By ALANA HOUSE, editor of iVillage.com.au
Actress and comedian Mary Coustas has revealed her devastating battle to have children and the tragedy that ensued when she finally fell pregnant.
In her new book, All I Know: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Life (Allen & Unwin), Mary writes about the cruel twist of fate that finally allowed her to conceive triplets with her husband, George Betsis, then forced her to make one of the most terrible decisions a pregnant woman could ever face: aborting two of her babies to save the third.
She confesses: “Six weeks after George and I were married, I found out that I could not have children. A laparoscopy revealed that I had blocked fallopian tubes. Our honeymoon was brought to a swift end by an unanticipated and massive blow. I was told my only option was IVF. I was completely winded emotionally.
“In 2009 I was 45 and my egg quality was diminishing due to the ageing process. Adoption was not a possibility. In Australia, you cannot adopt if there is more than 40 years age difference between you and the child. And you are not permitted to adopt while trying to conceive using IVF.”
Mary put her career on hold to pursue her dream of motherhood. “The IVF world required of me a commitment to a schedule that is not predictable,” she says. “Indeed, to be available for appointments, retrievals and implantings, they monitor you according to how your body has responded to the drugs on each attempt, so knowing what’s happening next is always uncertain. Not being able to commit to work that is long-term or interstate, I was left with no choice but to temporarily let go of my career.”
Around 18 months later, her doctor called to tell her: “We have great news, Mary. I’m pleased to say, it’s a positive result. You’re pregnant.”
But, at her week-nine scan, the doctor revealed there were three heartbeats, with two of the babies sharing the one placenta.
“George and I sat there frozen, with our jaws on the floor, listening while Dr Bernstein explained the sudden serious conundrum we now faced. There are often complications with identical twins sharing the same placenta and health risks involved in twin-to-twin transfusion, which is when blood moves from one twin to the other. The highest risk factor, however, is that of a triplet pregnancy. The uterus responds to the mass effect of accommodating the three babies and stretches to the point of initiating a premature labour.
“The consequences of giving birth to three very premature babies include the risk of cerebral palsy, and loss of sight and hearing. There was also the possibility of personal risk to me at my age, and with triplets, of pre-eclampsia, which could lead to me developing cardiovascular issues as well as liver or renal failure.
“Our brains went from baby names and tandem strollers to percentages and probabilities. We could roll the dice and take a very risky chance on a triplet pregnancy fraught with high chances of permanent physical repercussions for our babies and/or me. What other choices did we have?”
Dr Bernstein recommended they have “a reduction” and Mary recalls: “I was trying to comprehend something so unbearable that I had to shut down to prevent what surely would be irreparable. A lifeless zombie took my seat so that lunacy didn’t engulf me.”
Over the next few days, they consulted with five separate doctors, who each came to the same terrible, blunt conclusion: “Reduce the twins.”
“Our best chance and lowest risk was preserving the singleton pregnancy, ” Mary explains.