SHARE THE IVF JOUR­NEY

How to care for your­self and oth­ers while await­ing a mir­a­cle

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

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.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY RALPH BROWN

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.

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