Against all odds
“NEVER GIVE UP!” This is the message Katya Pappalardo, 44, from Johannesburg, wants to say to women struggling to fall pregnant. Becoming a mother wasn’t an easy journey for Katya, but today she’s the doting mom of four-year-old Samantha and baby Neve, who was born in March this year. “My primary school motto was ‘Yield Not’ and it has always been the way I’ve lived my life,” says Katya, who believes this approach remained her guiding light during years of struggling with infertility. As a former beauty queen and fitness model, Katya was the picture of health and fitness for most of her life. Nobody could have foreseen the struggles she would endure trying to fall pregnant. DISCOURAGING NEWS “When I got engaged in 2010, I knew I wanted to start a family right away,” Katya recalls. She was 36 at the time and decided to visit a fertility clinic to rule out any complications. “I knew all about declining fertility with age, and had suffered from endometriosis and fibroids (benign tumours in the uterus), which meant I had to start my fertility treatment with a laparoscopy to clear my uterus,” Katya says. “The doctor at the fertility clinic wanted us to try falling pregnant naturally for six months, but it didn’t work.” In a misguided attempt to be funny, her doctor told her that her ovaries looked like “shrivelled prunes”. “This is not something you want to hear when you’re desperate to become a mother,” Katya says. “The doctor also said that although I didn’t look my age, my eggs did. I have incredibly low Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH), which is the key reason why doctors said I’d never fall pregnant naturally.” AMH is one of the most accurate tests to assess a woman’s ovarian reserve. Low AMH is an indicator of diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), or a decline in the ovaries’ ability to produce good-quality eggs, and is one of the major causes of infertility in women. AMH levels decline as women age.
A BIG GIFT Katya started with in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments in January 2011. “My first failed IVF results came out the week my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died within a week, so I was a total mess and we abandoned our mission.” After building up the courage to attempt falling pregnant again, Katya and her husband visited another fertility clinic. “But, we went through two more IVFs, comprising a failed implantation and the second batch of embryos not even developing properly in the lab,” she says. “The doctor there told me I should consider getting an egg donor. I was disheartened and angry. I didn’t want to give up.” They returned to the first fertility clinic and one laparoscopy followed the next. Her uterus and fallopian tubes were checked for blockages (HSG) and the common IVF protocol (involving selfinjecting one’s belly to stimulate follicle production), were carried out yet again. Despite all these attempts, Katya was still not pregnant. She began researching fertility voraciously and natural fertility methods struck a chord. “I put myself on various supplements and tried reflexology and acupuncture.” But it was not until undergoing the GIFT procedure that she finally fell pregnant with Samantha. GIFT, or Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer, is an early assisted reproductive technology technique used to achieve pregnancies in couples who have not been able to conceive using conventional treatments for infertility. Fertilisation happens naturally after the eggs and sperm are placed directly inside one of the fallopian tubes. Although she describes her pregnancy and little girl as a “miracle”, Katya’s fertility woes didn’t end after giving birth to Samantha. “After giving birth naturally I had to undergo a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to remove half of the placenta that wasn’t delivered naturally.” This led to the development of Asherman’s syndrome (the formation of scar tissue in the uterus) which would need to be laparoscopically removed before starting to attempt to conceive again. Katya was overjoyed to finally have the baby she had dreamed of for so long, but it took a while for her to bond with Samantha. “I found being a first-time mom overwhelming without having my mom to consult.” Today there’s an unbreakable bond between the bubbly four-year-old and her mommy. “After Sammy was born I remember telling a friend that I finally know my reason for existence!” A PROJECT OF PASSION Despite the hardships of her first experience with fertility treatments, Katya longed for a second baby. “So many people told me falling pregnant the second time could often be easier, but it wasn’t.” For three and a half years Katya and her husband did everything in their power to conceive another child. The couple spent thousands on GIFT and IVF treatments – both without success. “I longed to give my daughter a sister, because after my mother’s death I felt it wasn’t easy being an only child,” she says. The monthly discovery that she wasn’t pregnant deeply saddened her. “I remember telling my husband that it makes a woman feel inadequate when it seems so easy for everyone else to fall pregnant, but you can’t. He told me it didn’t matter, but it didn’t ease my sadness. It also didn’t stop Sammy from asking me every day where her baby sister was and why she was taking so long to arrive. I’m pretty frank with Sammy about everything, but this was a little too difficult to explain.” Katya describes herself as a realist with a belief in science, so she pushed on and did everything she could to boost her fertility. “I charted my basal body temperature for nearly two years; considered hypnosis; tried acupuncture again and spent thousands on vitamins and natural fertility supplements in the hope that something would change the quality of my eggs.” When she read about the benefits of having a clean, alkaline body, Katya discarded most of the medication she was taking and focussed on balancing her pH. It was actually an iridologist telling her that she had a toxic gut that started her cleanse. “Years later, my brother being diagnosed with prostate cancer inspired me to combine three antioxidants (one anti-cancer, and two pro-fertility) together with the pH-balancing base powder.” Katya thinks this made the difference to her health. A LITTLE MIRACLE “During this time a friend told me about the ferning kit, which I used for four months,” Katya recalls. Ferning kits, which are available at pharmacies, work by testing the salt content of the saliva – increased oestrogen levels lead to increased salt. When the salt content is high, your saliva dries in a fern pattern which can be seen under a microscope. She had charted her ovulation before, but Katya noticed that her charts showed her ovulation later than it actually was. “This led to us timing intercourse incorrectly, which obviously makes all the difference. I believe the ferning kit helped me to calculate my correct ovulation date and that it made all the difference.” When her gynaecologist told her she should make peace with not being able to have any more children, Katya became even more determined. “I told her to watch me and two months later I was pregnant with Neve!” Prior to falling pregnant, her motherin-law had taken her along to a Christian healer. “I have been agnostic for most of my life and it was totally out of character for me to go. Now I’m not sure what made the difference, but something did, because against all odds I fell pregnant naturally, and that’s why Neve is a miracle!” She did a pregnancy test while on holiday in Spain and little Sammy was there to watch both lines on the pregnancy test turn pink. “All the doctors were wrong. I believe I finally fell pregnant due to persistence, desire and a dose of divine intervention!” Her second pregnancy was not easy. “I was very sick and had terrible SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction) and excessive round ligament pain throughout. I also lost faith in my gynae, because she didn’t seem keen on natural birth, especially since at week 38, Neve was breech. Luckily, a friend’s midwife recommended a gentle and understanding doctor who helped turn Neve, and she was born naturally.” Samantha adores her baby sister and Katya couldn’t be happier, although she admits her life revolves around two little people these days, with little time for herself, her business or a social life. After all she has been through, Katya says she would love another child. “I adore every second of motherhood, because I have wanted this for so long.”
KATYA DID EVERYTHING SHE COULD TO BOOST HER FERTITLIY
Katya’s two adorbale daughters, Neve (left) and Samantha (right).