My Fertility Journey - Jess Riches

A diagnosis of unexplained infertility is made when a woman or couple has been unsuccessfully trying for a baby for 12 months or more and all common causes of infertility in both partners have been ruled out. While it’s not clear how many Australians experience unexplained infertility, it is estimated to affect somewhere between 8 and 28% of infertile couples worldwide* - (www.newlifeivf.com.au)

As I sit down to write this, my 12 week old son is teetering dangerously on the edge of absolutely stoked to be with his animal ‘friends’ (playmat toys) and bitterly disappointed that I have found something other to do than make him eat his own feet. 

Let’s see how far I get before I have to pause writing. It could be 20 minutes, it could be 16.5 days before I can return. 

After 5 years of a cyclic flood of tears and heartache every 28 days, an intense 26-day round of IVF ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection), a blessed 40(+1) week pregnancy and a fairly smooth 8 week recovery from a chaotic 2 hour labour, I have the distinct pleasure of listening to my baby boy mildly complain about the challenges of learning to grab and hold. 

If you’re reading this looking for an honest and hopeful account of unexplained Infertility, some relatable or interesting information about IVF treatments and a happy outcome, I am pleased to tell you that it’s exactly what you’ll get. 

My son, Bodhi, just turned 12 weeks old on Tuesday. He is the absolute joy of my days and growing and birthing him has been the great honour of my life. 

He doesn’t know it yet, but my Journey with Bodhi started in 2016 - 6 years ago - when my Husband I decided to start ‘trying’ to have a baby together.  By ‘start trying’ I mean, of course, throwing caution to the wind for the come-what-may baby we were so sure would bless us shortly after. 

An entire 12 months later and still no baby. My husband is already a father so we knew that he wasn’t an issue. Assuming I was the reason we hadn’t yet celebrated nervously over two little pink lines, I headed to the Women’s Health Clinic to ask about infertility - ugh. Terrified of the word itself, I was half expecting her to take one look at me, tell me I was barren and laugh me out of the room. Still, I wanted all the tests and bother so we could get down to whatever was going to get me my baby. 

Anyway, I was laughed out of the room and sent on my way (not really, the Doctor was very professional actually. Cold, but professional. I just have a very sensitive heart). She told me that it had ‘only’ been 12 months and really, that meant we had only tried 12 times.

After a condescending [completely unnecessary] warning about fetal alcohol syndrome that went for longer than the discussion regarding my fertility did (because I had the ridiculous idea to be honest about the wine I enjoyed during many a child-free, adult nights), I headed home trying to convince myself and my Husband that what I had been told was reassuring.


Fast forward through 3 and a bit years of crying over negative tests, arguments (born from heartache and a feeling of inadequacy on both sides of the marriage, naturally), a few ‘maybe I don’t even want kids. Maybe I want to be the tipsy Aunt with fabulous earrings who gets the kids the expenny gifts every christmas’ [lie] conversations over the earlier referenced wine I love so much and we finally decided to take a more professional route in our (in)fertility journey. 

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Pause. Bodhi has finally done the poo we’ve been waiting for. It was a smelly monster of a puddle which caused my husband to jar his neck (somehow?) pulling back from the smell. They’re now in the shower, both recovering. 

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The Doctor (Gynecologist, Obstetrician, Fertility Specialist) - We’ll call her Tabitha - was great; professional, knowledgeable and highly recommended. Yes, I absolutely wish I had cut straight to this step after 12 months. 


Tabitha ordered a plethora of tests for both of our baby making parts. For my Husband, it was swimmers and bloods (standard disease and general health checks) and for me a huge range of intense sounding tests, for example:

  • FSH - Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • luteinizing hormone (LH), 
  • Prolactin 
  • Progesterone (P4)
  • And some others I honestly cannot even recall and never pretended to understand 

I remember learning what ‘AMH’ meant because the Pathologist who took my blood told me about her own AMH tests when she was planning a family when she was a bit younger. What started as intrigue and relief that it was totally normal to get these tests done and need fertility support as a younger woman (Fertility trouble isn’t just for older, wealthy, single women with high flying corporate careers and sleek black pencil skirts like we see in the movies, you know) quickly turned to dread when she went on to finish her story. 


When she was “only a few years older” than me, her AMH levels were so low that she had no hope of ever conceiving with her own eggs because it meant her ovarian reserve was essentially non-existent. With a heavy and thoughtful sigh she said “Oh well, I just missed my window. Hopefully you don’t”. It made me feel sad for her, for me, for the years I had already invested in having my own baby and the years I started to think I would have to spend accepting I would never meet them.  A truly uninspiring [read: depressing] encounter, lovely as she was. 


Tests come back and Tabitha informs us we passed everything with flying colours and there is no medical reason we shouldn't have a baby. Even the internal she performed (in front of my husband - a new space for our Marriage to exist in but over this process quickly became our new normal) showed signs of a fabulous ovulation taking place. 

So… great, right? 


Actually, I cried in Tabitha’s office and asked “so what the fuck is wrong, then?”. I don’t think dropping the F Bomb is Tabitha's normal office mood so the room suddenly became heavy and uncomfortable. 


Maybe you can relate to my pain: I wanted something to show up. I wanted the tests to point to the X on the map and to be able to say “ah. There’s the problem. You’ve been going East all this time when the treasure was actually West. A simple course correction and you’ll be there in no time”. I wanted to find a problem we could solve. When none showed up, I was in the same position I was before, only several hundred dollars worse off and more time spent I couldn’t get back.   


Tabitha was unmoved, straight faced and to the point: “Nothing is wrong, medically. You are about to ovulate so go home and have a fun weekend (aka have lots of s-e-x, like we hadn't thought of that before). You qualify for IVF physically so if the weekend doesn’t work, you can give IVF a go”. End of. 


We decided not to continue to see Tabitha. Professional as she was, she came across a little lukewarm and direct which for some, is perfect. For me?  Given my earlier mentioned tender, sensitive heart, I needed someone a little warmer, sunnier. 


Also… and this is a little embarrassing; I first-named the Doctor to the Receptionist, calling her Tabitha. She corrected me, saying “You mean Dr. Lastname? I’ve worked here for 6 years and don’t presume to refer to her by her first name like that”. Naturally, I could never show my face there again. That was in 2019. 


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Pause. Quick rendition of ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ and I'll be right back. 

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So here we are halfway through 2019. Two perfectly ‘fertile’ bodies, a whole lot of love and no baby. IVF became the logical route. We explored adoption, of course. The year prior, a total of 9 children were adopted in Queensland. Uninspiring but a pathway we had up our sleeves if the desire to have a child in our home persisted beyond an unsuccessful IVF round.  


We decided 2020 would be our year - LOL, didn’t we all. 2020 happened (or didn't) and still, we were no closer to our baby. Yes we tried all the traditional prescriptions (filed under; Advice no infertile couple wants to hear)…stress less, relax and enjoy this part of babies because it only gets harder (har har har), stop drinking altogether, exercise more, exercise less, eat fish, no- not that kind of fish, stop trying, go on holiday… The thing is, none of these things addressed the issue: Unexplained Infertility. I even took a few supplements and vitamins, including Vivalex Reproductive Blend and though I know it’s silly and petulant, truthfully, I cracked it and gave up taking them after 2 months when I still didn’t fall pregnant. 2 months is a surprisingly long time when you know you’re losing eggs you’ll never get back.


In mid 2020, I found another Fertility Specialist - Dr M (also now terrified of making the first name mistake again). She was booked heavily in advance and the wait for our appointment with her was like watching a single raindrop fill a pool - excruciating. If only I knew what waiting pains lay ahead of me! 


October finally arrived and we had our appointment with Dr M. We took all our test results and our hopeful hearts to Dr M’s office and asked her to schedule a round of IVF for us with the clinic we had chosen. She was all business but a sunny delight. She addressed some of my emotional stressors, offered kind words and a warm smile when it was needed but not asked for and the best part - she booked us. 


I was booked to start my hormone treatments in January 2021 (giving us a lovely opportunity to round the year out together and celebrate my mid-Jan birthday in glorious child-free fashion; hidden away in a cabin on a hill in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland with only wine, books and soft cheese. 


I started taking my last month of Vivalex reproductive Blend as well as Vitamin D (Dr. approved) roughly 30 days before what would be my egg pick-up (collection) date. The Viavlex was my choice after my research led me there and Vitamin D was the only recommendation from my Dr.  With a clearer head thanks to having a plan I realised that I had bought Vivalex to improve and support the quality of my eggs - what better way can I try to support my IVF journey than producing healthy little eggs for the scientists to whizz up with the rest of the ingredients?  


Fast forward through the entire shemozzle that was the hormone treatment - another story for another day. 


On egg pick up day, I laid on the bed in the clinic [awake] listening to the scientist call to the quality and usability of my eggs as they were extracted, the Nurse [actual angel] confirm with me they were usable and the Doctor talked through what he was doing as I watched on the screen (and sweated through the incredible pain). At that moment I was so, so glad I kept that month of Vivalex and stuck to taking it - I felt I had really done what I could to support my IVF round. 


I ended up producing 7 eggs; 6 being healthy, happy little eggies and 1 being a bit of a slower horse compared with the rest but still a strong contender. A dream result! 


In the end, 6 little eggs were given the ICSI treatment (where one single sperm is injected directly into the egg, bypassing the egg selecting the sperm herself but also greatly minimising the barriers he may meet when trying to fertilise the egg). One of my darling eggs didn’t survive ICSI but a whopping 5/6 eggs successfully fertilised! For those of you who dont know the ins and outs of IVF, all but one egg fertilising is a huge success as all through the process of IVF the numbers are generally stacked against you - and as each stage goes by, it is expected your percentage drops a few figures. 


All 5 of our little egg-babies turned into viable embryos and one of them was transferred fresh and directly into my uterus on February 18, 2021. It was our incredibly good fortune to experience a positive round of IVF ICSI. Exactly 14 days later onMarch 4, 2021, we got our two little pink lines and later that day, the confirmation call from our Nurse. I was pregnant. 


What began as little ‘embie’ grew into the light of my days, also known as Bodhi. I was again fortunate enough to experience a healthy and very typical pregnancy, birthing Bodhi at 40+1 and now listening to him cry at his [patient, incredible, loving] Daddy because he wants me to finish up and get on with feeding him.


I’ll leave you with this: if you’re experiencing troubles conceiving, suspect something might be wrong or simply want to learn more about how it is that we get pregnant, what assistance may be needed and why, get it. Get it now and don’t let anyone tell you to go home and waste more of your precious time wondering.  Ask for help, get the tests, learn the reproductive system and tell fertile people to keep their [usually lousy but loving] advice to themselves. 


There was a time I thought I may never get to experience motherhood for myself and would forever be the tipsy [fun] Auntie and Big Sister with a slightly sad story she tells over a voddy and soda in her fabulous but child-free home (there being nothing wrong with this life at all, of course, if you had chosen it). Today I’m pushing to finish an article before my baby grows tired of his loving but desperate daddy keeping him busy by making him eat his own feet.



*Gelbaya TA, Potdar N, Jeve YB, Nardo LG. Definition and epidemiology of unexplained infertility. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2014;69(2):109‐115. doi:10.1097/OGX.0000000000000043 ↩︎

 

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