Everyone knows me as an expert in natural fertility, but what they didn’t know was that for the past 3.5 years I’ve been going through my own infertility journey.
Here’s my story.
Just before I turned 32, I had been having some pains in the reproductive area that I thought should be investigated. I saw my doctor and got a referral for an ultrasound. I had suspected I had endometriosis for years, but the ultrasound came back clear (as they often do), with no explanation for my pain.
Being medically trained myself, I always ask my doctor for copies of my blood results and scan reports. When I got home, I had a look at the report and noticed the measurements for my ovaries seemed a bit small. So back to the doctor I went…
He agreed that yes, they were smaller than average. I had to prompt him and say “well, shouldn’t we investigate that further?”. I requested my anti mullerian hormone (AMH) levels to be tested. This is why I always tell my patients that we must advocate for ourselves, and it’s a good idea to have a team of health professionals in your corner, so nothing gets missed.
The results of my AMH test came back, and I was shocked to see the number was 1.3, which is what I would usually see in patients in their early to mid 40’s. I had just turned 32. For my age, the number should have been around 20. 1.3 indicated a severely reduced ovarian reserve, meaning it appeared that I had very few eggs left, and my reproductive years were almost up.
I booked in to see a fertility specialist at an IVF clinic to discuss my options. He was particularly unhelpful and said I wasn’t a candidate for egg freezing because I wouldn’t get enough eggs (true). But I wasn’t ready to jump straight into IVF using donor sperm so soon after my diagnosis, and at the tender age of 32.
I went home and cried. And cried and cried and cried. I grieved for the children I had always wanted and may never have. At one point I wasn’t sure I could continue my work helping other people conceive, because it was so painful knowing I wasn’t going to have children of my own. But I realised my gift in helping others was too important to give up.
The next steps.
A few months after coming off the contraceptive pill, my periods became an absolute nightmare. They were extremely painful (to the point of crying), and heavy beyond a manageable level. One cycle on day 5 I woke up and started flooding. That day I lost 500mL blood and ended up in hospital that evening. In total that cycle I estimate that I lost 1.5-2L of blood before the medication to stop the bleeding kicked in.
After seeing a gynaecologist and undergoing a horrific uterine biopsy to check for cancer (very traumatic – ask for drugs if you ever need a uterine biopsy!) I realised that I needed to take my health fully into my own hands.
Despite no clear diagnosis from doctors, I started treating myself as though I had endometriosis. I followed a very strict diet to reduce inflammation, and gave myself regular acupuncture. Additionally, I also started taking supplements to support my remaining eggs so that in the event I met someone I would still have a small chance of having a child.
After a few months of following this protocol, I was feeling a million times better. My periods were manageable and I felt like I had gained back a bit of my reproductive health.
The final countdown.
Fast forward to 2020. I hadn’t met a partner, despite plenty of dating, so I made the decision to finally go it alone. Over the years I had been keeping an eye on my hormone and AMH levels, and knew I still had a shot. I doubled down on all my treatments and ensured I was in the best position possible to conceive a child.
I found a fertility specialist who was happy to work with me and had a much more positive attitude than the previous specialist. She arranged for me to have a HyCoSy, which is an ultrasound guided procedure to check if the fallopian tubes are clear. They were, but the sonographer was able to see numerous areas of endometriosis. Finally – a diagnosis! It felt like such a relief to finally have my pain acknowledged as real.
After the HyCoSy confirmed I would be able to undergo IUI (Intra Uterine Insemination) if needed, we proceeded. I opted for IVF because my last ultrasound had showed 7 follicles, so I figured there might be a chance of having a frozen embryo for later. Unfortunately, after doing all the injections, my first IVF ultrasound showed only 2 useful follicles (eggs).
We knew this would be a possibility with my low ovarian reserve, so we powered forward but switched the procedure to IUI instead. IUI is where the semen is spun in the lab to get a sample of the best sperm, which are then inserted into the uterus via a catheter. It’s the closest thing to natural conception that a laboratory offers.
Out of the 2 follicles I had grown that cycle, one became an embryo and nestled in for the long haul. At time of writing this I am 15 weeks and 5 days pregnant.
Looking to the future.
I hope that my story can give hope to other women with endometriosis, women with low ovarian reserve, and women who defy society’s expectations of what it takes to make a family and go for what they want.
So now you know that I have first hand experience with infertility and the rollercoaster it can be! I love my work and am honoured to be a part of other people’s journeys. I know how tough it can be, but it’s worth it in the end.