A year later – to the day

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One year ago today I was given some pretty confronting and devestating news.  Over the course of this year I have had to do some pretty big soul searching, make some life changing decisions and face some pretty epic emotional, financial and physical roller coasters. But it was all worth it and like so many amazing people kept reminding me – it only takes one…I’m pregnant.

The above photo was recently taken in Greece where I had my IVF journey and where the donor is from, holding an egg, symbolising that it only takes one egg and because I am due in the Chinese Year of the Rooster. The 1 represents the single embryo that took and again to reiterate the fact that it only takes one.

Another long catch up but here is how I found out and how the last few months have unfolded.

The 2 week wait

During the 2 week wait, as I mentioned previously, I had plenty of things to keep me busy however things started to feel different than the first time.  In the second week I felt a stitch like pain in my lower left side.  At first I was panicked and worried about this but with no spotting or blood and after doing some googling (I know googling is bad but it really is the only thing to do apart from bombard the doctor which I was not prepared to do!), I soon realised that this could be a good sign and that the embryo or embryos were attaching themselves.  Fingers crossed!

With the pregnancy test at the 2 week wait, I needed a blood test to measure my HCG levels.  Now, it didn’t just end there, I then needed another HCG test 2 days later to ensure that my HCG levels were doubling meaning it was a viable pregnancy.  Sometimes HCG levels give a positive and then 2 days later have not doubled which can mean a variety of things, all not so good.  The HCG level is what gives a positive pregnancy test.  I also needed my progesterone levels to be measured, as if they were low I needed to have a series of 3 more butt shots to try to (as they call it), rescue the pregnancy – meaning your body does not have enough progesterone to support the pregnancy, so it needs help to do so.

I had been warned by many forums not to do any pregnancy tests prior to the 2 week mark as it could easily give a false positive due to hormones left over in your body from all the stimulants however the day before my test, a Sunday, I did one anyway, thinking that at least if it was a negative or a faint line I could at least be prepared.

This is what I saw:

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Test number 1

HCG test 1 and 2

On the day of the test in the morning I used the second test to make double sure and this is what it showed:

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Test number 2 – just to make sure…darker..woohoo!

So hopeful, but of course in true Amy style -still realistic, I went after work to get my HCG blood test and progesterone test.  On Halloween it was confirmed that I was pregnant with an HCG level of: 256.1

Now I had my fingers crossed for a doubling in the next 2 days.

2 days later and after reminding them that I needed the Progesterone test (they had not done this the first day, so this was another added stress as I was not able to confirm if I needed extra help from the butt shots), I finally had my results from my HCG and they had doubled “as expected”, my doctor here said (Yay, for positive people).  My HCG level was 561.5.

This then lead to lots of speculation and sneaky googling to try and find out if these numbers indicated twins or a single pregnancy.  Unfortunately it was another wait for me as the numbers mean nothing for the number of embryos that may be present.

After a few days and a lot of nerves I finally got my progesterone levels back and my doctor told me that the clinic thought they were abnormally high, so wanted to retest them.  This did not sound like good news to me.  This was 5 days after my first HCG test and the weekend was looming, so I did not get any answers until the following week.  I was super thankful for a forum I had joined for current Serum people and turned to them for help as all the literature about progesterone levels talked about the low side but none on the internet (can you believe that – none!), talked about abnormally high results.  Thankfully they all had great advice and told me that high doesn’t matter it’s the low that is a worry.  So that got me through until finally I was able to have an electronic report and send them through the Penny.  The high number and the great HCG levels meant that I did not need any more butt shots! Celebrations all around – although I have some pretty expensive meds still sitting in my refrigerator!

A good progesterone level for me should have been 29.6 – 109.6 mol/L.  Mine was 385 mol/L, hence the anxiousness from me and the panic!  This was what it should be in the third trimester according to my doctor.

So after Penny’s reassurance I was finally able to relax and try to let the reality settle in that I was officially pregnant.  One step further on this journey than before.  This also meant that because of the IVF process I was now 4 weeks pregnant.  It was nice to have one small short cut in this long and arduous process!

Scan 1 – 7 weeks

After my first official vomit – yay me – I was off for my first scan and hopeful that that was a good sign.  It had hard for me to get excited about anything and it would not seem real to me – a very visual person – until I saw the scan and what was happening.  Also, who knew how many there were!

My gorgeous friend offered to come and at first I was about to turn her down and then I realised that I had done everything else alone, I was not going to do this alone.  She has been incredible and come to every appointment so far.  It has been so wonderful to have her support.

It was all amazing news, everything looked great.  I know what my feeling was about the single or twin situation – my sister had joked that I would end up with twin boys just like I had said I wanted for years and years when I was younger.  I had thought that it may be twins – it would be just typical if it was, however I realised that I hadn’t been that sick and was showing no sign or symptoms really except that 1 vomit and the stitch like pain so in reality I thought it would be just one.  I did wonder how many bets were going on surrounding this scan and if I should of had an ‘in’ on them to make some money! Haha!

It was a transvaginal scan as the embryo is still very small and after a bit of searching and another bladder empty, it was confirmed that there was a single embryo there.  A fabulous little ‘Lone Ranger’.

The Lone Ranger measured 1.1cm (which showed it at 7 weeks and 2 days, gaining time again!), making the due date scan-wise July 7th but IVF-wise July 9th.  We will have to see which was more accurate when the time arrives.

All else was also great – my cervix had closed and measured fabulously and the uterus was looking good.  A few follicles in the ovaries were still lurking around probably due to all the meds I was still taking and would disappear when the placenta kicked in later.  Apparently it had implanted in a great spot too, so wins all around.

The best bit was hearing the heartbeat!!  It was nice and strong at 138 beats a minute (it should be between 110 and 170).  It was pretty cool to see it moving.

I was so relieved and finally able to let myself be excited….well until the next day when I reigned it in a little until the 10 week scan – a high risk point for IVF patients.

My friend had captured a video of it all so it was great to be able to send this to my family and friends.  My parents were especially happy as it made them feel like they were there.

9 weeks

Still early days but the best news ever – I was finally down 2 pills.  So I went from 13 pills and an injection per day to 11 pills and an injection – woohoo!

I had been extremely lucky with no more morning sickness however had been diagnosed with extreme fatigue…lucky me!  I had insomnia, limited appetite and a lot of light headedness.  Plus my F sized boobs had already busted out of my bras – boohoo!  Luckily they weren’t tender though – whew!  Due to my fatigue and insomnia, my low immune system (apparently this is another stunner of a thing you get with pregnancy), had me very sick with a cold, so I was miserable.  Looking back I had no idea how I got through those weeks working full time with no sick days left and no sleep – I had quickly learned how much I cost on daily basis from my leave without pay days, so it was no days off for me, just ‘battle through it’, putting all the energy into being with my kids and all break times and frees trying to hide and recover to do it all over again.  Survival mode people!  No one tells you any of this about the first trimester.  It truly sucks.

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This truly sums up my first trimester and the daily struggle – pregnant women are my new heroes

Scan 2 – 10 weeks

It has arms and legs, it hiccups/jumps and is very squirmy! So super cool.  What a way to end a rough couple of weeks.

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Floating upside down and waving to the camera – my ‘real baby’!

It was measuring 3.29cm, you could see the umbilical cord and the placenta has started to develop.  Again – a strong heartbeat.  I was so taken aback that it actually looked like a ‘real baby’ – I actually say this in the video, as it technically is still an embryo so I expected it to still look more alien-like not baby-like yet!

I had to have 2 more sets of blood tests to finish up testing that wasn’t done through IVF.

I had lost weight but no one was worried due to my illness and because everything was looking healthy.

As I would be in New Zealand for the 12 week scan (it needed to be done between week 11-13 and for that entire time I was home in NZ), I got the run down on  the chromosomal testing and all the things I needed to relay when I was back. My parents and sister were able to come so that was exciting (for me and them), and Christmas eve was the 12 week mark so that was a bit special.

Apparently it will double in size in the next 2 weeks – crazy!  Looks like the start of the bump will come very soon.

I left just feeling extremely lucky to be able to get to this point.

Scan 3 – 12 weeks

It was a bit of a big week in New Zealand.  I was finally off the hard stuff – I had taken my last steroid pill.  Thank god – I had no idea how much it was effecting me until I came off it and noticed so much bloat disappear from my face and body and a bit of the cloudiness dissipate.

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My last ‘little white pill’ – steriod

Having my family at the 12 week scan was great.  6cm long (crown to rump), and all moving and shaking.  It really does not like being pushed around by the ultrasound wand (finally I was up to having on top of tummy scans!).  It all got a bit real for my family, which was really nice to see.

(Laid back and chilled out – hand behind it’s head and leg up)

Visually all looks good in terms of the chromosomal elements – neck measurement, nasal bone, bladder, brain development and stomach are looking amazing.  These are all good indicators for no defects.  I got the bloods done the next day for that extra 10% assurance.  The ultrasound is an 80% assurance.  To this day I still do not have the blood test results back from the NZ laboratories – it is not a test they usually do.  God knows where my blood is and if it has been tested yet!

2017

The first day of the New Year was an amazing one for me as my progesterone suppositories were halved.  Because the China and NZ equivalents were only 100mg instead of 200mg my pills had increased to 17 a day and 1 injection, so halving these was amazing.  It also meant I had to take them twice a day and not 4 times…I could smell the freedom!  I was also down to 6 more injections to go – in 1 weeks time I would be off all meds and the injections, bar 5 (multivitamins, folic acid and baby aspirin – all of which I needed to continue throughout my pregnancy).

I was still ill and getting nauseous during the day but small afternoon naps and carrying around small energy bites helped that along.  Naps are an amazing thing that I have never been able to do – it was the only thing that was helping me to get through my days, so I was loving the hell out of the 10 or 20 minutes I was getting during the day.

A friend of mine calls the baby ‘the parasite’, as it sucks everything out of you.  She was talking about her own pregnancy but I have to agree!  It is seriously what it feel like.  I was a shell of myself in the first trimester.

Along with no more big meds and injections in a weeks time, it also changed into the second trimester…I was dying for things to improve as everyone had told me they would and even having a tiny bit of energy restored to me would be amazing!

Back to Beijing

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It was very fitting that due to timings and time zones, my lucky last injection had to be done in a plane toilet, midway between NZ and Singapore.  No more injections, so I had to get a celebratory photo.  I seriously do not miss those daily buggars!

Thank you

I will be forever grateful for the love, support and messages that I have received throughout this journey, they are what have got me through.  It has been and still remains an incredibly tough journey and all the messages, words of encouragement and advice have helped twofold.  Thanks for being so amazing and supporting me on this roller coaster journey.

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Non alcoholic New Years – cheers to 2017

Here’s to my next adventure – due July 7th

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A mega catch up

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I’ve come a long way in regards to this and truly believe that is why my second IVF round went so differently in terms of my emotions and attitude.

As I have mentioned multiple times, my blog is delayed.  I have done that on purpose to give me the time to grieve or to come to terms with what ever the outcome was from October – good or bad.  Little did I realised that writing once a week just wasn’t going to cut it when so many things happened over the course of the month that I spent there.  These weekly post updates could have gone on for months, leaving you all in too much suspense and I did not think that that was fair.  So this post will aim to be an informative but long one to play the catch up game.

Here goes….this is the post that is probably going to be epically long but it will give you a HUGE catch up all in one to see what happened during the rest of my trip to Athens in September and October of last year.

We last left off with 3 follicles and a next morning appointment that would hopefully be the one where they would tell me that we would be ready for a ‘harvest’.

The next morning

It was all good news as the right side was ‘ready to go’ with 2 eggs and the left side with 1 and 2 smaller possibilities….we were back up to possibly 5, people….believe me…it was a daily roller coaster.

The ‘egg removal guy’ (with so much else going on, all the medical jargon and terms I was learning, not to mention those damn acronyms…can you really blame me for having no idea what his proper professional title was?),  told me that we would aim for retrieving 3 but quite often in cases like this they may be able to retrieve more – 4,5 or even 6.  I have no idea where the 6 came from but I’ll take it.  I was happy with 3 (better than the 2 last time), and starting crossing fingers for any extras.  However we would have no idea of the quality of the eggs until they were removed so it was another ‘wait and see’ situation.  I was very used to this by now so wasn’t too bothered by it – 1 step at a time.  Let’s go 3 – thankfully it’s my favourite number.

It was also my last stimulant day – woohoo! I was also not allowed to take Clexane (the blood thinner),  so was on cloud 9 until I remembered it was all systems go and that I had to go at 10pm that night and get the mammajamma of all injections – the ‘Trigger shot’, not so affectionately known by me as the ‘butt shot’, as it goes directly into your butt muscle and hurts…not so fun!  It had to happen precisely at 10pm to coincide with the egg removal time a few days later at 9am.  Basically it starts the ovulation process making it easier to retrieve the eggs.  There was no way in hell that I was going to do this myself – injections into my stomach fat was all well and good but into a muscle that I could barely reach with a full sized huge needle….no way hose…I didn’t need that stress and pressure, so they gave me a note in Greek and as I had done this before I knew where to go (ridiculously a maternity hospital!), and I felt more relaxed about it.

The next day was a ‘drug free’ day, however not really as I still had to take all the pills I was currently on (6 a day) but no needles!  Still celebrating the small things!

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Distracting myself with lunch and a day out with my new friend

As I finished my appointment I met a new friend!  She is fab and is in a similar situation to me which was really nice to chat with someone with a similar condition.  She is married but was in Athens alone for a bit so I was thankful to have someone to chat with, meet up with and explore with – I didn’t realise how people starved I had been.  Over the course of the next week we ended up spending a lot of time together and she introduced me to another lovely couple and we are all still in contact.  I am so grateful to have met them.

9.30pm I started the 25 minute walk to the hospital and the pain in the butt came right on 10pm – ouch!  The walk home helped though and I had the added distraction that my ‘friend’ from Agistri came over the spend the day with me the next day which was a lot of fun and a great distraction on my ‘drug free day’ – the day before and morning of the retrieval.

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A relaxing lunch out – great distraction before ‘going under’ the next day

The retrieval

It was up bright and early with no food or drink from midnight, sans makeup, perfume and jewellery and onto the metro to the clinic on the day of my retrieval.  It was a bit of a wait once I had got changed into my sexy blue gown until I went in – got to love a wait when you are completely naked and nervous waiting to be put under and have big needles poking holes in your uterus!

Then they were ready and it was time to go.  Thankfully the anaesthetic went in fine this time, so no moving the needle in my hand and no entire hand bruises afterwards like last time.  Unfortunately I reacted badly to the anaesthetic and woke up crying and upset but managed to calm myself down quickly as I had no idea why I was upset or crying.  I have only been under anaesthetic 3 times and once before I had had a really bad reaction upon waking and they thought I may have been awake during it – not a fun feeling.

The magic number was 5!!!  Way better than the 2 from round one and the none from the cancelled cycle!

I finally ate and drank something and felt very woozy and drunk-like until an hour and half after I woke up, which made for a hilarious metro ride and walk home.  I took the rest of the day to rest and made it a lazy day, which was prescribed and needed.  There are a lot of rules on this IVF journey but I was glad for the list that was tagged to this day.

I would have to call the clinic at 12.30pm the next day to see how the eggs were coming along, if they were good quality and if they had started to fertilise or not.  This was always the nerve wracking part for me, as it was totally out of my control, I could no longer rely on my body to help things along or stimulants.  It was donor sperm and my eggs, all having to do this on their own.  Fingers crossed!

DAY 1 – post egg retrieval

It took me half an hour to work up the courage to make the nerve wracking phone call and I had a huge pit in my stomach while doing so.

One day 1, I had 5 fertilised eggs, which had now turned into embryos. This was unbelievable as no one thought that my body, with my condition, would be able to produce that many or it was always a best case scenario/rare chance.  I was hoping for at best 3 but preparing myself for less so I was beside myself.  At this point last time I had 2 eggs and only 1 fertilised.  100% this time – go embryos go!

However again, I had to check myself…this does not mean that they would be of good quality – that was the next check at the Day 3 point.  While talking to the embryologist (yes – I have one medical name in this process down!), she mentioned that they could not see any severe abnormalities, which was great news.

The next appointment was in 2 days time, in person, to see how they were doing and depending on the number and quality, the transfer would happen then or we would wait until day 5.  If we waited until day 5 they would have developed into blastocysts and have a much better chance.  However with my previous situations and limited egg supply it would more likely be a day 3 transfer again, so that was what I prepared myself for.

I obviously would love them to develop to day 5 as you aim for this and getting the best outcome and quality but it was also a catch 22 for me as it would mean more time off work and more money spent on flights and accommodation etc.  But it is a step by step process and we would have to see how it went over the next few days.

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Some people may find it strange that I went to see ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby’ while going through IVF but I thought it was hilarious – I needed the laugh!

Celebrating the small things – c’mon wee embryos!

DAY 3 – post egg retrieval

Holy s*#t…excuse the french but this was the exact words I sent on this day to my friends and family and to be honest there really is no other way to describe what happened…all 5 had continued to grow.

3 were Grade 1, 8 cells, meaning they were the best grade and cell number, whoop whoop.  2 were Grade 1.5, 6 cells, meaning they were smaller and had a small amount of fragmentation but were still pretty damn good.

I also had my 7th blood test for progesterone levels, so hopefully they would come back ok.

As the 3 are doing so well, they expect all 3 to get to the Blastocyst stage, so the transfer would happen on Day 5 – the day I was supposed to leave.  You are not able to fly long haul for at least 48 hours so I had to spend the day changing my flight, talking to my boss…eeekkkk…. and finding another apartment as all the ones in the building were going to be occupied – buggar!

My work was amazing and totally understood – all my sick leave was officially eaten up and I was now operating on ‘leave without pay’ – ouch! But so worth it if in the long run this works!  Due to Turkish Airline rules, as I had already changed the flight I had to go in person to the airport desk and change it there and pay a huge fee (better than buying a new ticket by far though!),  and it made for an afternoon adventure on the metro.  Luckily I also found a great apartment with a stunning view pretty much across the road from my current place – gotta love Airbnb!

(Celebrated and again distracted myself with a trip to the Acropolis and an incredible lunch….so good I licked the plate)

DAY 5 – Embryo Transfer

Previous to going in I had to really think about what I might do if all 5 made it, if 4 made it, 3 or even 2.  How many would I put back?  Greek law states that for my age range they would only let 2 be put back as I have a higher chance than others – go the age!  Would I risk 2?  Could I handle it alone if both worked and I had twins?  Again – I had to try and slow my brain and think ‘one step at a time’.  I just had to wait and see what I had got and take their advice onboard too.

Out of the 5, 2 made it to Blastocysts, 2 arrested on day 3 and 1 made it to morula stage and we would wait to see if it made it to a blastocyst the next day and decide whether to freeze it from there.  However it looks like it may have arrested yesterday (day 4) – it ended up that that was the case.

Both blastocysts were AA and one was 3 and one was 4. 6 is the top and means that the embryo has hatched.  This basically means that one embryo was excellent and one was very good.  They expected hatching from both later today, which would be after the transfer.  Pretty cool.

I had to make that decision about how many embryos to put back and as I mentioned above that with the prospect of 3-5 it was very daunting.  However with only 2 and after talking it over with both Penny and the embryologist, I decided to put both back – transfer them both.

In terms of statistics there is a 50% chance of a single pregnancy resulting, which is because of my age and is great news comparatively, as IVF rates are on average more of a 25% or less chance with low AMH, however it is still a low chance.  The twin thing was of course discussed and the clinic doesn’t like dealing with numbers but there is a 30% chance but as the embryologist said, if it happens to me then there is a 100% chance.

(The white dot above my finger are the blastocysts – watching them go in is the coolest thing)

So now I continued to take lots of pills on a daily basis and wait for the 2 week mark to see if the embryos had ‘settled in’.

Oh, and lets not forget the butt shots – I had one Pregnyl injection on the day post transfer and had to expose my whole butt, as it was done during the ‘resting stage’ after the transfer – just stunning.  Now, that one was painful.  I had to do 2 more, one in 2 days before I flew and another on the Sunday when I was back in Beijing.  Thankfully my doctor was working this day and was able to do it for me.  They have a policy that they would not do it unless it is prescribed by them but knowing my situation my doctor was amazing and obliged.

So it was another mandatory 2 days of rest in the hopes that these 2 little guys hatch and started to settle in.

I had had no idea but luckily my new apartment happened to be situated in the tallest building in Athens and the view was just insane!

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Thank goodness I had this view to relax to.

Leaving day

My month in Athens had finally come to an end after 1 cancelled round, 2 trips to Agisitri, countless injections, one miracle, 2 rescheduled flights, 5 accommodation shifts, broken veins, 0 then 5 then 3 then 5 then 2 eggs, unexpected 5 day transfer, new friends and 2 embryos hopefully setting in, it had been one hell of a ride.  Who knew when I left from Beijing for 2 weeks that this is what would have happened.

I spent my last day getting my second butt shot – yay! (sarcasm), and raiding all the pharmacies trying to gather as much Clexane injections as possible as the prices in China were insane and I wasn’t entirely sure I could get them.  I even bought 2 pregnancy tests – such a weird feeling and it was so hilarious when the cashier said me me ‘I hope that you get the result that you want’ – what a great way to say it.  It made me feel quite good ‘So do  I’ , I replied (but it would be a wait!).

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There are 2 injections in each…and this was only half of the loot I picked up

I had said goodbye to my new friends the night before and it was back to Beijing and normal life to begin that dreaded 2 week wait that everyone talks about and that I had experienced once before and that had ended in disappointment.

Back in Beijing – the 2 week wait

Thankfully carrying so many meds and injections went seamlessly and the only thing the airports were concerned about was the ice pack that I was carrying on board that was keeping my last shot of Pregnyl cold ready for my Sunday butt shot.  Thank goodness for the Greek and English letters I carried with me.

Sorting out that third butt shot and then trying to sort the intense amounts of medication that I had to take each day was enough to keep me busy, as was returning to the realities of work and the cold weather in Beijing.

I was on 13 pills a day all spaced out at random times, so it took some getting used to to make sure I had taken what I was supposed to at certain times – luckily time management is my forte.  All going well I had 14 weeks of this to look forward to.  All I had to do was keep the 2 week mark in mind and get myself to that – 1 step at a time.  I also had that blasted Clexane injection that had hardly marked me in Athens but was now making lovely smiley face patterns on my stomach – just beautiful.  The glamours of IVF – maybe that it what I should rename my blog.

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Beginning to fade just in time to start the injections at the top of the smile again

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It took up a lot off my time trying to sort and organise all these babies

The 2 week wait – my old friend…..3 months on and here we go again.

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Cheers, to all I have been through and how I have coped, with a non-alcoholic beer to celebrate the roller coaster of my life and where I ended up at the end of the second visit to Serum

My own devastation

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I always remember when the Christchurch earthquake hit, people calling it ‘The devastation’.  I thought I knew what that meant, as I had lost people close to me and also people my own age in devastating ways.  However you really truly do not know the meaning of devastating until you get hit with a full dose of the truth head on.  NO matter how much you think you have prepared for it, it hits you full force leaving you winded and laid flat out on the ground.

That is how I felt at 1.58pm on Friday the 13th….unlucky for some…and that ‘some’ would be me.

2 minutes before my students were back from their PE lesson I was replying to an email from a parent when I noticed my gmail account flip to a higher number.  Knowing this was day 3 after my tests and that some of my test results would be back today, I quickly fired off the email and opened up the email from my doctor.

It started with:

“I tried to call you but there was no answer on your phone.  Unfortunately, I have bad news…”

My heart sank, I read it through, stated “Ok” to myself and afterwards remained eerily calm for the next hour and 20 minutes as I greeted my children, had 7 Middle School teachers (including the Principals), come into my room to observe myself and my students doing ‘Student Directed Learning’ and then played games outside with my kids until I got them safely out the door and on their way home.

Straight away I shut the door, turned off the lights, re-read the email, tried to ring the doctor, it wouldn’t go through, I then tried both my parents and realized that their phones were off as they were on a plane on their way to Wellington, I tried the doctor again, got nothing and then proceeded to have the most adverse reaction that I have had on this whole journey…I burst into tears.  Not the leak out and run prettily down your face kind of tears nor the well up slowly kind….the heavy, can’t breathe, OH MY GOD kind.

I’m an emotional person, I feel other peoples pain easily and process mine calmly (and then sometimes not so calmly…usually that is when tequila is involved), however I am not a huge full on crier, so this caught me by surprise.  Months of uncertainty and waiting and I finally had my answer and unfortunately it was one I did not like very much.  I was truly devastated.

I should have been more prepared and I would like to think that I would have been if it hadn’t been for the doctor telling me that it wasn’t anything to worry about.  I had really tried not to get my hopes up but unfortunately that was easier said than done.  Thoughts had crept in about maybe my next move being to Europe to live for a few years and then going home to NZ or stepping down from my crazy busy role at work and just being in the classroom with the kids 100% and even down to simple things like…this has given me the kick up the arse to try harder with dating and get the confidence up to get out there again.  I had fooled myself and to be honest I really thought I was going to get these results, have a bit of ‘egg on my face’ and actually be ok and have the ‘happily ever after’.

Do not get me wrong, I do not blame the doctor here at all, that is not who I am.  Even when it comes down to the ‘why has this happened?’ question, I am not even interested in finding out the answer to that because what is the point?  All I need to worry about is what I can do now and be thankful that I found out when I have.

Luckily I had plans with a friend to go and celebrate a long awaited win at work straight after school.  I quickly cancelled plans to go a farewell party, all the while landing a friend with a sobbing mess called Amy, until I had collected myself.  I then went and sat next to a lake in serenity while drinking copious glasses of Prosecco and talking about life with my amazing friend.  We talked about everything under the sun except my news until after the doctor had rung, apologizing profusely, and then my parents had rung, and I could tell them.  There were more tears as I explained my situation and how the doctor had told me that they use a different scale of measuring to NZ and that is why she had said what she said.  She also was devastated that she had got my hopes up and even gone back again to check the results that had been sent through from my specialist.  They had no reference to what scale they used so of course she made that assumption and I don’t blame her.

I made it home in one piece watching hilarious Facebook videos – thank you to the people who post those – they really got me through.  As soon as I shut my apartment door, I lost it again, grabbed some wine and then decided to rip off the bandage and send messages to all of the people closest to me who I knew would want to know as soon as I did.

I then sat there, stared at the wall and tried to let it all settle in, while trying to come out of the feeing of numbness that had settled in when I was all cried out.

The AMH level 2.2 on her scale that was “close to 3” turned out to be a 0.37 on her scale….not so close to 3 and well under 1.  Things now have to progress quickly.  My FSH is elevated and my estradiol low both signs of low ovarian reserve.  Thankfully my TSH and LH were normal, which was something less to worry about, so I am grateful for that.  Unfortunately I have since found out that 8 follicles (from my baseline ultrasound), is borderline meaning that it is likely my eggs will not be of good quality, making my prospects worse than initially thought.

Devastating in those initial hours…yes…however there still is hope….it could be WAY worse and all I do is remain positive and extremely hopeful.

In true Amy fashion, I did laugh – A LOT  – when I realized that I had got this news on Friday the 13th.  I mean seriously!!!  Cue the Alanis Morreiste music….’Isn’t it ironic?’.

Don’t you think?

Stirrups…and not the fun horsey ones!

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Round 2 – definitely NOT the peace sign

Last Tuesday it was off to the clinic for round 2 in China.  Day 3 was upon us and it was blood tests and baseline ultrasounds to be had.

After some initial difficulty about ensuring I was tested on the correct day and rearranging a few schedules, I was in the office and ready to go, legs all up and in the stirrups – not such a great picture, believe me!

Although I did feel like I had to tell her that she was the first women to see me like this.  Throughout all my years of having Pap smears, Colposcopies, my LETTZ operation and further biopsies, it has only ever been men that have done them.  Having a women do this was a very new experience for me!

For those that have never had one, it was a transvaginal ultrasound, meaning that it is what it looks like in all the movies….a long thin thing with a condom slipped over it, all up in your girly bits so it can get a clearer picture of your insides.  In particular for me…the follicles that grow in my ovaries and develop into eggs.

It all felt a bit weird having to do it when I was on day 3 of my cycle….the logistics were interesting….but obviously as she is a complete professional, it went really smoothly and was not too embarrassing – thank goodness for needing to have an empty bladder for the ultrasound.

After explaining the procedure she started to tell me what she was seeing on the monitor.  My right ovary showed 3 follicles but my bowel was in the way, after measuring each one and discovering that that 1 follicle was measuring 8mm, she determined that that was the principle follicle (the one that will develop into the egg), and that it was unusual to see it this early in the cycle.  Fantastic, another frustrating thing to add to my ever growing list of unusual things my body does!  She could not tell me if this was a good unusual or a bad unusual, that would all depend on the entire picture created from all the test results.

As the bowel did not move we moved on to the left side.  The left side was determined to show off to the right and had 5 follicles although they were all very small.  Then, it was back to the right side to try and use some pushing on my stomach techniques to move the bowel but apparently my bowel is stubborn and wouldn’t budge.

I then asked the ‘however much IVF/embryo transferring is going to cost me’ dollar question about what 8 follicles means….Good or bad?  Hope or no hope?

Unfortunately her answer was along the lines of that it seems good however we have to wait for the other tests to come back to really see the whole picture and how it all lines up.

Next it was onto the dreaded blood tests.  Those of you who know me, know I am deathly afraid of 2 things: Snakes and Guns and that 1 thing follows closely behind that: Needles!

For the first time in awhile I took it like a champ – no teary eyes at all! Although the nurse wouldn’t give me a lollipop, so I am not sure it was worthwhile being that brave for it.

For those interested I was tested again for:

  • AMH: estimate of the remaining egg supply
  • FSH: Follicle stimulating hormone, if this is not in the normal range it indicates problems with fertility
  • LH: the hormone responsible for helping to release your egg from the ovaries
  • Estradiol: Estrogen
  • TSH: Thyroid function – this can sometimes be the main cause for an hormone imbalance in your body if it isn’t at a normal level

I was told by the doctor that as the tests are measuring hormones, most will take 3 days to come back and the dreaded AMH would take 5.

I went off to cope, meeting up with friends and enjoying a yummy steak dinner, served outside on a lovely Spring evening in Beijing, washed down with copious amount of laughs and red wine….whoops….I really need to learn about moderation at some point along this journey.
 Cheers to another bout of waiting!

The art of being blindsided

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Take 2: The China Edition

Going through this process and having mastered the art of ‘The wait’ I really, truly thought that any emotional reactions had been beat out of me and being well researched and prepared I would be ready for anything.

Surprise, surprise, I could not have been more wrong, even if I had tried.

Last Friday (now two Friday’s ago), on a bright sunny Spring morning, I walked along the river slightly nervous for my first appointment in Beijing. This appointment would start to get the ball rolling on making sure all my tests would line up and the tests could go ahead on the correct days.  The nerves were coming from the fact that all of a sudden these tests were upon me and here I was on my way to begin the journey of getting confirmation on what path my life will soon take…left or right.

Upon arrival I bumped into a friend – which happened to be a great distraction, especially as he is a boy and talking about girly things like fertility definitely wasn’t going to happen!

A nurse then came to take my vitals and asked me a hilarious question to determine if I needed to be weighed:

“What are you here for?” Hmmmmmm, I wondered,  how to explain that in a sentence or 2? Then she asked me:

“Are you pregnant”  Lol – Well, that’s kind of the whole point of the appointment!  Thankfully I avoided being weighed.

Next it was into the Gynecologists office, a Spanish person and also an English speaking doctor.

After explaining to her why I was there and presenting her with my printed out, organized doctors, specialists and fertility experts notes she turned to me, interrupted and asked:

“But I don’t understand, why you are here?”

A bit taken aback, I said “Well, as you can see my AMH level is 2.2…..”

She cut me off again and said “I can see all that, but I still don’t know exactly why you are here”

Again, a bit miffed, I looked at her in a bit of shock and then she finally elaborated.

To paraphrase she said:

“I’m not sure why you wouldn’t wait a few years to see if you meet someone and then worry about it then.  All clinics interpret these results differently.  My interpretation is that 3 is where your level should be at the moment in relation to your age bracket (she showed me yet another version of the same chart I have seen countless times).  As 3 is close to where your level is (2.2),  I would not be worried. (Hmmm to me 2.2 is not close to 3!).  If your level was under 1, then you should be worried and want to hurry things. I am not sure why you would do further tests with this number however I am happy to give you a referral for a second opinion.  As there is no real fertility experts as such in Beijing, except a guy at BJU (another big and popular hospital here),(she then spouted off his impressive sounding credentials), he sometimes gives appointments about fertility (his specialty/interest), so I could refer you to him”.

As you can imagine my head was reeling.  I have had tears well up before but I have never had tears literally leak out directly.  I was in such shock.  What had just happened?!?!?!

After all this time and from 4 different people I have been told 1 thing and then this interpretation comes along.  I felt completely blindsided.  This was just meant to be an appointment to get all my ducks in a row, not one to completely turn my head upside down.

I walked away in a trance of emotion.

The doctor had gone ahead and booked the tests and I had her personal email so when day 1 of my cycle came along, I could contact her directly to make sure I was able to gain an appointment for the much needed day 3 tests.  If I can give her one thing, it’s that she was extremely straight up and up front with me.

Unfortunately for me, directly after this, I had to go and get my new passport photo taken! Blotched, miffed face and all.

Now, as a couple of my family members have pointed out, this is just one opinion however it is a radically different opinion compared to what I have encountered so far.

I know that in reality this is good news but how do you look at something like this with fresh eyes when for the last 2 and a half months those eyes have only been looking at coming to terms with worst case scenarios and intermittent decisions with weary eyes?

So, what do you believe?  What path do you choose?  How can you make a decision when the same results point to 2 different things?

Well, my plan is to seek another opinion and hope to god that one confirms something OR it is back to the drawing board.

Gut feeling…I think you may be called up for duty again.

The power of second opinions

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After receiving my results and diagnosis one friend in particular mentioned getting a second opinion.  She had told me about her experience previously where 2 doctors had told her that she would never have kids, they got another opinion, did IUI and ended up with 3! I was a little apprehensive, as I had been told by my specialist that the results were pretty final but took on her advice anyway, wondering how I would go about it.

With her voice in mind and other friends pumping me with their incredible wealth of knowledge, I fully disclosed all of my doctors notes and results to the clinic in Greece (Serum), when filling out their online form.

Incredibly and much to my surprise, as mentioned in a previous post, I was greeted with realms of facts and knowledge.

The one piece of information that seemed key was the fact that my specialist had told me (and then a fertility nurse), that ‘The pill’ does not effect the outcome of AMH.  So, trusting in the experts I took their word as gold.

Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you choose to look at it, I was given different information from Serum.  They stated:

“Your doctor’s letter states that AMH isn’t affected by being on the pill, but the evidence isn’t totally clearcut for this always being true.  Several studies have shown falls in AMH among women who go onto the pill.  It’s just possible that your low AMH was caused by being on the pill and you would want to be sure before taking any big decisions.”

So, there was hope!

Then after another email with me asking a few questions they mentioned this:

“Just to mention that the studies that show AMH not being affected by the pill will have been based on women with perfect ovarian reserve and it’s not so clear how the pill affects AMH for women with more sensitive ovaries.”

Or maybe not so much hope!

They then went on to say in following emails, in round about speak, that they wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot barge pole until I had gone off the pill for at least 2 months and then got retested for my AMH and FSH levels and that I also needed to have a Baseline Ultrasound.  Well, ok then.  I was floored.

I was a little premature in my thinking that ‘The wait’ was over.  As I found out later, at least 2 months off the pill to allow my body to return to it’s normal state, means testing done at the 3 month mark, as it has to be specifically timed for FSH and the ultrasound.

Roll on the end of May when I am finally able to receive more accurate tests and I am crossing fingers and remaining positive for a more favourable result, while still being realistic and researching into all my options to make an informed decision when the time comes.

Believe me, there have been many more adventures on the journey between the results, questioning of the results and now.  And I am in no way blind to the fact that there will be many more before the end of May.

Some adventures have been depressing, some hilarious, some confusing, some hopeful but all of them have been a part of the journey.  My journey.

I am not one to wish my life away but…..bring on May!

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?

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.

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.