“To dream anything that you want to dream. That’s the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed”
Many of you may not know this, but years before I started Maybe Baby Brothers I actually had another blog. My little slice of the internet was used to document my way through my infertility journey and was called Maybe Baby … (or maybe the loony bin). I started it as a survival mechanism, infertility is a lonely and hard road to travel, especially so soon after losing a parent. I was 25 when we started trying to conceive our first child and 29 by the time I gave birth to a healthy baby boy after 3 cycles of IVF. During my journey through infertility I met many women travelling down the same road. We all had our own battles and fortunately most of us came out with a baby at the end, although sadly there are a few who did not. There were long awaited pregnancies, babies, failed IVF cycles, miscarriages, twins, break ups, babies born sleeping. It was a big box of highs and lows, joy and heartache. One of the woman who I met on an online forum is sharing her story for you today. Athena was a source of strength, hope and friendship for me during those years. She probably doesn’t realise just highly I regard our friendship, even though we have moved in separate circles since we had our children, we will always share this bond that only someone who has experienced the struggle to conceive can truly understand.
This is Part One in Athena’s Your Voice, Your Story contribution: Infertility & Hope.
I’m lying on a squeaky bed. I can feel the metal bars across my back, the crisp smell of potent detergent in the sheets. I’m being rolled along a corridor and all I can see is the dirty sealing and the lights flashing as I go past. People in white, blue and pink uniforms dash from door to door. One of the lights somewhere needs its bulb changed as all I can hear is the buzzing and buzzing, fading, fading. Welcome to day surgery Athena. The first operation in my life, ever.
I was always a healthy kid, even as adventurous as I was; I never had any bumps or broken bones. But today at 32 years old, I was having a laparoscopy. In layman’s terms, 4 probes. One through the belly button, 2 above the groin and one conveniently in my hoohoo. One of them was thick enough to have the tiniest of cameras attached to it. My Fertility Specialist wanted to take a look inside my uterus and see whether there was anything to explain my infertility. Infertility – the word I had become quite accustomed to now for nearly 2 years. And today was not the happy ending story. There’s an additional 4 years to this adventurous journey of holding my child in my arms.
My husband and I met when I was 21. We dated for awhile, went on holidays, drank, partied, lived life. We moved in together when I turned 24. Having come from a strict Greek background, this was finally my time to shine. To really express myself, not be bogged down by rules and finally experience adulthood. We lived happily and started to become more involved with our careers and saving cash for our first home. We got married when I was 27. Throw in a few more holidays, helping our families and establishing comfortable jobs. I was 29 when we finally opened the door to our own home. The thought of children never really entered our minds. We were happy. Everyone around us was the same age and only now starting to have kids. We weren’t far behind. So we decided to have a go. How hard could it be? Everyone else was having kids.
Everyone but me.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I cried in those 6 years. Some of them were loud and destructive when no one was around to hear. Other times it was in the shower, holding my mouth shut so tight so that my husband wouldn’t hear my pain. There were times when I sat in the train, my head against the window and silent tears trickling down my cheek, a packed train full of people minding their own business completely oblivious to this woman sitting close by wanting to just die. So many reasons set me off, if it wasn’t my friend who hated kids but found a good bloke to keep and is texting me she’s pregnant with her second or a 1st birthday party with my husband and I being the only childless couple whilst an old Greek lady approaches me, rubs me in the tummy and in broken English asks “no beby?”. To top it off, being a youth worker working with adolescents didn’t help either. There was always that 15 year old nonchalantly telling me she was pregnant after a night out of booze and drugs. “My baby’s daddy is a loser and doesn’t want me to keep it, what should I do Athena?” While she’s inhaling a cigarette. “Um well you can help me by tightening up that noose around my neck” I respond.
And then all those times, peeing on a stick with one line not two. Big. Fat. Negatives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bombard you with all this negativity about my experience. Only a woman who has experienced infertility and the challenges to have a living baby can truly understand the feelings and thoughts that I went through. My story does have a happy ending, and by reading this I pray that it gives others out there hope that miracles do happen. But first we must acknowledge the journey in order to welcome the accomplishment.
The road to becoming a mummy begins. I’m 30 having baby danced whenever, wherever. See what happens approach. Our schedules sometimes didn’t synchronize, so a year later it didn’t really bother me that I wasn’t yet pregnant. I embraced new sweet smelling babies with delight and awe. I then began the process of getting blood tests just to make sure that I was healthy and to correct any obstacles. My doctor discussed with me timed sex. Basically I had a perfect 28 day cycle and somewhere in the middle were my ‘fertile’ times to get jiggy with it. No pregnancy. I then had ultrasounds to check that I actually had a reproductive system that was functional. All clear, baby dancing resumed. No pregnancy. I then said fuck it, time to see a specialist. I’m not a procrastinator. And now there were just too many babies to meet, christenings to attend, 1st birthdays where my Oscar winning performing fake smile reared its head. So I had the laparoscopy. Bingo. Endometriosis. A disease that no hyped up ten thousand degree fertility specialist has given an answer as to why women get this. Surgery fixes it, but it can still come back. My uterus was now squeaky clean. Baby dance, timed sex, ovulation predictor tests, spit in this and see a fern test. You’re ovulating Athena. Vitamins, Elevit, gave up the smokes and coffee. No pregnancy. In between all of this, my husband got his swimmers checked much to his delight. All perfect.
The road to assisted conception begins. I’m 33. My body gets prepped up for an in uterine insemination. Basically a more relaxed version to IVF. Small amounts of hormones injected in my tummy daily till at least one follicle is primed ready to ovulate. Once it’s big and strong, another injection to ovulate it and then my husband’s swimmers are inseminated into my uterus. Just like they do to cows. Moo. Fingers crossed. No pregnancy. Another 2 attempts at this. Nothing. My specialist doesn’t believe in putting women through further IUI’s if unsuccessful after 3 goes. So now we’re recruited for the Big League. IVF. More higher and potent amounts of hormones. We want more follicles. However, not too much as what the body would normally discard as crap is now kept for harvesting. But the crap ones can affect the quality of the good ones. Every second day are blood tests and vaginal ultrasounds. Counting how many follicles are in there, size and ripening up for the harvest. Back to that corridor again, wheeled down to surgery for egg collection. 16 are written on my hand when I wake up from the morphine. Hmmmm morphine…… 7 fertilise and become embryos. We do twin transfers at Day 2 growth. “A” grade embryos. Excellent chance of pregnancy. I didn’t care if I had twins. Although I’m feeling bloated, sick and my tummy looks 6 months pregnant. I have a mild case of hyperstimulation. We still go ahead with the transfer.
5 of the embryos are frozen for when we do the frozen cycle transfer. Twin transfers again twice in consecutive months. No pregnancy. On my way to the clinic to get the final last frozen embryo transferred, the nurse calls me. “Sorry Athena, the embryo didn’t survive the thaw”. Gutted, here come the tears again. Disillusion kicks in. What now?
Second IVF cycle begins. The same results. 16 follicles. Though this time as I’m now nearly 35, the specialist decides on a Day 5 blastocyst transfer. 7 fertilise, only one makes it to transfer. No frosticles. Big. Fat. Negative. Those 3 words again. Devastated. I speak to my husband about divorce. He is such a good man, deserves better, a more fertile woman. Not this woman I have become. Consumed with having a child, entrenched in this Trying To Conceive world.
It’s time to take a break. Yeah right! My age didn’t help, but my body was tired. Physically and mentally. I needed to have a baby now. The finances are just too tight. My husband sold his motorcycle just to afford the 2nd IVF cycle. So it’s a break from the big league and time to explore other more affordable and natural options. As long as I was trying everything and anything, I felt better about achieving my goal. Chinese herbs came into my life. I heard it referred to some many times. Surely this was my miracle? Geez how many Chinese people are on this Earth? Billions? Well here we go. I walked out of that consult room elated. This herbalist was amazing, constructive and believable. Chinese herbs are not so great to drink. Take it out of your head those delicious sweet pork rolls, coconut cakes and the lush jasmine tea.
These herbs are disgusting.
If I ever drank shit that came out of an aged and decrepit dead animal, sprinkled with the vomit of a sewer rat then this is how I would describe it. Nevertheless, the stuff worked and only after one cycle. Those 2 blue lines on the pregnancy test came up quick. I was late by a day and thought I would check before I went into see the herbalist again for more stock. I was pregnant. Like really pregnant. I envisioned the smiles and laughter of my husband and including my beautiful parents so eagerly waiting to become grandparents. My sister the sports fan already is picking out the baby Nike’s. For one whole week, the dreams danced around in my head. The nursery, the name, the little hands and feet, my beloved little child. Then the bleeding began, the cramps soon after. I miscarry. 7 weeks this little one held on. Loved and never forgotten. This little angel gave me the strength to believe that miracles do happen and overall I was fertile, I could fall pregnant. Further extensive tests later couldn’t conclude why I miscarried. Unexplained infertility and now unexplained miscarriage. I just had to keep going. Hope is all I had in the end.
And then came Callum. My sweet glorious little man. I was 36. I was just about to embark on another IVF cycle. But because it was Christmas time I waited till the clinic was opened again with its usual friendly staff. Knowing that we saved to go down this path again, feeling a bit more optimistic and concluding that no matter what, I will have as many cycles till my body says no more. I would scrape, scrounge and borrow. Nothing will stop me. Hope. So I relaxed. New Years Eve and my period is late. Surely I’m not pregnant? I didn’t even try. Peed on a stick. Negativity creeping in again, I’m probably menopausal. So young for that. But just my bad luck. The universe hates me, God hates me. I hate me. Waiting 5 minutes for those two lines to appear is everlasting. I could live another life in that time. Prays, my eyes shut as I make my way into the bathroom where that plastic stick is waiting for me. “I swear God, if I’m pregnant I will be a better Christian, Please God let this one be a keeper.”
Thank you Lord! Pregnant and silly. Raw emotions flooding my body. I want to scream, I want to cry. I’m scared. And scared I was for 9 whole months. But that’s another story. My Callum arrived on the 8th September 2009. One day before my wedding anniversary. The best gift I have ever received. Healthy and content at 4.1 kgs. Oh and did I mention that Callum in Gaelic means Dove – The Harbinger of Hope.
And so the journey ends. The little man in my arms. My son. His mum.
I will never forget that long, frustrating and arduous journey to have him. I learnt a lot during those years. Just hand me that Medical Degree. I’m still tired though – but that’s a good tired.
Dear Reader – The only advice I can give you if you are experiencing a similar journey is this: Never. Give. Up. Do anything, try anything. Explore all your options. There’s a saying that I stuck on my fridge, my office cork board, in my diary when I was trying to conceive “Regret what you haven’t done, not what you’ve done”.
This always gave me hope.
The other important thing to have whilst you walk this path is to always have some kind of support around. Whether it’s friends or family or someone you can confide in and who understands. My journey lead me to an online forum. The support I received from these wonderful women also with their own issues and journeys was one of the best things in my life. Just getting a reply to my posts lifted my spirits up so high after a day of tears. People I never met, but who understood exactly how I was feeling. And last but definitely not least, don’t forget your man – he is going through the same thing as you. They hide their emotions so they don’t add to your pain.
They love you and they are with you all the way.