This is a story that I’ve been thinking about writing for the longest time, but could never quite decide if I should actually share it, or keep it private. After some discussion with C, we agreed that it is a story that we should share, because when we were going through the IVF process, we found it really helped to read about others’ experiences. Somehow, IVF isn’t often talked about in Singapore, and there is quite little support for people with infertility issues. Hopefully, this post will help those who are struggling with infertility, and unsure about what their options are, as well as those of you who might have friends who are trying to conceive.
Warning: EXTREMELY long and wordy post ahead.
I’m not going to go into the medical details of why we had to take the IVF route, as we prefer to keep that private. We were advised by the gynae to try IUI first, as IVF is usually the last resort. That’s something we didn’t know! We had never even heard of IUI until the gynae suggested it. I was extremely optimistic the first time we did IUI, because I heard that the success rate for women under 35 was higher. During the two-week wait, I refrained from buying clothes and shoes, thinking that I would be pregnant, and therefore wouldn’t be able to fit into my normal work clothes soon. C told me not to get my hopes up, but I stubbornly refused to listen to him. When my period came that month, I was devastated. It was so hard to go to work and act as though everything was fine and dandy, when all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and cry.
I think most women with fertility issues will tell you that their ‘pregnancy radar’ is extremely strong. We can tell when someone is pregnant, even before the person announces it, because we look at every woman and wonder if she is pregnant. There is also intense jealousy, and it doesn’t matter whether the pregnant person is your friend. All you can think about is, why her, and not me? I struggled a lot with this question, and poor C always had to deal with the crying and self-pity, each time I came across a FB announcement about yet another pregnancy, or whenever I found out that someone we knew was pregnant. It might sound extremely crazy and self-centered to you, but trust me, unless you have gone through the whole infertility thing, you will not, and cannot, understand what it’s like. For me, it was constant: the gnawing emptiness, the intense longing to be pregnant, the heavy eyes and head from all the crying, and the dark cloud of depression, all plagued me endlessly, and it was only with C’s support that I got through each day. Looking back, it must have been really tough for him too, as I know we both really wanted a child, but he wasn’t able to show how affected he was by our infertility, simply because he had to be strong for me, the one who was barely holding it together.
Many well-meaning friends who knew about our issues, tried to help by telling me all sorts of things. Unfortunately, they just made me feel worse. I know they were trying to encourage me, but like I said, unless you’ve been down this road before, you won’t get it. Nobody WANTS to go for IVF. We would much rather be able to conceive naturally, like everyone else, so please, don’t ask us if we are sure we need it. Here are some of the worst (to me) possible things to say to someone trying to conceive.
If you’re one of my friends who said these things to me, please don’t be offended by this post. I’m writing it because there are many people out there who are trying to conceive, and feel the same way. If you have a friend suffering from infertility, please, please, PLEASE, do NOT say these things to her. Trust me, no matter how good your intentions are, you’re not making her feel any better.
1. “My friend told me that her friend also tried for very long, went through IVF many times, but all failed. Then when she stopped trying, she got pregnant naturally!”
2. “Maybe you’re trying too hard. You have to relax, then you can get pregnant.”
3. “Why don’t you try TCM instead? My friend’s friend got pregnant after seeing a TCM doctor.”
4. “Have you been praying? You have to keep praying.”
5. “Maybe God doesn’t want you to have a baby yet. If it’s not happening, there must be a reason for it.”
6. “I have something to tell you. (Trust me, whenever we hear this, we KNOW what’s coming next. Pregnancy radar, remember?) I’m pregnant. I don’t know how it happened. / It was an accident. / We weren’t even trying! / We used protection! / This is such bad timing. / We tried only once and I got pregnant! / I didn’t know it would happen so fast.”
*I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to talk about your pregnancy in front of us, and that we cannot be happy for you. We are, just that a little more tact will be appreciated, especially if you know that we are struggling with infertility.
7. (From pregnant friends) “Here, rub my belly. Let me give you some baby dust / baby luck / baby power.”
8. “Why don’t you just adopt?”
9. “You’re still young, why don’t you try for a while more before going for IVF?”
10. “Are you sure you want to go for IVF? Do you really need it?”
Numbers 4 and 5 got to me quite a bit too, and I even stopped going to church for a while. I just couldn’t accept that a God who was supposed to love me so much, could do this to me. Why did He deem so-and-so more worthy of having a child than me? How is it possible that an unmarried teenager would be a better mother than me? (Disclaimer: I know that there are plenty of unmarried teenaged mothers out there who are doing a wonderful job, but like I said, I was wallowing in self-pity.) C didn’t push me when I said I didn’t want to go to church. I was an emotional wreck, and he reminded me frequently that even if we never had a baby, I would still have him. He told me that if it really bothered me that much, we could look into adoption, but I refused to consider it, because I really wanted to be pregnant and give birth to our child.
After our third failed IUI attempt, when I had eight eggs that stubbornly refused to be fertilised, we decided that I would go on no-pay leave, because we thought that the stress from my job might have been a factor in our repeated failures. C also quit his job to pursue his MBA, which gave us plenty of time to rest. We decided to take a break from the jabs and scans, and just enjoy spending time together. And we did. We spent a few months in Fontainebleau, where his school was, and while we were there, we took short holidays to Paris, London, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, and Venice. We loved that it was just the two of us together (his brother was living with us at that time, so it was nice to actually be alone together for a change), and tried to forget about trying for a baby. In a fairytale, this would have been the time where I got pregnant, but since we live in the real world, I didn’t.
On our gynae’s recommendation, we decided to give IUI one last shot. I had even more drugs than usual injected into me, and managed to produce thirteen eggs. I was so bloated that people thought I was five months pregnant, and many people asked me if I was pregnant (which really didn’t help). Again, I let my guard down, and dared to hope that I would be able to conceive this time round, because I was well-rested and happy. When I first saw the blood stains, I hoped that it was from implantation bleeding, but deep down inside, I knew the IUI didn’t work. The nurse at the clinic suggested that I take a pregnancy test there, just to be sure, which got my hopes up a bit, but the test showed up negative. By this time, I had seen so many negative test kits that I should have been immune to it, but each negative result just made me feel even worse. I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to give C a baby, and there was a lot of pressure from my MIL too. (We didn’t tell her that we were going for fertility treatments, as she’s rather old school.)
We spoke to a friend who conceived via IVF, to find out more about the process and her experience, and decided to get a second opinion from her gynae, Dr SF Loh. At that time, he was still at KKH, which meant that we could get a subsidy for the procedure, but as C’s application for citizenship hadn’t been approved yet, we only qualified for a smaller subsidy. To be honest, we aren’t rich, but by the time we got to this stage, the subsidy really didn’t play that big a part in our decision-making process. We just wanted a doctor who was experienced in the field, and had a good track record.
Dr Loh looked at our records and expressed surprise that our previous gynae went ahead with the IUI when I had thirteen eggs. “What if all thirteen eggs got fertilised? That’s really dangerous!” We didn’t even consider it a problem before he mentioned it, because all we wanted was for just ONE egg to be fertilised. He asked if I had a hsterosalpingogram test done before all the IUI procedures, and scheduled one for me when I said I hadn’t. I also had to go through a whole battery of blood tests, and C had a few blood tests done too. Dr Loh recommended that we go straight to IVF, even though it’s the last resort, as he thought we had a better chance of success with it than with IUI. We had to undergo a mandatory counseling session to determine if we were emotionally ready for the stress of IVF, and there was a briefing on the entire IVF process, conducted by a different doctor in the fertility team at KKH. We learnt that the success rate for IVF was higher for those below 35, so it was a good thing we decided to seek treatment early. (C asked some question about the statistics, which clearly went right over my head, because I can’t remember what it was now.)
I was put on the pill for 28 days, and had to do two different types of injections (Lucrin and Menopur) daily as well, but I think this varies with each individual’s needs. (The second injection hurts a lot more than the first! I think it’s because the needle is thicker, but I can’t be sure.) When we were going through the previous rounds of IUI, I did the daily injections on my own, as C was traveling quite a bit then. Before starting on IVF, we agreed that it would be best for C to do the daily jabs for me, as it was really tough for me to stick a needle into my belly each time, and I used to take ages. It made a big difference to me that C was more involved too, and I appreciated being able to squeeze my eyes shut during the injections, instead of fretting over whether I’m doing it right. There was quite a bit of cramping throughout the process, and I tried to rest as much as possible. People told me not to think about it, and not to be stressed, but it was impossible not to. I had a huge bruise too from one of the injections, because C accidentally hit a vein, I think, and the nurse told him to avoid giving me injections in that area. Good thing I had lots of belly fat, and it wasn’t difficult finding other parts to jab at all.
After the entire series of injections, we were relieved to learn from the scan that I had 26 follicles, and had to get a jab at the hospital the night before they could be harvested. I suffered from OHSS, and was in a lot of discomfort, including being unable to pee properly. I thought things would get better after they extracted the eggs, but the pain after that was so much worse, and I became so nauseated that I sat by the toilet bowl and retched. I have a terrible fear of vomiting, and would usually try my best to suppress the puke, but this was so bad that I couldn’t even swallow the anti-nausea pill, and had to rush to the toilet. I was also disappointed to learn that only 16 eggs were extracted, as some of the follicles were empty. As I lay in bed with a hot water bottle on my belly, C laid hands on my stomach, and we prayed together. That was probably the worst night in the entire process, and we were worried that my OHSS would be so bad that the embryo transfer couldn’t be done.
At the hospital the next day, it took two nurses three attempts to draw blood from me, as the high number of eggs meant that I needed a blood test. Dr Loh then told us that the eggs that underwent the normal IVF procedure all failed. Apparently, the sperm didn’t enter the eggs and the only one that made it, produced such a lousy embryo that it was discarded. He also said this was probably why the many rounds of IUI had failed. They also tried this procedure called ICSI, in which the sperm was directly injected into the eggs and this yielded six viable embryos. Two of them were grade 4, and these were the two which he transferred into my womb that day. The other four were grade 3, and they would be frozen for future use. He also said that he found a polyp in my cervix when he was doing the egg retrieval on Tuesday but he removed it on that day itself, which explained the bleeding I was having. I was then given some Utrogestan, to keep my womb lining thick, and to give the embryos the best possible chance to implant and grow.
The two-week wait after the embryo transfer seemed like forever, and was made worse when C had to travel then. I stayed with my parents, who were extremely supportive through the entire process, and basically spent my time sleeping a lot. I worried constantly, especially when I didn’t FEEL pregnant at all. I had a blood test in the middle of the waiting period, to test if my hormone levels were normal, and even though the test came back normal, I still worried, because it only meant that I didn’t need extra drugs. I started having some cramps about midway through the wait, and each time I went to the toilet, I would pray fervently that I wouldn’t see any blood.
Finally, on the 25th of November 2011, we went for the blood test. We waited nervously for the nurse to call us after that, and when she finally did, I was alone at home, because C had left for his class. The nurse was extremely matter-of-fact and I couldn’t tell from her tone if it was positive or not.
“So erm, you’re pregnant.”
I had waited for so long to hear those words, yet when I finally did, I didn’t cry, as I thought I would. I called C immediately to tell him, and that night, I insisted on buying a pregnancy test kit, just to see it for myself. After so many ‘single line’ moments, it was amazing to see two lines appearing.
When we saw two sacs, and two heartbeats at the scan, we were thrilled. Twins! However, as one was significantly smaller than the other, Dr Loh warned us that it might not survive. True enough, at the next appointment, there was only one heartbeat, and Dr Loh told us that it was for the best, as the other embryo was probably defective. We didn’t quite allow ourselves to grieve over the loss, as we knew we were already extremely blessed to have one baby. I still do think about what it would have been like, if we had twins, and wonder if the other baby was a girl. Throughout my pregnancy, I kept dreaming that we had a girl, and even now, when I dream, my baby is sometimes a girl, and not Noah.
Getting pregnant was tough, and staying pregnant was also a challenge. I experienced bleeding on a few occasions, causing C to cancel a few of his work trips, and had to be put on bed rest a few times. I kept reminding myself to stay positive, to pray constantly, and clung to our wedding verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
A year ago, on this very day, Noah was born. We thank God daily for giving us this opportunity to be parents to our cheerful little boy, who has brought us so much joy. I don’t know if we will be able to have another child, and we’ve been talking about seeing Dr Loh again, regarding our frozen embryos (apparently, only two of the remaining four survived). I’ve told C that the IVF process was so tough that I honestly don’t know if I can do it again, as much as I want more kids. We don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we pray that God will again be gracious to us, and bless us with more children to love.
Blessed birthday, darling! Mummy and Daddy love you very, very, very much.
PS. As I mentioned at the beginning of this extremely long post, I’m sharing our IVF story because I want to help people understand the process a little more. We know that we are extremely blessed to have conceived on our first IVF attempt, as we have read many other heartbreaking stories online, by couples who are still struggling with infertility. C was my rock through it all, and I think I would have gone mad without him by my side. My parents and god-family offered us a lot of support too, and we were covered in prayer by my mother’s church friends, and my close friends who knew about our struggle. We also spent a lot of time reading forums and blogs online, even before we embarked on this IVF journey, as we wanted to learn as much as possible about it.
PPS. If you suspect that you have fertility issues, please do seek professional help from a gynae, as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion too, and even a third, if necessary. If you are undergoing fertility treatment, hang in there. It’s a tough road, but share your feelings with your spouse. Draw strength from each other, and know that you are not alone in this journey.
PPPS. For those of you who might have friends struggling with infertility, please be sensitive to their feelings, and try your best not to say any of the 10 things I listed above. You might think that I’m being over-sensitive, but I’ve spoken to a few people who have had fertility treatments, and we all felt the same way. Really. Just let your friends know that you are available if they need to talk, and ask if they need any kind of help, such as a ride to the hospital for the numerous doctor’s appointments. They’ll probably say no, but it’s nice to ask anyway.
PPPPS. This is OUR personal story and experience, so please understand that this is what we went through, and how we felt through the entire process, be it about our doctor or our experience at the hospital. We are NOT promoting our doctor in any way, nor is this a sponsored post. Do choose your own doctor wisely, and proceed only if you are comfortable with him/her. IVF is a tough process, and you should always do your own research, and suss out a few doctors, if you aren’t completely satisfied with the first one you consult.
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