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Episode 178

Aimee Morrisby

In this week’s episode I talk to Aimee @aimeemorrisby_ who was born with Hirschsprung's disease, a congenital bowel disease that led to over 50 operations and procedures by the time she was 7. In her early twenties, she was advised to start trying for a baby as her reproductive organs were ageing at a rapid rate and after failing to fall pregnant naturally, she started a challenging, long and deflating IVF journey. Years later, after 8 attempts and the conscious decision to stop trying, Aimee’s sister offered to be a surrogate. Aimee’s experience is unique and achingly beautiful; a story of resilience, sisterhood and the ultimate, most magical gift. 

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When Aimee was three days old she was airlifted to Brisbane hospital as she hadn’t passed meconium since birth. “They knew that something was terribly wrong as meconium started coming out of my mouth. By day 10 I was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s disease which is like a sister disease to Crohn’s. Basically the nerves in the colon are there but they’re useless…anything that passes through the gut to the bowels is rejected because it can’t be processed.”

At 12 days old, her large intestine and half of her small intestine were removed and she was fitted with an ileostomy and colostomy bag. She only has an ileostomy bag now as her colon no longer functions. She will continue to have surgeries for the rest of her life yet her struggles have sparked an unwavering competitiveness in her. “I’m very stubborn and competitive with life in general. The minute I’m told I can’t do something I’ll do everything in my power to do it.”

Aimee met her husband, Jake, when she was 19 and although the doctors had told her that her uterus and ovaries were perfect, she made it clear that her ability to have children was very unknown. They were engaged within seven months and decided to focus on their business and travel with the goal to start a family when she was 30.

However, when she was 21 she was rushed to hospital with excruciating pain and discovered that she had a big cyst on her ovary. Keyhole surgery wasn’t an option because of her scar tissue so she had pain relief and had to push through the experience. Another bad episode followed where it was discovered that scar tissue was growing onto her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Her specialist was frank with her and told her that she needed to start trying for a baby immediately.

“He said to me: your reproductive organs are so aged, the way your ovaries look are the way a 40-year-old’s look, you’ve got low egg count and your organs are starting to decline quickly. I remember sitting there crying. We tried naturally but sometimes my cycles were up to 60 days long so tracking ovulation was really hard. We got married in August 2012 and in October we started IVF.

“After the first cycle we got four embryos and while the first one failed, I fell pregnant with the second. I had 24 hour morning sickness, severe thrush from progesterone pessaries…it was really tough but at the same time, we were pregnant! We had our first scan at 5 weeks and there was no heartbeat. The doctor printed out a picture and I still have it to this day.”

Aimee and jake decided to go straight on to the next IVF cycle and on day 17 their third embryo was implanted and they fell pregnant again, only to miscarry shortly afterward. “It just kept happening, the first scan would show no heartbeat and it’s like my body got to a certain point and just gave up.

“The miscarriages were upsetting but this is nothing new to me, being so sick growing up has made me very strong mentally. It was upsetting but it wasn’t life-changing because I’ve been brought up hearing bad news all the time. It made me very thick skinned.”

It was the 8th round of IVF that became her last. She had seen a new specialist who had looked through her history, spoken to her previous doctor and knew immediately why she wasn’t staying pregnant (her scars and bags were sitting on top of her uterus). He told Aimee he would change her medication and give her one cycle and one egg collection. She got six embryos on that cycle and while the first failed, she fell pregnant on the second and stayed pregnant till 10.5 weeks.

“I just remember going through the miscarriage and it was awful, I passed the baby, my body was really good at getting rid of what it didnt need but then a few weeks later I got quite sick with stomach pains and I still had mornin sickness, which I thought was strange. I went to ED and they did a blood test and they told me I was pregnant. But I knew I couldn’t be, I’d lost so much blood! They confirmed that I had been pregnant with twins and the baby I had lost a few weeks prior was just one of them. However, the remaining baby was in my tube…I had fallen naturally before I’d had the embryo artificially inseminated. The baby was healthy but it was in my tube, that pain was my tube rupturing. My health was declining very quickly, because I was in a catholic hospital I had to have an application sent to the bishop for approval because it was classed as an abortion. It took them three days to get the approval. The worst part is that I can’t just have keyhole surgery, the only way to do it was to go through chemotherapy, it’s the best way to remove unwanted things in the body, so I had to have chemo to slowly abort the baby.”

It was a harrowing experience for Aimee and Jake and on their next appointment with their specialist, he told them that he wasn’t willing to risk another IVF attempt. “He did ask if I had sisters but they were 16 and 22 at the time, Shayna was pregnant with her second, it was something I’d never even considered.

“I dealt with the grief by getting on a plane and going on a holiday. We were ok with not being pregnant. We booked a holiday to America and as soon as we got back we moved to the coast. The best way for me to handle it was to pretend it didn’t happen. I was still sad, but if anything I felt was defeated.”

Six months after moving she was on the phone to her sister, Shayna, when she mentioned that someone had offered to be a surrogate for her. It was a conversation they had numerous times but not one that ever involved Shayna being the surrogate.

“One night she rang us and her little boy had just turned one, and she told me she had decided to have another year off work. She said: do you want to have a baby? Mentally I was so detached from that part of my life that I actually had to sit and ask if it’s what I wanted. It was the same with Jake, we were both so detached from it. It was my mother in law who made us realise that this could be it, this could be our one shot and what did we have to lose?”

They saw the IVF specialist to begin with and as he had experienced the surrogacy journey before, he knew exactly what direction to lead them in. “You need to make sure that everyone is mentally ready. We were referred to lawyers because there is a lot of paperwork as it’s a legal process. Once all the documents are drawn, we do six hours of therapy; Jake and myself and then my sister and brother in law. The person who makes the call as to whether it’s viable is the therapist. Fortunately for us, everyone was in a good place. The IVF part was easy, the embryos were ready to go so Shayna just had to wait for her period to start and then she went on the tablets.”

Shayna conceived on the first transfer but sadly miscarried three weeks later. Despite her grief and guilt, she was ready to go again and on the second cycle, she felt like it was successful. “I rushed over to her house with a bag of pregnancy tests and we tested every day and the lines just kept getting darker. We went to Brisbane for the 7 weeks scan and at that moment we knew we were going to be parents, the doppler was barely in and we could hear the heartbeat – it was so loud and strong! I was a mess. It was so special and everyone was crying.”

Aimee was at Shayna’s house daily till 14 weeks as she had severe morning sickness and still had a two-year-old and one-year-old to take care of. They saw each other every single day of the pregnancy and Aimee got to do all of the exciting preparation things like the gender reveal and baby shower.

“Shayna wanted it to feel like it was my pregnancy and I was right there for every part of the journey. It was everything I dreamt of. There are quite a few moment in life when I look back and feel like it was me who was pregnant.”

It was 4am, two days before Shayna’s due date, when Aimee picked up the phone and heard the words: are you ready to be a mum?

“Something came over us…we were so ready and very relaxed. We had showers, ate breakfast, picked up coffees and made our way there. We had hired a private midwife so we wouldn’t have to explain our story once at the hospital and she confirmed that Shayna was 6cm. Shayna wanted to be with her children for as long as possible, that was her coping mechanism, we hung around and it was about 11:30 when she said she wanted to go to hospital.

“We’d booked a private room for her, and whatever she did, I did. I walked up and down the stairs with her, I stood in the shower for three hours with her, at 3pm she got her waters broken and it was close to 5 when she said she wanted to push. She got into the bath and by 5 she was pushing and we were all standing around the bath supporting her. It was so enchanting, the room was dark and quiet, Shayna had her headphones in as she was doing hypnobirthing, she was so relaxed. I went around the other side of the bath and saw Francesca, her head was out and her eyes were open and we just locked our gazes. The first person she saw was me. The love, it hit me! There she was! Every miscarriage, every surgery, every injection, all the tears, they were forgotten. It wasn’t till I saw her that I realised why I survived everything.

“I wanted Shayna to have the first cuddle, they both sat there staring at each other, and she said: Hi, I’m your auntie. I couldn’t even function because everything was so overwhelming, I couldn’t believe what I’d witnessed. Francesc
a was passed to Jake and I almost dived into the bath, all I was worried about was my sister. How was she feeling that moment she gave up the baby? That’s all I cared about.”

Jake gave Francesca a feed and I made sure Shayna was ok. Jake then passed Francesca to me and as soon as she was in my arms she passed her meconium into my hands. That was her way of showing me that she didn’t have the disease. Francesca is my biggest blessing and it was the most magical experience, ever.”

Topics Discussed

Bowel disease, Ectopic pregnancy, Endometriosis, Hirschsprung's disease, IVF, Miscarriage, Surrogacy

Episode Sponsor

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