Caution: Speed Bump Ahead

August 2009

The surgery took quite a while to recover from. If I wasn’t a professional singer, it may not have been that noticeable, but I use my abdominal muscles to brace and they all felt traumatised. Getting through a handful of songs was a huge effort.

My surgeon suggested a 2 month break before trying to fall pregnant again. Fine by me! Although you can’t escape the ticking as another birthday looms. We weren’t trying. We weren’t NOT trying. But somehow I was pregnant again, 3 weeks after the surgery.

I was very cautious this time. My period wasn’t even late but I had an inkling and did a home test anyway. I rang my IVF doctor to arrange a blood test. The nurse rang to give me the results. Yes you are pregnant, so congratulations, but your doctor wants to speak to you. I bit my lip and waited til I was able to call. Once you fall pregnant, the pregnancy hormones rise rapidly with each day, and this gives them an idea of whether it’s a viable pregnancy.

Mine was not a viable pregnancy.

It made me think that perhaps if we did early pregnancy tests every month, that there would be a lot of false alarms. I resolved not to do any more early tests. I would wait until my period was well and truly late.

I realised that in the space of a year I’d had a laproscopy, 3 rounds of IVF, 2 natural pregnancies, 2 miscarriages and 1 surgery. I was hurtling towards my mental cut-off age of 42 and I was starting to get a bit scared about trying anymore. If, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, then for me at this moment, it was feeling like a prophecy. If I could jump back in time to age 35, 30, 25, and was in a position relationship-wise to fall pregnant, would I have had the same problems with fertility? Would this have happened anyway? Was the universe telling me that not only had it sent me a fabulous husband, but he came with 3 lovely children as well, giving me the family I wanted? Perhaps.

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Back to Square One

June 2009

The wonders of technology meant that I didn’t have to make too many phone calls to give my sad news. All I had to do was write something cryptic on my facebook ¬†status, and those in the know could guess.

So back to the old drawing board. I made a call to my surgeon and booked in for surgery at the end of June.

The fibroid was about 7-8cm by the time it came out. The IVF drugs had really kicked it into gear as it had been 3cm for at least 3 years. My stay in hospital was not fun. It was a fancy schmancy private hospital that had cut back it’s staff drastically, and I had aterrible time staying there.

I had advised them that I was gluten and dairy intolerant, but at every meal I was served toast, sandwiches, yogurt, flavoured milk and ice cream. I was starving, but the kitchen staff refused to bring me anything else to eat.

The surgeon came to check on me and said the catheter could be taken out. 12 hours later, it was removed.

I asked for pain meds which were listed on my chart, and the nurse gave me Voltaren, an anti-inflammatory, which should only be taken on a full stomach. As I hadn’t been eating anything, it made me violently ill.

The nurse suggested I have a shower and told me to ring if I needed help. I collapsed in the shower and rang and rang and rang the alarm but no-one came. The patient in the next room could hear me crying and managed to get someone to help.

This was not good care. When I got home I received a feedback form so I wrote it all down and also rang the surgeons receptionist to let them know, as that is his hospital of choice. The head of the hospital rang and listened to me explain in detail what had happened. She was very sympathetic, but didn’t offer to waive the $200 excess I had to pay!!!

I’m Done

April 2009

The first week or so of our trip to New York was spent trying to liaise with my 2 doctors for a date with the scalpel. The earliest date meant waiting 3 months. When you’re 41 and the ticking is getting louder, you know that every month is precious time to wait. I managed to get a cancellation a few weeks after we returned.

On the flight home I watched a few movies as usual. One in particular was a fairly benign comedy called “Four Holidays” with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan. It was about a couple who were living together and were not ready or interested in taking the next step to getting married and having a family. A Christmas storm cancelled their flight to an island paradise and they were forced to visit family. During their visits, Reese’s character realised that she wasn’t happy with the “selfish” life they were living and that she did want marriage and babies after all. As she was coming to this conclusion, I started to cry. (Yes, I know! During a comedy!!!) It could have been because the script was quite bad, but I had to admit that I was getting very emotional. I stopped the movie to think about why I was crying and I realised it was because while she decided she wanted a baby, I decided I was done. I wanted my life back. I wanted my body back. I wanted to have non-conceptual sex with my husband and not care about what day of the cycle it was. I wanted to plan for the following year without wondering if I would be pregnant during that time. It was time to switch off.

We got home and I told my husband about my rom-com revelation, and while it is a decision we both need to make, ultimately it’s my choice. After a whirlwind 6 months of handing my body and dignity over to strangers, we would call it a day and be thankful for the children we already have in our lives.

4 weeks later I discovered I was pregnant.

I was so excited. I rang my husband to tell him the news. He was obviously surrounded by people and couldn’t talk, so gave a fairly unexcited response like “Oh that’s great. I’ll talk to you later”. That was not going to placate me. I had to tell someone who would be excited for me. Here’s a tip – the Woolies home delivery guy is not that someone. Nor is the Australia Post guy. In fact, most people look at you kind of strangely if you blurt out “I’m pregnant”. After all thousands of women around the world find out they’re pregnant every day. If I’d said “I’m pregnant and it’s octuplets…an alien…yours…”

When you’re going through the trials of IVF, it’s good to have a support network of friends and family, so of course, I wasn’t planning on waiting the requisite 3 months to tell them all. I couldn’t even wait 3 hours. I rang my IVF doctor’s office and organised for a blood test to confirm the result.

I was then in full baby alert mode. I needed to find an OB/GYN and get booked in. I called a midwife friend of mine and got some names. I adopted a similar system that I had used in finding the IVF doctor, only this time, I wasn’t too fussy ¬†about male or female. I also found that many of the OB’s were not taking on patients who were due on New Year’s Eve!!!! Hey, if I, as a professional singer with a professional drummer husband, can take the night off from the best paying gig all year to push this kid out, the least they can do is get off their yacht to come and catch it! I managed to get an appointment with one and got onto the internet to see what sort of feedback was on forums about him. When my husband came home and I told him who I’d booked in with, he started laughing. At first I thought perhaps this was his ex-wife’s OB. But no. They went to high school together! I should have known. Every time we need a service, for our wedding, boat, car, he went to school with someone who works in that industry who might be able to help us out. I told him he would not be coming to the first appointment in case I didn’t like him. If I like him, then I’ll tell him who my husband is, and we can discuss mates rates!

My body started to change instantly. I don’t know if they were psychosomatic changes or were really happening. I felt very bloated and my abdomen turned to jelly. I also got carpel tunnel in my left wrist, which I have heard is very common in pregnancy. It was so painful I had to put it in a brace. I bought a pregnancy book and looked in the index to see which bits I needed to know – with my history, what made you think I’d read it from the beginning?

A couple of weeks later, we flew to Mt Gambier to work. At the airport, my wrist was so sore I had trouble getting my laptop out of the case to go through security.I had been feeling fine and was just bursting with excitement and trying to calm down a bit. Otherwise it was going to be a very long 9 months. The next morning, I started spotting. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. That can happen. But it got heavier. I started to panic. It was a very calm, internalised panic. If I’m going to miscarry, then there’s nothing I can do about it and this pregnancy was not meant to continue for a reason. The people we were staying with called a friend who is a GP with a gynaecological specialty. He saw me straight away and sent me for a scan. I was almost 6 weeks but the scan showed less, which was an indication that things weren’t going well.

I didn’t cry. Well, maybe a little one. It was meant to be. And, as if to send me some symbolic message, the pain in my wrist was completely gone by the next day.

Round 3

February 2009

The new year and sunny January holidays gave me a bit of a break from the drugs, needles and scans. February came and we decided to give it one more try. Dr Baby-Maker put me back on the original drug, gave up on Ixie (apparently there is no cure for laziness) and tweaked the doses a little.

Bear in mind that 3 days a week we have 3 little bodies in the house that have to be clothed, fed, bathed, played with and sent to school, (Oh, thank God for school!!) all while I’m stabbing myself with 2 different drugs at breakfast and zipping off for scans and getting back in time to get myself sorted for work. They freely accepted that I had a sore tummy and I had to go to the doctors…a lot. I tried to keep my rollercoastering emotions at bay while they were around and fend off questions from the middle child about when I was going to have a baby in my tummy. We hadn’t discussed IVF with the children, but their mother had given birth to a new baby the month before I started my first cycle, so they were curious. Yeah…that helped!

The regular scans were also good at keeping track of the fibroids they had picked up at the beginning. I had 3, but one of them had always given me a bit of pain prior to the onset of my period. This was 3cm before the first cycle and was steadily getting bigger. My doctor suggested that if this cycle was unsuccessful, it was probably worth having it removed.

As we neared the end of the cycle, the number of follicles was again quite low. It wasn’t looking promising. Out of 6 follicles we only got 4 eggs. 3 survived the night and the exciting news was they all looked in pretty good condition. By day 3, all 3 were still going but 1 was starting to break up. On day 5 I went in for implant and 2 were still going well, so we put both in. Apparently the chances of that resulting in twins is pretty slim. I didn’t care. I just wanted one of them to stick.

No joy.

As my husband and I prepared for a well-deserved break overseas, I booked myself in for surgery to have the fibroid removed.

Round 2

December 2008

In Australia, Medicare covers quite a lot of the expense of IVF. Well, it used to anyway. It covers a lot less now. One of the rules for cover is that you can’t have consecutive cycles so you have to have a month off in between. I think you well and truly need that break anyway, or you’d go mental with all the hormones. There is a bit of a come down period after being on a cycle, and when you think about it, every failed cycle is like suffering a miscarriage, because for all intents and purposes, you are actually pregnant. They are inserting a fertilised egg back into your body – the problem is, it doesn’t always stick.

I wish I had started writing as it was happening. It’s hard to recall emotions. I do remember feeling pissed off that I had to go through it all again. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel anything really. Almost apathetic to the result. I remember being in the IVF surgical ward after one of the procedures, listening to a woman sobbing. It could have been for a number of reasons. No viable eggs would be the most likely, I guess, but every woman’s IVF experience is different. They have many different ways of treating each individual case. In my case, despite often being told I look years younger than my age, apparently my eggs haven’t been looking after themselves. While I’ve been taking care of my skin, drinking water, exercising and getting lots of sleep, my ovaries have been drinking, smoking and staying out til dawn. And now, they’re just too shagged to get fertilised!

We decided to go into battle again.This time, Dr Baby-Maker wanted to try a different approach. A different drug (don’t ask..I retain nothing) and a process called Ixie (or trixie, pixie….) where they inject the sperm directly into the egg. This can help when eggs are too shagged to get fertilised… It’s the equivalent of the woman just lying there and staring at the ceiling while her partner does all the work. It can also help if the sperm are just as lazy.

This cycle was a shorter process than the first. Thankfully. The new drug made me feel awful with headaches. Almost everyone complains of bad sinus symptoms while on IVF too. I did make things a bit easier for myself by realising I didn’t need to go all the way into the city for my tests every 2nd day. There was a clinic just up the road. This was not only great in terms of saving time and parking money, but I actually got to talk to other women. The first day I needed a test, the bloods nurse had not shown up so we all had to go to a different clinic to have the blood drawn. This was time consuming, but we all sat in the tiny waiting room relaying our stories. One woman was down from country Queensland because it’s the closest clinic she can go to. The extra expense involved in that is mind-boggling. Another was preparing to have a frozen egg implanted so she could have her 2nd child. Yet another had lost a baby very close to the end of her pregnancy due to medical complications and was going through her 7th round of IVF. They were all very knowledgeable about the whole process. They even knew the names of the drugs they were on. I was impressed and made a mental note to myself to read the pamphlets I had been given.

By the time you get to egg extraction day, you have a fair idea of how things have been going. Having scans every 2nd day tells you how many follicles there are and how big they are. As we got closer to the day, my doctor rang me to give some sobering news. The drugs really hadn’t worked so there were only 2 follicles of decent size. I could go ahead with the collection and see what we got or abandon the cycle. I was still clinging to my “quality over quantity” theory so decided to go ahead. They managed to extract 5 eggs ( I was very proud) but none of them made it past the first 24hours. Nothing to fertilise. Nothing to implant.

Merry Christmas.

Round 1

October 2008

The amount of literature you get to read about the process of IVF is so daunting, I did what any self-respecting woman about to embark on a life changing experience would do – I didn’t read any of it. It was just too much to take in, so I decided to just go with the flow and wait for each instruction, like some covert spy.

After collecting my drug of choice (don’t ask me what it was called, all I remember is it was over $400 for a little vial) I then tried to decide whether it was going to be better to get my husband to stab me or to do it myself. It’s quite hard to inject yourself in the butt, but it’s better than the alternative. The sperm donor (that’s all he was at this stage as I was still annoyed at his level of participation) had a couple of goes before I thumped him. He stuck the needle in and when I said Ow, he took the bloody thing out without injecting the drug!

I was told, in my spy briefing, that I had to inject at the same time every morning. Of course I took this literally and would bound out of bed to make sure I was right on time. I am not a morning person, so trying to put the correct amount of drug into the syringe through bleary eyes was quite a task. I had a trip to Adelaide booked and when I realised I’d be mid-flight at precisely the time I was to inject, I got into a bit of a lather. A phone call to IVF HQ calmed me down and I managed to inject in the airport carpark once I’d landed. Oh, I had also learned by this stage that I could inject into my stomach instead of my backside if that was easier. If only I’d read those pamphlets….

After a few days of injecting, I was horrified to learn I had to go for blood tests and scans every 2nd day. It wasn’t the tests that were the issue, it was getting up at some ungodly hour and battling peak hour traffic to get into the city on time to have the tests done! I repeat – I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON!!!

Here’s a couple of things you may not know. Not everyone who works in fertility clinics is kind, caring and compassionate. Not everyone who is employed to take blood can find a freaking vein. When you arrive at the clinic, you write your name on a list and the blood takers come out and call the next on the list. There was one particular girl who hurt like hell, so I would pretend I hadn’t heard my name called and wait for the next one, leaving some unsuspecting victim to be left with a dead arm for the day. Then you go upstairs (or was it downstairs? I was always getting confused in that building and visited every floor on a daily basis) for your scan. This was an internal scan to check the size of all the follicles that were growing thanks to the drugs you were injecting. The women working in this particular clinic were not homely and comforting like I’d had before. They didn’t care that this was my first scan and I didn’t know what the paper and pencil were for! (It’s for writing your numbers down…What numbers?…cue loud sigh…The numbers I tell you to write down). They didn’t ask how I was feeling or if I had any concerns. They didn’t even laugh at my jokes! One morning I slept in and then got caught in horrendous Sydney traffic. The cut-off time was 8.15 (yes, A.M.) and I rang the clinic to let them know that I was on the way. They receptionist told me to go straight up for my scan. 3 floor checks later I arrived at the clinic, smiled at the receptionist (she must surely have been expecting me) and wrote my name on the list. I was the only one there. I sat, and I sat, and I sat. One by one the scanning staff were coming out, ordering tea and coffee, and discussing the latest content of Woman’s Day. One of them even smiled at me as she shared a laugh with the girls. And still, I sat. Finally the receptionist glared at me and said “What are you doing here?” I told her I was there for my scan. “Scanning has finished for the day” she snapped. Two can play this game, I thought. Well, I’ve been sitting here for ages. You saw me come in. You know that feeling you get when you complain about food in a restaurant and send it back? Then you’re not sure whether you’ve offended the chef and shouldn’t eat the food? With the same sense of foreboding, I followed a very grumpy young woman into a room for my internal scan.

Once enough follicles have reached a good size, about 20-22mm, it’s time to go in for collection. Apparently you can choose to have this done under a general anaesthetic, but Dr Baby-Maker said that wouldn’t be necessary. She didn’t go into detail as to why not. Perhaps she assumed I had read the literature…

No need to fear. It wasn’t too bad. A bit of pushing on the abdomen and a needle suctioned out the eggs into a petrie dish. I discovered that some women will have 15-20 eggs to collect. I had 6. Not much pain, but should I feel inadequate? Had I failed? Was it due to that day I did my injection upstairs in the bedroom with no airconditioning and then left the vial on the bedside table all day as temperatures soared to 43C? Maybe, but I wasn’t going to openly admit to that. I’ll just stick with the “quality over quantity” line and see what happens.

The embryologist came in to let me know how things were looking. I didn’t understand a word she said, so I just smiled and nodded and took in the fact that she would call me in the morning. Meanwhile, I had a nap while the sperm donor went off to have a beer and watch a dirty movie in the little private room downstairs.

The next day the embryologist rang to let me know that only 4 made it through the night. That bitch! Don’t let her look after your fully formed kids, whatever you do.

On day 3, I had a call to come in straight away as it was time to implant. Only 1 was looking good (hmmm…does that mean brown hair, brown eyes and straight teeth) so best not to wait til day 5. There’s nothing you can do but drop everything and high-tail it back into the city. Sperm donor was away of course. Nothing works completely to plan! This procedure didn’t involve him anyway. Dr Baby-Maker simply got the fertilised egg and catapulted it up into the fallopian tube. I could see it all happening on a big screen TV on the wall. Fascinating stuff.

And now? We wait. Wait a couple of weeks until you either have your period or miss your period.

I got my period.

Lap Dance or Laproscopy

August 2008

All the medical terms involved with IVF are rather long and arduous. It is easier to give them another name.

I was booked in for my lap dance with 2 surgeons. Dr Baby-Maker would be assisting Dr I’m-a-Man-But-My-Daughter-Is-An-IVF-Baby. I felt at ease. Dr Baby-Maker has a cool-ish bedside manner and doesn’t get any of our jokes. You can tell she was always head-down-bum-up at school and was probably dux. She’s thin and attractive and clip clops around the ward in heels, while everyone else shuffles along in sensible shoes covered with paper booties. I ask her if she has children. She has twin girls – natural. Karma.

The lap dance is straight forward as they are just going in for a little look-see to make sure the fibroid isn’t in the way of anything important. It’s fine, they assure me. Best to leave it where it is and not cause any unnecessary scar tissue. I’m sent home with a heat pack, panadol, and a terrible case of constipation. Must have been a bit nervous after all.

Next step is to enter IVF World – not necessarily the happiest place on earth, but the rollercoaster rides are most definitely the wildest.

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