1-7 November 2017

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Charlotte's story

Ever since I was a little girl playing with my dolls, I always knew I wanted to be a Mum one day.  However, what I really wanted was more than that… it was a family, with a supportive and loving partner and father of our child/children.

Well, I grew up into an adult and eventually, after a couple of disastrous relationships; I met my dream partner and soul mate (about 6/7 years ago). Approximately 2 years into our perfect relationship, I knew I wanted to have a family with him, because I knew he would be an amazing father. So, I asked him if we could start a family together.  He was equally excited and agreed, so we had sex a few times and a couple of months later I fell pregnant… 9 months later after a normal pregnancy our beautiful baby was born and we all lived happily ever after…

…At least that was how I was expecting my story to go.  Sadly, it was far from the picture perfect fairy-tale that many people around me seemed to experience (whilst complaining to me about how hard it is).  My fertility journey has been one I never expected to experience. It has been the single most difficult and soul-searching journey I have ever been through.  If you want to know every detail to date, then please read on: Although, just to pre-warn you, it  will take you a while to read, so you might want to read this when you’ve got 10 minutes!

Unfortunately, the love of my life was not as keen on the idea of having a baby because it had never been something that had been on his radar for his future. We talked about it for a long time, the pros and the cons, how it would change our life etc. He did a lot of research and spoke privately to many of his close friends who already had children, to help him decide. After about a year or so of discussing, he finally told me that he wanted to have a baby with me. However, he wanted to wait another year before officially trying, so we could save some money and buy a house first etc. (See what I mean about him being a great potential father!)  I was over the moon and so excited to start this [what seemed like] long awaited moment. I was convinced that the hard bit was now over and that I would be pregnant or be a mum within a year, because everyone else in my family was apparently extremely fertile. I was also told when I was a teenager, that you practically need to only touch a boy to get pregnant, so how hard could
it be?

So, the first step of the journey began…
The first few months of trying to get pregnant was fun and exciting. I would happily search for baby names, fantasize about the nursery, daydream about being pregnant and couldn’t wait for the exciting finale of giving birth. So that I could hold, cuddle, kiss and swoon over my own precious baby who I knew would be so loved and adored. We also bought our first house and I even decided where in the spare room I might put the cot and the nursing chair, when the time comes to purchase baby stuff.
Admittedly, it didn’t happen straight away like I had naively expected. However, I had read on ‘Dr Google’ that it could take a normal healthy couple up to a year to conceive. So even after 6, 7, 8, 9 + months of regular unprotected sex, I wasn’t worried (maybe getting a little impatient at times) but still hopeful and excited.

Towards the end of that first year of actively trying for a baby, there were a couple of cycles where my period was late (by weeks, not days). As you can imagine, I was convinced I might be pregnant. I also felt bloated, nauseous, had a heightened sense of smell and had sore boobs etc.  However, test after test and even blood tests at the Dr’s all came back negative. I was confused, frustrated, and upset. Eventually my period arrived and after a few tears I picked myself up, focused on being healthy, hopeful and excited for the future.

Then, along came the 1-year mark. We had started trying a couple of months before Christmas the year before so it was very apparent it had been a year since we had officially started, even though I hadn’t even been on the pill for 5 years and we had been only using the timing method for a year before we officially started trying.
This was the point when I started to think there might be something wrong. After 12 months of actively trying to get pregnant and no success, we were medically classed as infertile (this is after 6 months for women who are over 35). It was totally unexpected; this is when things started to get tough.

I made an appointment with my Dr and had blood tests to check my hormone levels as well as urine samples, swabs and cervical smears, to check for any infections. I had to do a blood test every week for 3 monthly cycle’s because there was a lab error with my first one, which meant the result had falsely come back as progesterone too high. Which means I worried about this issue completely unnecessarily… It also meant I then had to do a different kind of blood test where they put a needle in your arm, leave it in for 90mins and take 2-3 vials of blood every 15- 20mins (apparently, this is to eliminate the possibility that the stress of giving the blood samplecould affect your hormones… what kind of messed up joke is that?!)

Anyway, the results came back completely normal along with all my other blood tests, I also had a good egg reserve; there was no reason so far why we hadn’t conceived. A similar thing happened to my partner when he did his semen analysis; just getting the samples tested was a drama. At times, it was stressful but probably something we will laugh/joke about in years to come hopefully…

The first sample he did, I took to the wrong place. I had followed the instructions carefully on the form (which consisted of an address to drop it off). When I dropped it off, I was informed that it was the wrong place and that the sample had to be kept warm and dropped off within 1 hour of the sample being taken. (These were details my Dr’s nurse had failed to inform me and so we had no idea, it had been a complete waste of time and the sample was over an hour old.) The second sperm test he did was dropped off at the right place and within 1 hour. The results came back inconsistent and low count (with no other explanation except that he had to redo the sample.) This was utterly devastating. So, he did a third test, which came back COMPLETELY NORMAL!! We were so so relieved; he eventually did a fourth test, just to be sure (in the car park of the lab [OMG]… to ensure the freshness of the sample because the lab was a 30-min drive from our house, which usually meant a splash and dash!! lol). The 4th test also came back perfect… happy days!!

Once we knew everything was great with my partner’s swimmers, it was back to me. My Dr sent me for an ultrasound next (yes, exactly like the ultrasound a pregnant woman gets, where they put a magic wand up your ‘you know what’ and poke it around, to try and see what’s going on in there). This also meant sitting in a waiting room surrounded by pregnant women happily looking at scan photos and rubbing their growing bumps, which I so longed for. It was torture, I had never imagined my ‘first scan’ to be like this.

The results showed some swelling near my ovaries, but I was told they couldn’t tell me much more and [they] would need to investigate further.  Next my Dr sent me for a HSG test. Which, pleasantly involved a stranger [radiologist] pushing a tube through my cervix, filling my womb with die and gas and taking X-rays of my lower abdomen, to find out if my fallopian tubes were open or blocked. I was sent home afterwards with a course of antibiotics, an Ibuprofen and told to expect discomfort for the rest of the day, but was fine to go to work. However, by the end of the day I was in agony (whilst still having to finish my shift at work). The pain continued for days and got worse. After 5 days, I went back to my Dr, she gave me a strong painkiller to put up my bum (glamorous!) and told me there was nothing else they could do because I had already taken 5 days of antibiotics. Luckily a week after the test the pain had eased. Eventually I got the results back, which revealed I had one blocked Fallopian tube and the other appeared to be in a tangled mess!

After I had received the result, I cried all day. I was a mess. I couldn’t believe it. I was gutted and felt sick. I thought, why me!!  Around the same time, we also received some more bad news. My partner’s father had been unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal Cancer; he was 68 years old and had not long retired. My partner immediately flew to the UK where they live, to be by his father’s bedside. I flew over as soon as I could (due to work commitments I couldn’t avoid). However, I only made it in time to say goodbye at the funeral. It was heart breaking and what made it even worse was that we never had chance to give him a grandchild, which he would’ve adored so much.

When we got back to NZ, I was greeted with a letter from the Dr saying that I had been put on the waiting list to see a specialist about my fertility. I was extremely lucky because I only had to wait a month or so after that to get an appointment.  I went along to the appointment to see the specialist and was told that I would need surgery to attempt to reconstruct my tubes. I was also told that there would be a chance they may have to remove one or both of my tubes because they don’t know exactly their condition, until they operate.  I went home and cried all day… again.  I was scared but hopeful for the surgery. Upset and disappointed with my own body because there was something wrong with me but also glad that it was no longer unexplained and I was getting help. It was a roller coaster ride and not the enjoyable kind!

While I was going through all of this, I had more than my fair share of well-meant yet insensitive comments and un-helpful advice from people, such as; ‘just relax’, ‘it will happen when you least expect it and stop trying so hard’, ‘you are lucky because crying babies/soiled nappies/sleepless nights are hard work’. There were questions and more advice such as; ‘have you tried this/that [diet/treatment/therapy/prayer], it worked for my friend’s, brothers, wife’s friend after x amount of years/treatment’. Then there were all the pregnancy announcements, invitations to 1st birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and baby showers etc. Of course, I was happy that other people had good news or happy families, and glad they still included me. But it was still a constant reminder, every single day; everywhere I went (even at home on TV or social media) of the fact that I couldn’t/hadn’t gotten pregnant and [it felt like] everyone else could or had.

I had never in my life felt so alone and isolated. I felt jealous. I felt guilty of being jealous of other people’s happiness. I felt angry and upset for myself.  I just wanted to be ‘in the club’ with my friends. It was horrendous, very similar to grief. Something, you can never truly understand unless you’ve been through it. Which is why infertility is so isolating and lonely, even though it’s more common than people realize and apparently 1 in 8 couples go through it!!

Fertility is still a taboo subject and many couples choose to keep it private for various reasons.  Even now writing this, I’m holding back the tears because when you go through something like that, even when you do become strong again, it never really leaves you and can be hard to forget. It changes you.

Despite all of this, I have been one of the lucky ones. I have some amazing, lovely and supportive friends and family. Without having had them to listen to my rants, updates and complaining, I honestly don’t think I would still have the strength to continue this journey. My partner has also been a huge support in so many ways. However, this journey has had a big impact on our relationship. At one point, we were arguing quite a bit because of the build-up of stress/pressure in our lives (we never used to argue much at all). So, he suggested that we go and get some professional help/guidance. I was initially upset about this, but he explained to me that he saw it as ‘the beginning of an even stronger future together’. He also said, if we are strong and solid as a couple, we would cope with the challenge of parenting much better when we do eventually become parents (my goodness I am lucky to have him!). We went to a counsellor together and it was fantastic. We talked so much, had a few tears (well I did!), we learned so much about each other and us as a couple, even though I really believed we already knew everything about each other!

Because of this journey, I truly believe we are stronger than ever and really have the tools and emotional capacity as a couple to deal with just about anything life throws at us, especially the challenges of parenting.  We started to worry less about small things and focused on doing things that make us happy.  So, we treated ourselves to a spa pool, spent lots of time in the garden, getting stuck into nature and growing our own food, which was very therapeutic. We also did more exercise and paid more attention to our health and the quality of nutrition we were putting into our bodies and made sure we were taking all the right supplements. We gradually eliminated all chemicals from our house and garden and tried to be as natural and organic as we could without putting any extra pressure on ourselves. We went on fun a holiday to Queenstown; I had regular massages and pampering. But best of all…. We got a PUPPY!! After only 4/5 months from my initial appointment with the specialist I received an appointment for my surgery. I was so lucky; I even got sent to the private hospital so they could fit me in sooner! I began to feel like luck was on my side. Although I was still scared, nervous and worried, I was also hopeful about the surgery and future.

A few hours after my surgery, the specialist/surgeon came to see me with an update about how the surgery had gone… It turned out that BOTH my tubes were blocked and had scaring; there had also been a lot of fluid and swelling in one of them. Anyway, the specialist had managed to completely unblock and reconstruct both of my tubes! So even though I was tired, sore and had severe vomiting (because I’m allergic to general anaesthetic) It was overwhelming, great news and I cried happy tears! He told me there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to conceive naturally, and I would get an appointment at the fertility clinic about 4 months after my surgery for a follow up.

About 6 months after my surgery, I hadn’t received the follow up appointment I was promised to have 4 months after the surgery. So, I decided to go to a private fertility clinic and pay to do a monitored cycle (blood tests every few days to find out exactly when I ovulate). I did 2 monitored cycles and still no pregnancy; although we did find out I had ovulated slightly later than average on both cycles. During the second monitored cycle, I had what felt like ‘so I had read on Google’, implantation cramps 7-10 days after ovulation. Well obviously, it wasn’t and I was left feeling frustrated and confused again for what felt like the 100th time. The nurse at the clinic then suggested that we book and pay to see the specialist.

A couple of weeks later (no waiting months for appointments when you pay privately) we went along to see the fertility specialist. She told us (after studying all my notes, tests and surgeries from the last few years, as well as my partner’s notes) that even though my tubes had been surgically unblocked, it doesn’t mean they still work properly. This is because they have possibly been blocked since I was 19 (when I had an infection in one tube, which was discovered by a surgery I had for suspected appendicitis). She also told us that the latest test my partner did (for this appointment) came back low count and low morphology, which is a concern if we are trying naturally (but not a concern if we do IVF). Her main concern was my tubes, because the sperm is irrelevant if the egg can’t get down the tube successfully.  She sent me for another HSG test, which discovered that my left tube was in fact blocked again. I was then put on the waiting list for another surgery, this time to remove the blocked tube. We were also put on the IVF waiting list. The specialist told us we absolutely need IVF to have a baby. 3 months later I had the surgery to remove my left tube, the recovery for this surgery was a lot better than previous surgeries, thankfully but I still needed 3/4 weeks of work.  And now we wait…

I’m told the IVF waiting list is currently 12-18 months (although this can vary). We’ve been on the waiting list for 4/5 months now, so I’m hopeful that next year will be our year!  I always feel lucky for all the good things in my life. But I do still have good days and bad days.  On the good days I am hopeful, positive and happy.  The bad days however, are tough. I might go a few days (or weeks if I’m lucky) without any bad days and then boom… I will see loads of baby bumps in one day or someone will say something insensitive or announce their ‘accidental’ pregnancy or a certain song will come on the radio when I’m driving and I just can’t stop the tears from coming.

I will keep picking myself up and I will keep going. I won’t give up yet. This does not define me as a person. It will make me stronger. It will make me a better, more loving parent (well actually I think it already has because I’ve already done so much for my future small human, even before conception). I will cherish every single moment as a parent, even the not so good ones. Our future child will be so precious and special to us, our very own miracle child… All I need to do is keep wishing and believing!!