My Fertility Story & Finding My Path to YogaJul 04, 2023
When I was going through my own fertility journey, I loved reading about & listening to other women’s fertility stories. I guess it made me feel less alone. It can be an isolating & difficult time & it is definitely not spoken about enough. In fact, it’s really hard to talk about with others unless they have been through it themselves. I found talking with women who hadn’t struggled with their fertility pretty frustrating. They just didn’t get it. So here is my story. I hope it helps & inspires you in some small way. I particularly liked reading the stories that had happy endings. So spoiler alert!! This one certainly does.
My Fertility Journey #1
The night I met my husband, a glass of wine at the Opera Bar turned into six hours of talking & laughing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had so much fun. Two years later, he took me out on a boat on Sydney Harbour and asked me to marry him. The year after that, we gathered all our favourite people at a little winery down on the south coast and said “I-do.” What a fairytale, right?! It was, and it still is. But goodness, we had no idea what was in store for our first 5 years of marriage.
Soon after our wedding, my husband was offered a job in Bangkok so we excitedly packed up & moved to Thailand. We loved it and spent the first year traveling & going to rooftop bars. We knew we wanted to have a family, but I was only 33. we figured there was no rush. But by the end of our first year away, we decided we wanted to start trying. So exciting! We were going to have a baby! I went to the doctor to have my IUD removed. When I first had the Mirena IUD fitted, my doctor had assured me that the “small dose” of hormones it contained wouldn’t have a lasting effect on my cycle once removed. “A couple of months,” she said was all it would take for my cycle to return to normal. So we waited. And waited. And waited.
Six months went by and no sign of my period returning. I went back to my doctor who ran all the standard blood tests. Nothing unusual came up. “Be patient” she said. So we waited some more. Still nothing. I decided to try the alternative medicine route. I saw a functional doctor and an acupuncturist. Again, nothing helped. We started to get quite worried. It had been almost a year by this stage, so I went back to my doctor. She tried two rounds of Clomid to try and get me to ovulate, but no luck. She then referred me to a fertility specialist. He ran more blood tests, and this time he came back with five little words that changed our path completely. “Your AHM is very low.” My what?? All these years as a woman, no one had ever told me about this tricky little thing called anti-müllerian hormone which measures your “egg supply.” It’s controversial and many doctors argue whether it’s reliable, but mine was much lower than it should have been, and coupled with my lack of ovulation and my age, we were referred straight to IVF. Not the path we hoped to be on, but glad someone could offer some options.
IVF was awful. We couldn’t find a clinic in Bangkok we were happy with but went with the best one we could find. I was rushed through appointments. The nurses couldn’t speak English so I had no one to call and ask questions. I started the cycle with 8 promising-looking follicles in my ovaries. My doctor started me on an average dose stimulation protocol. 3 days into it I went back for another scan – my body had not responded at all. So she increased the dose – 3 more days later still nothing. My stims were doubled & 5 days after that the scan still showed zero response. On the 12th day, my doctor took my blood results and told me there wouldn’t be an egg collection. My estrogen levels were drastically low (less than 100). I had no eggs to collect & there was no point in continuing injections as my body hadn’t responded even slightly. I was shocked, angry, and incredibly confused. What drugs did they give me and how could they not work? I had heard of IVF not being successful for people, but not even being able to try an IVF cycle? This was a new kind of shock. We were devastated and left with little advice on our next steps.
A few friends back in Sydney had been through IVF and were successful with a particular doctor. So I made the very difficult decision to leave my husband and my job for a few months and move back to Australia so we could try again. Being home was medicine in itself. Seeing friends, walking around my home city, and eating home-cooked meals. My husband came back for all of our important appointments, which was wonderful of him, but not easy traveling back & forth from Bangkok. Our new clinic was amazing, but the cycle didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped. Things started out okay…I had 7 follicles at the beginning of the cycle and they all began to respond to the stims (my doctor had me on an entirely different protocol to the one in Bangkok). But after a week it looked like only 3 follicles were likely to develop and contain an egg. I was disappointed but no matter – we only needed one for a baby, right? Thankfully all 3 of those follicles did – we collected 3 eggs. But the next day the clinic called to say just one had fertilized. I was distraught. I knew the chances of that one little embryo surviving five days in a petri-dish, a transfer, successful implantation, and a healthy pregnancy were SO incredibly small.
That two-week wait was a disaster. A couple of days after the transfer, I developed a cyst above my eye which quickly became infected & had to be removed via surgery. I was very reluctant to have any treatment that could interfere with the potential pregnancy, but because the cyst was so close to my eye, the doctor was worried it would affect my vision if not removed. So I had anesthetics, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and several very stressful trips to the surgery. I spent the next week in bed, refused to talk to anyone & just cried most of the day. I was convinced there was no chance my embryo could successfully develop after so much added stress.
But it did. She was a fighter. Two weeks after my transfer we got the call to say I was pregnant! And eight months after that my beautiful little girl was born. We were so, so lucky.
I breastfed my daughter for 11 months, and then the most amazing thing happened a few weeks after that – my period arrived! My cycle was back!! Gosh, it felt SO easy. We decided after everything we’d been through on our fertility journey already that we’d start trying again for a second baby straight away. I just knew it was going to be simple this time!
My Fertility Journey #2
My cycle was regular, but a little short. Another sign of low AMH and decreasing egg supply. I saw my doctor for a check-up but she thought everything looked fine and said there was no obvious reason we couldn’t get pregnant naturally if I was ovulating every month. So we started trying. So exciting! We were going to have another baby!
We tried for 3 months…4 months…5 months. Nothing. Not that long in the scheme of things but I guess I was pretty scarred from our first experience so I went back to the doctor to try and “help things along.” She agreed for us to try 3 months of Letrozole (similar to Clomid) to time ovulation and with progesterone support to extend my cycle. Those 3 months was torture. How could it NOT work? Back to the doctor for more tests. My AMH levels had fallen closer to zero. My doctor also found a cyst next to my ovary which she thought could potentially be blocking one of my fallopian tubes. I was sent for a hysteroscopy to check if everything was working as it should. It turned out my tubes weren’t blocked, but they were very slow-moving. This could mean they were partially blocked, or not functioning quite as well as they should be. It was around this time I was also diagnosed with a thyroid condition, and to top things off I developed chronic insomnia. The thyroid issue was frustrating but easily managed with medication. But insomnia threw me completely. It was relentless & affected my whole life. I’d be in tears daily, exhausted but somehow unable to sleep.
Things were not going well.
By this stage, I was 37, and again because of my low AMH & the possibility my tubes weren’t properly clear, we were referred back to IVF. I was so disappointed. But also a bit relieved. I didn’t want to have to go through IVF again, but if it meant we could have our second baby and move on, then I was all in. By this stage, we were living in Dubai and the clinics there had a great reputation. We found a doctor we really liked.
I had done a lot more research on egg quality & IVF success this time around, so I started doing ALL THE THINGS. Loads of supplements, the perfect home-cooked diet, zero gluten/dairy/sugar/alcohol, naturopathy appointments, a fertility smoothie every morning, acupuncture 2-3 times per week, fertility massage, castor oil packs, early to bed each night, essential oil blends, meditation twice a day, fertility hypnosis, regular exercise. I started taking DHEA & melatonin. I had been prescribed sleeping tablets to help my insomnia. I didn’t like taking them but they worked. The preparation for IVF was exhausting & I thought about nothing else for months.
Finally, we started, and this time our cycle went really well! We ended up with 2 healthy little embryos. We transferred both, and while our two-week wait was inevitably nerve-wracking, I just knew it had worked. How could it not?! I did so much more this time to help things along with all my preparation.
But it didn’t. Our test was negative.
And to make matters worse, the following day Dubai went into lockdown over Covid-19. So even if we had wanted to try another cycle, we couldn’t. Every clinic was shut.
I think about this time now & I realize this was my rock bottom. My moments of crying on the bathroom floor at 3 am. I was overwhelmed, devastated, exhausted & at a total loss. I still couldn’t sleep. Why was this so hard? But with my work shut down & little else to focus on, we did what every other family who was lucky enough to be together during 2020 did. We bunkered down, played games, watched movies, and cooked meals.
Someone told me about Fertility Yoga…
And something really unexpected happened – I fell in love with yoga. As someone who had been practicing Pilates for 20 years, yoga was such a surprise. It calmed me, brought some space to my world and I practiced every day. My insomnia disappeared. I felt lighter. I felt more confident. Most yoga studios around the world were taking their classes online during Covid so I found some incredible people who were teaching fertility yoga. Pilates had been my go-to for decades. It had helped me heal old skating injuries, rehab sprained ankles, fixed some postural problems from the time I worked in an office.
But when it came to helping me through my fertility journey, Pilates had very little to offer. Pilates is wonderful for connecting your mind with your body, but fertility yoga managed to connect me to my heart, and to my womb, which was something I had never really thought about before. I had been practicing meditation for years but it was always through a guided practice, usually something pre-recorded. I never just sat on my own & listened to my body. The first time I sat down to meditate properly after a long yoga session, I remember being there in the silence, and the clearest message from my body came into my head. “You never gave me a chance.” My body was right. I had been frantic, constantly looking for the next “thing” to give me the answers to my fertility struggles, doing everything except slowing down. I realised that I had the answers all along. My body just needed some time. As difficult as 2020 was, I am forever grateful that it forced me to really look at myself & feel all the pain & discomfort I needed to feel. Infertility causes a lot of trauma, and I had been pushing it away, trying to convince myself I just hadn’t found the solution yet.
Months went by. Eventually, the city opened up and fertility clinics started to reopen. We began to talk about what we’d do next. I really wanted to go back to my clinic in Sydney to try another IVF cycle but the world travel restrictions (especially in and out of Australia) were making that impossible.
But then the most incredible surprise came along a few days after my birthday that year, I found myself standing over the bathroom sink, my hand shaking, as I watched two little pink lines appear on a stick. I WAS PREGNANT! And it had happened naturally!!! We were over the moon, shocked, and so incredibly excited. Our journey was over! We made an appointment immediately to confirm the pregnancy and things were looking great. My HCG was rising, I started getting all the symptoms. I couldn’t believe this had finally happened.
We lost the baby four weeks later.
I wasn’t prepared for the grief. We’d been through so much disappointment by this stage, but this was different. My world fell apart. I couldn’t get out of bed. Couldn’t be a parent. Couldn’t work. I was so, so angry. I didn’t have miscarriages. My problem was that I couldn’t GET pregnant. I hated the universe, hated everyone else who built their family so easily. I felt so ashamed & guilty for resenting my friends who were falling pregnant around me. And I hated how unfair it all was. I spiraled & I struggled and I have a very wonderful husband to thank for bringing me back to the surface again.
But underneath all the sadness there was something playing at the back of mind now. I found a new sense of hope. We were able to fall pregnant. I was sure we could do it again. IVF hadn’t worked, and I now felt going back to it wasn’t the answer.
But I immediately went back to doing ALL THE THINGS. Surely that’s what I had missed! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but I felt myself getting anxious again. My doctor told me that often the months immediately after a miscarriage are when a woman becomes extra fertile. I was convinced it would happen again right away. I wish she hadn’t told me this because I was crushed each month it didn’t happen. Again, months went by with nothing. I became frantic, kept researching other ways I could help myself. It was overwhelming. My body was constantly reminding me that this was not the solution, but I pushed through. I remember one day having a long-awaited appointment with a hormone specialist thinking “THIS will finally give me the answers I need!” But she didn’t come up with anything new.
I think that was my tipping point. That day I gave up. I stopped checking everything off my list. I still ate a good diet & took a few supplements, but I cancelled all my appointments. For weeks I stayed up late, had wine on the weekends, went out dancing with friends. And I came back to Yoga. The thing that had changed my perspective completely. How could I have forgotten this so easily? I decided to delve deeper into my Yoga practice. I signed up for my 500-hour teacher training certification. I was in awe of how Yoga could change the way I went about life. It had been years since I had last studied and I loved being back in a place where all the new information opened my eyes & challenged what I thought was possible. And it was SO nice to be focusing on something other than fertility issues for a change.
And that’s when it happened. Those two little pinks lines appeared again. And this time it felt right. It felt like my baby was ready.
While this pregnancy wasn’t the easiest (you can read more about that journey here if you wish), my gorgeous boy was born eight months later, just over three years after his big sister.
My children came to me at a time when I needed to learn about patience and self-compassion. And about appreciating everything I already had. Nobody lives a completely charmed life. Everyone has fought their own battles. Whether it’s illness, chronic pain, family issues, special needs, mental health, relationship problems, abuse, addiction, financial stress. Everyone has something. It’s almost impossible to think this way when you’re in the midst of your own traumatic journey, when the bad news keeps coming. It feels like you’re the only one in the world who is going through it & you just can’t catch a break. But the more I talked about my fertility journey and the pain I’d been through, the more I realised everyone has had their moments, too.
I’m not sure I believe that everything happens for a reason. I think shitty things in life just happen, and it’s what we do after those moments that determines whether we can find meaning in them and make our lives better because of them. Most days, I realise that the struggles I went through helped me to create a life I would never have had otherwise. Would I have such a close relationship with my husband & children? No. Would I have the business & career I have now, something I hope to do every day for the rest of my life? Definitely not. But sometimes, occasionally, I think “You know what, Universe? I would have been just fine without the struggle thanks!” But I’ll never know. And I am oddly, but truly, grateful for what my experience forced me to learn.
Wherever you are on your journey, I wish you some moments of peace. And all the love and light in the world.
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