Monday, July 20, 2015

Struggling to Fall Pregnant?

I wanted to write this post because when I was trying unsuccessfully to fall pregnant, I ended up scouring the internet for ANYTHING that may have given me a clue, a glimmer of hope. 

Skip to the bottom line, end result, whatever you wish to call it.

The sum total of my pregnancies sound like a dream: 
  • pregnant after our first attempt with IVF 
  • fell pregnant naturally with my second 
  • both pregnancies I wasn't sick 
  • both pregnancies I craved chocolate
True Story.  

Does it get much better?

The truth of the matter is, in the grand scheme of things, I was VERY lucky.  And I know that. There were however a lot of other lines that could have been written in between those ones above.

When I decided to begin this blog, one of the things I dearly wanted to impart were positive 'secrets' if you will.  Exactly as I say - things that shouldn't be kept to ourselves. If there is one woman out there struggling with her own pregnancy journey and this post can help, then it has served its purpose.

Every woman has her own pregnancy story.  

The reality is, whatever it took, however long it took, pregnancy and childbirth truly is a miracle.  To this day, the whole concept still amazes me to the point where I feel there needs to be a bigger word than 'miracle' to describe it.  

My husband and I were in our late 30's and tried for 14 months to fall pregnant ourselves with our first child.  I realise that this is not a long time at all.  My heart breaks when I hear of couples who try for years, or who go through so many cycles of IVF, and I am in awe at their tenacity.  

I honestly don't know that I could have done the same.

The 14 months we tried for felt like 14 years.  If you are trying now and struggling, you will understand what I mean.  The whole thing became like a scientific experiment rather than an exciting adventure.

Six months prior to us ever starting to try for a family, I was involved in a head on car accident. My car was a write-off. And apparently I was a broken toy as well!  I had various injuries and a few interesting breaks.  The physical and mental toll was bigger than I had thought. You know you have that mentality of 'getting straight back on the horse'? That was how I felt. My body had other ideas.  It still amazes me just how the body can respond both positively and negatively, in situations like that.

For those who like alternative therapies, as I do, you will be interested in the following.   I was recommended to a reflexologist who was incredible. He does a lot of work with the labour ward at St George Hospital in Sydney, helping women in labour.  He helps their babies to turn if they are breech or could be better positioned for birth, can bring on labour if required, his stories are amazing!  I figured if he could help at that end of a pregnancy, then maybe he could help me at the starting blocks!  I saw him for 10 sessions. Wow!  

In relation to my body, I learned:-
  • if your spleen is damaged in anyway, you will find it difficult to conceive
  • pressure points coinciding with the reproductive system are found in your ankle region
  • nerves attached to the uterus are found in your lumbar spine.  Any damage to these will also make conception difficult
  • if your pelvis is out, your body will find it difficult to carry a pregnancy so may well prevent one!
Who knew?

As I said, I had sustained various injuries and a few interesting breaks making all of the above applicable to me.

So how did we end up doing IVF? 

Unfortunately, I still wasn't falling pregnant.  My GP referred me on to a gynecologist/obstetrician who also happened to be an IVF doctor.  I recorded my temperature on a flow chart for three months.  It then took him the time it takes to flick 3 pieces of paper to say "have sex on days 10 and 12". Really. You got that in 4 seconds?  I was 38.  I knew my body (I thought quite well) and even I couldn't figure that out!  I had tried everything under the sun. Ev-ery-thing! I thought I should have been able to get this. When I asked how he knew that so quickly, it was the same answer as the one he gave me when I asked how he could tell what were legs and shoulders in my pregnant belly - "because I've been doing this for 35 years and that's why you pay me the big bucks!" Well, I'd been doing my body for 38 years and seemingly still didn't know it! Sometimes it just takes another perspective.  And clearly an educated one!

I've heard women say over the years that there is one other man that a woman will fall in love with besides her partner, and that is her obstetrician.  It's true.  He walked me through such a personal journey and treated me like I was the only patient on his books. He was witty, laid back, loved yoga and wore animal print frames on his glasses.  
I asked once if he ever panicked in a situation.  He said he didn't because it doesn't serve anyone. I believed him. I liked his sarcasm (refer "big bucks" comment above).  But nothing outweighed his expertise.  He knew his stuff completely and I felt completely safe in his hands.  I cried the day I found out he retired. We weren't planning more children. But the journey shared with him was personal and for a female, quite intimate. I wasn't in the habit of showing and revealing 'those parts' to just anyone! He was so instrumental in making our dream come true. 

I digress.  Back to the story.

After 3 months of sex on days 10 and 12, (and a few others thrown in for good measure!) we still weren't pregnant.  I would cry when I got my period.  On one occasion I sat on the stairs and just sobbed.  I caught my reflection in a mirror and instantly just felt like I had failed.  My body had failed us in our quest to become a family.  It was gut wrenching.  I will never forget that feeling.  

My doctor was about to prescribe fertility tablets for me to take, when he stopped, looked at me and asked if I thought I was still traumatised by the accident.  Absolutely I was.  It was all he could put my 'not falling pregnant' down to.  He said he could do investigative surgery, put me on fertility drugs etc but in his experience there was no physical reason as to why I would be infertile and why I was therefore not pregnant.  He believed my body was still traumatised and, based on the fight or flight response, was protecting itself whilst ever it still felt vulnerable and in need of further repair. He suggested that subconsciously my body was deciding every month that it was better for me to just look after myself rather than add another factor into the equation by way of a pregnancy.  He further suggested we skip past fertility drugs and move straight to IVF. When I asked how he thought it would work if my body was deciding not to allow a pregnancy, he simply stated that by doing IVF we would be by-passing the decision making process of my body and making the decision for it.  The idea being that once my body had an embryo inside it, it would know what to do and we would capitalise on it being in 'protection' mode.  The plan worked.  

The next piece of important advice I received, and acted upon, was the suggestion from my doctor to commence acupuncture.

The results of acupuncture combined with IVF treatment speak for themselves. It is the reason why now most, if not all, IVF clinics will request that you have acupuncture treatment prior to an embryo transfer and follow up treatment afterwards.

I had been given the details of an acupuncturist at Miranda (in the Sutherland Shire) - Michelle Craven at Living Health Care.  We lived at Alexandria at the time so it could have been considered quite a journey to take once to twice per week, but I would have travelled to Darwin once a week at this point if it was going to bring us our much desired baby.  

Michelle ran the statistics:-
  • you have 22% chance of falling pregnant naturally every month
  • +40% chance of falling pregnant on IVF
  • 67% chance of falling pregnant on IVF whilst doing acupuncture treatment
I asked Michelle in my ever most delicate way what her 'hit rate' was!  Modestly, she answered that if clients had an embryo transfer when she believed their body was balanced enough, she had a 100% hit rate.  

My body began responding to acupuncture after my first treatment.  I was amazed.  My husband thought it was a whole lot of rubbish at the time. He thought we would be the ones to screw up Michelle's 100% hit rate!  He is of a VERY different opinion now.  I was seeing Michelle as regularly as she could fit me in, which was once every one to two weeks.  Michelle put me on to the worst tasting herbs ever but again, I would have eaten dirt to make this work!  I was willing to do whatever it took to get pregnant.  See?  It becomes an obsession of sorts doesn't it?  

I did the necessary needles, had all the scans and blood tests associated with IVF treatment.  When the time came for egg retrieval, we had 11 eggs retrieved, and 3 healthy eggs fertilised to the standard that the embryologist was happy with.  I cannot speak for all IVF clinics, only the one we were with, but their standards were high!  In speaking with the embryologist (gosh they are passionate about what they do - they are INCREDIBLE!) she said they are in the business of making babies, not disappointing couples with a failed pregnancy attempt. Hence the standards. I liked their way of thinking.  

My doctor was pleasantly surprised at the amount of eggs retrieved (for my age) - that was the herbs working.  But wait, there's more....

So as you know by now, the one embryo we had transferred, took.  Michelle, the acupuncturist, had me place an acupuncture needle in the crown of my head (do not try this at home - you need the exact spot!) in order to make my uterus hold the pregnancy. I did this daily for the first 12 weeks.  I literally looked like a martian, but by now you know the deal about me willing to do anything.  I was finally pregnant.  I was not about to stuff it all by worrying about what people thought of a needle in my head!  My confirmed pregnancy test came back so strong that both the IVF clinic and my doctor suggested it could be that my one embryo had split to identical twins.  It was 4 times the required levels!  When I spoke with Michelle about this, she laughed and said it was the herbs. That is how powerful they are and hence why she was intent on me taking them. My embryo was one healthy little tacker. 

Roll on 9 months.  As I said, I had the best pregnancy ever.  I was not sick because my body was balanced from the acupuncture.  Seriously, you have GOT to try this!  After 12 weeks, my treatments moved to monthly.  I had a treatment with Michelle at 38.5 weeks to help prepare me and our baby for the birth.  He was prepared alright. I went into labour very early the following morning delivering a very healthy baby boy.  Apgar scores reading like his current school report!

Our son was two days old when I made mention to my husband that I could not wait to be pregnant again.  Be careful what you wish for!

I visited Michelle again about a month after having our son just to re-balance my hormones and my body.  I fell pregnant again naturally with our second son just two weeks after that.  We did not plan to fall pregnant.  Even my doctor had said at my 6 week check up that we would commence IVF again in 12 - 18 months. I had asked about contraception but he laughed and said I had needed help with my first pregnancy, what made me think I wasn't going to need help with subsequent pregnancies!  Neither of us knew at the time I was indeed already pregnant.  But when I re-appeared in his rooms 4 weeks after that, he just looked at me and said "'re back."

By no stretch am I endorsing pregnancies so close together.  My body had clearly gotten over its trauma, for falling pregnant anyway.  Sometimes I think the body just needs a helping hand to realise it is capable of doing what it has been designed to do.

In sharing my story I hope that it might help a woman currently struggling to fall pregnant and looking everywhere for answers.  I was there.  And it hurts in countless ways.  I'm not saying these are the answers, just that I found mine in reflexology, acupuncture and a damn good IVF doctor and clinic.  

It can be a tough road.  Tougher than anyone can imagine because each of our stories and journeys are different.  I personally wish you well on your journey towards parenthood.  I hope you find your answers, but more importantly, hope you get the little bundle you are dreaming for.