When you decide that you really want to have a baby, you hope that it will all happen naturally, quickly and easily for you... but as many of us know all too well, sadly that isn't always the case.
Cam and I ended up having to use IVF to fall pregnant, due to a violent and unprovoked assault that Cam experienced at the age of 21. We hoped that we'd be able to beat the odds and conceive naturally, but we were unable to. Despite knowing we may face some challenges, we still went through the process that most couples struggling to conceive would; I have outlined them here, in case they may provide a little hope or guidance for any other couples in a similar situation.
1. Try acupuncture: acupuncture was recommended to me by several friends, and I decided to give it a go to at least get my period back on a regular cycle. I was back on a regular cycle after two months; whether or not this was from acupuncture or not, I don't know, but I enjoyed the fortnightly sessions at any rate. I highly recommend Newtown Natural Health & Fertility to anyone in Geelong; I continued with acupuncture until I was pregnant, including throughout IVF, and am about to start again to help prepare my body for labour!
2. Chart temperatures/monitor your cycle: having been on the Pill for about 15 years, I had no idea what my natural cycle was like and what clues my body would give me about ovulation. As it turned out - none! I started taking my temperature every morning before getting out of bed, as recommended, and trying to look for peaks and troughs to indicate that ovulation had occurred. I didn't find this helpful and ultimately it just made me think about our struggles from the moment I woke up every morning - so after about two months, I ceased using this method.
3. Try ovulation sticks: when I ditched the temperature charting, Petra from Newtown Natural Health & Fertility suggested I try peeing on ovulation sticks instead, to show when I was in my fertile window. I did this, but nothing showed up - so Petra referred me for an internal ultrasound, to make sure I didn't have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) which may also be causing issues.
4. Internal ultrasound: I went into Siles in Geelong (also highly recommended) for an internal ultrasound (not as scary as it sounds - the wand is kind of like a dildo, which is lubricated well, and it's completely painless!) to check for PCOS. Happily, there was no trace found, and the ultrasound technician could also see that I had just ovulated - so clearly I was having no trouble with that, but the sticks were not picking it up. Petra suggested it could be because I have a small ovulation window.
5. Time to check in with the GP: at this stage, we had been trying for about 7 months, so we went to our GP to ask for further tests and referrals. Usually a couple our age (30 and 33 at the time) would be told to try for a full 12 months, but because our doctor already knew that Cam had a low sperm count and motility due to the assault, he was happy to send Cam for a new test to check his current levels.
6. IVF referral: Cam's results came back, and they were not good: we were told that it would be almost impossible to conceive naturally. This was a huge relief and also a devastating blow. I was glad we hadn't wasted any more time, but scared about what lay ahead. Our GP gave us a referral to Dr Prue Johnstone at Monash IVF in Geelong - I couldn't recommend her more highly.
7. The first IVF appointment: at our first appointment, Prue went over Cam's results and my basic blood test results, and gave us referrals for further tests; Cam was tested to ensure his issues weren't genetic (they weren't) and I was given a bevy of blood tests, to check egg levels and other things that I, helpfully, can no longer remember.
8. The IVF 'journey': it really is a journey; there is no other word for it. It felt like a long process, but in reality it was only two months from the first appointment to the day I had my embryo transfer, and two weeks after that that I found out that it was successful and we were having a baby!
The two months were the hardest of my life - with constant blood tests, appointments, counselling (which was really helpful), IVF nurse appointments, twice-daily injections for two weeks (not painful, but made me feel like I was a balloon being pumped full of air until I might explode - I think I gained about five kilos during this time!) and the egg harvest, which involved a day in hospital, general anaesthetic and a few days at home feeling miserable and sore afterwards.
I had an amazing support team around me though, with friends making and delivering dinner and cake, flowers, my sister in London sending me a chocolate hamper, family calling to check in every couple of days, and Cam taking care of the injections and all meals in that time. And... we are about to have our baby... which is the greatest gift of all.
I hope this has been a helpful insight into what a fertility struggle may look like. If you have any comments you would like to add below, please do - or feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you'd like any further information.