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Episode 266

Abby

In today’s episode Abby bravely shares her journey with infertility. Abby was diagnosed with endometriosis at 17 but it wasn’t until she was in her early thirties that she started actively trying to fall pregnant. Her egg count and quality was excellent but her endometriosis posed significant complications. Abby takes us through the physical and emotional pain of her journey, the comfort in talking to other women on the same path and the light that came with her very last embryo, baby Remielle.

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“I went through eight years of IVF; nine rounds in total. I got my period at 15 and I suffered incredible pain from the outset, particularly around ovulation. When I started fainting at school my mum took me to the GP and I was referred to a gynecologist. From what I know about endometriosis, my straightforward diagnosis is actually quite rare. I remember the gynecologist telling me that the only cure would be to have a baby or an hysterectomy. It’s quite confronting to hear that in your late teens.

“I had to learn to deal with chronic pain, the kind that often makes me vomit. I’ve had nine laparoscopies over the years and during IVF they were very common as they would go in for egg retrieval and find more endometriosis. I have always thought about adoption and fostering, I think I did that to protect myself for the eventuality that we wouldn’t have a baby of our own. Josh and I were living in Hong Kong in our early thirties and while we were there we started looking quite seriously into adoption but he was away for work quite regularly and I couldn’t see it working unless we were together for most of the time.

During their time in Hong Kong, Abby started bleeding from her belly button after she took her belly button ring out. While it’s more common with women of dark skin, Abby was menstruating from her belly button due to umbilical endometriosis. Her doctor performed a laparoscopy and nested her belly button but she admits she still felt freakish.

Abby and Josh returned to their home state of Tasmania when she was 33 and they decided to get tested before they officially started their conception journey.

“I produce a lot of eggs, the egg quality is excellent and Josh got the big tick of approval. The first round we did was artificial insemination because our fertility doctor was of the opinion that we just needed help lining things up. Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be that easy. I think in my early thirties I wasn’t openly talking about the new things that were happening to me and the further we got with fertility treatment, the more we just kept things to ourselves. I didn’t know how to process or rationalise things in my own head, I didn’t know how to talk out loud to Josh about everything we were going through so inviting other people into the conversation seemed impossible. We didn’t know what was going to happen so it was easier not to tell people.

Abby admits that the emotional toll of infertility has been heartbreaking, especially when friends and family start having children and the weekends fill up with baby showers. Abby and Josh were intent on staying busy; she became a qualified pilates instructor, they started a farm project – Tasmanian Pepper Co – and they launched a successful airbnb.

“I’ve never been bitter about someone else’s success but I’ve definitely been jealous, because they had something that I wanted.

“We’ve done nine rounds of IVF. The first round we got 19 eggs and 9 fertilised and we ended up with three embryos. We did a fresh transfer and there was no success. Nobody but Josh and I knew we were doing it. The second transfer there was no luck but the third transfer stuck and we booked in for our 6 week scan but still didn’t tell our family. My hCG levels weren’t rising and two days before the 6 week scan I wasn’t feeling right and I stood up and felt a rush of blood. I sat on the toilet and we held hands and lost our baby. We live in the country and have an enviro cycle which is an environmentally friendly septic system that transforms our grey water into irrigation for our native garden. What left us has fertilised our garden and it made me feel better because it was back with the earth, there was that connection, that cycle of life. In the days following  Josh and I didn’t know what to say to each other. I don’t think there was anything we could say. We were both hurting and so upset.

“When you go through IVF, there’s stages and steps that you go through, and miscarriage feels like a milestone because you have one and then they start talking about the next egg retrieval. But miscarriage isn’t just an unsuccessful step in a process of steps. Everything I felt after the miscarriage was grief, very profound grief.”

After a series of less than appropriate experiences with her fertility specialist, Abby and Josh decided to change clinics and found a doctor who regarded them as a team. One of the first things the doctor suggested was a 3D scan and the results dictated the following months. A fibroid the size of a grapefruit was found and Abby had to undergo a myomectomy; essentially a caesarean operation where they remove the uterus from the body in order to remove the fibroid.

“I needed six weeks recovery, it was very serious surgery with serious recovery. The worst thing about that surgery was the fact that I had a caesarean scar, so here I am infertile and I haven’t had a baby yet I’ve got a caesarean scar. It’s usually a badge of honour for women who have had a baby via a caesarean because it’s a permanent reminder that you’ve been able to have a baby.

“It took six months to make sure my body was ready for IVF again. I used estrogel for the first time and there were so many drugs, a new one each cycle, it felt like it was moving in the right direction. I was 38 at this time and it was our 8th round. I’d seen the form about ovarian hyperstimulation but I’d always signed it and never thought about it but the first night we got home from that egg collection, I had the most excruciating pain all up through my stomach and chest. We live an hour and fifteen minutes south of Hobart and I think I downplayed my symptoms; I slept that night and felt better the next day. A few days later the symptoms persisted and after work one evening I presented to emergency at the private hospital because I was so breathless. An MRI showed that half of my right lung was full of fluid. I couldn’t breathe and it was terrifying. They were calling it a pleural effusion connected to ovarian hypertension.

I ended up spending three weeks in hospital and they drained 8.5litres of fluid over a week and a half.

“I was pretty defeated at this point and the surroundings didn’t help at all. I felt like I was locked in and I felt really helpless. I was having suicidal thoughts before the pleural effusion, I kept thinking that Josh would be such a good dad and yet he would never leave me and so what was the point?

“Talking to other women going through IVF and infertility has been the best therapy for me. Understanding how they’d processed things and how they’d come to rationalise certain parts of their infertility journey allowed me to process my own. It’s a beautiful bond because it’s a pain that no one else would ever understand; it’s very unique. A lot of the time you feel like you’re the onl
y person that can’t have kids and it’s very isolating.

Abby and Josh were told that any more egg collections posed too much risk but they had one frozen embryo left. In November 2019 they sent some cells off for testing and the results were encouraging. Abby left her job around the same time and then, a few months later, Covid hit.

“In June 2020, Josh and I chatted about saying hello to that last embryo. I felt emotionally really different, the pressure was off because I knew we couldn’t do IVF again…there was something really weird about that last time. It was such a positive experience and I sat in a chair after the transfer just talking with Josh and we felt really different about it. We talked about mentally preparing for what would happen, all our friends and family knew we were doing that last round. A week or so later we got a call to say we were pregnant. I hadn’t done a home test and everything was just so different. As soon as we got off the phone we went for a walk down to the beach and we rang our parents to tell them. I just wanted to enjoy the feeling, to celebrate it, to feel the happiness. I just wanted to enjoy the feeling right now. We said that for every day that we were pregnant we’d just enjoy it.

“I was teaching pilates when I felt myself bleeding. I just knew straight away that I was miscarrying. The bleeding got worse and worse and I walked down to the beach and stared at the ocean and begged, hoping for some good news. Josh and I spent the afternoon crying. I caught a blood clot in the tissue and we planted it in our garden.

“We went into the clinic and we had a cry with our doctor. I felt like she was with us. She put the ultrasound in and there was a heartbeat and she took it out and she burst into tears. She was in shock – we all were. She told us there was a heartbeat and it was a really healthy heartbeat and that’s when she presumed that the bleeding was due to a cyst.

“The bleeding continued and I was having regular scans. At 12 weeks I was still bleeding but getting used to it but one day I was bleeding so heavily that I went to emergency. Blood was pouring out of me, it was everywhere and I knew there was just no way I could still be pregnant.  Finally we got a scan and there was a healthy heartbeat. Everyone was shocked; the emergency doctor couldn’t get over how much blood I had lost and that I was still pregnant. My doctor started talking about a subchorionic hematoma and at 13 weeks a 3D scan revealed that a number of cysts had joined together and essentially formed a lake of fluid at the bottom of my uterus.

“By the time we went into my 20 week scan it looked like it had reabsorbed into my body and by 21/22 weeks the bleeding stopped. We started slowly telling people but we really didn’t announce it until 32 weeks. I was saying things like ‘we’ve made it to 20 weeks’ as if I was preparing for it to end. My iron levels were low so I was on iron and vitC and was taking vit D and a woman’s multivitamin. We were still doing two weekly scans and because I’d had the myomectomy. I really trusted my doctor to get us to the end. By 35 weeks Remi wasn’t growing which isn’t uncommon for an IVF baby so we made the decision to book in the caesarean for 37 weeks. We didn’t tell our family….it was lovely just to be in our bubble for a day.

“It was a pretty textbook delivery which I felt we deserved after everything we’ve been through. Hearing Remi’s cries for the first time was just indescribable. I was so desperate to breastfeed because it was potentially the most natural part of my journey, the ability to give life and sustain life. My milk came in on day three with my tears and now she’s 7.5 months and she’s our little miracle. I’m so grateful but with that gratefulness comes anxiety and guilt for all the women I bonded over infertility with. We’d shared so many tears and conversations about not being able to have kids. I can’t imagine what it’s like for them to see me get my happy ending. This is the best thing that will ever happen to us in our life.”

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Little Dream is the picture book on infertility that Abby mentions. You can purchase it here.

Episode Sponsor

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