Maybe baby: An IVF journey
NOT being able to have children - when it is all you want, more than anything in the world - is a dark and devastating place.
It consumes you; it is all you can think about, you look at other people and think, "why can they have children and I can't?", you start questioning if there is a reason you can't fall pregnant, some divine intervention suggesting you're not fit to be a parent.
The thoughts during this time are dark, disturbing and unhealthy.
I know. I have been there.
For three years my husband and I did round after round of IVF and embryo transfers.
Having had a vasectomy before I met him, we saw all the required specialists first who advised us IVF was our best chance.
Many people underestimate the finality of a vasectomy, being told by "ads" that it is easily reversible should you change your mind.
It is reversible but what many don't realise is that the chances of it successfully reversing after a few years greatly diminishes.
Further, as sperm is produced what the body considers "outside", when a man who has had a vasectomy starts producing sperm again the body releases antibodies to attack and kill it.
In most cases, the only step from here is to wash the sperm and go through IVF anyway.
This can be a costly procedure for those who have paid the $8000 plus for the reversal and then have to go through IVF after all that.
So as advised, we went straight to IVF.
Being 27, I was told I was at a peak fertility age. I was naive. I believed it would happen straight away. I went out and bought a cot.
So when I fell pregnant and then lost, a few days later, the first embryo transferred, I was a mess.
And then with each subsequent embryo transfer after that - we had five in total - I became more and more depressed.
I would read stories in the news of people abusing their children and think, "why do people like that get to have children and I don't?"
During this dark period I couldn't even look at pregnant ladies.
Worse yet, some friends of ours were doing IVF at the same time and they fell pregnant straight away.
I'm not sure who this was hardest for.
The happiest time in their life and it was marred because they were concerned about us. I tried my hardest to be happy for them. But I was hurting so much. It was very hard.
By this stage we had spent almost $20,000 on IVF. But the emotional toll was even more.
A few weeks before we had our last two embryos transferred, we were visiting family in central NSW when my husband bumped into an old friend from school.
We went over for a barbeque and it slipped out they were on a break in between rounds of IVF too.
They told us about an IVF clinic in Sydney called Westmead Fertility Centre. Their philosophy is to "make fertility treatment accessible to all patients".
Having never heard of it, the minute I got the negative pregnancy test result on our last embryo transfer I called them up.
Within a few weeks we had conducted the consult over the phone with the gynecologist, visited the clinic to pick up the medications and were embarking on another round of IVF.
But this round was different. Our out-of-pocket expenses were $900, as opposed to the $7500 we forked out for our first round of IVF.
Because we live in Queensland, during the cycle I had to return to the clinic we used the first time to have the required scans.
It was during one of these visits that I told the owner of the clinic about Westmead.
They said no clinic could possibly take embryos to blastocyst for that cost. Blastocyst is where the embryos are cultured in a lab to the blastocyst stage of development (five days after fertilization) before being transferred back into the womb.
I assured them it did.
Interestingly, that clinic, not long after, started offering more affordable IVF solutions. I have always wondered if it was because of what I told them
But there were other differences too, from the way Westmead handled the cycle to harvesting the eggs to transferring the embryo. They are the leaders in IVF in Australia, and it is easy to see why.
There were also one big difference in me. I wasn't stressed.
I felt I was in the best hands at Westmead and knew if the IVF cycle didn't work, the most we had lost was $900 and some time.
And we could afford to do another round if it didn't work. I didn't feel like this during our first round of IVF and embryo transfers.
After I had my egg pick up they took all six to blastocyst.
From this six we were left with one they called a mega-blastocyst. Essentially, when the cells divide after fertilization, the cells in this embryo had divided 150 times.
So confident was the doctor that when the transfer took place, he patted me on the knee and said, "see you in nine months."
Since then I have experienced two of the most amazing, important and significant days of my life.
One: when I found out I was pregnant.
Two: when my beautiful, beautiful son was born.
So why am I telling you all this?
I want to spread the word of Westmead.
As APN Australian Regional Media's social media editor I often see Facebook posts about people struggling to afford IVF and on some occasions I have reached out to them personally to tell them about Westmead.
But the more people I can tell the better.
There are other affordable options out there. Don't give up.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Since this was first published, I had another successful IVF cycle with Westmead Fertility Centre and on December 22, 2015 welcomed my second little miracle, a beautiful daughter, into the world.
Alexia Purcell is APN Australian Regional Media's social media editor.