October 13, 2010

IVF Story Part 1: The Pity Party that set the wheels in motion . . .

Just over a year ago, I was going about my business one morning, having taken Jack to school, put on a load of washing, brushed my teeth and negotiated a peace settlement in the middle east for the prime minister - all the usual, mundane things you do of a morning - when it suddenly hit me.

I was 41 years old and I didn't have another child. Of course, I already knew that. But the fact of it hadn't really walked up, slapped me across the face and tipped a beer into my lap. Until now.

I felt myself being washed away by an unexpected tsunami of grief - a real Pity Party Ho-Down with my old acquaintances Regret and Self Reproach as the main guests.

I couldn't believe I'd been so arrogantly naive as to think I could get pregnant easily and so flippant in brushing off my failure to conceive after 5 years. I had told myself it didn't matter, that life was good, that I was lucky to have a child of my own and three great step-children. All the usual justifications we women are so good at. But all along, I had been ignoring the gnawing voice deep inside telling me that it really
did matter. That I wasn't finished with this baby business.

Well that voice made itself heard, loud and clear, on that Tuesday morning last year. Now I'm not normally a weepy emotional person but that morning I sobbed for Australia - a self-indulgent, snot-filled, puffy-eyed Kleenex extravaganza.

Eventually I pulled myself together (as you do; after all, these moments can't last forever because after a while you do start to feel faintly ridiculous, especially when you run out of tissues and catch sight of yourself in the mirror with a bit of toilet paper sticking out of your nose!), and got on with my day, having no idea how, at the age of 41, I was going to get myself in the family way.

The next morning, I met up with my friend Elizabeth who is a few years older than me but many years wiser. She gave me a piece of advice that changed my life. Without that piece of advice, I would not be sitting here 7 months pregnant. That's pretty darn life-changing don't you think? 

So what did my wise, clever friend Elizabeth say? She told me very gently, but bluntly that, at 41, I still had options for falling pregnant, but at 46 those options would have all but completely disappeared and did I really want to look back 5 years down the track and realise I didn't give it the very best shot I could and exhaust every single available option while I still had the chance? 

Did I? DID I???

I hugged her, drove home, sat down at the computer and typed 'IVF' into Google.

I'm not sure why we never considered IVF before then. I certainly had a lot of uninformed non-factual 'facts' roaming around in my brain about the subject. Perhaps you do too. Here's what I thought about IVF:

1. It is for infertile couples
And after 5 years of trying to conceive with no medical reason why we couldn't, we weren't officially infertile were we? Duh!

2. It is horrendously expensive and would require us to get the equivalent of the loan on a waterfront cottage in Palm Beach Um, not quite. We could put the initial treatment on our credit card as the out-of-pockets were less than $5,000 - in our minds, a small price to pay for the chance to conceive. The second cycle was even cheaper because we were using the embryos from the first cycle - out-of-pockets approximately $1500.

But let me clarify, one woman's
'affordable' is another woman's 'are you out of your freaking mind, that's expensive' and I understand it's not within everyone's reach. But, and this might be lousy advice, if you can beg, borrow or save up for it, in my opinion it is worth every cent.

Let me also say that for those who don't conceive and continue to pay for cycles over many months and years, it can become a financial nightmare and yes, horrendously expensive. It doesn't help that the government has reduced the Medicare rebate for IVF treatment but that's a whole other story! Julia I love you, but for that particular piece of legislation your government needs a good spanking.

3. It is an emotional and hormonal nightmare for not just the woman, but for the couple
For me? No, I enjoyed the experience. For John? You'll have to ask him, but I swear he only raised his eyebrows once or twice. A week. At the most.

For many couples, however, it is a horribly taxing emotional and hormonal journey, particularly if they are trying for their first baby and nothing is working. IVF can seem like the final solution (and for many couples it is) so when cycle after cycle doesn't work, with all the attendant physical side effects, 'nightmare' is probably not an adequate word to describe what they go through.

So I sat there and spent two hours eating up every word, every fact, every case study on the Sydney IVF website. The stories submitted by women who'd gone on to have IVF babies were particularly compelling and as I sat there imagining what I would write if that were me, I realised that I'd bought in to the whole IVF shebang. It had me - hook, line and sinker.

But how to raise it with John? We'd officially 'given up' on another baby. We'd had our kitchen cabinet meeting and were sticking to the party line.

I waited about a month, during which I began to doubt the whole idea. My 41st birthday was looming, Jack was a wonderfully self-sufficient 6 year old and surely, after 4 children, my husband deserved to retire from broken nights and shitty nappies.

But those women's stories stayed with me. And then there was Elizabeth's story. She had said "If I were still your age, I'd do everything I could to make it happen. You don't want to live with that regret when it's too late to do something about it."

She was 100% right. I was already the 'sliding doors' type - wondering if I should have pursued a high paying corporate career, wondering if I should have had children younger, wondering if I should have worn the nude heels instead of the strappy gold heels to my cousin's wedding in 2002. I didn't want to add to that list.

That night, I tentatively approached John "Call me crazy, but what if . . . "

To my amazement, delight and undying gratitude he didn't hesitate for even a second "Let's do it. Make an appointment and let's just do it."

We agreed to give it 3 attempts and approach the whole thing with as much levity and humour and pragmatism as possible. After all, we were 41 and 55 respectively. According to the success rates on the Sydney IVF website, our chance of success was less than 30%. But at least we would know that we had tried everything and if it still didn't work, then so be it. We would put the idea to rest forever.

I called Sydney IVF in Kent Street with my heartbeat pounding so loudly in my ears I could barely hear the receptionist. We made an appointment for 10 November 2009 at 12.45pm with Dr Mark Bowman - the man who would throw our ingredients into a cocktail shaker and hopefully mix us up a lovely little baby. I couldn't wait.

Click here for IVF Story: Part 2 - Hello Embryo

Click here for IVF Story: Part 3 - Nice Needles & A New Attitude

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