SHARE THE IVF JOURNEY
How to care for yourself and others while awaiting a miracle
Asingle round of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) privately in New Zealand costs between $10,000 and $14,000, but it’s an easy sell. An estimated one in four New Zealand couples experiences infertility, and IVF offers hope, backed by science, to those who may have had their hopes raised and crushed many times before. IVF puts pressure on finances, relationships and careers. To qualify for publicly-funded treatment in New Zealand, a couple must earn sufficient points on a criteria list that includes having tried for five years, having no other children (including stepchildren) at home, being a non smoker, not being overweight or over 40. For those who make the grade, the waiting list is about 14 months long. The process involves injecting hormones to stimulate the ovaries to produce many more eggs than is usual. Another injection triggers the ovaries to release their precious eggs. Harvesting is performed under sedation, via a needle inserted through the wall of the vagina and into the ovaries to siphon out eggs. After five or so days, the lucky ones will have a blastocyst ready to be transferred back into the body from a petri dish. When a doctor implants this into your uterus, it can feel miraculous. Finally, science has achieved what your own bodies couldn’t, and you have a microscopic, fertilised egg inside you. Each step can feel painful, intrusive and stressful—or not. Some couples are driven mad by hormonal mood swings, some aren’t. But at every step, there is vulnerability, and the risk of disappointment. For women over 37, the chances of getting pregnant from a round of IVF are less than 50 per cent, and there’s always a one in five chance of miscarrying. Success at IVF feels as capricious as the flip of a coin. Two weeks after the blastocyst is implanted, you take a blood test and you’re either pregnant or you’re not. Either way, your life will be permanently altered. Elisa Rivera and Dan O’neill did IVF through Fertility Associates in Auckland in 2015. Their baby, Milo Roman O’neill is now one ELISA My GP advised me to try naturally for a year and then see a specialist. I also did acupuncture for a year and saw a naturopath who instructed me to follow a strict dairyfree, sugar-free, grain-free, fun-free diet. I then found out I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which was possibly causing the infertility. One symptom of PCOS is irregular cycles, so I used Clomiphene for a year to help regulate my cycle. I would get a phone call every month to tell me when to have sex and then another to tell me I was not pregnant. The clinic was supportive, but it was heartbreaking to get that call every month. By the time the doctor recommended IVF, we had been trying for two years, so I was relieved that we had another option. I was done feeling like a failure. I’d spent my 20s and early 30s thinking I didn’t want kids, and then when I did want them, it wasn’t easy. I felt a bit guilty. We agreed we would stop trying after three attempts and that if things didn’t work out, we would just become world travellers. We had recently purchased a home, so the cost was a big concern, but it was important for both of us, so we bit the bullet, and we wouldn’t have it any other way now. I told close friends and family that we were doing IVF. It made sense to have the support. I think there is still a real stigma about not being able to conceive naturally, so people don’t speak about it. It’s a shame because it’s so helpful to chat to people who have gone through the same thing. Once we began the IVF treatment, I was excited and tired and more emotional — who wouldn’t be? I was okay with the injections, but I found the egg retrieval really painful (even under sedation). I often felt like a failure because it was my fault we weren’t conceiving but we were a team, in it together. We laughed about no longer having to have scheduled sex and I think Dan got some enjoyment out of stabbing me with the injections. While I was waiting for the results of the blood test, I took a home pregnancy test and it was a very faint positive, which I’d never had before. When we got the phone call to confirm I was pregnant, I was so stoked, and then scared that this was actually happening. DAN It was a rollercoaster, and not really in a good way. At the beginning of the year of Clomiphene, we were hopeful and excited, but as the months passed, it got very real that this might not happen for us, and it didn’t. The worst part was when we had to have sex on demand. It sounds like great fun, but it’s actually a real battle because, on top of the stress you’re feeling about getting pregnant, you have other stresses — financial, work etc. We would laugh when having sex at the absurdity of it all. When the doctor first recommended IVF, I felt sad. Getting pregnant the traditional way would have been ideal, but I was hopeful that we would be successful — at times, we were so hopeful it was a strain.
“My main objective was to support Liza. I felt responsible. The only reason we went through IVF was me. Liza’s body is perfect. And she didn’t have to”
Giving the sperm sample was no trouble. I’m not shy or easily embarrassed. Elisa was not that comfortable giving herself the injections, and I had to pretend I was, but the more I did it, the easier it became. The egg retrieval was difficult to watch. It’s always hard to watch the ones you love in pain. She couldn’t remember a thing afterwards, which was kind of funny. All the way through, we would talk about that little baby and imagine having him with us. Our friends were all really supportive, but after we were pregnant, people who were parents loved to tell us how hard it would be. I didn’t want to hear about getting no sleep. We all know about that. I wanted to hear positive stories. Liza Adams and Mike O’keeffe did IVF through Fertility Plus at Greenlane Hospital in 2015. As well as Chay and Ethan, their biological and stepkids, they now have one-year-old Whakatau Francis MIKE I found out about 10 years ago that I have a blockage somewhere. I can do everything, my body creates everything, but I can’t get it out. Learning to cope with that was a bit of a process. You struggle with your masculinity. Then my father passed away, and I engaged counselling, which gave me an outlet to discuss everything. I had surgery for sperm extraction in 2007 as I was going to go through IVF but my marriage ended. I just kept paying the storage fees. They can hold it for 10 years and I knew if I had it there, if I met someone, we could carry on. I feel lucky to have Whakatau, after thinking it would never happen. Our doctor’s nurse said ‘when you’re doing the injections, it can really test the relationship’ and I was like, ‘whatever’, but she was dead right. The process was intense. I just had to understand that ‘drugs are doing this, that’s not my partner, it’s what’s going into her body to create those eggs’. It was hard watching Liza go through that. I felt stink that she was doing all the hard work when it was my issue. We’d talk lots, in a non-judging way. We say whatever we want — the worst-case scenarios, those things that you don’t want to tell other people. Liza likes to verbalise and I know to take it as, ‘this is what’s in her head, she needs to get it out, so let’s just get it out instead of leaving it in there to fester’. She might have even said, ‘F**k you, I’m going to stop taking these drugs, it’s all your fault’ but that was just a feeling that she needed to let out, so it didn’t build up. And it worked. It opened up lines of discussion. You’re not allowed to drink during the process, and it was coming up to the Christmas party season, so I stopped drinking too. I didn’t need the extra stress of pissing off my girl who couldn’t drink. It was actually a cool experience and a test of my personality. But my main objective was to support Liza. I felt responsible. The only reason we went through IVF was me. Liza’s body is perfect. And she didn’t have to. She could have turned around and said nah, we’ve got two children. When Liza called to tell me the results, I was at work in my clinic just wanting to scream the roof down. Then thinking, who do I tell? Can I? I can’t! I have to wait 12 weeks! LIZA We thought maybe it would happen naturally. We saw a Ma-ori spiritual healer who did mirimiri on our bodies, using greenstones and Ma-ori pressure points and romiromi, which is working on your internal organs, your muscles and your body. We did testing to qualify for fertility treatment, but because my daughter Chay was in our care, we went to the bottom of the list, so we waited two years to start treatment. I was 37 when we started this process, and 39 when we were doing the treatment. I did wonder, is this the proper way to do it — using Western medicine? I didn’t lose sleep over it but it did cross my mind that my dad and my uncle might look down on me, because I’ve grown up in the old-school way and my uncle’s quite traditional. But they didn’t judge, not one bit. And I remembered that I take lots of Western medicine, I live in a Western world where I’ve had appendicitis and casts. And I’m half English, as well. When the treatment started, Mike and I got off-kilter a bit. Physically, it was hard. I would wake up, put a pot of stew on, somehow get Chay to school, come home and pass out on the couch for the whole day, pick her up from school, serve up dinner and go to bed. There was a lot of emotion. Lots of crying and being angry, like full-on PMS. I was in a daze. After egg extraction, I was sore for days. One time, we met a couple in the clinic who said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up, we’ve been doing this for 10 years’. That took the wind out of our sails a bit. But I talked to a parent at Chay’s school who had two kids from IVF and it was good to hear about a positive outcome. I can have negative thoughts towards myself and judge other people, but during this process, I tried to put good karma out there. I really, really tried. I wanted to put good out there and have goodness come back to me, to us, and our body. When we got the results back, I kind of knew because I had taken pregnancy tests, but to hear it from the nurse? I just cried and cried and laughed. I couldn’t hang up because I was laughing so much. It was the funniest shit I’d ever heard. I was out of breath crying and laughing with happiness. And every day of those first 12 weeks, I sung to my belly in the shower to make sure he stayed there. We’re getting ready for another round this year. The thought of taking home that extra blastocyst like we did with the eggs that didn’t fertilise just broke my heart. That blastocyst is already us. It’s another little Whakatau. Mark Crysell and Briar Mccormack did seven rounds of IVF before conceiving with the help of an egg donor — Briar’s sister, Imogen BRIAR We’d been trying for a while and it wasn’t happening, so we decided to get tested. It turned out I had a lazy ovary which wasn’t producing any eggs from one side, so they recommended IVF straight away. We were living in London and we did a couple of treatments there, privately, but it was just hopeless. I didn’t produce many eggs, not all of them were viable. We only got one embryo and it didn’t take. We gave it a rest until we were back in New Zealand.
“The egg donor solution seemed like a normal thing to do, too. All of my siblings are really close and would do anything for each other. Imogen’s my half sister, and she’s gay, so she won’t have children the traditional way”
Then we went to Fertility Associates. We did another round that didn’t work and the next one was successful. We thought we were home and hosed but things started to go wrong in the second trimester. I started losing amniotic fluid. I would get scans, because I could feel he wasn’t moving much. I was admitted to hospital for monitoring. That lasted three weeks. Then after one scan, his heartbeat was so slow that they decided to do an emergency caesarean. They did try to give him oxygen, but his lungs couldn’t handle it. He was alive for about a minute. We stayed the night in the hospital and slept in the room with him, and then they took him away and cremated him in the morning. So that was that and it was pretty traumatic. After that, we did two more rounds of IVF and didn’t get pregnant and those were really hard. Like, really hard. Those two weeks when you’re waiting to get that phone call, and then you hear it hasn’t taken — it was just awful. The hormones on top of all the grief. I look back and think what was I doing to myself? I went back to work as executive producer of Fair Go a couple of weeks after. It felt like the right thing for me to do. I had a supportive team around me, so I felt like I could get back to some normality but in a really safe environment. The worst is when you walk into a room and people are looking at you like a victim or someone bursts into tears. It’s like, oh man, really? Now I’ve got to deal with your grief? I’m trying to be strong for myself, I don’t want to have to be strong for you, too. I pushed people away who were like that. When I first came back to New Zealand, my little sister Imogen had said, “If there’s ever anything I can do to help, I would always do whatever I could.” After we lost the baby, she said, “I meant what I said about if there’s anything I could do.” I said, “The only thing you could do is be an egg donor, but that’s a huge decision”. But she really wanted to do it. In the end, she produced a heap of eggs. We got five good embryos, they planted two to up the chances, and it all worked out amazingly. It was the most terrifying nine months of my life. I don’t think anyone enjoyed it, including the obstetrician. But it was a completely normal, healthy pregnancy. When I look back, it seems insane to put yourself through all that. You read about people who are just desperate to have a child and I guess I must have been, but I can’t remember ever feeling like that. I know that sounds weird but it was just kind of something we were doing, and it made sense to keep doing it until we got to some kind of conclusion. The egg donor solution seemed like a totally normal thing to do, too. All of my siblings are really close and would do anything for each other. We’ve got quite a split family anyway. Imogen’s my half sister, and she’s gay, so she won’t be having children the traditional way. Sometimes I think it must be hard for her. Imagine looking at a child and seeing yourself there, looking back at you. It must be a weird, weird feeling. Because she’s 11 years younger, I can remember all the time I spent with Imogen when she was a little baby. In the early days, sometimes I’d be walking around with Edie on my hip, and I’d look down and get this overwhelming rush of emotion because I’d feel like I was looking at my little sister. There’d be something in her face. It’s really nice to have that family connection and much easier to explain than an egg donor who’s a stranger. We haven’t really talked about it with Edie yet. She knows Imogen’s her special aunty, but she doesn’t really know why. One day we will tell her about it. It won’t be any harder than explaining, “What is God?” or “Why does the grandma in Moana turn into a stingray?” IMOGEN I was 27 and my siblings are everything to me, so I just wanted to do whatever it took to give my sister the family she wanted. I saw someone I loved in pain and knew that I was young enough to do something. Also, at the time, I was super bratty and reactive, and this huge act of kindness was probably the most radical thing I could do. Being gay was definitely part of my decision. It’s exposed me to alternative ideas of what family is and can be. Having multiple parents, including one or two who are not related biologically, is pretty standard for us gays, and it’s standard that we can’t conceive with the person we love most in the world. And as a Pa-keha woman, the Ma-ori notion of wha-ngai was comforting to have in the background. The collective role of the family in raising a child is in line with how I imagine my siblings and I feel. I also thought of it in this weird donor-karma way, as I would also need to rely on a donor in the future. I don’t think I could have done it had I been single. We’ve since parted ways, but my partner at the time was amazingly supportive and strong, even though I knew she found it hard. I needed her to support me and let me know I was loved and that there was potential there to start our own family. I did counselling beforehand but they kind of just herd donors through. I guess they need to tick boxes to make sure you’re not crazy. I didn’t feel like they genuinely cared about the donor’s emotional stability. There was no follow-up counselling after the extraction or when they knew that the pregnancy was successful. IVF is a rollercoaster — and it’s ongoing. I didn’t want to get my hopes up during the process, so when it was all positive, I was in complete disbelief. Then naturally, there is a period of grieving that happens, as you’re so essential in the process, but there is no baby or family at the end of it. I’d only do it for a family member, as it’s crucial that I get to have Edie in my life, too. When people say, “you’re a mum,” I feel uncomfortable, almost allergic to the concept. I guess there’s a whole lot of emotional distance that begins immediately and continues for a while, maybe even forever. I feel a lot like an aunty to Edie, or even a big sister. It’s crazy how strong the nurture thing can be — she looks a lot like me, but she is so much like Briar and Mark. But sometimes, when she leans her weight on me, when she’s relaxed or balancing whilst drawing, I feel a strong maternal feeling, like her body could just continue into mine without any separation between us. That’s a lovely feeling because it’s very rare and fleeting.
Liza Adams and Mike O’keeffe with Whakatau and Chay.
Elisa Rivera and Dan O’neill with Milo, aged one.
Briar Mccormack and husband Mark Crysell did seven rounds of IVF before conceiving daughter Edie with the help of an egg donor — Briar’s sister, Imogen.
Briar Mccormack and Mark Crysell with daughter Edie.