real life

Millions of motherhood dreams would be shattered without this

Approximately five million babies have been born thanks to reproductive technology such as IVF and other fertility treatments. Think about it. Five million babies wouldn't be alive without these stunning developments in modern medicine.

That's millions of women who would have had their dreams of motherhood shattered.

The landmark figure was announced this week by the The International Committee for the Monitoring of Assisted Reproductive Technology. They represent more than 50 fertility organizations around the world.

"This comprehensive report confirms that we now have over 5 million babies born through Assisted Reproduction," International Federation of Fertility Societies Board member Mr. Richard Kennedy said. "More than that, it shows that half of them have been born in the last 6 years. The number of babies born through ART is now about the same as the population of a U.S. state such as Colorado, or a country such as Lebanon or Ireland. This is a great medical success story."

It was only in 1990 that 90,000 babies were born worldwide due to fertility treatments. By 2000 it had surged to 900,000. Then, in 2007 it was 2.5 million children. Now in 2013 it's up to 5 million and climbing.

Reproductive technology has been a godsend for Australian families. Imagine the pain of wanting to become a mum but physically not being able to. So many of us have struggled to become mothers or know women who have spent years in treatment trying to fall pregnant.

Meet three amazing Aussie mums who defied the odds to make their dreams of motherhood come true.

Louise, mother of two

Louise with husband Daniel and children Alex, 5, and Christina, 21 months

When did you first realise you were having fertility issues?

I was 18 years old when diagnosed with Kallmann's Disease which basically means that my pituitary gland in my brain is asleep and does not release the hormones required to stimulate my ovaries to get my period each month, so I need to take the pill until menopause.  I knew at that age that I would need to have fertility treatment when it came time to having kids so it was no surprise to Daniel or I.

How would you feel thinking you may not be able to have children?

It was very depressing to think about because one of my main goals in life was to be a mother.  I was desperate to have and love a child of my own, especially since everyone around me was falling pregnant. I knew that I had so much love to give and that I would be a good mother. I think I would have felt very empty, lonely, sad and depressed if I failed to have kids.

What kind of fertility treatment did you receive?

Ovulation induction with artificial insemination and I had this for both kids.  It involved injecting myself daily, lots of visits to the fertility centre and lots of blood tests.  Even though I have a fear of syringes and don't like looking at them I did not find it hard to inject myself as I was so determined to fall pregnant.  I would have done anything to fall pregnant.

The treatment was extremely stressful the first time as I did not know whether the medication would stimulate my ovaries enough  and the process was mentally exhausting as you have to have your hormonal levels constantly monitored.  Then you get to the stage where your hormone levels are at a good level but then you worry whether or not you have a good sized follicle and if your uterus is ready for conception.  Lots of highs and lows during treatment.  The second time I went through treatment I was stressed that I wouldn't fall pregnant a second time and that Alex would have to grow up without having a sibling which made me feel very sad.


What were the biggest challenges of fertility treatment?

Not knowing how and if my body was going to react to the medication.  Not knowing how long the process was going to take and if I would ever become a mother.  It impacted my job as I would have to start work late some days after going to the clinic and then do overtime and sometimes I would have to leave work in the middle of the day to have ultrasounds or insemination. Being given conflicting information from nursing staff and having to monitor my hormone levels at regular intervals was also difficult.

Did you tell anyone what you were going through?

Family and friends were aware that I was having treatment and were all very supportive. My Manager was very supportive. There were lots of tears at work as I often was there when receiving my blood test results over the phone.

How did you feel when you finally found out you were pregnant?

The day I found out that I was pregnant I was elated but also fearful that I would not be able to maintain the pregnancy.  The fear consumed me for the first two trimesters and I was overly careful when doing things.  Also stressed as Alex and Christina both did not move much inside my womb so I was always counting the movements.  I was very excited but also skeptical.

How do you feel about reproductive technology today?

I support reproductive technology 100% and thank God every day for these gifts.  Without treatment my two beautiful children would not exist.  I feel for all women who either struggle to fall pregnant or struggle to maintain the pregnancy.

Kim, mother of twin girls

Kim, husband Shane and twin daughters Madison and Tallara aged 12

 When did you first realise you were having fertility issues?

I was aware of possible infertility issues when I was 21 due to having surgery for cyst removal on both of my ovaries. I had scar tissue from surgery along with endometriosis. Doctors told me then that IVF may be the only way due to scar tissue. My husband and I still tried to conceive naturally for 2 years though before seeking out help.

How would you feel thinking you may not be able to have children?

I was devastated, it was one of things I had dreamed about since I was young. There were so many thoughts - adoption, surrogacy or the possibility of never having my own children. It gives you a sense of feeling that you have failed as a woman, you can’t even do the one thing that everyone else seems to do so effortlessly!

How did you feel thinking it may be difficult?

Due to my surgery I was aware it might have been difficult prior to even thinking about starting a family. I still was in a bit of denial though when the time came to start trying, thinking that it would just happen. By thinking this way though I set myself up for disappointment month after month.

We're family and friends aware of your struggle?

Most people around us knew that we were trying to conceive, although some still seemed to put pressure on us asking “when are you guys going to have a baby?” I was totally surprised by how very few people actually understood what it was like. Every time someone close to us fell pregnant it was very hard to be happy for them, even though we knew how elated they must be.

What fertility treatment did you receive specifically?

Initially we tried alternate therapies such as homeopathy, naturopathy and dramatic diet changes. Then we tried (IUI) intrauterine insemination for 3 cycles. Nobody around us was aware that we were doing these things which was very difficult, not having someone to talk about the disappointment of these procedures not working was really tough emotionally. Then we did IVF, I told everybody we were doing it so I had a big support network, which I totally needed. I felt by sharing the load with those close to me I could let go a bit. Our first IVF treatment was successful, 2 embryos were implanted and we became proud parents of twin girls.


What were the biggest challenges specifically in regards to your treatment?

I think the treatments prior to IVF were the biggest challenges, not having told anyone meant there was no support network. The let down each month of them not working was just heart breaking. For me IVF was a really positive experience from the moment the decision was made, even though part of me thought this is the last option, our last chance, I felt quite positive that IVF would work.

Describe the day you found out you were pregnant?

What a morning! They couldn’t get any blood out for testing, they tried both arms, hands and then my feet. In the end I had to do a urine test. I had seen so many of these as negatives that I didn’t wait for the results, I handed it to them and left, I just couldn’t bear to see another negative. Five minutes after leaving we got the phone call to say it was positive and they could confirm it with the tiny amount of blood they did manage to get. So at 8am on a Sunday morning, the week before Christmas we both cried in the car at the news that we were finally going to have our own baby. Six weeks later we then got to experience that wonderful feeling again finding out that both embryos had taken and we were having twins.

How do you feel about reproductive technology today?

It is a god send, we are so truly grateful for this wonderful technology, that we get to experience the joy of parenthood. I feel extremely blessed!

Teresa, mother of triplets, partner currently doing IVF

Teresa, partner Maria and sons Daniel, Luke and Cameron all aged 9

When did you realise you were having fertility issues?

Well obviously having a female partner I had to seek other alternatives. When I did go down the road of IVF it became a more complex process than just not having the male side of the equation. I had sperm antibodies so being  gay, straight would not have mattered. Without IVF I was not going to bypass my own immune system that saw sperm as something to kill off not use.

What were your issues specifically?

My issue was that I attended a dodgy clinic initially. They did not do the correct testing for antibodies so I spent close to $20,000 on processes that would never assist me. I then changed clinics and they straight away found I had sperm anti bodies and recommended ICSI (Intra cellular sperm injection) to bypass my immune system.

How did you feel thinking you may not be able to have children?

I felt very empty, sad, angry and confused. I was unable to access clinics at the stage due to the laws. I was not willing to put myself or my partner at risk by using a known donor outside of the medical system. As well as the legal complications if the donor ever wanted access. Lucky for me the laws changed and same sex couples could access IVF clinics. In saying that when I rang around several clinics told me that the laws had changed but their policies had not and that being same sex we would be at the end of the list and might not be seen. This just made the whole process even more frustrating and made me more angry. I didn't give up and kept doing my research.


We're family and friends aware of your struggle?

My family were not supportive initially and they were of the thought that same sex couples should not have children. I didn't tell many of my friends as they were also very negative. My brother in law was especially negative condemning the whole IVF system for anyone, on the belief that you are intervening in Gods work. I mainly had support from my partner at the time and just a few friends. It made the process very lonely and isolating.

What fertility treatment did you receive specifically?

Initially I was just having inseminating but when they realised I had sperm anti bodies, I had ICSI with IVF. They took one sperm and put it back into the egg. This way an embryo was being inseminated and they were able to bypass my immune system.

What were the biggest challenges specifically in regards to your treatment?

Initially being able to access services, when I could access services finding one that accepted same sex couples. I then spent a lot of money, time and emotions on a clinic that was shut down. Once I found a clinic that I must say was the most amazing clinic, finding out what was going wrong. The roller coaster of the hormones is amazing and no one can understand that aspect. It is so full on and you cry at everything. Having to go to early morning appointments and trying to arranging this around work was stressful. The process was very expensive and it financially drains you. It just seems at the time of IVF you are just one big ball of emotions and if the clinic offers additional counselling or a support group don't be afraid to use it.

Describe the day you found out you were pregnant?

I think at first I didn't believe it and thought it must be a mistake. At 6 weeks the clinic brings you in for a scan and bloods. Once I saw the ultrasound and was told it was twins I then was very excited and happy. To  then have the same scan at 13 weeks and told its triplets I think I then began to panic.

What are you feelings about reproductive technology today?

Reproductive technology is amazing. What they can do is just astounding. It gives hope and wholeness if the results are positive. I am glad that I was able to access these services as I didn't want to be old and wondering what if I had a child.

The future of reproductive technology and IVF

Reproductive technology is constantly advancing with new methods being explored. There is a controversial method known as three-parent-IVF which uses two women to donate their eggs. The mother's mitochondria is inserted into an empty donor egg and then fertilised with the father's sperm. Less than one per cent of the DNA comes from the donor egg but it's enough to help prevent mitochondrial disease which can lead to miscarriages.

Better screening of pregnancies is also being developed, particularly when it comes to detecting genetic disorders and chromosome abnormalities. Soon they'll also be able to detect future heart disease, motor disorders, diabetes, respiratory problems, seizures, vision and hearing problems.

New research is underway into ways to stimulate a woman's ovaries to create mature eggs on cue. Another method of assisting fertility is known as 'edometrial scratching' whereby the inner tissue lining of the uterus is purposely damaged to make it easier for the embryos to attach.

Tell us your reproductive technology story...

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