and distraught. I cried into my champagne that night, being Christmas Eve and all.

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I vowed I would never have that procedure again. We met with our specialist and the results came back that I had one blocked fallopian tube. So we believed this was the reason behind our failure to conceive. (This later proved to be found untrue). Other tests showed that I had a low ovarian reserve for my age. This meant I had a lower than average number of eggs for my age. Great! (Said no woman experiencing infertility, ever).

I will never forget being told by my doctor that I would need IVF to have a baby. I bawled my eyes out. I never thought we were IVF people, I mean, I had gotten pregnant so easily with my first! How were we in this predicament? Why was my body failing me when I needed it most? I could not fathom this was my reality. This kind of stuff happened to other people, not us. How naïve to think we would be immune to heartache. What made me so special? That was a really difficult time as I had so many thoughts going through my head at this point, not really wanting to accept reality.

We then started tracking my ovulation, right down to knowing when the egg would be released, and timing intercourse around that. Believing I had a blocked fallopian tube this meant every second month trying to conceive was essentially wasted. We thought we would do this for 6 months and hopefully avoid IVF. We tried this for 6 months, and nothing. By this stage, we had been trying for an entire year. The next option was IVF. I had begun trying in 2013, a year had passed and it was now 2014. I was 37, going on 38. That whole thing about your clock ticking? Well, that clock was not ticking, it was ringing loudly in my ears. I felt panicky, I was turning 38 and felt like time was running out for me.

We tried to live our life just as we always had, but anyone that has struggled to conceive will tell you that you feel like you put your life on hold. I certainly felt like I did that, and in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. I put on hold big things like planning for the future (because my only plan was to have another baby and complete our family) and things like holding off on exercise (which I kick myself for because I have no doubt it would have helped me with my mental state and being fitter may have helped me to conceive).

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Before my son’s 3rd birthday, we went on a little camping trip. We had a great time, trying to just enjoy the time away with friends. My period was also due at the same time but strangely, it never came. I was about 7-10 days overdue and internally I felt so happy as I knew this was it. I was definitely pregnant. I had some spotting on the camping trip but I ignored it. My period was always so regular, smack bang on 28-30 days that surely being overdue by a week or more meant I was pregnant. We got back from our trip, my doctor took a blood test, and half an hour before I got the blood test result, my period arrived. Devastated is an understatement. It was so cruel. I couldn’t believe my body was doing this to me.

The night of my son’s 3rd birthday I started IVF. That day, we had a big party in the park for his birthday with all our friends and family. All the while knowing what lay ahead of me that night.

I don’t even know where to begin. By that stage, I had just accepted that this was my lot, my cross to bear. It wasn’t to say I dealt with it very well, but I had accepted that IVF was now probably our best shot at having another baby. I thought IVF was my saviour and that I’d get pregnant on the first go (I was wrong).

It was an incredibly emotionally fraught time. Everyone around me was getting pregnant, seemingly at the drop of a hat. I was very fragile. I felt like I was living one life of playgrounds and kinder gyms, surrounded by mums with swollen pregnant bellies or those with multiple children, meanwhile I was living another life where I felt completely disconnected from that world. Hubby and I would constantly get questions about whether we were having another baby and why didn’t we have another one already and so forth. Like it was anybody else’s bloody business! 95% of people had no idea the anguish I felt at being asked such personal questions, the feeling of being inadequate and a failure was too hard to bear at times.

A friend of mine underwent IVF years before me and she said something at the time that always stuck with me for some reason, that for her IVF wasn’t that bad (this was her own personal experience and it’s not to suggest everyone feels this way about IVF). I went into IVF with this in my head so I think that got me into a good headspace. I knew it was emotionally and physically taxing, as well as financially draining but after a year of trying, I was all in and ready to give it my best shot. I hate needles, but I got the hang of it pretty quick. Because you have to insert the hormones at the same time every day I often found myself having to inject needles when we were out and about. Shooting up at a friend’s house or at a wedding was not really my idea of fun! I remember friends asking us across the table at a wedding reception if we were going to have another child. That same night I injected myself with artificial hormones in the toilets.

My first IVF cycle resulted in four eggs being collected. You wake up in recovery with the number of eggs collected on the palm of your hand. When I woke up in recovery and looked at the palm of my hand and saw ‘4’ I broke down in tears (coming off the anaesthetic wasn’t exactly helping). Four! I was devastated. I think all the nurses felt sorry for me. All that work for just four measly eggs. Four chances for the sperm to fertilise the egg, and IF the egg is fertilised, which is never a guarantee, four chances of turning into a blastocyst (a viable embryo). Four was fucked, quite frankly! Out of those four, one embryo was transferred into me, and one was frozen for a later transfer.

My first IVF cycle resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. The embryo travelled up my fallopian tubes and landed on my ovary. I required a laparoscopic surgery to remove the embryo. My doctor was able to save my ovaries so I considered myself lucky, any small win was a win at that point. You might remember in the first part of my story it was thought I had a blocked fallopian tube? During the surgery, they discovered that in fact, I didn’t have a blocked tube. That confirmed I (or my husband) had no medical reason causing my infertility. From conceiving my son on the first go to not having any reason why I just couldn’t seem to get pregnant again just didn’t make any sense to me.

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In between cycles, I had a frozen embryo transferred but this also failed to progress to a pregnancy. My second cycle produced 6 eggs. That cycle resulted in no pregnancy either. When I first began IVF I really thought it was my saviour, that it would just take one go and I would put the whole thing behind me with a pregnant belly to show for it. But as I learnt, everyone’s story is so different.

By my third cycle, I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s office with my husband and chatting about the possibility of transferring two embryos in one go. I was getting a bit desperate at that point! This is high risk as having twins is a strong possibility…it’s a big decision to make and although neither hubby nor I wanted twins I was willing to go for it. We decided to do a different and longer IVF cycle, instead of the standard 4 weeks, which is designed to help you produce more eggs.

I was starting to lose hope at this point, I just really wanted to be pregnant, and have another baby. I wanted to hold that baby in my arms and as much as I had always wanted a girl I really didn’t care (I had stopped caring about gender a long time beforehand).

My third, and last, cycle produced 9 eggs. My lucky number. A third of the eggs fertilised, so I had three decent embryos to work with. On the day of my transfer, (when the most promising embryo is put into your uterus) hubby and I walked in and we were told that out of the three eggs that were fertilised, only one had developed into a viable embryo. One out of nine. Crushing news to hear when you’re trying desperately to remain hopeful and positive.

IVF is a numbers game. If you’re lucky, and I do believe it just comes down to luck, eventually the numbers will stack in your favour. It’s a gamble. Lola is my one in nine. Out of nine eggs, she is THE one. After 18 months of us fighting for her, my little fighter eventually found us. Knowing her now, I can totally see how she came to be here…she is such a feisty, cheeky, determined, strong and confident character. My hubby and I often ask each other “where on earth did she come from?”

We waited for what felt like an eternity for our daughter, and I mean when I say there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t look at her and truly appreciate her. The saying goes – the longer the wait, the sweeter the reward. It’s a cliché but it’s true…I know, I’ve lived it. I’m one of the lucky ones.

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