The day my husband asked me to marry him I stopped taking the contraceptive pill. For 2 reasons; I had been on it for over 15 years and I knew it sometimes took a while for a woman's cycle to return post pill, and we both wanted kids as soon as we were married.
12 months later I hadn’t had a period and I was diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea due to over exercising and stress. The prescription from my endocrinologist was to stop exercising completely, increase my BMI and stop stressing (try doing that in the lead up to a wedding!?). So I did that, as soon as the wedding was over :-)
After three months of eating whatever I wanted, and drastically cutting back on exercise, my period was still MIA. I was 35 and we were impatient, so we saw a fertility specialist.
It was another three months before we did the first treatment because according to my doctor, my uterus had shrunk due to inactivity (what?). I was put on the contraceptive pill (oh the irony!) for three months so the hormones could give me a period and give my uterus some action so it could grow to a size that could handle a pregnancy.
Our first stop was SO-IUI (Super Ovulation and Intrauterine Insemination). I injected myself daily with all the hormones my body was not producing naturally to grow follicles. Then they time it perfectly so that when ovulation occurs the sperm is inserted manually by the nurse into just the right spot to meet up with the egg a ‘get together’.
When this failed we went straight to IVF with high hopes. It’s amazing how excited you get about a 40% chance of getting pregnant, when in reality, there’s more chance of it not working. That was the case with us - six IVF cycles (4 fresh, 2 frozen) and so far nothing but big fat negatives.
Looking back, the first IVF failure was the hardest to comprehend. With every subsequent failure you come to expect it more. It gets harder to hope. You get more numb. The first few IVF cycles I put on a positive front for my support crew, and my husband; no doubt he did the same for me. But now we’re more honest with each other - you need to release all the pain in order to be positive about the next step in the journey.
The crap thing about IVF is that there are so many things that can go wrong along the way. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, one day you’re flying high because you’ve got a good number of eggs to collect, the next day you’re rock bottom with your heart in your stomach because most of them didn’t fertilise.
Being the type A personality I am, I wanted control of the situation at all times. I’ve spent hours researching everything I could possibly do to get a positive outcome. I’ve tried acupuncture, endometrium scratching (to regenerate my lining), intralipids (which kill off ‘natural killer cells’ that can attack the embryo), baby aspirin to stop blood clotting, every single supplement under the sun vaguely related to fertility, castor oil packs for blood flow to the uterus, DIY hypnotherapy, foods to help increase lining, implantation, blood flow…. you name it, I’ve tried it. It’s tiring. And a part of me knows that all of these things don’t make a damn bit of difference if your embryo is not chromosomally perfect.
I'm now 37 and I’m terrified it’s not going to work. It's like the universe is playing a cruel joke on me; you can have an amazing husband that wants a huge family and would be the most incredible father, but you can't have your fertility.
The truth is that it’s my life choices that have got me here. At 20 I wouldn’t have needed IVF to get pregnant. At that time I was doing everything I could to stop it from happening. I could have chosen a life that involved early parenthood, but it would have made a mess of my career and I would have missed those character building and game changing experiences like travelling the world. I don’t regret a thing.
Getting pregnant is a numbers name, it’s like playing the lottery. Each woman is born with thousands of eggs but only a percentage of those have the right chromosomes to become a baby. If the machine keeps punching out the wrong balls, you don’t hit the jackpot. It’s taken me a while to get my head around this. I’ve been demanding to know why it’s not working, what can we do differently next time Dr? Why why why? But all we can do is keep trying because there’s every chance our numbers will come up next time.
My advice to families going through the same is to give yourself a break. I forced my husband and I into back to back IVF rounds because I was so terrified that my ‘advancing maternal age’ was the biggest issue. Then what ended up happening is my body stopped responding to the medication and we needed to take higher and higher doses to grow the eggs. Anyone that’s done IVF knows the higher the medication dosage the lower the egg quality.
Your body and your mind need a break in between cycles to get off the emotional and physical roller coaster.
Secondly, I encourage anyone who has experienced IVF failure to ask more questions, push for more testing, and if you’re not 100% satisfied with your clinic then change. And always ask for success rates when choosing a clinic, your chance for success is in the hands of the embryologist and their laboratory. We went to a public hospital first because it was cheaper than going private, but since realised their success rates are a lot lower due to older facilities and a more conservative approach to the treatment. Choose the clinic with the best success numbers, its worth paying extra for.
Lastly, try and always keep laughter in your relationship. Both partners feel the pain during fertility treatment and the best thing you can do is stay playful, have fun and laugh every day.