My story began in January 2014. It was the night of my 30th birthday party when I finally broke down and told my mother that my husband and I had been trying to conceive for almost two years.
I had just learned that the sister of a friend was pregnant for the third time. It was fantastic news – for her – and I was happy for her somewhere inside me but all I could think about was me.
My husband and I married in October 2011. It was an amazing wedding – exactly as we had wanted – under the stars in my parents’ backyard. A party more than anything else. We had been talking about having kids from about six months into our relationship. We both knew it was our plan for the future and my husband even mentioned it in his wedding vows.
I had decided, foolishly it now seems, that I wanted to have at least one child by the time I was 30. I was 27 when we got married, almost 28 so it seemed very doable during our naive late-night talks when we were planning our life.
We officially started trying to conceive in March 2012. We went to my GP, asked if there was anything special we should do, any tests we should have etc and were given the green light to go forth and procreate!
The first time you have sex thinking “wow, we could be making a baby” is exciting and scary. It goes against how you’ve been having sex your whole adult life. Unfortunately, those feelings of excitement go away and are replaced with feelings of frustration and despair.
At almost the same time, hubby accepted a job back in our hometown and was living with my parents until I found a job as well. I had some unfinished work projects in the country I wanted to see out. This obviously didn’t help our baby-making efforts, only seeing each other on the weekends. Every month was a roll of the dice to see if Saturday and Sunday would align with a “good time” on the conception calendar. It rarely did.
It was a frustrating six months, not just living apart, but knowing we only had one opportunity per month and would have to wait another four weeks to try.
It only took six months for the sex to become a “have to do” rather than a “want to do”. It obviously didn’t help our relationship.
Finally, I moved down to be with hubby in September 2012 and we expected things to start happening. After all, sex was now on tap, so to speak, so there should have been no impediment to us falling pregnant.
We gave it another six months and my 29th birthday ticked over. It was starting to worry me and I confided in hubby that I had long suspected that I couldn’t get pregnant. This was based solely on the amount of sex I’d had in my lifetime that had been unprotected. By rights, I felt sure I should have been pregnant at least once as a teenager. We put it down to bad timing.
Maybe it was denial but in February 2013, we decided to go to Africa in July to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, my lifelong dream. We knew it would delay our baby plans by at least six months, but decided at least I could still get pregnant when we got back and I would at least have a bump by my 30th birthday. We thought we had so much control.
We went to Africa and after waiting a month for the anti-malarial meds to clear my system, we started trying again. This time we got serious and started using those ovulation test kits that detect your LH surge. These tests seemed effective and I “surged” as described on those folded instructions followed by the promised baby-making sex. Still no double line.
Meanwhile, I should mention that about this time the pregnancy announcements began to drop like thunderstorms during summer. First one, then another. All from women who had been trying for about the same time as us or less. It was beyond frustrating. Every period would bring a fresh bout of tears and fears.
My fear that I was that alarming statistic, that one in three women who will have trouble conceiving, seemed to fit. It was a feeling I had from the beginning and it never went away. The laws of attraction would suggest I brought this on myself.
I had told very few people we were trying and even fewer about my fears. I told my older sister, one blubbering night after a friend had a termination. I had never mentioned it to my mum. She and dad dropped hints occasionally about wanting grandkids but that was all.
One evening in late 2013, I was on a girls’ night and a drunken friend let drop that she had been pregnant more than a dozen times. She got pregnant even while on the pill. I couldn’t help it and let my sadness show and she noticed. I told her. She urged me to see a doctor and find out what was going on. I refused saying I didn’t want to know and that was entirely true at the time. I didn’t want to know. If it was me, would hubby stay? If it was hubby, would I stay? I didn’t want to find out the answers to these questions.
Then came my 30th birthday in January 2014. My naive plan of having one child before I was 30 was dead. My plan of being pregnant before I was 30 was dead. I was no closer than I had been almost two years earlier when we started. I was frustrated and tired and emotionally wrecked. Learning about my friend’s sister was my tipping point. I was also drunk which didn’t help.
I broke down and told my mum. The first thing she said was “has a doctor told you that you can’t get pregnant?”. When I said no, she sighed, this huge audible sigh of relief, that said “if a doctor hasn’t told you, this is just drunk you talking and everything will be OK”.
A month later, hubby and I bit the bullet and went to see our GP. He ordered some blood tests for both of us and hubby had to provide a sperm sample. It was a very long three days waiting for those results.
When we met with our GP, short on charm and bedside manner, he looked at me and said “you’re OK, everything is normal. He is not”. He didn’t even look at hubby while he told us that his sperm count was very low, his motility was poor and morphology was high. Basically, the trifecta of bad sperm. He recommended hubby provide another sample in three months to make sure it wasn’t just an infection or something. He also offered a referral to an IVF doctor in Newcastle.
Not wanting to wait another three months, we accepted the referral.
When we got outside into the car park, hubby asked “do you hate me now?”.
“No,” I said but I wasn’t sure if that was true.
He went to work and I went to work but I couldn’t think straight. I came home and jumped online to google those mysterious words “morphology” and “motility”. The doctor hadn’t explained them well. I had the test results and I wanted to know what they meant.
It was not good. Where the average sperm count is between 20 million and 200 million, hubby had 2 million. Still sounds like a lot but his morphology was 96% which means 96% of the 2 million were malformed. And of the 2 million something like 70% didn’t swim, being poor motility. So, there weren’t many of them, the ones he had were malformed and didn’t swim.
But being the analytical being I am in times of crisis, I wanted to know what that meant for us. Did it mean pregnancy was impossible? Did it mean IVF?
IVF. We had spoken about it already. Neither of us were keen. In fact, I think I downright said I wouldn’t do it. I had heard it was invasive, stressful, emotional not to mention expensive. I had decided that if my body couldn’t conceive naturally it wasn’t meant to be. Funny how things change.
My research led me to believe that an IVF process using ICSI would be our only option. ICSI is when poor sperm quality means they select one single sperm and insert it directly into the egg rather than let a million of so sperm battle it out in a petri dish.
Armed with this information, when hubby came home that night, I explained what I had learned. He was devastated. I had had all day to come to terms with what his test results meant but it was like hearing them anew for him. He felt like his masculinity had been stripped away. It was a sad night for us.
Meanwhile that same day I had made an appointment to see the IVF specialist in Newcastle. The earliest appointment was a month away so we had a long four weeks ahead.
As it turned out it was four weeks we needed. It gave us time to talk about how we felt about IVF. Our biggest concern with ICSI was the slight increase in likelihood of having a baby with foetal abnormalities. Because the single sperm injected is selected by a human scientist, it takes out any sort of natural selection process – survival of the fittest and all that. We were concerned about that because while we take our hat off to those parents with children with disabilities, we knew we would not be able to do it. We would choose to terminate.
When we finally met with the IVF specialist in March 2014, it had been two years since we started trying.
She looked at our results and came to the same conclusion that I had: that ICSI would be the best option given the sperm quality. However, I requested a second round of more thorough testing to be sure I was not also a factor. The only tests I had had to date was some hormone and blood work. We all agreed that was a good plan and she ordered the tests.
Four vials of blood from me, an ultrasound and an internal ultrasound and more sperm and blood tests for hubby and a month later we were back in her office.
His sperm was the same as last time, if not a little worse even. My results were excellent. All my hormone levels were normal. My ovarian reserve was at the top of the range for my age group and my ultrasounds had detected no cysts or abnormalities. So naturally but extremely unfairly, I blamed our situation on hubby.
It was a devastating blow and again our doctor put the option of ICSI on the table. She’d informed us that the risk of foetal abnormality was slightly higher but still very low and in fact the risk was higher for women put on Clomid, a drug to induce ovulation.
Convinced but not happy, we took away the consent forms to think on it. It was now up to us to decide if and when we wanted to start treatment. If we wanted a child, this was it. It had been two years and countless tears. This was the way forward.
We were wrong.