Down with one!

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…or not!

It is incredibly hard for me to write some of these posts and not just because of the what they are about.  I am not sure if any of you have picked up on this but what I have shared so far only happened in that first week of finding out – that was about 6 weeks ago.

As you can imagine a lot has changed since then but also a lot has not.  So many important things happened during that first week and I feel that I need to explain them properly for others to fully understand my story and decisions.  However it is unbelievably hard to write them now, looking back, as what I know now and feel has changed or stayed the same or I am no further forward or I have made firm decisions – don’t worry, not THAT decision….not yet anyway.  This is what makes it incredibly hard to write ,as I am not sure how to approach the posts – from then or now or a mix of both.  Also I have had so many incredible stories shared with me and so many amazing people reach out I want to make sure that everyone understands at least one place that I am at right now. So I will start with a decision I have firmly made.

I have decided that at egg freezing is no longer an option for me.

This in turn rules out New Zealand for a place to help me or have treatment in, as egg freezing is their only option unless I have my own personal sperm to do other options with.  As we all know I am painfully single, so this is not the case.  Also, as you know, I could wait for a sperm donor on a list however that list is 2-3 years long and my time frame is a year, so the math does not add up.  So out with New Zealand.

Obviously this decision has not come lightly however I am just so relieved to have at least one option checked off my list and into the ‘do not want’ pile. Scratch that.  More like in the ‘will not do’ pile.

A friend of mine recommended an amazing website ‘Fertility Friends’ and although incredibly overwhelming (I am still using my mantra of step by step and only looking up small things at a time), it has real people, sharing real stories and really is the best place I have been able to find concrete information, that helps all different people from all walks of life, from all different countries around the world to be informed without doctors and too much clinical stuff getting in the way.

However, there is no escaping the dreaded acronyms!  My god, those things have become my worst enemy, so much so that I now have a fertility acronym dictionary in my notes on my computer.  My god, how life has changed! That page used to be my ‘bars to visit’ list!

Fertility friends has incredible threads dedicated to different things, however the Australasian thread was the most helpful at first.  Long story short, it helped me see that most people with infertility issues in Australia and New Zealand basically said ‘Get the hell out’.  They have gone to reputable clinics in mostly South Africa, the Chech Republic, Bulgaria, Spain and Greece to seek more options and credible advice, that was more affordable.  And by more affordable I mean SERIOUSLY more affordable.  One Australian couple had flown to South Africa, had a few treatments/cycles and flown back and that cost them the same as 1 treatment in Australia.  For me it was a no brainer….start looking into overseas options.

The same friend who suggested this website, had sent me a few threads and as she is interested in this stuff (I am so thankful for that and for her!), had seen that a few clinics were continually mentioned, down to the person who was best to deal with.  I looked up one clinic – Serum in Greece and was amazing by what they could offer.  I submitted a questionnaire from their website, attached my doctors notes and within a day I had heard back.

Wow!  I was completely blown away by their knowledge, efficiency and professionalism.  Most of the knowledge I have now, still comes from those first few emails.  As I had asked about egg freezing (among other things but that will come later), I was given great advice.

Serum do not “offer egg freezing here as it’s relatively unproven as few babies have been born from frozen eggs worldwide except from fertile egg donors.  Increasing numbers of egg freezing cycles are being run for women wanting to postpone having a family but only a tiny portion of those women have gone on to try getting pregnant with those eggs.  The proportion of those women who have extra fertility issues like low AMH is also probably small so it will be difficult for any doctor to give you a robust estimate of what your personal chances to have a baby from 2 cycles for frozen eggs would be.  I think it’s unhelpful to start thinking of  egg freezing as an insurance because it may be that even with several cycles of freezing, the eggs do not give pregnancy when you come to try with them.”

After this email I obviously did some more research and found out the following things:

1 – Eggs have a high water content so can be susceptible to both damage and destruction as ice crystals within the egg can cause it to fracture when thawing

2 – Thawing of the eggs does not have enough research to support successful pregnancy outcomes and during the thawing process (depending on how your clinic does it – oh yes, there are a few ways! More fun knowledge I had to learn about), there are low thawing survival rates.

Laying it all out on the table this would mean because of my low AMH levels, if I did a round of IVF to extract eggs, I would only at best case scenario, have 6 eggs, in most cases half are viable (due to varying reasons), that’s 3, then they would need to go through the thawing process with maybe, again, at best, 1-2 surviving and then subjecting myself to trying to get pregnant with only a small chance of that working down the track, with no proven research to say it will work.  I don’t even want to go down the track of my worst case scenario outcomes or lack there of.  Women with non fertility issues would have a much better chance and the statistics are still against them with low pregnancy outcome rates.

That is a lot, and I mean A LOT of money, time, hurt, energy, life wasted  and a seemingly endless emotional roller coaster for a crappy not scientifically proven way of preserving fertility, that has not even been a great deal successful in the most fertile of women.  Imagine it with the fertility challenged.

I have decided that I am not wanting to waste my life, worrying if it may work, sending myself into crippling debt for a possibility or a maybe or a just not sure.  I want something more concrete than that, even of it is just slightly more.

So egg freezing is struck firmly off the list.

Down with one, what will be next?

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The ‘why?’

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10 years ago (far out, was it seriously that long ago?!), literally in the middle of my move to Wellington to start my teaching career, I got news that I had irregular cervical cells.  6 months previous I had been told I had irregular cells (CIN 1), but not to worry as they usually disappear or take at least 10 years to develop into pre-cancerous cells (CIN 3).  Interestingly enough my body was some sort of super force and it only took 6 months for them to go from CIN 1 to CIN 3.  I tell ya girls – don’t EVER miss a pap smear!  At the time I was 22.

Luckily I was able to have a Lettz procedure in Wellington and have the cells removed.  This was followed by 6 monthly biopsies for a few years, to yearly biopsies, to the all clear but yearly pap smears, a few bouts of reoccurring irregular cells (that thankfully disappeared), and I was finally home free….well, if you call yearly pap smears for life home free – ‘Hi, welcome back to New Zealand, time for a pap smear!’  Not my favorite part of coming home.

With my history and peer pressure, as well as the inevitable family pressure ‘When am I going to be a grandparent?’ and ‘I’m just worried you will miss the boat’, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Where I am placed in life, both geographically and in age, some people may say that I have a few years left before I had to worry about this issue, after all, 35 is commonly known as the time when your eggs become known as ‘geriatric’.  I mean, seriously!  How is that fair?  And I am still a few years off that number.  But for some reason, probably mostly based on previous medical history, I had an inkling, a strong gut feeling and it turned turned out I was right.

When I told people that I was thinking about getting these tests, so many of them asked me why I would even think about getting these tests done, stating many reasons ranging from ‘You’re not old enough to worry about that yet’, ‘But you’re single’ to ‘But what happens if it’s bad news, what will you do then?’.

I have always had a massive thing about honesty and the truth.  If someone isn’t honest with me or can’t tell me the truth, that has always cut very deep.  It is the same with knowing things.  I would rather know the full picture, the truth, than sit back and wait when I could have done something about it earlier.  That is what drove me to get the tests done.  That and also being able to put my mind at rest because of this intense gut feeling I was having.

Getting this test and the knowledge to do so, did not just appear from anywhere.   I am lucky enough to have a good friend in my life who I met up with in October when I was back in New Zealand.  My friend and his partner have had some extremely tough experiences and after expressing my concerns to them, they told me about the AMH and FSH tests.  If I had not have talked to them about my fears and they had not shared their story with me, I would never have known about these tests until it was maybe too late and I will be forever thankful to them for that.

Back in Beijing and mulling it over, I thought that what I would do was have the 2 tests when I was home in December and then a year from then, have another set of tests to see the rate of decrease or the difference in the 2 results.  Armed with these figures I could then make an informed decision in a year or so.  Smart thinking….or so I thought.  Life decided to intervene – and we all know how that story goes.

So, in answer to a lot of your questions – the 3 reasons that drove me to get these tests done:
1 – Previous medical history
2 – Peer/family/self pressure

3 – Gut feeling

If anything has come from this whole experience so far, it is that gut feelings can be an amazing thing and from now on I am trusting mine without a doubt.

Always trust your gut!

When timing takes over

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With one option in New Zealand down the tubes (pun intended), I turned to the other: egg freezing.

After emailing Oxford Woman’s clinic to remind them to send the PDF of pre tests to me, that I hopefully could get done in China, I was put in touch with an incredible fertility nurse Kate.  She sent the list of tests directly to me the same day she received the email.

It was a super scary looking list of tests I might add, anything that lists HIV and involves needles is always going to be a heart attack inducing list to me.  Unfortunately for her, she then told me not to hesitate to contact her if I needed any help with the list or anything else.

Big mistake lady!

Because my mind was racing about all the possible scenarios, outcomes, timings and unknowns I replied straight back to her to see if she could answer the following questions:

  • Because my specialist recommended that I have at least 2 rounds of freezing done due to my low AMH level, how long in-between times can I wait until I have the next round?
  • As I only have set holidays, I may be able to come back to New Zealand from these dates (dates listed), would this work for at least the first round?

People often (sometimes a little too much), have me on about the holidays teachers get.  Now, I will not go on to justify why we deserve it or need it or work our arses off for it but what I will say is that unfortunately this means that we are only able to have holidays or take time off at these particular times.  The excruciatingly hard part about this for me now, is having to try to time procedures around these times, which is not an easy feat.  Especially when these timings are also governed by the procedure I choose.

 For egg freezing with IVF I will need to go on  the pill so that they can control things a bit more and that means I then need to count backwards from holidays to make sure that I start the pill at certain times.  If I am not accurate, I will start costing myself money and have to take more days of leave without pay or miss the holiday window altogether.  This implicates flights as well as days off, so, it is best not to screw that one up!

OR if I decide to go with IUI or something similar that means I have to go off the pill and it is up to my bodies timing when I have to be, where I have to be.  Meaning who the bloody hell knows what dates that will be and what flights I need to book and when.

Throw in the time crunch of a year, a useless mathematician (that’s me). and an even more less knowledgeable person about cycles (again…that’s me), and you have a complete scheduling nightmare.  Believe me, it is headache inducing.

Putting it plainly – it is just not a simple thing to plan or organize.  It means leave without pay, when this is already going to be a pretty costly experience in itself, which ever way I go.  Most people only have to factor in tests, meds and procedures which is horrendously costly in itself.  Unfortunately for me, I also need to add to that, ridiculously expensive flights and time crunches.

Luckily the nurse was incredible and I no longer had to deal with 3 week waits.  The very next day she had written an incredibly long and detailed email explaining how we could do the freezing and how it would work, and asking if I could extend some dates as I would need some recovery time before flying…oh yeah…there’s another thing I have to factor in.

As the clinic is closed at Christmas time for cleaning and holidays etc, I was told that I would not be able to do my second round then and as it were, she stressed to me how important it was NOT to wait that long because of the levels of my AMH.

These factors were extremely stressing for me and with people telling me time was of the essence and that they could cater for me during this time (July/August), it seems like this was my only option.

Unfortunately what made me most upset was the fact that I was in the midst of planning an epic trip to Europe to spend time with my brother and when my parents caught wind of the trip they were keen to jump on the band wagon.  3 days before I found out from the specialist the extent of what was going on and the time implications, my parents had gone ahead and booked non refundable tickets to our chosen destinations.

So with most of my family overseas in Europe while I was going to be going through this in New Zealand, it was looking less and less appealing.  With only my sister in town, and she doesn’t know this yet, she was first in line for daily injection duty.

The cost alone was enough to be sending me for the hills and now most of my family weren’t going to be there for support.  This really did not seem like the option for me at all.

 And it turns out I was right.

My mighty, mighty microcosm

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I am lucky to have such quality friends who know how to make me laugh…exactly what I need though this process

One thing that stuck with me from my conversation with my specialist was that he found it hard to give me options because of my singledom and also because of my proximity to New Zealand.

It took me explaining a few things to him before he really could see that maybe I knew more than I had let on or that I had more support and knowledge where I was, than if I was in New Zealand.

You see, when you live away from home, every situation needs to be approached differently.  Whether it is how you buy your milk and what brand you use (for me it’s by speaking in Chinese, converting to long life milk for safety reasons and now my local store got rid of the New Zealand brand so it’s a switch to the Australian organic one), or how to get to the front of a line (for me it involves a lot of pushing, scowling at line jumpers, hands out actions to prevent said line jumpers and eyes on the prize), or even how you approach dating (Tinder anyone?!?, being 32 and at that age being called ‘too young to be in a committed relationship’ here and the great line of ‘You’ve got plenty of time’.  Believe me I do not hear the echo of those sentiments coming from anywhere near New Zealand territory).

For me, now it’s how you go about approaching your fertility options.   I was completely ignorant (and pretty much still am, every day brings new challenges, options and not to mention copious amounts of acronyms), and I thought that my only options were the 2 that were presented to me from my specialist.

Cue my mighty microcosm and what a microcosm it is.

Upon sharing my results (pre specialist), I was lucky enough to be open with and talk to some amazing people who I call colleagues and friends.  Collectively, in just my work place, I had these experiences shared with me:

  • Many instances of over 40 and conceived naturally
  • Could not conceive so decided not to investigate and not have children
  • Adoption the only option, decided to not do own pregnancy
  • 4 miscarriages and 2 beautiful babies
  • IUI resulting in triplets
  • Over 40, IVF and 2 gorgeous girls
  • 13 rounds of IVF, no luck and then adopted
  • Single, IVF, 2 lovely boys
  • Tracking ovulation, and pregnant
  • Multiple instances of miscarriages
  • Multiple instances of trouble conceiving/ being ‘too late’ to conceive

And this is just in my work place, not even other stories that they shared or that others have shared with me since.

I am so honored that people felt that they could share their stories with me and also so incredibly lucky that I am surrounded by people who can give me the big picture and truly understand what I am going through.  They have helped me to see that there are many options to explore and many ways to become a mother.

As that is the one thing that I do know – no matter how or when, I will become a mother and it is through them empowering me and sharing their stories, that I now truly understand their words of positivity and encouragement.

It is not lost on me how lucky I am to know these people, to have them openly share their stories with me and to help me along the way. I realize, that if I wasn’t here right now I would have limited options due to confinement, cost and lack of knowledge and I am forever thankful for that and for being in the right place, at the right time.

I truly do count myself as one of the lucky ones.  Without these people I would not be where I am in the process today and I cannot thank them enough for that.  Nor do I take it for granted.

I now have more options than 2 to pursue because of my mighty microcosm and although overwhelming at times, I know I am very fortunate.

So, I will forge forward, full of hope and positivity and know that my mighty microcosm will be there to support me along the way…no matter which way I go.

The first door slams shut

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At a friend’s birthday a few days after the 1st door was closed – No time to worry or get bitter, it was time to move forward and enjoy normalcy with friends for their celebrations….and eat ‘Fairy Floss’!

Unfortunately, I had my first set back the very next day after sending ‘the weirdest email I had ever written’ to Fertility Associates in New Zealand.

Summer holidays and the Christmas period was over and ‘Island time’ no longer existed in ‘The land of the long white cloud’ so I had an email waiting for me by 10am, my time, the next day.

It held the following information:

  • There is a huge waiting list and due to that fact, they have a policy that states they only accept patients onto their waiting list who reside in NZ.  First strike against me –  but I COULD move back…
  • …or not…Currently the waiting list for a single women is 2-3 years,  Strike 2 – I ain’t got no time for that! My window is 1 year.
  • My AMH is low so I should consider egg freezing – now THAT I already knew.
  • I could access sperm quicker in the USA, as they have plenty of donors as they pay them for their donations – o.k, now there is some direct and honest advice.

No strike 3 , however I think both strike 1 and 2 collectively keep me out of that game.

So…onto the next.

I am sure that this will not be my first set back and there may be many more to come.  However, I didn’t bat an eyelid.  Yes, the news sucked but it did not effect me.  It was apart of my step by step (ooh, baby), process and it was now thrown on the ‘tried and died’ pile. No time to get bitter and worry, for me it was just onto the next option.

Whatever or wherever that may be.

 

NOTE:

***To anyone who is thinking of using Fertility Associates, even though I was only in cahoots with them for a matter of days, I was super impressed by their website which gave me copious amounts of information and even the best thing (in terms of paper work), I have found to date – an absolute break down of all the treatments, medications, procedures and what they cost and what you would expect to pay, complete with break downs of payment plans and options.

Money has by far been one of the biggest implications of this process and by having that information at your fingertips laid out and not having to chase people or timidly write an email about it was a god send.

In the words of New Kids on the Block

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As soon as I was off the phone from the specialist and after a mini break down, I was straight onto thinking about how to best tackle this situation.

I broke down what I needed to do into tiny step by tiny step parts.  Partly because this is who I am and partly to not deal with the enormity and many facets of what I was just told.

From my conversation with my specialist my 2 clear next steps were:

1 – Wait for the PDF of pre tests to be sent from the fertility nurse in NZ (and when I received them I would send them to my local clinic to check if they could do them and the cost)

2 – Write an email to Fertility Associates to find out about my option in New Zealand for sperm donors.

After 4 hours sleep and receiving this news, number 2 was hilarious to me.  It was the most f*%&@d up thing.  So I did what any normal person in their early 30’s would do when just told they may be able to improve their egg quality by eating and drinking in moderation.

I took myself off to the pub (the one with amazing burgers and fries with aioli),with my laptop to write the weirdest email of my life to date, to a place in New Zealand to ask all about sperm.  You had to laugh…as it is super bizarre when the day before you are lying poolside in 35 degree heat without a care in the world and now sperm is high on your vocabulary list.

Believe me a few beers in the sun and being in a public place really helped to damper down the enormity of the news and just helped to make me laugh my way through it.

What I have found during this process so far is that you just get on with it and trawl through each option and I have learned that the best way I can deal with it without actually getting checked into an insane asylum is to compartmentalise the hell out of things and attack things small step by small step.  Things tend to come crumbling down again if I skip a step or start hearing options that are past where I am now…freaking me out, overwhelming me and being way too much.  I think New Kids on the Block had it right all those years ago…..Step by step….it seems to work.

 

In the interest of a little fun…

Yesterday morning being overtired and slightly delerious I was cracking myself up by answering the lyrics to the NKOTB song as I sung it and as I wouldn’t want to put anyone through listening to my horrid singing voice, here’s what I was doing…all the while laughing really hard and also thinking I was slightly insane!!! Haha

NKOTB – Step 1, we can have lots of fun

Me – Hmmmmm, would we call turkey basting fun?

NKOTB – Step 2, there’s so much we can do.

Me – Well, there’s 2 options, I guess that will do?

NKOTB – Step 3, it’s just you and me

Me – Hmmmm, yep, just me on that one

NKOTB – Step 4, I can give you more

Me – Yep, well, I suppose you can but ‘man in a can’ doesn’t come cheap

NKOTB – Step 5, don’t you know that the time has arrived

Me – Well unfortunately I brought that one on myself by finding this out. So, ‘now’ it is!

Dada, dada, dada,dada, done!

You’ve got to have fun in your life and if poking fun at the situation works for me…that’s the road I’m taking….step….by….step.