pregnancy

"We do not have our children in our arms." My wife and I lost our daughter at 7 months.

Over the last three years, my wife Rachael and I have gone through what most parents hope will never happen.

We lost our daughter at seven months of age, and then made the horrible decision to interrupt two other pregnancies due to serious medical conditions, and endured almost nine rounds of IVF.

As it stands right now in June 2020, we do not have our children in our arms and are continuing the struggle to have our family through IVF.

Watch the trailer for Mamamia’s new podcast, Get Me Pregnant, where hosts Rachel Corbett and Leigh Campbell talk all things pregnancy and fertility. Post continues below.

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A couple of months before our wedding, Rachael (my alpha female fiancé) made me an appointment at an IVF clinic for testing before starting to try for a family.

As it is with many other couples, our grand plan was to start trying for a baby on our honeymoon, fall pregnant, and blissfully start our happily-ever-after as parents.

Initially, I protested over the testing. I didn’t see it as a necessity. After all, there was nothing wrong with me. I had seen the scenario play out on countless sitcoms and movies and the very thought of walking into a clinic, being given a cup, and having to provide a sample was horrendous.

For my first test, I was booked in at a clinic in Sydney – a well-appointed, professional space with friendly staff who hand you a room number, a small plastic bag which contains paperwork and an optimistically large sample cup. Upon walking into the room, you find a sink, reclining chair, IVF friendly lubricant sachets, magazines, and a TV (I choose not to touch the remote).

Once the ‘operation’ is complete, you are asked to approach a small window, and hand your jar to a scientist who opens it and takes a sample for reference later, in case there are any unforeseen issues.

It does get a little awkward when you’re standing in line with two other guys, all with samples in hand, desperately avoiding eye-contact, as you wait uncomfortably for your turn with the scientist.

It was an experience I was happy to put behind me and, even more happily, thought I would never have to do again.

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However, after my results came back saying my levels were ‘under average’, I gave up cycling, had a little acupuncture, and started taking a few vitamins before providing a sample again a few months later.

For the second test, Rachael and I decided to save a little money, and use a public hospital which provided the same service at a much more affordable rate.

This time I was asked to go down a long series of corridors to find a small room, seemingly hidden away in a dark corner of the building, for my appointment.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a gruff scientist nearing the end of their shift who just wanted the test to be over with and for me to be out of there.

On that, we could agree.

She gave me a cup (again big enough to create a little self-doubt), and showed me to a ‘private room’, inside of which was a small metal-framed wooden chair reminiscent of one I sat on in primary school, and a desk on top of which was an old Picture magazine.

As she was walking out of the room, she turned and said, “clean up after yourself when you’re done.” The door then slammed closed, and I heard her walk into the room right next door and start clacking loudly on her keyboard. I stood there for a few minutes looking at the furniture, wondering what people had left behind in this room for her to routinely ask people to clean up.

Standing in that room, I felt an immense pressure to perform. Not only did I have the scientist making me feel unwelcome, I was also aware my last results weren’t great, and I was nervous.

I did my best to eliminate that thought from my mind, and eventually managed to collect a sample (while not making a mess), left the room and gave it to the scientist, before ringing Rachael to tell her about my experience.

Luckily, that test showed my sperm was now perfect. Not going to lie, that felt pretty good.

All of this was before our IVF journey had even begun.

Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia’s fertility podcast, Get Me Pregnant. Post continues below.

After our daughter Mackenzie was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), we were determined to give her siblings, but we knew that this would likely only be possible through IVF because the embryos would need to be genetically tested, prior to implantation.

In the years since, I have watched helplessly as Rachael injected herself with hundreds of needles with hormones in the hope of getting just one healthy embryo to transfer.

I have sat by her side as the anaesthetist pumps the white medication into her vein and she loses consciousness moments before an egg collection.

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I have watched the screen as the IVF doctor slowly drains her follicles to collect the eggs, and I’ve had to maintain a positive attitude to keep her spirits high all while we’re receiving calls telling us that the embryo numbers are dwindling in the days after.

Why am I sharing these stories? It is now two and a half years and nine rounds of IVF later, and I’ve become very comfortable with providing samples.

I understand that it is absolutely the easiest part of any round of IVF and I am no longer embarrassed at all by the process. I understand the IVF process, the emotional highs and lows, and how difficult it can be to maintain a positive outlook.

Since starting IVF, I have shared these experiences with many guys and found very few are comfortable speaking about their own IVF journeys, and the struggle they go through.

IVF carries a heavy toll, financially and mentally, on both partners, and I have found talking and joking about these experiences helped me to realise I’m not alone. IVF is a very common part of life for thousands of families around the country, every single day.

Often when I talk of my experience, guys I’ve known for a long time will slowly open up and tell me that they too have had a challenging IVF journey, telling me how difficult it was for them.

Usually, while I know they have children, I don’t know that they went through IVF, and for whatever reason they have never spoken to me about it, even though they know my history.

I dare say that for most families, IVF is a team sport, where the female does all the heavy lifting and the male is likely to be running alongside, providing support wherever it’s needed, and sharing the same emotional rollercoaster.

My hope in sharing a few of my IVF experiences is to encourage men to share a little more of what they have endured during the process. I often see articles centred around women, the toll on their bodies and mental health (and I am pleased about that because even with those articles not enough of IVF is spoken about), but rarely see anything aimed towards men and the effect it has on them.

I have lain awake at night feeling the pressure of the implantation scheduled for the next day, tried to send embryos extra energy and good vibes between days one and five, and cried when another round was unsuccessful.

I truly believe that men need to speak with each other more openly and share experiences over a beer or two when appropriate.

Stay strong, communicate with each other, and fill that cup!

Mackenzie’s Mission by Rachael Casella, Allen and Unwin, RRP: $29.99, is available now.

Feature image: Supplied/Rachael Casella.

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