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Leandra – IFAASA Director

Life is not waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.

My IVF journey taught me to dance, scream, swear, cry and punch things in the rain, with thunder and lightning crashing all around, but the storm did pass and I ended up with 2 beautiful rainbow babies.

Spending months thinking you’ve lost your marbles, because despite being married to a wonderful husband, you find yourself battling bouts of depression, and such extreme periods of fatigue that putting on shoes and going to a movie is just too much effort. Oh and let’s not forget the rate of hair loss that would make even a chemo patient shudder.

At the end of June 2009, I went off the pill, because we’d decided it was time to maybe start trying to ‘get pregnant’. It had never bothered me before when people ask me if we were planning on starting a family, or when I got the ‘so, when are you guys going to have a baby’ question. I even laughed at my grandmothers eye’s hovering over my belly every time she saw me and then with a voice of utter despondence saying ‘don’t you want children’. I simply answered ‘when the time is right and we’ve finished traveling to all the exotic places we want to see’. Well Peru in September, was our ‘exotic trip deadline’ – it was time to have a baby after that. When my period didn’t make an appearance at the end of August, I put it down to stress of sorting out my life before the upcoming trip, the increase in my exercise routine and the weight I’d lost in recent weeks.

October went by, still no period. I knew that whatever it was within my body that was not right, which I’d been trying to conquer was ultimately still winning as I’d now not had a period in 3 months and was not pregnant.

In November I went to the gynae, told her my symptoms, had a vaginal ultrasound and got the diagnosis of ‘PCOS’. I got a form for blood tests which I had to go for, got told to start taking folic acid ‘in case there’s a miracle and you get pregnant’ and then got told ‘It’s unlikely you’ll ever have a baby of your own’.

I drove to work in tears as I saw my chances of ever having a baby fly out the window. For a week or so I wallowed and googled. lashing out at people, and bursting into tears. I’d look at every pregnant women and feel an instant hatred for them. Why could they just get pregnant, some even without wanting to.

I told no one, except my husband. I didn’t want my private life advertised to everyone. I didn’t know how to tell people that I am not a fertile women, I may not be able to have children – how do you tell your parents that, when they are already planning their grandchildren’s quilts and comforters? Besides, my mom had been diagnosed with a benign brain tumour and was about to undergo radiation. She needed me, I had to be strong, and I couldn’t let her worry about me and my (childless) future. So I put my PCOS on the back burner, but not before deciding that I wouldn’t just simply let PCOS win. I phoned a fertility specialist and made an appointment for January. In the meantime I acquainted myself with the myriads of women out there who are battling infertility, and accustomed myself to words like Clomid, IVF, Sperm collections and that dreaded word ‘infertility’. I consoled myself with the fact that at least I was healthy. I also thought that at least we had the financial means to do whatever it takes, to conceive a child. For that I must be very grateful.

December passed in a blur, Christmas, usually such a special time for me, was just another day. In my childish fantasies I’d had earlier in the year, I’d naively thought I’d be spending Christmas with a little bulge in my belly…Sadly the only bulge was that of the Christmas cookies. My moms treatment finished, and I could now focus on my health, my life, my journey.

On the 11th January, I went to see the specialist. My intrepidation was palpable. My husband and I met at the clinic and I took a deep breathe and reminded myself that I was in control, not my PCOS. I walked in, and immediately something shifted in me. Within seconds of meeting our Fertility Specialist, I knew I’d made the right choice, that if anyone could give me a baby this man could. He made the enormity of infertility feel like a minor bump on the road to having a baby.

I left the doctor with renewed hope and a feeling that I may be weeks away from being pregnant. That PCOS is not the end of my life, that I can and will conquer it, and that I know I had a steady team at my side in this journey.

We started with a round of IUI, which was negative. After the 2nd negative IUI, I needed more. I needed to know exactly what was happening and when. I needed the certainty of the step-by-step process that IVF could offer me. Can I make eggs, can they mature enough, can they be harvested, can they fertilise, can they divide and make a blastocyst, can my embryo implant, can I stay pregnant?

The 1st IVF was daunting.  We briefly discussed the meds, the importance of having the meds at the same time every day and as the discussion progressed, I realized I was about to become the human pincushion, or maybe just an infertility voodoo doll. And so, I walked out with my plastic bag of medicines safely tucked under my arm, and a feeling of elation, that all will be right with the world, that this will work. It was only later that I realized this IVF path has more pass/fail points than I’d ever thought possible. If we aced this…man then I need to re-christen my body Mrs Awesome!

My husband and I did our injection ritual as if we are injecting at the altar of the great Aztec fertility God’s feet. He was amazing, and would’ve won the gold star for injection techniques. I, on the other hand, was moody, bloated and cranky…but hopeful and viewed every hormone filled injection, as 1 step closer to my baby. It’s weird how you always think ‘it’ll never be me- I won’t need IVF’, but then it was and it was quite daunting…but doable.

Going for blood tests and scans every few days, the pain of the 1st egg retrieval, the anxiety waiting to hear if your eggs had fertilised and were growing, the discomfort of the transfer, the agonising 2 week wait. It was hell but it was coated in a soft shroud of hope and innocence. Every bit of pain and discomfort was washed away with the thought that ‘this is it – 1 IVF and I’ll be pregnant. You can do this’. And it worked, 2 weeks later, I had a strong beta, 4 weeks later, a 6 week embryo with a beating heart. At that point I was thinking ‘we’ve got this – we made it through’.

The day of our 10 weeks scan. I was so excited, so eager to see our little bean grown up to cm figures now, no longer a Michelin man or a tadpole, but a little person with hands and feet, even little fingernails, moving around, yawning…I could hardly wait. The scan filled up the wall, I saw my baby, it had grown so much from that little black spec ‘grain of sand’ that it had been, yet I knew something was not right. He didn’t look quite big enough, the little hands were still webbed, it looked like a tadpole halfway through its transformation. I knew my dream was lost, before the FS muttered the words ‘This doesn’t look good. It’s only 19.6mm – measuring at 8w6d’. He probed to no avail, we couldn’t find the heartbeat, and the red and blue blood that had flowed perfectly from me to my baby, just 3 weeks before, was no longer. My baby was black, with no coloured bits proving he was alive. My world ended right then, my faith in God, my hope, all of it came crashing down. In that moment, with my world shattered and my heart broken into a million scattered little pieces, I realised the harsh reality that is Infertility. It is the most merciless of pains, the rawest form of grief. Lying in theatre waiting for my beloved foetus to be sucked out of me and discarded, I have never felt so alone and so utterly broken. My Doctor came to me, held my hands and vowed he’d get me pregnant again.

For the next few weeks, I struggled to make sense of something, whose reason, for the moment, was buried in a very murky dark cloud. I felt an emptiness inside of me, pain ripped through my body whenever I thought of the baby I had lost. The results of the pathology test, Specimen No G2288/10, as the lab so glibely put it, showed a healthy, normal girl. I should’ve found that information out from having a scan, not from a pathology report. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t stop asking ‘Why me?? What did I do?’ A healthy baby girl, with no chromosomal abnormalities the report said, so did that mean that my body caused her death. My body had failed my child. It had betrayed us both…

I had a new mantra “If God brings you to it, God will bring you through it”, but it was so difficult to believe it. I thought of God, the one I prayed to with all my heart for a baby, and I wonder how he could’ve let such a cruel thing happen, how he could’ve taken my baby from me. How could I believe in this God, but how could I get through this without believing? For a few brief weeks, I had been so happily ensconced in my pregnancy world, that I didn’t know how to step back into the world of TTC’ing and infertility. How do you step back and turn around on a path you were so happy walking on?

3 months later, and time for Round 2 of IVF – I went in positive, we’ve got this, I’ve done it before. However all I got the second time was a negative result. After a BFN, the only thing that keeps you going is the promise of trying again – a new plan and so we went in for round 3. Stay positive, people said to me. Think positive and it will happen. Well I want to tell those people to shut the hell up. Did I not think positively enough when I was pregnant, is that why I miscarried? I stayed so positive that time, despite the fact that I knew that being positive enables me to get even more hurt if the outcome is negative. I got a BFP – a very weak one, a beta of 18, it was so much better than a BFN. 18, the number connected with the word life in Hebrew.  It gave us hope, all was not lost, My baby was fighting…fighting for his place in this world. After that beta I was positive – I was halfway pregnant…and then came Beta no 2 – 31 – almost double…my positivity stayed, I knew in my heart that this was it – my Christmas miracle, my little boy that would fight until the end. I prayed for him, I stayed positive, and what was my reward you ask? A beta of 13.4… Negative.

By this stage I was in the trenches of infertility. The naivete that I had once had was long gone. I now knew the harsh reality of IVF, the unpredictability it brings, the relentless needle pricks and blood draws, and scans…possibly all for nothing. On your 4th round of IVF, you start to bypass the nurses office with your bag of meds – you no longer need to be told about how to inject, the times and dosages – you’re sadly a pro at this now. Luckily,  4 IVF was positive and successful.  I will never know why God made us endure the pain we did with my miscarriages, and why he waited so long, and made us endure even more pain, before he blessed us with another strong pregnancy, but I believe there are reasons and I knew that as much as I had cherished my pregnancy the first time around, this time I would never forget the blessing that I had growing inside me the second time.

Being a pregnant infertile is not easy. Every scan I went to throughout my pregnancy, I couldn’t breathe until I heard the heartbeat – the memories of that first 10 weeks scan forever haunting the remainder of my pregnancy. My son was thankfully born healthy and was and is an amazing miracle and a constant source of happiness in my life.

I naively thought that trying for our 2nd child would be much easier – both emotionally & scientifically. After all, we had perfected the exact recipe and ratio of IVF drugs. We knew that my body could get pregnant and stay pregnant, so it should be easy? Were we in for a surprise.

Our first attempt, resulted in a positive beta on Christmas Eve and a miscarriage a few days later. I was distraught, but found solace by blanketing myself in my 2 year olds warm and squishy hugs and repeating the mantra ‘ At least I got pregnant’. However 9 months, 5 IVF’s, 4 miscarriages and 2 evacuations later, my mantra, optimism & confidence had flown out the window. Baby No. 2 was proving harder to achieve than baby No. 1 and added to it was the heartache of having to explain to a 2 year old why he didn’t have a baby brother or sister yet. Why mommy had to go to the Dr. yet again, have another blood test, or why mommy was crying again.

Luckily we had a Fertility Specialist who didn’t understand the words ‘quit’ & ‘never’, who’s optimism raised mine at times when I thought it would be impossible. Our 6th IVF resulted in 1 perfectly defrosted embryo & 9 months later in a perfect baby boy. I look down at my caesarean cut & I don’t see a scar, all I see is my infertility journey that is etched into my soul, the constant reminder that I am stronger than I believed possible, and of how blessed I am.

My acupuncturist told me once that grief is a strange thing, for we need to experience grief in order to appreciate joy. After we have grieved we learn to welcome the joy better next time, we embrace it from the second we receive it. We appreciate it so much more. We sometimes don’t know the reason for our grief or why we have to grief as we do, but with time the reason will become clearer or perhaps not even matter anymore.