It’s true, your birth story begins before you’re pregnant. Your journey to pregnancy and throughout shape the experience you have at birth and in parenting.
My birth story is a marathon one, literally.
In 2007, I married the most incredible man and we began trying to start our family. After a year of no luck, we saw a fertility specialist. We met with Dr Nick Lolatgis who, at the time, I thought I wouldn’t warm too. He was very clinical and matter of fact, but little did we know it was the start of a seven year relationship through IVF and the delivery of our two boys. In a weird way, I have a bit of a crush on Dr Nick. He has seen and comforted me at my worst and he was in my corner fighting for our wish to come true.
My hubby was a champ and wanked into a cup, and it turns out his sperm were as great as him. I endured numerous blood tests and invasive searches of my tubes, uterus and ovaries, and the conclusion was my infertility was “unexplained”. It was incredibly a frustrating, I wanted there to be something wrong, so there was something to fix.
Our first course of action was to try Clomid, a drug that makes you release more eggs. With timed intercourse and more eggs at the ready, our chances of conceiving increased. We were to try this for three months and reconvene if we didn’t have any luck.
Three months later we found ourselves back with Dr Nick making plans for IUI’s (Inter Uterine Insemination). Hubby had to step up to the plate and “provided a sample” which was treated to get the strongest little swimmers and prep them for the egg hunt. My cycle was monitored and at exactly the right time my legs were but in stirrups and under ultrasound the sperm was inserted high in my uterus and as close to the egg as possible.
At $2,000 a pop the protocol was to try this three times before moving on to IVF.
It was a long and frustrating process that didn’t see any results and didn’t answer any questions. I was young, and my infertility unexplained, so we endured the alternatives to IVF and tried to remain positive.
After each attempt comes the two week wait (TWW), a time that seems to stand still, the world going by around you, while you’re stuck with your mind in your stomach trying to find a clue that might mean you’re pregnant. Googling and clinging onto any sign you can, your world and hopes come crushing down when your period arrives.
In 2009 it was agreed IVF was needed. Our egg collection was booked in for Easter of that year – a cute connection I thought.
Listen to the first episode of Mamamia’s pregnancy podcast Hello, Bump, where Megan takes us through her agonising pregnancy struggle. Post continues after audio.
Under general anaesthetic the eggs were collected, I woke groggy and in pain but relieved to hear 21 mature eggs were retrieved. No wonder I was bloated!
The eggs were put in a dish with hubby’s sperm and we were lucky enough to end up with five embryos – one was transferred a week later, and four were frozen.
So, here we were again at the beginning of the TWW after our first IVF cycle and again looking for any sign we could. The blood test was booked in for two weeks later which would confirm if we were pregnant. Funnily enough, I didn’t do a home test, and I couldn’t take the phone call the day the news came through. I asked my nurse to call my husband, I wanted to hear the news, whatever it was, from him.
He met me at work and I walked out into his open arms and he whispered “We’re pregnant!” We both cried and I called my nurse to discuss what was next.
All seemed to be tracking well and our scan was booked for eight weeks.
But when we went in for our scan, there was no heartbeat. There was an awkward silence and the ultrasound technician did her best to explain what she was seeing. We were devastated. Not only for us, but for our families that had been riding the highs and lows with us. It’s a tough conversation.
We met with our specialist and booked a D&C in two days time. A painful two days wondering aimlessly, pregnant but not pregnant, angry, sad, wanting our dead baby out of me but at the same time not wanting to let go.
The loss hit me hard. We decided to put our next embryo transfer on hold for a while. Not only did I need to feel ready to try again, I needed to be ready to survive another loss.
You can download Mamamia’s e-book Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here.
We continued to try naturally, checking when I was ovulating, natural medicines, acupuncture, diets and a bit of hocus pocus…. still no luck. How better to lose the romance than to demand your husband has sex with you because the time is right? If he wasn’t in the mood I’d get mad and we’d fight. To me it was a wasted opportunity.
And laying with my legs in the air and hips tilted for 30 minutes, what a way to end a session?!
In 2010 we transferred one of our frozen embryos. And, again it was successful. We were pregnant. Much more cautious this time we had our blood tests and kept our excitement under wraps until our scan. Again, there was no heart beat and another D&C followed.
Becoming much more familiar with disappointment and heartbreak, this time we decided an overseas trip was in order. So we jetted off to Africa for a 21 day safari. We met some great people and it helped put a lot into perspective. The world is a big place full of adventure, we didn't talk about it, but I think we both knew we'd found our plan B if we didn't win our fertility fight.
Following the two miscarriages, Dr Nick did some more tests and a biopsy of my uterus found I had an unusually high level of natural killer cells. These cells are necessary to fight cancers and infections, but at the levels I have them they were attacking the embryos.
Lucky for us, Dr Nick is a pioneer in this area. He had a drug regime that would suppress my immune system and strengthen the hormones to maintain a pregnancy.
This regime would also set us back about $300 a fortnight on top of the IVF costs.
2011 saw another frozen embryo transfer, this time with the new treatment post transfer. But you guessed it, we had another pregnancy and another loss.
Honestly, I felt done. I couldn't bare the thought of going through the heartache again and I was starting to think about what life might look like without a family of our own. To get me through the dark days and try and clear my head I took up running.
I also felt that my body was broken and couldn't do the one magical thing woman can do that men can't. I had no control over my fertility and I needed to take some control back in any way I could. I trained and trained and ran the Gold Coast Marathon in 2012 in just over 3 and a half hours.
Honestly, it was one of the best days of my life. I was so proud of myself, my body had finally done something I wanted it too. I had some control.
I stopped getting my period while training, I had pushed my body to its limits.
With a clear head and revived spirit, we agreed to try another embryo transfer. We had an appointment with Dr Nick and we had to wait until my period returned before we could transfer. My boobs were sore so I was sure it would return any day.
But a couple of days later, I started to think something wasn't right. My boobs were excruciating and there was no sign of my period. I had plenty of pregnancy tests laying around at home so I peed on a stick. To our surprise, we had fallen pregnant naturally. It was surreal!
I called Dr Nick frantic and he got me straight in to star the drug regime for the natural killer cells.
This pregnancy felt different, maybe because it was natural but we were incredibly nervous waiting at our eight week scan. We went into the room and clutched each others hand so tight. The probe was inserted and straight away we saw a heart beat! We both cried loudly and uncontrollably. This was a miracle.
The regime of drips, injections, tablets, patches and suppositories continued until 13 weeks. We had plenty of scans and we were closely monitored throughout the pregnancy.
Throughout the time, I’d see pregnant woman that didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and I wanted to be in that place so badly.
I expected the hard part to be over. But this was nine months of anxiety - I was so close to something we’d longed for and was terrified it would be taken away. I googled the most ridiculous questions (like “can straining to poo dislodge my baby”). I set milestones in my mind, 16 weeks we’ll tell people, just in case, 20 weeks and this baby will at least be acknowledged, 24 weeks and he might live outside the womb, 30 weeks and we’re nearly there. I only truly started to believe it was happening the day before our c-section. It was a day frozen in time and I cried all day, relieved and lost for words.
I’d go to the toilet almost every hour, just to wipe and make sure there was no bleeding. I couldn’t wear black undies the whole pregnancy.
Dr Nick allowed me to have foetal monitoring twice weekly from 30 weeks to ease my mind and ensure all was ok.
We were booked in to have an elective C-section at 38 weeks. As we were waiting to be wheeled into surgery a lovely mid wife started talking to me about this being my first and we talked about our journey. She was amazing and reminded me that today was for them. It’s ok to never forget them.
Dr Nick said to me, “Let’s get this baby in a cot” and I lay there, feeling the pulls from my numb body, eyes closed, just waiting for that cry. And then it came loud and strong, love and relief flooded my body and I was now a mum.
After some time in recovery I was wheeled back to our room, our son sleeping in his bassinet. I stared at him crying, I was just so happy. I don’t think I put him down for six weeks.
Motherhood is hard, but it’s everything I want it to be. 21 months later we were blessed with the birth of our second son, again conceived naturally. Not too many people have two miracles come to them in their life, but I did. Our boys are now two and four and they are best mates, we’re so lucky.
I remind myself every day that I am one of the lucky ones, many women fight harder than I had to and still aren’t blessed with a child. Strangely, this reminder tends to come with a pang of guilt.
For those who have been successful on their IVF journey, many are faced with the dilemma of what to do with remaining embryos. We had two embryos left over from our IVF treatments, and earlier this year we embarked on the journey to donate these to a family in need.
I wish I could take everyone's pain away, I can't. But what I can do is give back in any way possible.
I now sit on the board of the Embryo Donation Network, a volunteer run not for profit organisation raising awareness of embryo donation, try to encourage other families to consider this option with any remaining embryos. We also support and advocate for families who are navigating adoption of the embryos and raising children who are aware of the genetic ties. I love it and I'm so passionate about it. It is my way of giving back. It ensures my journey overcoming infertility was for a purposes greater than myself.
I will never forget the babies we lost, and I will never forget the fight that made me who I am today.
It was tough, but I'm so grateful for it.
Infertility and loss changes woman on such a deep level. On reflection, it shows you strength you didn't know you had. It prepares you for parenthood in a funny way, forcing you to be patient, and giving perspective to really treasure each day.