24-30 September 2018

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Rachel and Gareth's story

Our journey started back in 2006 about a week into our honeymoon. I (Rachel) became quite ill with chronic stomach pain (similar to IBS). This went on for a couple of years as we tried to get an understanding of the actual issue and treatment, which meant frequent trips to the hospital and numerous visits to dieticians, naturopaths etc., you name it, we saw them all, but no one could adequately provide a reason or solution. I had to quit my job only a few months in to married life due to the chronic pain that I was facing daily. The stress on my body resulted in anxiety attacks and a fear to leave my home in case I lost control of my bowels or was hit by severe pain whilst driving. I was often so tired that I would go to bed at 8pm and sometimes not wake up until 8 or 9am the following day. This affected every aspect of our married relationship at a time when we should have been enjoying life and each other.

In 2008, despite the health challenges we decided to try for a baby, we had both always wanted children and family was very important to both of us. I was 26 years of age and 12 months later we were still unsuccessful, so I was referred by my GP to go to Fertility Associates to look at our options and for them to run further testing.

Our specialist was Dr Sunil Pillay who was so lovely and thoughtful. After being bounced around from one specialist to another he showed real concern for what I was experiencing and made me feel like he really understood how big an impact this was having on me personally as a woman and on my marriage. At the end of our consultation he thought that potentially the main cause of my health issues and of not falling pregnant was that I had endometriosis. After all of the medical and natural pathways we had gone down and specialists we had seen, no one had alerted us to this type of disease and we had no idea what it was. Following an MRI and colonoscopy endometriosis was confirmed and I was booked in for an operation to remove it. I came away from this with a sense of peace and also relief as I didn’t just have my answers for not being able to fall pregnant but also all my other health issues.

The waiting list meant that 8 months later I was finally able to have the surgery. What had been anticipated as a 2-3 hour operation ended up taking nine hours due to the extent of the endometriosis and the fact that it was also on my bowel, which meant some of my bowel had to be removed. My poor husband was very concerned about the duration of the operation and being under sedation for that long and unfortunately, I had some post op complications and ended up back in hospital in extreme pain for several days.

The good news was that 3 months later I fell pregnant and nine months later our beautiful girl Ava arrived, albeit by an emergency caesarean following a long labour and falling baby heartbeat. She was a bright light in what had been a dark time for us and brought so much joy to our world. We felt very blessed and very excited to have a child and to enter parenthood – as scary and unknown as it was.

One year later we decided to try for baby number two. We were advised to not wait too long as endometriosis can have a tendency to grow back. After 6 months of not being successful we were referred to Fertility Associates again for further testing. A few minor tests were done but the specialist who we were seeing at the time decided they would like to operate on me again to remove any endometriosis that may have grown back or deal with any scarring that may be causing issues.

Due to what happened in the first operation and the issues I had after it, I was very scared to do this again. I was very anxious about the whole thing. Anxiety throughout this journey was a constant challenge but the thing that would ultimately override everything else was my desire to have a family and my strong sense that our family was not complete. After a short and successful operation there was no evidence of any more endometriosis but quite a bit of scar tissue from the last operation that needed to be scraped away.

Three months post op we were still unsuccessful and during the following two years we did three rounds of clomiphene, followed by three rounds of IUI. Unfortunately, all unsuccessful. The month to month planning, following a strict process and ultimately disappointment was a difficult thing to face and work through as we tried to have a normal marriage with this hanging over us. Our only remaining option was to pursue IVF which was a very difficult decision for us for several reasons including the negative effects the whole thing was having on our marriage, the potential costs involved and the morally challenging decisions we needed to make. We never ever thought we would have to grapple with such issues and decisions – shouldn’t everyone be able to have a baby, it just seemed like something you expected and planned. We very much came to appreciate that for some people, it wasn’t so straight forward. My husband and I also felt that we had to come to terms with potentially not being able to have more children of our own and started to look into adoption and foster care because we had a lot of love to give and knew that we couldn’t endlessly pursue having a full family of our own.

We also had many people say to us “you have one child, just be thankful for that”. We were so incredibly grateful for the blessing of our first child but I knew in myself that I had to do everything in my power to have a second child because I knew that our family wasn’t complete. No matter what anyone else said, this was incredibly important to me and although from time to time I second guessed myself, I had faith that I was doing the right thing. In the end we felt like all we could do was keep the door open by going down the IVF pathway. We went on the public waiting list as finances weren’t readily available and tried to be patient. The initial wait time was 18 months and we hoped that we would fall pregnant naturally before then. Three months later the wait time was reduced to 12 months and in January 2016, we started the process of IVF. This involved taking the pill for a couple of weeks, followed by injections I had to do on myself to stimulate my ovaries. After this a number of eggs were removed for fertilization, embryo growth and then implantation. Now it was a waiting game.

I found it quite hard that once again I was in situations where all of my privacy was gone, lying on a bed with my feet up and people staring at what was meant to be private. So many times over the years I had complete strangers touching me, prodding me, staring at me and talking about me like I wasn’t there. I often felt so exposed and self-conscious.

The process from the beginning to the end of the IVF treatment was extremely challenging. From daily migraines, vertigo and ulcers in my mouth, to the bloating and water retention, I think I was partially worn out from it all and partially just experiencing the side effects that had been described. The hardest thing was keeping my mind active while I waited. All I had wanted for such a long time was a family, I had literally dreamed about having a son and I knew it would all come down to a phone call.

Finally, the phone call arrived. I can remember it like it was yesterday. My husband and I sat on the couch as the nurse told me that I was pregnant! We were both overcome with emotion, it was like an overwhelming release of nine years of emotion that just burst, so many tears. I remember my daughter looked at my husband and I after the phone call and saw us crying but smiling at the same time. She asked ‘why you crying’? we replied “we are just so happy, all we can do is cry happy tears”.

Nine months later our beautiful boy Zach was born.

Unfortunately, this happy moment turned into a bit of a nightmare when the epidural block from my caesarean rose above my chest while in recovery and I stopped breathing. Thankfully my husband noticed something was wrong and pushed the emergency button and people came from everywhere. One moment I was holding my baby boy and looking at my husband thinking that everything was over, the next I was waking up with the bright lights of an operating theatre, people calling my name and a tube down my throat as they had to breathe for me for 40 minutes until they figured out what was wrong and brought me back to consciousness while my husband waited in another room next to our new baby boy, not knowing what was happening. I was so full of drugs and negative emotions that I couldn’t enjoy the moment of having Zach, or seeing my daughter come in or being visited by family and friends. This took a major toll on me physically and mentally and I am only just getting past it nearly two years on.

Would I do this journey again? I fought a long, hard, tiring, battle to have my 2 kids, and I would do it again for my 2 beautiful children because they are absolutely worth it. I don't think I am brave enough to do it all over again for round 3 though.I had to fight for my family, fight to bring my children into this world and I won but I felt like a wounded soldier. Am I blessed? Absolutely! I thank God for this opportunity to be a Mum and have a family that I know so many people are struggling to have but the toll it has taken on me personally, emotionally, mentally and physically and the effect that it has had on our marriage has been a heavy load to bear. My marriage is now better than it has ever been and my husband and I sometimes just smile at each other when we see our children playing together, we were prepared at one stage of our life that we may never have children and to have two happy, healthy kids is one of the greatest joys in our life. Children certainly are a miracle and a gift to be cherished.

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