We never thought it would happen for us! After over 4 years of trying to conceive and numerous IVF attempts later, we were giving up hope of a successful conception. As we approached our 16th treatment cycle with IVF Australia, my husband and I decided that this was going to be our last attempt, after trying pretty much every cycle variation over the years.
This last cycle was with Dr Gavin Sacks, and we tried the ‘Bondi Protocol’, which targets Natural Killer cells as a possible cause of infertility. As we were categorised as ‘unexplained infertility’, we were willing to try anything. After a long treatment cycle, we finally received a positive blood test result and were actually pregnant! This cycle was a true team effort – Dr Gavin Sacks’ work with the ‘Bondi Protocol’, Professor Bill Ledger with the egg collection and Dr Juliette Koch with the embryo transfer. All excellent doctors.
However, we do feel that our success this time around specifically is because of the treatment program for NK cells. We can’t thank Dr Sacks enough for pioneering the investigation of the role the immune system plays on implantation failure. It is exciting work that allows many couples who have previously been given no answers to repeated implantation failure (like ourselves), another treatment option that can actually make all the difference. We now call him Dr Gavin ‘Genius’ Sacks!
The team at IVF Australia have been truly wonderful to us over the years. Both doctors and nurses are extremely professional and caring, and we felt that we were always in the best hands. Thank you to everyone involved in our whole journey to pregnancy.
After yet another miscarriage Caroline awoke in the middle of the night crying, ‘If I can ‘t have children, what will I do with all this love inside me?’ The next day her husband bought her a labra-doodle pup. But it was the gift from an egg donor, which helped fill the void.
“It’s been a huge emotional roller coaster for all of us. It’s taken three of us to make this dream come true.”
Caroline: I had a very small but incredibly close-knit family. My parents had an excellent, marriage. As a result, I’ve always had a very clear picture of how I wanted my own marriage to be, which was why I waited so long to find the right person, because my standards were so high. I always thought having children was something you did later. I had no idea how difficult it would be.
By the time Drew and I got married I was 38 and he was a year older.
Our romance took off quite quickly and not long before we were married, we got pregnant and I miscarried. We dealt with that relatively well. But it was the next miscarriage six months after we married that threw us for six. I remember it was around the time of Drew’s 40th birthday and we were very excited about this pregnancy. We were booked in to have the CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling) at 12 weeks, to check for Down’s Syndrome and other abnormalities. It never occurred to us that anything could go wrong.
Drew: The radiographer looked at the screen and said, “Hang on, something’s not right.” She measured the length of the embryo. “Ooh, that’s much too small and there’s no heartbeat. I’d better call the doctor.” She just walked out and left us. It was like being hit by a train. No one ever told us about the possibility of losing the baby at 12 weeks. We thought once we’d had a positive eight-week scan we were okay. We were very ignorant at that stage and it was such a shock. I remember that day so clearly walking back through the shopping centre to the car and feeling numb.
We got pregnant naturally four or five times, but none of them lasted. At the eight-week scan everything looked fine and then at the twelve-week scan they were always dead. The last pregnancy was actually an ectopic and I had to have my fallopian tube removed. When we found out during the ultra sound the pregnancy was an ectopic, we laughed nervously, “Yeah, that’d be right. What else can you bloody hit us with?”
The bottom line was my eggs were too old. We knew nothing then about age related infertility. When I was 39 I went to see my doctor and he showed me some startling statistics about my chances of conceiving and carrying a healthy baby to term. “There’s no question, if you’re serious about having a child, you’ve got to start IVF now, although your chances are still quite slim,” he said. I felt like I’d been shot. I was so shocked and upset. That was a wake up call and that’s when we started down the IVF route.
Caroline: I would say to women in their twenties and thirties, “Listen. Here are the facts about age and fertility. These are the statistics. Do with it what you will. But just know, if you leave it too late, you could miss out on having children altogether.”
Drew: It took a while for us to accept we’d have to do IVF. I thought, “Oh, that can’t possibly be true. This isn’t us. We’ll be right.” I was pretty surprised when we found ourselves in that position.
Caroline: I didn’t know anyone who’d done IVF, which was difficult, because I didn’t have anyone to talk to. At first, I was really embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone except my family and close friends. But as time went on, I didn’t care who knew, because it was too hard to keep a secret, on top of everything else we were going through.
Drew: We were so naïve, we were absolutely sure we’d be pregnant on the first round of IVF.
Caroline: We thought that if they transplant a live embryo inside me, of course it’s going to work!
Drew: At the first egg harvest we got a ridiculously high number of eggs, around 20, and lots of them fertilised, “Fantastic, here we go. One go, and we’ll be right, “ we said. Little did we know!
Caroline: We did five rounds of IVF and none of them worked. One round was particularly devastating because we didn’t even get to the transfer stage. We had six eggs and three fertilised but they all died during the five-day waiting period before the transfer. It seemed so unfair. I remember howling to mum and dad on the phone, “I’ve been through all those injections, blood tests and ultra sounds and there’s nothing to even transfer. How can this be?”
The drugs made me feel ghastly and I hated it, but I never missed a day of work. Some people succumb to the illness and depression and take to their beds. I always kept going, because I didn’t want to sit home and think about it all day. Even though, some days, it was a battle to get there, because I felt like crap. I found the physical stuff easier to deal with than the psychological. My head was always my greatest challenge, the whole way through. By the end of the five years, with still no success, I found it hard not to get really depressed. even though I’m usually a naturally positive person.
In some ways I wasn’t strong enough to give up. If you keep trying you delay having to face facts. It takes real strength to say, “You know what? I can cope with not having a family.” I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I was going to get a baby, come hell or high water.
I knew what it was like to have an amazing family, and I wanted that too. All our friends were having kids. When my closest friend told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t even planned, it threw me badly.
We were at the end of our own frozen egg supply and were facing a brick wall. One morning I woke up at five o’clock sobbing and saying, “You’ve got to help me Drew!” I was beside myself. I was frantic and wretched. I kept saying, “What am I going to do with all this love inside me?” That weekend we went out to get Eric, our labradoodle pup to ease the pain a little. We’ve poured our love into him.
At the same time we started considering egg donation. But the IVF doctor wasn’t very hopeful, “In this country you obviously can’t pay someone for their eggs, so it’s virtually impossible to find the right egg donor unless you know someone or have a sibling who’s willing to donate,” he said. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have a sibling who was suitable.
We considered advertising for a donor, but the idea of so many unknown factors, really didn’t appeal to us. So we started down the international adoption road.
We went to an information seminar about adopting from China, but it was bad timing. I was still feeling very fragile having just come out of hospital after an ectopic pregnancy, in which I lost my fallopian tube. Dad had also just died and I was at a really low point. But we had to go to the seminar because if you don’t go you don’t get another invitation. I was still physically unwell and mentally wrecked.
Drew: I was never really sold on the adoption idea. From my point of view, I hadn’t given up on having our own children.
Caroline: Drew’s viewpoint frustrated me, because the reality was I only had one tube and my eggs were crap. I needed a backup option or else I would go nuts. I knew I could do adoption. I thought, “I love our dog Eric! I have flipped out of my brain over a dog. He’s not even my species. Do you think I’m going to have trouble loving a child just because it’s Chinese? Of course not!”
Drew: I didn’t think we had any chance finding an egg donor, because if you look at all the ads in Sydney’s Child magazine, the donor section is full of heartbreaking stories about childless couples pleading for donors. I couldn’t see how we’d stand out from all the rest.
Caroline: We decided not to advertise in Sydney’s Child because we thought we’d have Buckley’s chance of attracting a donor, yet ironically because of those ads our friend Neisha decided to donate to us. It was the weirdest thing. One day, she happened to read some of those sad ads and thought, “Oh my God, this is something I could do to help.” She has quite a few friends in the same boat as us. Thankfully she chose us! Neisha was 36 at that stage and the IVF clinic would have preferred someone under 35 but hey, we didn’t have people queuing up to donate.
Drew: In every other way though, Neisha met all the requirements for an egg donor.
Caroline: She’d finished her family and was prepared to have contact with the babies; both being very important issues to us. At least that’s where having been part way through the adoption process was helpful, because there are similarities between adoption and donor, in terms of children wanting to know their genetic history. I read a lot of books about children of donors and adoption and they all had questions like, “Do you think I’m musical because my mum was musical? Do I have any predisposition to diabetes or heart disease?” All those questions become important at different stages of your life. It’s our birthright to know our genetic history; most of us take it for granted because most of us know our parents.
When Neisha decided to donate to us she rang me at work one day and I nearly died of shock. It’s not a phone call you expect. When she told me she wanted to donate her eggs to us, I came home and said, “Drew, you’re not going to believe this…” And he said, “Quick, ring her back! Say yes!”
Drew: My reaction was positive from the start. I thought it was a great idea. It was a gift from the gods. We were in a quandary at that stage. We really didn’t have a clear direction and were wondering what our life was going to be about? We were even considering doing aid work or in Africa – we wanted to do some good somewhere, to give our lives some meaning. By then, my eyes had been opened to what we could achieve as a family. While most people take for granted having a family, such a supposedly mundane aim of having kids and living in the suburbs became a holy grail for us. When we got Neisha’s offer there was really no doubt in my mind it was a good thing. There were a couple of logistical things to figure out but otherwise it was fairly plain sailing.
Caroline: Our first question to Neisha was, “Are you prepared to be really open about it?”
“Yes, sure,” she said. “If that’s what you want.”
“Okay, great! Let’s go!”
Our girls will always know Neisha is their biological mother. Her own kids already know. Although they’re too young to really understand, they know their Mummy gave me some eggs. It’s all very open. There’s nothing weird about it. That’s just how it worked.
Neisha’s husband Paul was great too. He’s a surgeon and pretty clear-cut about such things. He saw it as Neisha merely donating some cells, nothing more. He had it sorted in his mind in a minute and didn’t have a problem with it at all, thank God. Because I know women who’ve wanted to donate but their husbands have said, “No. They’re mine.” And their ego kicks in, whereas Paul said, “It’s a cell. It’s a scientific process. Caroline’s the one carrying the baby and she and Drew will be getting up every night to feed it, not us.”
One of the reasons, Neisha wanted to donate was because she’s had so much joy from her own children and she knew people who would be good parents and were being denied that happiness. To her, it was never the big deal that it was to us. Still, to this day, she has no idea what a big thing she’s done, instead she says, “I just hate it that you’re so grateful, because I don’t want it to be like that, it’s no big deal.” And we say, “Neisha, you have no idea!” Some people donate organs to keep someone alive. Well, that’s nice. But two new lives? Neisha’s given us a family, it’s so big, it’s almost inconceivable.
I still had to process giving up the dream of having my own biological children. Because I am so mad about my own family, I was sad their ancestry would not be continued. But I went to a brilliant seminar run by the IVF clinic and heard an egg donor couple and an egg recipient couple tell their stories. The light switched on for me when the egg recipient spoke about her son and said, “When Thomas was born. He wasn’t mine and he wasn’t hers. He was him. Thomas was Thomas.” When I heard that suddenly all my concerns and fears were irrelevant. And that’s how I see Jessie and Eve. They are so strongly their own identities; it’s not even a question of who they belong to.
Drew: Since Jessie and Eve have been born, I don’t get hung up on the genetics anymore. I feel we’re the custodians of two little people. Our job is to put them on the best possible path and then one day they’ll go off and do their own thing.
“We IVF doctors are not Gods, we are merely partners on the path to helping women have babies.” – Dr Gavin Sacks.
Dr Gavin Sacks is one of those rare breeds of professionals – highly qualified, humble and genuinely caring.
He’s the type of doctor I wish I’d met when I started IVF years ago.
When we do meet in a coffee shop in Bondi Junction downstairs from his clinic, we are cheerfully interrupted by two of his former patients who stop to shake his hand and update him on the progress of their healthy ‘Dr Sacks’ babies.
As a father of three Gavin knows the struggle to start a family doesn’t stop after conception. He is one of the few IVF specialists to guide his patients all the way through their pregnancies and deliver their babies as well.
“For women who’ve had repeated miscarriages, pregnancy is particularly stressful. It’s reassuring for them to have weekly scans to see the baby’s heartbeat,” he says. “ I’ll go beyond the normal protocols and guidelines, if it helps my patient.”
Unlike some reproductive specialsts, Dr Sacks will never send a patient away after three failed attempts at IVF. He believes in hanging in for the long haul.
Consequently, Dr Sacks sees many of the so-called end-of-the-road patients.
His internationally recognised research into miscarriages and immunology, in particular ‘natural killer cells,’ has led to innovative treatments such as the Bondi protocol, whereby the patient is given prednisolone and blood thinners.
The success rates are promising and Dr Sacks continues to probe into the complexities of infertility, with no less than six research projects on the go.
But it’s not just women who’ve had multiple miscarriages who seek his expertise. Many are drawn to his openness to working with different specialists and trying other options. Not only does he work closely with an acupuncturist to give patients extra support, he invites rabbis to oversee the treatment to ensure so-called ‘kosher IVF’ for his Jewish clients.
However while Gavin may be flexible in his thinking, he is definitely systematic and rigorous in his research and testing.
“I do more tests on my patients – both men and women – than most other reproductive specialists,” he says. “ I don’t believe in the scattergun approach, I want our intervention to be targeted as accurately as possible.”
He might not like it, but many parents these days, thank God for Dr Sacks.
I was conceived accidentally by a couple of teenagers in the back seat of a 1960s pink Ford Zephyr at the drive-in movies in Adelaide. I don’t know what was playing that night, but it obviously didn’t capture my parents’ attention. Four months later, my Catholic grandparents marched their disgraced children down the aisle.
Except for my grinning father wearing a tight, borrowed suit, my 18-year-old mother and the rest of the family looked grim- faced in the wedding photos. My parents went on to have my little sister three years later. Their marriage lasted 15 years, which is not a bad track record for a shotgun wedding.
And so it was that my mother warned me not to make the same mistakes she’d made. ‘Don’t get married young, see the world, go to university, have a career, have lots of boyfriends be- fore you settle down and, most importantly, don’t get pregnant accidentally!’
Dutifully, I followed my mother’s instructions. I went to uni- versity and studied journalism, landed a job as a TV reporter, worked in London and Europe for six years, lived with my vio- linist boyfriend in Switzerland, and traveled the world.
When I met my husband-to-be, Stuart, in Sydney, I was 31 and ready to settle down. Within a few months, I fell pregnant accidentally. I was excited, but Stuart wasn’t so thrilled. Our relationship was still new and he was worried about how he’d support us. My mother’s words were ringing in my head, ‘Don’t ever make a man marry you because you’re pregnant.’ So, with a heavy heart, I had a termination. This was a decision that we both came to deeply regret.
Six months later, Stuart and I were married. I threw my contraceptive pill away and we tried in earnest to start a family. Nothing happened after the first year, but I wasn’t too worried. I was working as a TV reporter and traveling often. It was probably just bad timing, I told myself. After the second year, I began to worry I’d damaged my fallopian tubes, somehow, with the ter- mination. But tests revealed that everything was fine.
By the third year, the strain was taking its toll on our mar- riage, and I blamed Stuart for ‘making me have an abortion’. We began to argue more than we were having sex. By the fourth year, family and friends stopped asking about the ‘pitter-patter of little feet’. When I heard about friends falling pregnant easily I’d smile and congratulate them, and go home and cry.
I started to investigate IVF, but the only books I found were technical manuals and a devastating memoir by a woman who tried unsuccessfully for years and suffered terrible side-effects from the drugs.
At first, I stubbornly rejected IVF, saying, ‘We’ve conceived once naturally; we can do it again!’ Instead we spent a fortune on acupuncture, naturopaths, Chinese herbalists, spiritual healers, and ayurvedic medicine. By now my sense of humour was drying up and, according to my doctor, so were my eggs.
Around the time of my 37th birthday I met a woman at a party who told me she’d just had twins using IVF. When I told her my age, and that we’d been trying to conceive for five years, she said, ‘For God’s sake, woman, get yourself down to the Baby Factory and get on the IVF program. You’ve got no time to lose!’
So that’s exactly what we did. After talking to the nurses at the IVF clinic, I threw down my Visa card and said, ‘Book us in.’ At last I felt like we were doing something proactive. Every morning Stuart would inject me in the bottom and, except for one jab, which made me feel like my legs were crawling with ants, I didn’t have any adverse reactions to the drugs.
I didn’t tell anyone at work what we were doing, but every morning I felt buoyed by my secret when I logged on to my computer with the password ‘Zoë.’
Harvest or egg pick-up day was the first anniversary of September 11. As I placed my legs in stirrups and winced while the doctor extracted eggs with a long needle from my pumped-up ovaries, I wondered what sort of world I would be bringing a child into. But the human instinct to procreate seems to override logic, good sense, and even fear.
My pride at producing the grand total of nineteen eggs — as if I was a prize-winning chook — was dashed the next day when only three fertilised. I couldn’t help wondering whether my crusty old eggs were to blame or my husband’s lazy sperm.
At many IVF clinics they grow the fertilised egg for five days until it’s a multi-celled blastocyst, before transferring it into the moth- er’s womb. It seemed surreal that, while we were at work or out to dinner, our ‘offspring’ were growing in a petri dish in the city.
Every day Stuart would ring the lab to see how ‘the little guys’ were doing. In the meantime, I tried to convince Stuart we should have two embryos, rather than one, transferred to increase my chances, even though our doctor had warned us we could end up with twins. I left a letter on Stuart’s desk headlined: ‘Ten Reasons Why We Should Have Twins’ followed by bullet points. Stuart still laughs about it today, and wishes he’d kept that paper to re- mind me whenever I complain what a handful one child is.
As it turned out, we didn’t have the twin option. According to the lab, one blastocyst was way out in front as an ‘A’ grade speci- men, which meant the cells were dividing rapidly while the other two were growing more slowly. They recommend transferring the good one and freezing the other two as back-up. As it turned out, the slower blastocysts stopped dividing and simply disinte- grated before they even got to the freezer. I was devastated. The doctor tried to reassure me. ‘It’s not every day I get to transfer such a good-looking blastocyst,’ he said.
I’ll never forget looking down the microscope at what we nicknamed the ‘blasting blastocyst’ that was to became Zoë. After the doctor had transferred the fertilised egg into my uterus, I asked him if I should go home and put my legs up, so it wouldn’t fall out. He laughed. ‘There are women out there who have no idea they have a five-day-old embryo growing inside them, and they’re drinking champagne and dancing all night. Now it’s simply up to that embryo whether if wants to become a baby or not.’
Somehow, I found that strangely reassuring. For all its incredible technology, IVF still has to leave room for the magic and mystery of creation.
Zoë is Greek for ‘life’. Today, as I look at my beautiful, bright, and bubbly three-year-old daughter, I don’t just marvel at the wonder of IVF; I marvel at the wonder of her and all children.
Why does new life sometimes spring unbidden from a once- off romp in the back of a car and at other times refuse to blossom despite years of yearning? My newfound awe sent me on a quest to interview other people who’d also experienced IVF. I sought both men’s and women’s personal stories. As it turned out, it was mostly women who responded. I was touched by their open- hearted and candid stories. Together we sat in their kitchens or on their sofas, and laughed and wept at their journeys.
Not all the stories in this book have happy endings like mine. Some have given up IVF after years of trying without success; others are still on the treadmill.
After countless miscarriages, one woman finally gave birth to a baby, which tragically died weeks later from a rare congenital disease. Another couple gave birth to twins after a friend donated her eggs, while a mother of three impulsively donated her eggs to a stranger.
Women also tell of enduring personal tragedies in their quest for a child; while one woman mourned her brother’s suicide, another was dumped by her partner in the middle of her IVF cycle. Neither gave up their dreams of becoming mothers.
I also spoke to a remarkable young woman who was the prod- uct of one of the earliest IVF programs. At school she was teased and called a ‘test tube baby’; now she’s an ambassador for an in- fertility network.
Assisted reproductive technology has also made it possible for gays and singles to be parents, too. In this book, a gay male cou- ple and a single woman in her forties share their stories of baby hunger.
All these memoirs are very different. All display courage, de- termination, vulnerability, love, and proof that the desire for a baby is bigger than us all.
P.S. As I wrote this book, my pregnant belly pressed against the desk. After Zoë turned three, we decided not to do IVF again and to be content with one child. I gave away the high chair, the pram, and my maternity clothes. A month later my hands shook as I held the pregnancy test and looked at the two red lines showing a positive result. Our second daughter, Sienna, the homegrown type, was born just weeks after my publishing deadline.
When three ectopic pregnancies rendered her fallopian tubes useless, Erika was devastated. She had dreamed of being a mother since she was a child. Erika’s only option was IVF but her path to motherhood was pitted with grief following the ending of two important relationships, the loss of her younger brother and her own near death experience. But she never lost sight of her dream. IVF helped her realise her goal, along with a lot of soul searching and self-nurturing.
I was born to be a mother. When I was six years old, I used to strut to the shops in my yellow flares with my baby doll in a pram. I’d stop at the lights, waiting to cross the road fussing over my doll. I thought everyone in their cars was watching me and believed I had a real baby.
At 24 I was in a long-term relationship and fell pregnant. But my partner decided he wasn’t ready and my family also told me I wasn’t ready to be a mother. So I had a termination. When I came out of the anaesthetic, they said, “We didn’t get anything. There was nothing there. You’ve got to have an ultrasound.” The ultrasound showed an ectopic pregnancy. There was an embryo in one of my fallopian tubes and I had to go to hospital.
I woke up after the operation some time in the morning and everything seemed fine. But later that night, something went wrong. My stomach was contorted with cramps and I was deathly pale and sweaty. After checking me the doctors rushed me in for emergency surgery in the middle of the night. I haemorrhaged and lost almost half my blood and had to be given a transfusion.
I flat-lined and I remember seeing a white light. I felt like I was dying. Going towards the light, I felt euphoric, weightless and full of love. I thought, ‘This is incredible, this is how life should be’. But I questioned whether I was ready to go or not. I felt I had the power to choose life or death. The first person to come to my mind was my brother. I saw his face clearly. Then I thought of mum, dad and my partner and thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’m not quite ready.’ So I came back.
That experience made me respect life a lot more. It made me aware of the power of love and our choices. I was excited to have seen the light but also shattered that one of my fallopian tubes had been removed during the operation. Now with only one tube, my chances of becoming a mother easily had decreased.
My second pregnancy was six years later when I was 30. I was seeing a younger guy and having a child with him wasn’t a viable option. Obviously, I was concerned I might lose the second tube but my obstetrician assured me the technology had improved. He gave me a 99 percent guarantee I would have a usable fallopian tube at the end of the procedure. But something very tricky happened. A few cells from the embryo remained attached somewhere and my body thought it was still pregnant. I had to go in to hospital every second day for a fortnight to have chemotherapy to kill off those cells. It was pretty intense. I had a series of blood tests and each time the lab technicians would come back and say, “Sorry, it’s still registering as something there. We need to give you another jab.” Fortunately, I didn’t lose the second tube so I didn’t give myself too hard a time.
A couple of years later I was single again and in a new job in London. That’s where I met the man who asked me to marry him. He was a yoga teacher and sold musical instruments and arts and crafts from Asia. He supported orphanages and was an all-round decent guy. We decided to make a go of it.
We were working at an orphanage in Nepal when I got a phone call telling me my brother had killed himself in Sydney. I was gutted. We came back to Australia and dealt with the pain, sadness, mess and confusion. I also felt a guilty because I hadn’t been there for my brother during his darkest hours. I’ll always wonder if I’d been home whether I could have helped him.
Six weeks later, we found ourselves working at the Glastonbury Festival in England. We were stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a chaotic sea of tents and people and musicians. I thought I could lose myself in the mayhem and try to bury my grief. Then one day, I woke up and I couldn’t walk. I was in so much pain. I felt constipated, bloated, really sick and toxic. There was a constant beat of music from the Festival and I couldn’t find any peace. For two days I lay in the tent with a stream of people coming in to do Reiki on me. As soon as I got back to London I went straight to a doctor. I was still grieving for my brother and felt very disconnected from reality.
The doctor sent me off for a scan and sure enough it was another ectopic pregnancy. I was rushed by ambulance to hospital before it burst. I was in so much pain I could barely get off the bed. I was on all fours, screaming in agony. It was really horrible and very frightening, to be so far away from home, with no family around me. My partner adored me but I wanted the support of people I’d known all my life.
As I clenched the bar at the end of the hospital bed and cried with pain, I thought, ‘Why is God doing this to me? My brother’s just committed suicide. Do I have to deal with this as well?’ I was confused and angry and wondered. ‘Why me?’
I had emergency surgery and they just reefed my fallopian tube out. The doctor thought there was no point trying to salvage it. “There’s no way you’re keeping this one. You’ve already had one pregnancy in there,” he said. When I woke up I was devastated. Losing that fallopian tube had left me with a lot of scar tissue and pain.
I found English hospitals and nurses really scary. It was like something out of an old movie. There were long corridors of iron beds and severe looking nurses with their flapping, ‘flying nun’ hats. I was far from home and the hospital was miles from where we lived in London, making it hard for anyone to visit me. That’s when I finally fell to pieces. I hadn’t had a chance to tell my parents because it all happened so quickly. I thought, ‘My God, I’ve just been through this huge ordeal and my family don’t know anything about it’. That was the turning point.
I thought, ‘If we’ve got to do IVF, I want to do it in Australia’. Now the pressure was on my partner to come back to Australia with me. He had his business, his two dogs and his yoga and he wasn’t ready to move to Sydney to have a child he wasn’t sure he was ready for.
I arrived home, single, but still determined, one way or another to have a baby. I researched IVF by reading books and talking to doctors. Since my first ectopic pregnancy I’d always known IVF was an option.
I understood I needed to get right onto my pre-conception care. That meant addressing my diet, taking supplements, giving up cigarettes and party drugs and cutting back on drinking. And then I met Jonathon. We’d known each other for a long time, but hadn’t seen each other for eight years. For the first time we were back in the same city, at the same time, without partners. All of a sudden, we realised there was a lot more chemistry between us than we’d previously acknowledged. I told him about my brother’s death and the drama with my fallopian tubes. But I didn’t tell him about my burning desire to have a baby – I didn’t want to scare him off!
We fell in love and stayed together. About two years into the relationship, he looked at me one night over dinner and said, “Let’s have a baby. Let’s go for it. Let’s sign up for IVF.” I was primed and ready to go.
We went to the clinic and he went off into one of the little rooms and did his business and came out with his offering. It’s bizarre for the men because while we women sit out in the waiting room we know exactly what they’re up to in their little cubicles. It’s all so clinical, in a way.
First, I took the nasal spray, because I’m not a big needle fan. But the spray irritated my nose and I was worried I’d sneeze everything out. I thought, ‘There is no way I can do this three times a day for six weeks.’ So I went back in the next day and got the injections. Initially, Jonathan did them, but I realised he wasn’t going to be around for all of them, so I had to get a handle on it quickly.
Before injecting, I used to think about the baby to give me courage. It became a beautiful daily ritual. I visualised being pregnant and having a baby in my arms, which I’d dreamed of since I was three. Those dreams were closer to coming true and I didn’t fear an ectopic pregnancy anymore.
The day before the egg harvest, I found it really painful walking to yoga. Both my ovaries were so full of eggs. I felt puffy and sick from the treatment. I was working in a massage clinic in the city and had lots of lymphatic drainage to ease the bloating and puffiness. At the same time, I felt full of the ability to have life inside me and I tried to embrace the process as positively as possible.
The next day I went to the IVF clinic and had the egg extraction under general anaesthetic. When I woke up they said, “Look at the number we’ve written on your right hand and it’ll tell you how many eggs we got.” I looked at my hand and it had 22 written on it. Twenty-two eggs! No wonder I couldn’t walk the day before. They said, “Well done! That’s fantastic!”
Sixteen of the 22 eggs fertilised, which meant we had plenty to play with. I felt proud and excited. Then we had to decide whether to have one, two or three transferred into me as soon as they’d fertilised or choose to wait five days until they became multi-celled blastocysts. They said the success rate was greater with a fertilised egg if it had survived five days in the petri dish. So we opted to wait and have one blastocyst transferred.
I felt battered and bruised from having my ovaries pierced 22 times with large needles. My insides felt swollen and tender, even violated. I looked pregnant, but I was just puffed up from the drugs and procedures. I tried to carry on my regular life but it was difficult.
Those two weeks waiting for the results of the pregnancy test were among the worst of my life. I was massaging in the city on the day the results were due. Jonathon rang every half hour to find out the results. There was so much pressure waiting for that phone call. It was nerve wracking. It was like waiting to see if I’d won Lotto.
Finally the clinic called to say it hadn’t worked and I wasn’t pregnant. I rang Jonathon and then had to go straight in and massage a regular client. I was crying and trying not to make any noise while the tears streamed down my cheeks.
There and then, I decided I was not ready for another round of IVF. I needed a break. Taking the fertility drugs and making and harvesting all those eggs had taken its toll. The added pressure of being pregnant straight on top of that would have been too much. I needed to get back to myself. I decided to store the other embryos, which was the best move. I thought, ‘Why would a little embryo want to implant itself in here, when it’s raw and tender from all those drugs and hormones? I don’t blame it for not wanting to make this its home.’
For the next six months I worked on myself and tried to make my uterus a beautiful, welcoming and warm place where a little embryo would want to live and grow. I did yoga, meditation and ate a clean macrobiotic diet, had early nights and lots of love in my life. Finally, I felt ready.
We thawed out two embryos. It was beautiful looking through the microscope and saying hello to them before they put them inside me.
When I came out of the clinic, I bashed the car into a pole in the car park. I thought, ‘That’s so not me. Something’s changed. I must be pregnant.’ Two days later, Jonathon said, “You’re like a hot water bottle. Your body temperature has gone through the roof.” We had a little chuckle. We both knew I was pregnant. We were so happy, so over the moon. We did a batch of home pregnancy tests and they all read, “Yes, yes, yes!”
At my 37th birthday party at home, we announced we were having a baby. It was wonderful. There was so much happiness, enthusiasm and joy because everyone knew the roller coaster journey I’d been on over the years.
I’d held a lot of babies, but I’d never held a newborn. Seeing Gus for the first time was surreal. He was so little and slippery, yet so strong. It was one of those moments where you think, ‘Far out! This is what being alive is all about.’ This is an amazing rite of passage and I feel privileged to have been able to do it. “Bring it on! I want to do that all over again! As soon as possible!” Because it was just wonderful, I loved it.
I would say to anyone considering IVF, to focus on their pre-conception care. It’s important for both partners to have healthy minds and bodies before conceiving. Sperm counts in the success rate of pregnancy too. Good food and regular exercise benefits you tenfold on a spiritual, emotional and mental level to deal with the IVF process. I’d also advise women to see professionals in the field, not just take potluck and read a few books. It’s also important to embrace the treatment with as much positive attitude as you can muster. Don’t resent or fear it, because it’s hopefully going to bring you a beautiful baby.
Extract from ‘Making Babies – Personal IVF Stories’ by Theresa Miller
When I was growing up, IVF was still quite controversial. I gave a speech about it when I was in Year 11, arguing, “Who are we to say whether it’s right or wrong for someone to use technology to have their own precious baby? If the technology’s there, why shouldn’t we use it?” There were quite a few raised eyebrows in the audience. IVF was still relatively new then and many people thought we shouldn’t interfere with nature. By the time I did IVF, it was so common place, people would say, “You’ve got twins, which clinic did you go to?”
I was 23 when I met Colin. It was on a day trip to the reef outside Townsville and he was the dive instructor and took me on my first dive. He had bright blue eyes and a huge grin. There was immediate chemistry between us. He invited me to a party and was shocked when I said ‘yes’. He was a lot of fun and we soon became besotted with each other. Colin and that first dive made such an impression that 18 months later I became a qualified instructor too and we started our own dive business on Magnetic Island.
Then about six or seven years later, I was suddenly hit with the hormone stick and desperately wanted to have children. Colin was twenty years older than me and already had a family from a previous marriage. He never dreamt he’d have more children and had had a vasectomy. We realised we’d need to do IVF, when the time was right. Our diving business was all consuming, so taking nine months off work wasn’t viable then.
But when I was 30, I had treatment for endometriosis and the gynaecologist said to me, “If you’re going to have children, do it now, rather than later.”
Thinking this was just a ‘boy’s problem’ we went to see an urologist. I remember this tiny man behind a great big desk who sat us in chairs much lower than his with our knees virtually under our chins. It was really quite funny. It had been 15 years since Colin’s vasectomy and a reversal didn’t appear viable. After listening to our story, the little man said, “Your best bet is to go straight to the gynaecologist downstairs and organise donor sperm. You’ve got no chance otherwise.”
I felt such a goose when I said, “Actually, I saw this technique on TV, where they extracted the sperm from the testes and injected it into the eggs in a petri dish. Could we try that?” I didn’t have much information and he was very disparaging that my sole medical source was ‘Oprah’. Anyway, we saw the doctor downstairs and he said, “That’s rubbish, you don’t need donor sperm,” and he gave us some information about alternatives. We contacted the IVF clinic in Brisbane and asked if they did ICCSI, the technique I’d seen on TV. They said, “Yes, of course, we know all about it and use it here all the time.” So we decided to move to Brisbane and give it a go.
We started with treatment for my endometriosis. I had heavy periods, which sometimes made sex painful. Every month I’d miss a couple of days’ work because of the pain. The doctor tried a couple of laparoscopies to laser the endometriosis, but it was in a difficult spot to reach. I ended up on drugs for six months that made me feel homicidal. My husband said it was like living with a rabid blue heeler. He was afraid I’d bite off his hand if he looked at me the wrong way!
Once we started IVF however, there was so much excitement and joy that it was finally happening I didn’t notice the side effects as much.
We committed ourselves wholeheartedly to the process. We gave up coffee and chocolate and took vitamin supplements to make ourselves as healthy as possible. We saw it as preparing for a special mission. To us, IVF was a unique opportunity and not an ordeal. We entered it with a heart full of joy and not too much anxiety. I found it helpful talking to people about it too. We were surrounded by people’s well wishes and positive energy, which put us in a good mental state to tackle the clinical process.
The doctors had a few plans to get around Colin’s vasectomy. The first was to go into the tubules in his testicles and hopefully find a few partially formed sperm. All they needed was the nucleus, not even a whole sperm. If that didn’t work, they would take a piece of testicular tissue and hope they’d find a few in there. The last resort was to have donor sperm on standby.
I was upset by the prospect of having to use donor sperm. There was something about Col’s beautiful blue eyes that melted me. I hadn’t realised until then, that part of my dream was to see those eyes in our child. The clinic gave me a catalogue of potential sperm donors. There were only two with blue eyes and they sounded nothing like us. One had auburn hair and was much shorter than us while the other had dark hair and was a giant. There was less information about them than in the personal columns and somehow I was supposed to find a suitable biological father for my children. It listed their occupation and education level but I wanted to know what made their hearts sing, whether they laughed at Gary Larson comics, whether they liked diving or what they thought of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ It was touching that someone was willing to donate to make our dream come true but it would have been a slightly different dream and I was surprised how much that mattered to me. Fortunately, in the end, we didn’t have to go down the donor sperm path.
Colin was quite good about it. Obviously, he wished we could conceive naturally and felt it was his fault we had to do this. I also wished it was easier and cheaper. On the other hand, Colin was thrilled to be given a chance to have another family. He’d never dreamt it was possible and I was happy he was prepared to do it with me.
Colin gave me the daily injections because I was too squeamish. But on the night of the extra large needle to trigger ovulation before egg pickup, he wasn’t home and I had to inject myself. I sat staring at the syringe for almost an hour trying to summon up courage. Once I finally did it, I wondered what the big deal was.
We got thirteen eggs from the harvest and seven fertilised, which is pretty good. The night of the egg collection I dreamt I was woken by the noise of a rowdy party at the bottom of our paddock. I went to investigate and stood at the door watching a crowd of people in medieval dress, laughing and dancing around a huge bonfire. There were horses and dogs there too. When they saw me, a couple of people hugged and waved goodbye to their friends and then rode up to me at the house. Their friends continued their party by the bonfire, toasting them and waving farewell and good luck. I interpreted it to mean the souls of our embryos were setting off for their new incarnation as our children. It seemed like a good omen.
Although the embryo implantation was quite a difficult transfer it was also rather funny. I had my legs up in stirrups and I remember watching what the doctor was doing in the reflection of his glasses. He had his tongue poking out the side of his mouth with concentration. The technicians and nurses kept wandering in and out and at one stage there must have been eight people in the room. There I was displaying my wares and someone was chatting about going on holiday. If I hadn’t been semi-naked and in stirrups, it might have been a pleasant social gathering!
It certainly wasn’t the most romantic way to conceive. However, eventually when the two embryos were transferred, everyone left and Colin and I had the room to ourselves. It was supposed to be a magic moment but it was such a strange atmosphere, I couldn’t relax.
We decided to donate our other five embryos. I couldn’t bear the thought of them not having a chance, only I didn’t fancy having seven children. It was a heart, not a head decision. I wanted to share my joy. Having children was something I wanted so badly for so long and with a flick of a pen I could make that possible for someone else too. I don’t think that is such a big ask.
Under Queensland law the offspring of a donated embryo, egg or sperm can contact you when he or she turns eighteen. During the required counselling session, before we agreed to donate, the counsellor asked, “What are you going to tell your other children about their siblings if they turn up on your door step one day?”
That got me thinking; so over the years I’ve kept a folio of newspaper articles and information about embryo donation and IVF, which will hopefully make it easier to explain.
Also in the folder is a long letter I wrote my children the night before they were born. This is an extract:
“…then we had to wait two weeks to do a pregnancy test, to be really sure you’d stuck around. I felt mixed emotions, the same you get waiting in line for a roller coaster; desperate to do the test, but terrified of the answer. During the waiting period, we interpreted every little sign as an omen. The bird of paradise in our garden produced two beautiful flowers that week; it has never flowered before or since. We finally did the test at 1.00am and it was positive! We were thrilled and overawed by the enormity of this new knowledge and also a little intimidated. Then we got on the phone because there were lots of people who wanted to know, as soon as we knew, even at 2.00am!”
The next day we did the official blood test at the clinic. We’d grown so close to the staff, they cried with us when the test came up positive. You need a blood HCG hormone level of more than 25 to be pregnant. My first test had a reading of 150 and two weeks later it was 2000 so obviously there was more than one baby. I was thrilled to be having twins but Col was horrified. I thought it was such a bonus. We’d waited so long and now to be pregnant with two was to be doubly blessed.
My pregnancy was mostly a dream run. Although I had a complication from the IVF at nine weeks when my fallopian tube twisted. It’s not very common, but if you’ve got longish tubes, they can twist from the added weight of having had so many stimulated follicles. I hadn’t heard about it before and it wasn’t something we’d been warned about. One minute Colin was racing me to casualty, while I was puking, doubled up with pain and thinking I was losing the babies, then the next, my fallopian tube righted itself and I said, “Oh, I’m OK now!” It was a strange situation – terrifying and then a little embarrassing. But we had another scan at the hospital, which fortunately showed everything was normal.
The rest of the pregnancy was fine up until 35 weeks when I developed pre-eclampsia. They gave me steroid injections to prepare the babies for an early delivery. Our beautiful boy and girl were born via caesarean section at 36 weeks. We named them Hamish and Georgia. The sense of bliss at their arrival is still with me today. And wouldn’t you know? Hamish has his father’s beautiful blue eyes.
Extract from ‘Making Babies – Personal IVF Stories’ by Theresa Miller