Fertility - Taking Control


This is an unusual topic for me to be writing about, but having heard the most amazing lady speak about this topic tonight I thought about how I could share what I had learnt with my friends and family.

I've had my own fertility battles. Craig and I had been married around 7 years before we started thinking about having a family - the old saying was true for us. We had just built a brand new family size house with a big mortgage, and bam! A new baby was on the way.

But before that, when I was about 24, I started putting on a lot of weight around my stomach which was weird because I was exercising a lot (the whole aerobics era, leotards knee warmers and all). I finally went to get it checked out and was hospitalised the same day, with a diagnosis of an overian cyst. 4kg later (yes! it was crazy big and I have the scar to prove it) and the news that they had to remove the left side of my reproductive organs. I  didn't think much about it at the time, you're young and it's not so important to you then. So life went on, and at 30, I fell pregnant with Bethany. Everything went well, and our lovely healthy happy baby girl arrived. I lost a lot of blood and had a tough time after the birth but didn't think much of it.

3 years later, and I was pregnant again with Benjamin. Early blood tests found a problem, and it was the scariest moment of our lives. Some of Bethany's blood had crossed over during the birth, and my blood had created antibodies (anti k and anti c if you are interested). Craig was sent for testing, and we found our blood types weren't compatible. Because of the antibodies that had been created in my blood, my body thought Ben was a problem, and was trying to get rid of him. We were told to expect the worst, which was so confronting. I went in for testing every week, and at 38 weeks he was born. Sure, he stayed in hospital for a while but overall, a nice healthy boy and things went well considering the dire warnings we had gotten from the doctors.

Bethany and Benjamin, 2015
7 years later, and we got another surprise - yes, pregnant again. This time, even though the messages had been so serious last time we thought that everything would be fine  - look at how things went with Ben after all. But by going local, we didn't know until it was too late that our new baby boy Jack was in serious trouble, and at 22 weeks was stillborn. It was the most horrible and saddest thing we have ever gone through as a family, and it took a long to recover from this. Any mum who has gone through a miscarriage or stillbirth will understand the desperation of trying to conceive again, but this didn't happen for us. We were the lucky ones, we have 2 beautiful healthy children. Some people don't even have this opportunity.

Tonight, Michelle Kwik from IVF Australia spoke at our Me Afterwork session about fertility, and she was probably the most interesting speaker I have heard for a long time. It was an up close and personal session with only around 10 people in the audience which meant there was lots of opportunities for questions. She was a very sympathetic and educated speaker, and talked about the increasing requirement for 'social' users of IVF services. Traditionally, IVF was used for people with medical reasons, such as cancer. The change in independent lifestyles has led to increased 'social' users. This is for women who are focused on their careers, or are traveling or just haven't found their life partner yet. They know that a family is something they want to have in the future, but it's just not the right time now for them. 
Me, Celeste and Dr Michelle Kwik (ivf.com.au) at the Me Afterwork session

Its funny,  but most people don't think about their fertility until it's not working for them. But businesses like IVF Australia can offer women more control over their life choices. The 3 most important things I learnt from the session tonight were:

1. Take a blood test to check your egg count. You organise this through your GP for $75, and they can see where you are with your eggs, and help you to make decisions about next steps.
2. If you are going to freeze your eggs, you need to do it before you are 38. That doesn't even seem that old to me, but you have to take ownership and do something about it before then so you have the best and healthiest eggs for when you want to take the next step and create a family.
3. Go to a session and learn more. Talk to doctors, and get educated about this. It's so important that you don't leave it to chance and hope for the best. You wouldn't do that with your career, why would you risk something so important? IVF Australia is having another info session in August at the Museum of Contemporary Art, check out their website for details. ivf.com.au

I didn't know that women's uteruses can keep working, well, forever! If you have great eggs, you could (theoretically) still be having babies a 90. Technology keeps improving so the method and quality of the eggs that are harvested and stored is so good they can last for many years. 

Typically, you would go through an IVF cycle to produce and collect eggs. This is the most expensive part, around $12,000 and if you don't have any medical reason, you will have to fund this yourself. Storage of your eggs is only around $500 per year. When you are ready to start your family, you would complete the IVF cycle, i.e. take your partners sperm and then have the embryo implanted. 

In Australia, we don't allow for people to be paid for egg or sperm donations which I think is a real shame, it can only be given as a gift. It's kind of like adoption. I once heard Deborah Lee Furness speak about adoption, and it really impacted on me.  There are lots of children in other countries without families (think about war, or under developed countries) and lots of Australian parents who can't have children. You would think this would be a match made in heaven, but our red tape prevents us from becoming a nation that will provide for some of these orphans. How sad.

Around 1 in 6 children in Australia are now IVF babies. That's a lot. For me, when I heard Michelle speak, I thought about cousins and friends who are in their mid to late thirties, and I wanted to tell them to act now, take control! Someone said to me, we learn at school how NOT to have babies, but who educates us later in life about how to make sure we CAN have them, when it suits us. That would be a great policy to advocate if you were the Minister for Women, but in the meantime, let's tell other women. Share your learnings with your friends and family so they can make responsible and informed choices about their lives. Love them enough to let them make the best decisions. Talk about this, and make it less of a taboo topic. There is no shame in having fertility issues, and you would be surprised at how many friends in your social groups are experiencing some element of this themselves, silently. And most of all, act before it's too late.

This is an unsponsored post, I just felt compelled to let other women know that there are always choices. Feel free to share if you can think of someone who would benefit from knowing this. Laurel xx


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