Nikki & Steve (Australia)
Nikki & Steve (Australia)
Nikki had initial reservations about IVF treatment. Her Journey Journal looks at her doubts, some of the myths she’d heard about treatment, how her belief helped give her strength, and how her outlook on IVF slowly changed from something she “was not interested in” to “the most exciting time of our lives”.
“Our first IVF attempt took place about three years ago now - and it worked! I’m now “Mum” and Steve is “Dad” to our precious little Billy. In trying to recall our story, all I can remember is the excitement. It was absolutely overwhelming, burst out of your skin, can’t sit still, excitement. Those feelings still well up in my heart when I think back to that time and, as I’m typing, I’m having to resist the urge to get up and jump around.
However, suspecting that my memories are somewhat tainted by the perfect end result, I have referred to letters I wrote at that time. Yes, I wrote about the excitement, but I also wrote about the side effects that have disappeared in my reminiscences. It’s funny, isn’t it, that the final outcome can have such a huge impact on what we remember?”
When you first decide to try for a baby and it doesn’t happen, it’s easy to feel almost drowned in floods of different emotions: confusion, disbelief, disappointment and resentment. With help, and with each other, you can get through it.
“It never occurred to me that we could be infertile. Like most women I know, I spent my early adulthood trying to avoid getting pregnant. I just assumed that I would be like the other women in my family and conceive as soon as I decided to. I was ready to start our family just a little bit before Steve was, so as soon as he said “let’s do it” we dropped the contraception.
In some ways I think the first three months of trying were the most disappointing, because I was so unprepared for the let down. I knew the stats - that it takes most couples six months - but that didn’t apply to us. Just look at my genes! Dad had to have a vasectomy because Mum had their three kids in three years, despite using contraception when she fell pregnant with number two and three.”
“After six months I was keen for us to have tests. Steve didn’t think it was all that important at that stage, but I had to know. I just thought, “if we are infertile I want to find out, so I can get over it and stop being consumed by it”. I didn’t really think it would be that easy to get over it, but I needed to know.
So we had the tests. There were no problems. We were sent away to keep trying and told it would probably happen soon. It didn’t.
I had done some reading on infertility. I knew that some people classed you as infertile when you had not conceived after six months without using contraception. Others preferred not to use the label until you had been trying for two years. I don’t know when I began to say we had unexplained infertility.
Right from the beginning, I made it clear to Steve that I was not interested in fertility treatments. In my work I had met many couples who were infertile and had been through the IVF tread mill, only to be very disappointed. I had read some feminist material on IVF and none of it was good, from the nasty side effects they listed (like cancer) to the low success rate (I think my source said that the take home baby rate was actually only 6%). I didn’t like the idea that society made women feel that their worth was tied to their ability to reproduce and linked to that was a multi-million dollar industry. Surely there were much more noble areas for medical resources to be directed.
Instead we tried natural remedies. Under the supervision of a naturopath, we went on a very restrictive diet and filled ourselves with supplements and herbal remedies. We stuck it out for 6-9 months before we gave it away.
Steve is a very patient man and a very brave man! Four and a half years after we started trying to have a baby, he suggested we look into IVF. I had spent that time defending my anti IVF position to friends and relatives, all of whom wanted us to give it a try. Also, I had become a Christian and now had an ethical dilemma about what to do with unused embryos.
I agreed to look into it, reluctantly.”
Sharing your doubts is essential: if there are things you can’t talk about with your partner, talk to family or close friends. As Nikki found out, sharing thoughts can help ease worry about treatment.
“What I found out was surprising and liberating. The doctor we saw was informative, hopeful and kind. I discovered that, for my age group, the success rate was about 45% (I had only just turned 30). The long-term risks of the drugs were in no way as threatening as I had thought. There is “no appreciable increase in risk” of birth abnormalities. There may be an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. We could have the final say on how many eggs were exposed to sperm, how many embryos transferred to my uterus (with an upper limit to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancy) and what to do with the remaining embryos.
In the beginning I wrote to my sister overseas:
“Frozen embryos make me want to cry (I don’t quite know why). The induction of multiple ovulation makes me feel uncomfortable. The thought of getting pregnant makes it seem a bit better – well a lot better. When we were kids the idea of sex to get pregnant was pretty gross. Now it sounds so much more romantic. But maybe as I get more used to these things they won’t feel as yucky as they do now.”
I was right. As I got used to the idea it became a lot less ‘yucky’, a lot more exciting and the best science lesson we had ever had. At the end of the day, the hope of getting pregnant made it all seem a lot better.”
Nikki looks back at some of the most memorable moments of treatment
“I can’t believe it took us five years to try IVF. It was the most exciting time of our lives. We were probably over confident, but after much prayer I felt assured that it was OK and that it would work. What can I say? It did work!
In consulting my letters to my sister I find that the drugs were not so much fun. I got some pretty major headaches, felt bloated and was very worn out. I don’t recall being over emotional at that time, but Steve might tell a different story on that one. But to tell the truth, none of it really mattered. We were on such a high. It was like the best science lesson we have ever had. Suddenly we knew more about how a baby is made than we realised was involved. We were just soaking up all this information and it was really exciting. We were watching my follicles grow in number and size at ultrasounds every second day. We showed our drug kit to anyone who was interested and explained how we had to mix a bit of this with a bit of that. We had drawing up syringes and this whole little chemistry kit (they’ve changed the drugs now, to make them more user friendly). It might sound strange, but it was like the injections gave us something to do, to participate in making our baby, because we weren’t contributing in the conventional way.
Watching as they retrieved my eggs was incredible. I was a bit off the planet on pethidine and I think I may have told our doctor that I love him (very embarrassing). They said I may have trouble remembering because of the drugs, but we didn’t stop talking about it and somehow I retained the best bits. Then the best part of all was seeing our little Billy, as a five-day old blastocyst, before they popped him into my uterus. You don’t get that if you conceive naturally!”
Nikki shows precisely the wisdom of the saying ‘keep your eyes on the prize’, and how it helped her deal with some of the awkward moments during treatment.
The whole thing was like a dream come true. That’s not to say that there was no pain or discomfort involved. It’s certainly not to say that it’s all that glamorous lying there with your legs in the air having an internal ultrasound and a doctor retrieving your eggs. But none of that mattered to me all that much because I was focused on our end result.
Billy was born at 36 weeks by caesarean because he was breach and my waters broke. He weighed 2.32kg and he was in special care for a week, until he got the hang of sucking. He came home from hospital with me. To this day he takes my breath away.
I am grateful that I got over all my reservations about IVF. Parts of it are obviously unpleasant, but no more unpleasant than the monthly let down we had for five years before we did IVF. It doesn’t always work, but it did for us, and it was worth it. It was so worth it.