by Meredith Gordon, Local Mum and Owner of Mimu and Friends
**To those women who are going through or been through IVF, experienced or experiencing infertility, please be aware that my story may trigger some memories for you that may be traumatic**
“You are going to make a wonderful mother someday”
Those are the words passed onto most brides by some well-meaning family member on their wedding day, and really, why wouldn’t you want to hear that? The natural progression from wife is to be a mother, right? Well for some women (and their partners), the road to becoming a mother can often be a lot harder than for most.
My husband Elliott and I were married back in 2007 and both had careers working with children. The idea that we’d have a family with four kids (I was also secretly hoping for twins) was so picture-perfect in our minds, that the unlikelihood of this seemed impossible. I simply thought that after a year of marriage, I would stop the pill and *clicks fingers* we’d be pregnant…but alas our road to parenthood would not be smooth sailing and we’d have to endure a long and difficult road filled with procedures, poking, routine, loss of dignity, the huge ups and downs on emotions and a very big test in patience.
It began with missing periods, a few months of pregnancy tests, and the start of many disappointments and heartaches. I was referred to a specialist and put on an array of medications; Clomid and Provera were the two that featured prominently in my morning meds line up. These were used to fool my body into menstruating and then to boost the ovulation hormones and kick start me in the attempts to getting pregnant.
But it seemed my body wasn’t easily fooled at all and so began 10 months of the constant heartache of seeing those failed pregnancy tests only ever showing us 1 pink line.
It was then the doctor suggested IVF
The next few months flew past like a blur; we ended up consenting to IVF treatment and started the rituals of blood tests, ultrasounds (both internally and externally), jabbing myself multiple times a day (my fear of needles pretty soon vanished along with my dignity as I was usually joined by an array of onlookers for each of my ultrasounds and other procedures) as well as downing my cocktail of medications. We went to all the appointments and met with IVF nurses who explained it all to us – including the ever complicated financial side of it all; which can I add was (possibly still is) very poorly subsidised in rebates from Medicare.
During the IVF process, I always had a niggling in the back of my mind that something wasn’t right because I was bloating like crazy. After my eggs were harvested (honestly, you’d think they’d be able to come up with a less frightening name) we were told that 33 eggs had been removed which was VERY unusual. It’s usually more like 6-7 eggs.
That evening I had a bad turn and felt extremely unwell, and worse still, the next day the scientist called to say that of the 33 eggs, only 1 had survived to the point of being able to be transferred. My husband, ever the optimist said, “We only need one to make a baby”. However, his optimistic words were washed away when I became dreadfully ill. I had developed a rare side effect called Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS)
OHSS is basically when your ovaries go into hormonal overdrive. They simply cannot cope and it can be fatal if not dealt with. It can come in mild, moderate or severe form- mine was severe. I had extreme weight gain, dizziness and difficulty breathing. I was also not urinating, even with 13 bags of fluid going through me via catheter. Not only that, but years later it was revealed I was very close to contracting a blood clot, which could in turn, have caused a stroke or even lead to death, so needless to say, I am undoubtedly grateful to God for keeping me alive.
A few weeks after recovery, we had our only egg transferred (which had to be frozen – another couple of hundred $$$ – and then thawed due to my time in hospital and the recovery) followed by weeks of inserting pessaries ( into my ‘hoo-haa’!) on daily basis. These were to help create the ideal environment for our little egg to grow and our baby to develop.
FInally, it was the day of the phone call – to find out whether or not we had been successful. We had not. Everything we had been through, all the money borrowed and spent and the horrid time in hospital and…nothing. Our babies were gone and lost and I felt unable to do anything.
We told our family and friends. No one knew what to say to us and nor did they need to; it’s awkward and painful and raw to retell the experience to those who didn’t know what went on, but then to watch their responses fall flat as they either have nothing to say (other than “I’m sorry”), too much to say or unhelpful things to say (“Maybe if you just…” – any sentence that starts like that, just walk away from them).
This part of my life was the most difficult; physically, emotionally, mentally, financially and psychologically. It pushed us to our near limits and put a massive strain on our marriage as our relationship with one another was becoming consumed by all the appointments and prescriptions and more.
Infertility is one of those taboo topics and it needn’t be. It affects 1 in 4 people and 1 in 6 where both couples are affected. The more people are talking about it, the better we can relate to each other and understand the ‘whys’ to the behaviour we may see in them. We need to stop asking a couple from the second they return from their honeymoon- when they will have kids? You or even they may not know that in fact, they will fall into that percentage of people who will struggle. Each person will cope with things differently. I was ok when people were pregnant around me, although I would break down when they announced both their pregnancy and the birth itself – I was happy, don’t get me wrong, but I explained to people that I felt like my tank of joy was limited and I could only give out a little bit of joy at a time, or else I’d crumble completely. I’m thankful for my psychologist who helped me through the dark period after, as well as family, friends and my amazing husband- who was like a rock for me. I’m also very thankful to God who strengthened me through that time and gave me new insight to relate to others and care for them in a gracious way I never knew I could.
But this isn’t the end of my story…there is an absolute shining light at the end…or should I say the beginning?
“How about we adopt?”
This was the question that my husband Elliott posed to me about a year or so after we found out the IVF had been unsuccessful. I have to admit, it did seem like the logical choice seeing a naturally conceived birth was highly unlikely. But where would we start?
We spoke to Barnardos about their adoption program and after a few informative chats, went about to get our Expression of Interest forms in. The pathway to fostering and adoption is filled with paperwork and lots of it, as well as lots of talking and lots of sharing about yourself (openly). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We needed to complete information about our financial history (to show we were capable of supporting a child coming into our home as you don’t receive any additional forms of payments) a family history, housing history, medical clearance, police checks and FULL fingerprints test, reference checks, reasons why we should be considered as foster or adoptive carers and more. I think, all in all, it may have taken us about 5 months to compile all the evidence we needed and send it away.
We were then called in January 2014 to start the interview process, which is a long process that is used to find out about who you are individually, who you are as a couple, your family history, how you were parented, how you would be as a parent, what kinds of children you would be able to care for, and how to cope with children from traumatic family backgrounds. We also discussed how to care for yourself in times of stress, how to build relationships with potentially hostile and aggressive birth family members whom you need to be in contact with, identifying abuse and trauma and how to respond, the different types of trauma children are affected by in Barnardos’ program and a lot more.
We had two people come to interview us – one takes notes, the other asks questions, as they compile a report on you to send to their CEO and a panel, who can approve you fit their program and thus enter the pool to await a match. Oh, and these interviews took place every week and last 2-3 hours each! We also had to attend three consecutive training days, on a Saturday out at St Mary’s that were mandatory. These covered a more in depth look at trauma and abuse and case workers sharing stories of children they knew in care, the legal side of adoption and the process behind this and then some time meeting an adoptive family, a child who was in foster care and a birth family; which was actually what I found to be the most valuable thing and certainly broke down a lot of worries I had.
By October 2014 we were finally approved and placed in the pool waiting to be ‘matched’ to a child (or children). We were told that being matched could take up to two years. However, we believe God had a plan for us, and 5 weeks later, we received the call that would change our lives forever…
Here is a summary of that very crazy, whirlwind of a week that we got THE call:
On Monday we received a call that a match has been found; a baby girl, 8 months old *cue internal squealing for joy*.
By Tuesday we were at Barnardos head office having a meeting with this little girl to find out her story and her birth family history.
On Wednesday we confirmed we’d love to be Baby K’s Forever Family. I also did a hasty “this-is-my-last-day” dash at work (it’s ok, they all knew my situation and were totally supportive!).
On Thursday I start accepting loads of baby goods and doing the rounds to find a specific formula and stock up on food pouches.
On Friday we met Kathleen! And her amazing foster family *insert heart eye emoji face*.
On Saturday we spent another day with Kathleen and her foster family and collected more goods.
Sunday was bittersweet as Kathleen came home to us that day, but sadly she left her awesome foster family who raised her since she was 3 days old.
Life as a family of three begins…
We had to endure two years of not being able to publically share photos of Kathleen on social media platforms while we were only legally considered “permanent carers”, had annoyingly long back and forth battles with Centrelink (don’t we all) to prove that we were intending to adopt Kathleen (6 months back track to get my parental leave approved) and multiple contact visits with the members that make up Kathleen’s birth family. Now we have a cheeky threenager in our home, and life is just as crazy as ever!
After a year of her being in permanent care with us, our case manager was able to start the legal proceedings to move towards adoption. Now this road usually takes a long time, however we found out that on November 21st 2016, 2 years after we brought her home, Kathleen was officially adopted and we were officially her parents (even though we always felt we were)!
This year will mark her first year anniversary of being adopted and she’s been begging to go to the zoo, so we’re heading there to celebrate the day. We still have contact with significant birth family members and this is a court order that must continue until Kathleen turns 18 or is at an age where she can decide for herself whether or not she wants to participate.
It’s been a long journey to finally have the child we held in our hearts for so long, to have her in our arms; and although I look back and cannot believe what we went through to get here…when I look into my baby girl’s brown eyes or listen to her infectious laughter (actually anytime she calls me “Mummy”) the past melts away, as my future is here before me. She may not look anything like me physically, but she is my girl through and through and will always be our daughter. She will always know of her past and we celebrate that she has three sides to her family instead of two. She understands she has a “tummy mummy” and knows her birth family love her very much as well.
Every family has a story, welcome to ours.