In this blog series, I interview women and couples who’ve experienced infertility, turned to fertility treatments to help grow their families, and made it out on the other side with a baby or pregnancy. My goal is to help inspire and give hope to people going through similar situations and to spread awareness to those who may not understand all the emotions and intricate steps that fertility treatments entail. Today’s interview is with Nicole, 26, who went through three IVF cycles to conceive their baby. Click here for list of acronyms and slang definitions that may pop up in the interview.
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Tell us about yourself and your partner:
I’m Nicole and I am 26 and my husband Ryan is 25, soon to be 26. We are both from Brisbane QLD and have two gorgeous guinea pigs Lolly and Daisy. I keep busy working full time as an on call midwife, working with indigenous women, their partners and babies. Ryan is a business man and just started a new job in the coffee business which will require interstate travel every few weeks. We are high school sweethearts so have been together for 9 years and tied the knot on the 20th of September 2013.
How long have you been TTC (trying to conceive) and when did you know something wasn’t right?
We officially started TTC following our wedding but before that we weren’t preventing pregnancy but not actively trying. Leading up to our wedding I began to get painful periods and longer cycles. I put it down to the stress of planning a wedding and found it to be quite manageable with paracetamol. I remember on our honeymoon having the most painful, horrible period imaginable. Over the next few months I wasn’t falling pregnant and my periods became more painful to the point that I was beginning to take a day of work to get through the pain. For some reason I didn’t put two and two together and think that there was anything wrong. I put not getting pregnant down to timing as we weren’t charting or anything like that. After around 6 months and with my periods being terrible I went to my GP and she gave me a referral to a gynaecologist for investigations for endometriosis.
What diagnoses have you been given from your doctors?
I went along to the gynaecologist and she agreed with my GP that I had a lot of symptoms which suggest that I have endometriosis and she suggested doing a laparoscopy to confirm. She also ordered full blood tests to check both mine and Ryan hormones levels and ordered a sperm analysis. I went in for my lap in July 2014. The diagnosis of endometriosis was confirmed. I also have a large endometrioma (blood filled cyst) on my left ovary and it had causes the tube to become twisted. This large cyst was pulling my whole uterus to the left. My gynaecologist did not remove anything as she said it was so extensive that I would need a further surgery with a specialist and maybe even colorectal team as I also have endometriosis on my bowel. Meanwhile we were also hit with the news that Ryan’s sperm analysis came back with low count, low motility and 0% morphology. I can’t begin to describe the blow that I felt being told all of this information. I remember just sitting in my bed and bawling my eyes out. I went in for further surgery on October 2014 and had the endometrioma removed however they weren’t about to remove all of the endometriosis from my bowel. I came out of surgery with 4 wounds, belly 3 times the size, a catheter, morphine drip, TED stockings and leg massagers (All of the things I was used to seeing on a lady post cesarean section!) and spent two nights in hospital. It was after that surgery that we were told that IVF was our only option and that they wanted me pregnant within 6 months ideally.
So with a proper diagnosis, did it make coming up with a treatment protocol easier or were there new challenges?
With proper diagnosis it made a treatment plan much easier as we knew that we would need to do IVF and ICSI. I guess the challenges that we then faced were the financial challenges that come along with IVF and choosing a clinic. There were many differences choices and all with their pro’s and con’s. We ended up picking a clinic that was a smaller sister clinic to a big clinic. Because they were smaller and only did basic IVF (ie: no donor sperm or egg, under 40yrs old, healthy BMI) they were able to keep the costs down.
What treatments have you done and were any successful?
We have done three cycles of IVF. The first cycle I was on gonal-f 87.5 and orgalutran. I ended up having to cycle a lot longer then expected and only had one good sized follicle going into egg pick up. Unfortunately when I went in to have it retrieved there was no egg. It was a pretty devastating day however we were determined to try again. Our second round they increased my dosage of gonal-f too 100 however I still ended up having to cycle a few days longer then expected. I went into egg pick up and got 3 eggs. Of that they used ICSI to fertilise all 3. One fertilised well, one was slow and fragmented, and the third didn’t fertilise at all. We had a 2 day transfer which results in a BFN. We then went into our third cycle and again they increased my dose of gonal-f to 150. I ended up responding really well that when I went in for my first ultrasound to check progress I was ready to go for egg collection 2 days later. They retrieved 5 eggs, 4 mature and suitable for ICSI. Again two fertilised however by day 3 one was fragmented and not growing normally. We had a 3 day transfer of our one healthy embryo and it ended in a BFP!
Are any of your treatments or medications covered by your health insurance?
We are lucky that medicare (universal health care in Australia, similar to the NHS in the UK) gave us a rebate of nearly 50% of what we paid for each round of IVF. We had to pay up front and then after each round and final payments were made they would give us a rebate. This made IVF achievable for us as it is quite expensive. Our private health does not cover any IVF treatment. We could choose to upgrade our coverage to have it included however from the research that I did, most private health companies (in Australia anyway) only cover the cost of the egg pick up. Because of this we didn’t think the extra premium was worth it.
What’s the hardest part of dealing with infertility for you?
For me the hardest part of dealing with infertility was the uncertainty of everything and the roller coaster of emotion that comes with it. It felt like after you got over one hurtle there would be another and you would be back to square one before you knew it. You had a plan at the beginning of every IVF round however things would never go to plan so things were constantly changing. And every step came along with its own set of emotion, whether good or bad that you had to deal with.
What’s something positive you’ve learned throughout this entire process?
Something that I really learnt was to let go and let the process happen. I found that when I let go and focused on always being positive and channeling my energy into positive thoughts things were easier to deal with and I got back more positives.
Where did you turn for positivity and inspiration during your darkest moments?
I would do nightly meditation and visualisation especially during my cycles and dreaded TWW. I found this so calming and helpful. I also found engaging with the IVF/TTC community via social media such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube helped immensely. To know that everything you are feeling is normal and you aren’t alone in this process was really comforting.
What advice would you give to someone about to go through IVF?
My advice to anyone starting the IVF process is to be prepared for the fact that it isn’t a smooth journey and you will need to be flexible. Take everything one step at a time and remember to focus on being positive as much as possible. Don’t bottle your emotions, there are going to be days where you want to cry all day and not get out of bed, have those days (goodness knows we need them sometimes!) then move on the next day. Have a good support network around you, whether it’s family, friends or people via social media, they will become your rock and are so important!
What’s something you wish people knew about infertility?
I wish people knew the true heartache of someone dealing with infertility and how to properly support people that are going through the process. All to often people offer up silly advice or tell their stories about how easy it was for them to conceive, this is not at all helpful and you are actually being really hurtful. So if you know someone going through this horrible process, just be there to listen and offer a hug, sometimes there is no need for words, just support.
Where to find Nicole