Our Fertility Journey
This post has been a long time coming! And I will be honest, it was one I was considering not sharing.
Before trying to fall pregnant in late 2016, I never truly appreciated that falling and staying pregnant is A LOT harder than I thought. According to IVF Australia ‘Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. It affects about 1 in 6 Australian couples of reproductive age.’
As a the Director of a women’s only strength and conditioning community, I decided to be bold and go the next step to openly share our journey to fall pregnant as it’s often a lonely, long road and one that is difficult to discuss at the time.
Fortunately for us, our story has a silver lining. We are now expecting the arrival of our baby boy in the next weeks or so and the hardship to get to this point is almost forgotten with the joy that new life brings.
If you are in the throws of your own fertility battles, I hope this story gives you hope and inspires you to have faith.
2017 was a very eventful year, but not on the baby front. We started the year with high hopes, that like most couples, we would fall pregnant and I would have a well timed maternity leave in October.
The truth be told, I had itchy feet for a career change. My personal training work had taken off, I was doing more hours at the gym and I was loving it. I became the master of multitasking and time management. I was looking for ways to continue to grow my personal brand as a coach, while maintaining a high work ethic at school (my ‘normal job’).
At the time I felt happy and fulfilled and was not overly concerned that we had not fallen pregnant straight away because our lives were so full. It was not until the end of the year, we started to question if there was something ‘wrong’. We took action to visit our GP and started the process of all the necessary initial tests and checks. For me this included blood tests and ultrasounds (to check ovulation, fallopian tubes and the condition of my uterus) and for hubby it involved a semen analysis which measures the number of semen. All tests came back with no real reason for our ‘unexplained infertility’ issues so we made the decision to try a bit ‘harder’ ourselves.
But as the year drew to a close, the disappointment to return back to work for another year was rolling around in my mind. There was also some real fear that should we continue down the same path, we could be in the same place in 5 years time and no closer to starting the family we dreamed off.
There was also a voice inside my head that told me, I needed to be honest about what I wanted out of life. I realised that I was tired and over-worked and this could be the very reason stopping us from falling pregnant. The decision came to my husband and I like a light bulb moment. I would take my long-service leave at the start of 2018 to focus solely on my personal training business and hope that with less on my plate, nature would run its course.
We made the call early in 2018 to start conversations with a fertility specialist and sought an amazing referral from a friend who is the assistant to one of Melbourne’s most renowned specialists, Dr Kate Stern.
Dr Kate was amazing at chatting through our options, timeline and plan. Initially, we thought that seeing a fertility specialist meant IVF treatments. We are glad that we followed our gut instinct to seek professional help early, because there is a lot you can do before going down that path.
Neither of us wanted to get to the point of desperation of not falling pregnant and wanted to use science to better understand the issues we were having. Our unexplained infertility was most likely due to irregularities in my cycle which we determined through a series of blood tests and ultrasounds. The old ’14 day ovulation method’, seemed to go amiss on my ovaries, making timing of conception very difficult!
Then in July we had a glimmer of hope, after another ultrasound to track my cycle, we found what looked to be a fertilised egg. And I was sent off to pathology with a blood test referral. I remember refusing to feel too excited about the prospect of a positive result… there was something in the back of my mind that was holding me back.
As the weekend unfolded, we continued life as per normal and had a friend’s birthday party in the evening planned. Unfortunately mid party, sudden cramps developed that pulled me into the bathroom, which revealed some significant bleeding. I knew instantly that it was time to leave and this was not likely to end the way we had hoped.
A call from pathology revealed on Monday that HCG levels were up and we were, or at least had been pregnant. It was hard telling the very excited nurse the unfortunate turn of events over the weekend.
Miscarriage is hard. Physically alone it can be quite traumatic! At only 6 weeks pregnant it is crazy the amount of blood loss and discomfort you experience. Emotionally, I was a bit of a wreck. I felt like my strong, fit body, very capable body, that I had been so careful to look after, was failing me.
How was it that a body which felt like it could do almost anything, could not support a child? The very thing a female body is designed to do?! There were a few things that helped me move through this time.
Firstly, an incredibly supportive husband who also reminded me that it was a very positive indicator that we could actually fall pregnant naturally! I had also made the call not to return back to school for the year and was just about to sign our first official lease agreement at 23W … life as we knew it was about to change and not in the way we had planned.
Lastly, I knew it was time to chat to my closest friends about our struggles. This helped me process everything we had been going through and for someone who struggles to show emotion openly, this was a very therapeutic process.
The rest of the year unfolded with a bang. The gym opened in November that year and with a very busy schedule, the baby making process slipped back once again on the priority list. I was busy then ever, but also never happier!
When 2019 started, we had one goal in mind… 2019 was going to be the year of making baby Drake. Our plan involved starting a process called IUI which has about a 20% success rating. Because our issue seemed to be more an issue of timing, starting on IUI seemed to be the most obvious option before moving onto IVF.
IUI versus IVF
Many people are familiar with IVF and what it involves, but are much less familiar with IUI. Both intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are fertility treatments used to help a person who is struggling to conceive. The main difference between an IUI and IVF treatments are: IVF is a process involving egg stimulation, retrieval, fertilization, and transfer; whereas, an IUI injects sperm into a uterus to decrease the sperm’s travel time to the egg. IUI is considered a much less invasive process than IVF and with a significantly lower price tag. IUI though the private system without medicare rebate is around $2000 per cycle versus the more than $10,000 you can expect to pay for IVF.
Regardless of which option you choose, the application process alone takes time. Required police checks, counselling sessions and compulsory meetings at Melbourne IVF added a 2 to 3 month lead time ahead of the commencement of treatments.
IUI involves injecting a relatively low dose of an artificial follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) once per day in the subcutaneous fat around your belly. As you get close to ovulation, you attend regular visits to your specialist who checks on the estimated time of release of your egg from your ovary. As the egg starts to get ready, you are given very specific instructions on when to take another drug/hormone which triggers the release of the egg in a highly timed sequence of events.
We started our first round of IUI in April and like everything in our life, what was meant to be a carefree few months quickly changed.
23W had been selected as a top runner for a local government grant. Alongside daily injections, more visit to the Melbourne IVF clinic, the month of May was also spent in an accelerator program with 4 other start-ups and preparing for 10 minute live pitch in front of a panel of judges. Unfortunately, our first round was unsuccessful and while some disappointment followed, we were not ready to give up hope yet. We decided to go another round of IUI before maybe taking some time off and going to IVF.
Second Round IUI
We started our second round of IUI in early June 2019, with slightly diminishing hopes but a lovely trip booked to Vanuatu in July regardless. As we drew closer to our blood test date, I tried to ignore the little inclinations that were telling me I was pregnant. Even on the day of the blood test, I could tell my boobs felt different and sure enough, a positive test!
9 Months On
Here we are today, 39 weeks pregnant and ready to meet our little bloke.
It is honestly amazing how quickly this story has faded into the background and how simple growing a baby seems to have been in comparison to the process to fall pregnant. If we were to impart any words of wisdom to couples or individuals in a similar position we encourage you to find joy in life and try not to let your challenges consume you or your relationship.
Continuing to grow personally, together and in both our businesses, meant that we did not have time to dwell on the elements that were not coming together. We instead focused our attention on being our best selves, making our appointments and not sitting in waiting. This allows us to stay positive and optimistic. When we had bad news, there were other areas of our life that we could try to find joy in.
Lastly, we trusted that the right time would come for us. And fortunately for us, with 23W going into its second full year, now is a great time to take a few weeks away. I have the support of incredible staff and an established community to trust that the business will not fall apart without me there.
If you would like to get in touch and chat further about our fertility treatments, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email [email protected]
Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.
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