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Julie’s Story – 3 IVF rounds and 1 special miracle

Visiting the fertility specialist for the first time

I was 37 when we started trying to conceive, both busy professionals, time passed by quickly and it was 15 months of trying naturally before we realised things weren’t going to plan and we booked in to see a specialist. I was already seeing a holistic GP for acupuncture, a Chinese medicine practitioner and had done some exploratory tests which all came back normal, I had fairly good egg reserves for my age and no known other causes for me not falling pregnant.

At our first specialist appointment, we were told we need to jump straight to ICSI due to my husband’s lazy sperm (in a nutshell, we had both male factor infertility + my age-related impacting our chances of conceiving naturally).

IVF Round 1

What followed was a brutal first round in 2016 that took me completely by surprise – I was on Gonal F, Ovidrel and Cetrotide, Progynova morning and night. I felt like a deer in headlights at every stage as I had no idea what was happening nor did I know what questions to ask at which point. The result was 4 eggs, all mature enough to fertilise, only 2 made it to day 3, with just one making it to a 5-day blastocyst (our little embaby) and viable for transfer.

I felt hopeful that at least we had this one little miracle and that maybe I would be one of the lucky ones that had success straight away. Our fresh transfer happened on the 7th of May and then the dreaded two-week wait began. It was everything I’d been warned about and more. I overthought everything, I didn’t know whether to rest or keep going. It was mentally exhausting.

On the 18th of May, we found out the round was unsuccessful. I’m not gonna lie, it was one of the hardest things I have gone through. To jump through all those hoops and not come out with a viable pregnancy and no frozen embabies to try again was rough. So rough that it took another 9 months for us to try a second round.

IVF Round 2

Our second cycle was pretty much the same with increases in all medication doses and the addition of progesterone pessaries following transfer. This time we got 10 eggs, 9 were mature enough to fertilise and (at the time, a disappointing) 3 made it to the 3-day mark, with 2 surviving to become our little 5-day blastocyst embabies.

It was a fairly soul-crushing result when we started with 10 eggs. I know you only need one healthy embryo but all said and done it’s still hard to accept.

On 28 Feb one fresh embryo was transferred. I requested both be transferred as I felt this would help, however was talked out of it by our specialist. I was pretty stuck on this idea, we agreed to do it his way this time and I got a commitment from him that if this round didn’t work, and we had two viable embabies from our next round he would transfer two.

So one went in, and one was frozen and sent for genetic testing. Another very trying two week wait….the devastating news came that this round was also unsuccessful.

One of the hardest things to take was that my period came before the pregnancy test at the clinic however I still had to go in for all the testing so they could review the results and potentially tweak my next protocols. Such a hard thing to do, going into the clinic with other hopeful women knowing that my result was a big fat negative.

We also got the results of our frozen embryo genetic testing and it was not good news. Long story short, our frozen embaby was not viable for transfer and so we were back to square one.

Time for a reset

I took a little break. I was fast approaching 41 and felt that time was running out but I just needed some time to build up the resilience I needed to go another round.

I see an Osteopath for recurrent migraines. She dabbled a bit in cranial-sacral osteopathy, however isn’t an expert. It was during one of my sessions that she referred me to see a Cranial-Sacral Osteopath. I hadn’t heard of this specialty however I trusted her and was willing to give it a go.

Before my appointment, I spoke with others and soon learned that many people think this specialty is no better than snake oil and that I’d be wasting my money. At this point after two rounds of IVF and one more to come, I figured what would be the harm?

At my initial appointment, the CS Osteo did his thing and (a very basic summary) what he said is that my reproductive system didn’t know what to do as it was not aligned with (talking to) the rest of my body. He advised that he had resolved that issue in our first session. Although I did see him a few more times to treat my migraines.

IVF Round 3

Round 3 kicked off on 25 July. The same medications and doses left this feeling a little bit like groundhog day but I hoped the outcome would be very different. The egg collection occurred on my 41st birthday. I remember joking with my Dr and the nurses that hopefully it was a sign. That it all came together on this day.

This round we got only 7 eggs but 6 were mature enough to fertilise, and 3 made it to the 3-day mark.

The transfer was scheduled for 12 of August (which was my Grandmothers birthday, surely that was good luck!). I was nervous to find out how many of our embabies made it to day 5. We had the great news that all 3 had made it and were of great quality.

I reminded my specialist he agreed we could transfer 2 embabies. He tried to talk me out of it, the embryologist as well. I signed all of the paperwork to acknowledge that I understood the risks and two embabies were transferred with one going into the freezer.

I was kind of used to the two-week wait by this point and while it was still gruelling I had some strategies to help and I utilised those as much as I could. I visualised every day, I did mindfulness and fertility meditations, did all my positive thinking. In an experience where there is no control – maintaining a positive mindset was one place I had control.

The dreaded 2WW was over, it was time for me to go in for a pregnancy test. It was 23 August 2017. This time was the first time my period hadn’t come prior to going in for the pregnancy test. I was only mildly hopeful as I had been feeling crampy and had my usual PMS symptoms so was expecting the worst.

I went to work to wait for the results. The call came in around 10:30 am, I usually received my calls later in the day so I ran for the nearest vacant meeting room so I could cry in private. It was positive, I couldn’t believe it. The symptoms I was feeling was due to implantation. It was too early to tell if one or both embabies implanted however my results were good so there was potential.

As I write this four years later I am still tearing up thinking about the call. I don’t remember at what point we found out only one embaby had implanted. It was a bittersweet moment as the confirmation I was pregnant was amazing however I had also suffered a loss. After so much bad news though it was a nice change.

Our family grows

Our little Miss V was born on 2 May 2018 at 7.04pm. I was 41. Whilst we were over the moon at her arrival, I felt like our little family wasn’t quite complete. When Miss V was 3 months old we decided to go down the IVF route again. I did all the prelim stuff and we were waiting for my period to come so we could start.

It was Friday 21 September 2018, I remember as I met a friend for lunch to celebrate our birthdays the month before. I was telling her about our next round of IVF and she asked when it would start and if I needed any help. I mentioned I was waiting for my period and that I was four days overdue. She asked why I hadn’t taken a pregnancy test. I laughed and said why? With all our previous challenges. I felt as if my period was coming and I’d only had one period since Miss V’s birth so felt my body was still settling down.

Our beautiful surprise

I had to go to the supermarket anyway so I grabbed a test as I knew my mind wouldn’t rest if I didn’t find out for sure either way. I put Miss V down for her nap and went and took the test. She woke up before the results came up so I had to run and settle her. I could not believe the Positive 4+ weeks result that came up. I literally sat on the (closed) toilet seat for 10 minutes laughing to myself.

I waited until Con came home to tell him. He had the same reaction and went one further to ask how is this possible?

Our little Miss Olivia was born on 28 May 2019 at 4.07pm. I was 42. Finally I felt our family was complete.

My words of wisdom in hindsight

When I look back now, the thing I found most challenging was the emotional toll. It is literally the worst roller coaster ever. I lost myself. I lost my body. So many strangers poked and prodded my bits that I went from being quite modest to dropping my pants in front of just about anyone – I pretty much became numb to it, which wasn’t a great thing.

It was hard to be romantic and give my lovely husband the time he wanted and needed. I was getting up at 5 am every day for weeks on end to do my injections so I was often tired and cranky. I had a senior role leading people, it was a stressful job and it was hard to go through such an emotional journey in that environment. The time and financial commitment were also rough. We were lucky to have well-paid jobs, however we also had a mortgage and my step-daughter to think of.

During our journey to conceive, I tried a LOT of things to help us along. Including acupuncture, taking royal jelly, Chinese herbs, fertility diets, losing weight, exercising, meditation, mindfulness, vision boarding, and I saw a Cranial-Sacral Osteopath.

Whether any one or a combination of these things was the magic bullet that helps us conceive I don’t know but the alternative and allied health services I accessed helped to keep me sane and feeling like I had some control over the process so if I had to do it all over again, I would absolutely make them part of my strategies.

My husband Con was my rock during this journey. I had lots of loving family and friends however most hadn’t been through the process so they couldn’t really understand what I was going through (despite trying to). I found I turned into myself and changed from an extrovert who really enjoyed going out to someone who preferred to stay at home.

Infertility is such a big and overwhelming issue. It takes over your whole life and it can be really difficult to allow or invite anything not related into your life. One of my goals with Ecolix is to help others navigate this complicated and emotional journey. What worked for me may not work for someone else. Sharing knowledge and also testing myths is important.

Looking back – I did not practice self-care throughout my journey. I did not reflect on each round – the wins, the losses, the first two rounds I participated in and let others tell me what was right for me. By the third round, I felt like I was in more control and was able to advocate for myself.

Round one was fairly traumatic for me. So much so it took nearly a year for me to be ready for a second round. It takes over your life and becomes such a focus, I forgot we had a life that wasn’t about making babies. Perhaps if I had kept that in mind and focused on the other good things in my life, I wouldn’t still be feeling a sense of trauma.

Always, always, always acknowledge the failures – feel them, grieve, give them life – they were an embaby, so much potential, part of the family. And finally, know you are not alone in this journey.

Julie x