We were travelling in the ruggedly beautiful Kimberley region in Western Australia when we made the decision. After years of putting it off, of sitting on the fence and peering nervously over the other side, we were finally ready. It was time to start a family.
It was 2007 and my husband Adam and I were already in our early thirties, but we hadn’t felt ready to have children earlier. We wanted more time together as a couple, more time to travel, more time footloose and fancy free. We also carried the naïve belief that once we decided it was time to have children, I would simply fall pregnant within a short space of time.
As it turns out, I did fall pregnant relatively quickly, within a few months. I was initially elated and started imagining creative ways I could surprise Adam with the news. My excitement was, however, tainted with mild alarm, as I experienced some early heavy bleeding. I went to the doctor for a blood test, and that day started experiencing more spotting and cramping on one side. The doctor confirmed I was pregnant, but feared it might be ectopic.
I was sent for an immediate ultrasound, which confirmed the doctor was right. I did have an ectopic pregnancy, and the embryo had implanted in my right fallopian tube.
Feeling scared and numb, I was rushed into hospital the next day for emergency surgery. My obstetrician said my tube had been very close to bursting and that I was very lucky, as ectopic pregnancies can be life threatening. I lost the pregnancy and my right tube and was told my left tube was also in very bad shape, with a lot of scar tissue. It meant our best chance of having a baby would be IVF. I felt my previously ordered world shatter to pieces. My dreams of starting a family in a loving, natural way fell apart. I grieved the loss of my baby and the loss of my ability to conceive a child naturally.
A few months later, we started our IVF journey with Genea in Newcastle. Our Port Macquarie nurse, Louise Harper, was lovely and carefully explained the procedures to us, and I began my first stimulated cycle. It felt good to be actively doing something towards having a baby, yet each stage was nerve-wracking. After a couple of weeks of sniffing and injecting medication, I had a good range of mature follicles and felt a bit like a bloated egg factory. The Genea staff were helpful and professional at my egg collection, and it was then an anxious wait to see how many of our precious eggs would fertilise and how many embryos would make it to the day 5 blastocyst stage to be suitable to transfer.
We ended up with 10 eggs, five fertilised embryos and finally, two healthy blastocysts. One was transferred and one frozen, and we waited nervously for our pregnancy test a couple of weeks later. Sadly, the cycle was not successful. We were very disappointed, but also grateful we had one frozen blastocyst left, which we nicknamed ‘frostie’.
A couple of months later, we had ‘frostie’ transferred, and this time after the ‘two week wait’ we received the exciting news that I was pregnant! Adam and I were thrilled. We were cautious, but after a harrowing year, felt like our turn had come.
Things, however, didn’t progress smoothly. We saw a heartbeat at our 8 week scan, but my HCG levels were not rising as quickly as they should have been. We tried to remain positive, but our next scan at 10 weeks revealed our embryo had stopped growing a week earlier.
I sank into a dark place of sadness, disappointment and anger. How could life be so unfair, when all around me people were popping out babies without even thinking about it? The desire for a baby started to consume my thoughts.
Over the following weeks, my grief and anger consumed me. I lost my sense of identity. I felt defined by trying to have a baby and my pregnancy losses and floated in a painful limbo. Dinner party conversations became an effort. My main focus was of little interest to others, who simply couldn’t understand our situation. Shopping centres were full of pregnant women and tiny babies. I stared enviously at both. I was depressed and drifted through the days and weeks, trying to find any small moments of happiness.
My Genea Infertility specialist, Dr Myvanwy McIlveen, in Newcastle, ordered a range of blood tests and the results eventually revealed some abnormalities, including raised anti-bodies, indicating an auto-immune problem which could be causing my pregnancy losses. Dr McIlveen recommended that at the time of my next embryo transfer, I commence daily Clexane injections to try and treat the auto-immune issue. It gave us some hope that the next time might be successful.
Not long after, I lost a lot of weight and became quite ill. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a thyroid disorder which can also cause fertility problems. It was another hurdle to overcome, and our attempts at having a baby had to go on hold. We found ourselves hanging in limbo, but tried to use the time to regroup and focus on other things.
After nearly 12 months, we were given the medical green light to start trying for a baby again and decided to resume IVF. The next cycle we ended up with two blastocycts – one to transfer and one to freeze. This time round, I took time off work during the ‘two week wait’ until the pregnancy test. The blood test confirmed a positive result! It was December 2010 and the most perfect Christmas present in the world.
Throughout the first trimester, Adam and I took things week by week and held our breath, very scared of losing this baby as well. Each positive scan gave us reassurance, but it wasn’t until we passed the week at which I had lost the other babies that we exhaled, just a little, and I started to really enjoy the pregnancy. People told me I really was ‘glowing’, and it was the happiest I had felt in a long time.
At around 35 weeks, we were told our baby’s growth had slowed and it was time for him to come into the world. We were scared and excited and prayed he would be healthy. Our baby wasn’t very strong and my contractions proved too stressful for him, so after a long, painful day I had an emergency caesarean and our beautiful Aidan James arrived late on August 1, 2011. We cradled our tiny 2.18 kilogram baby boy in our arms, our hearts full of overwhelming love and wonder.
Aidan needed to stay in the Special Care Nursery for nearly two weeks, but once he could breastfeed, he quickly grew stronger. It was wonderful to finally bring him home into the nursery that had been ready for a baby for so long and marked the start of an amazing new chapter in our lives.
Aidan is perfect to us and our IVF miracle. He is now a spirited and delightful toddler and has brought immeasurable joy into our lives and a love beyond words. We haven’t forgotten our painful journey, and sometimes the emotions from that time bubble to the surface and bring tears to my eyes.
Yet we can now view it as a stage in our lives – one which taught us to never take our child for granted and enabled us to have greater empathy and compassion for others who have fertility struggles. And of course, our Aidan is worth it all.
This story was found on issue 84 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus