Neil and I both have a wonderful blended family, between us we have three amazing teenagers from previous marriages, and when our family was on an even keel, we decided we wanted to add another child to our family.
When we married, we weren’t sure that natural conception would be possible as I had been diagnosed with low ovarian reserve age 29. We decided to try for a pregnancy when I was 36; a decision which took us on an intense five year journey suffering the tragedy of pregnancy losses, life threatening complications and unsuccessful fertility treatment, before we eventually met our darling boy, Noah.
Having tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant naturally, we decided to embark on IVF. Neil is a Professor of Reproductive Health and Fertility Specialist at Repromed, so I couldn’t have been in better hands. However, we didn’t have our blinkers on – in his profession he has seen hope, success and heartbreak. I couldn’t believe our luck when we conceived in 2015 on the second cycle of IVF, with twins! But the excitement didn’t last; the pregnancy turned out to be an utter disaster, and with a condition so rare that only a pair of gynaecologists could figure it out – no one had ever seen it before. This was a cornual heterotopic pregnancy with one pregnancy inside the womb and one pregnancy in the far corner of the womb.
Life and loss
I had to have emergency surgery for a ruptured uterus at eight weeks of pregnancy that caused life threatening internal bleeding which was very intense. Amazingly, the pregnancy inside the womb survived the emergency surgery which was promising news. But sadly, we lost our pregnancy just a few days later.
Six months later I had a follow-up scan to check the womb had healed normally. It hadn’t. I had a malformation affecting the upper half of the womb that made it potentially life threateningly dangerous to carry a pregnancy, as the stretch of a growing pregnancy could cause massive haemorrhaging and the uterus to be ruptured. This was devastating news for both of us, but I didn’t want to give up on our dream of having a baby together.
We explored how to treat this rare condition and I underwent a uterine artery embolisation procedure. Unfortunately, this procedure failed and so we were advised that surrogacy was the only option for us.
IVF begins again
I hoped to be able to collect my eggs and create embryos through IVF for gestational surrogacy. But after repeatedly unsuccessful IVF cycles (five in fact), we had no embryos.
For several years I underwent a series of unsuccessful medical procedures and multiple IVF cycles for egg stimulation. We used different IVF protocols to try and get around the major issue with the ovarian reserve and poor response to IVF.
It was a tough few years. During this time, there were definitely stages in our journey when I would say to Neil that I’d had enough, I would check in with Neil whether he’d had enough, we’d both agree to take a break. Then after a few months of ‘switching off’ from the baby journey, the energy to keep going returned and we’d dust ourselves down and try again!
Another devastating loss
In 2018 I became increasingly desperate to achieve pregnancy and throwing caution to the wind, we tried again naturally – against medical advice. I conceived naturally again but this pregnancy was slow to develop and ended with a miscarriage at eight weeks. Thankfully, there was no further medical harm – other than the emotional pain of yet another pregnancy loss.
It was tough, the grief of miscarriage is so invisible to the outside world yet so all consuming. Neil and I found planting our pregnancy losses in our garden, marked with a rose plant, was very helpful and grounding. It’s given us both a deeper understanding of the journey that Neil’s patients go through when they encounter repeated losses, failed treatments.
I was really blessed that even our losses seemed to bring us closer together. We had faith that all would eventually be well, although we were never certain that our journey would ultimately succeed and have such a happy ending. The reality was that we just couldn’t give up until we had explored every possibility to achieve a pregnancy, even though we had to make some compromises along the way.
I decided I wanted a child with Neil more than I wanted a child that was genetically my own, so we started to explore traditional surrogacy and joined the NZ surrogacy group.
We met our wonderful surrogate, Stacey, very soon after joining this group but she was in the middle of her first surrogate pregnancy at the time! We built our relationship with Stacey over the following year and she offered to be our surrogate. Naturally, I had initial reservations about traditional surrogacy (especially having had my own genetic daughter previously), but being part of this group enabled us to see how families created through the incredible gift of surrogacy were not just functional but beautiful and unique, and it was something we wanted for ourselves.
We started our surrogacy journey in August 2019 and conceived on our fifth attempt. We were beyond blessed to find Stacey, who carried our baby to term and gave birth to Noah in September 2019!
It really was a ride going through surrogacy. Having experienced a traumatic miscarriage previously, I couldn’t think far beyond each stage we were facing, even when all seemed to be going wonderfully well with Stacey’s pregnancy. My confidence grew as her pregnancy advanced, but there were always doubts as to whether we would really have a baby to take home, I was worried about late miscarriage, and later on, about stillbirth.
It seemed like an utter miracle when I saw our darling boy’s face for the first time. Even though Neil has been involved in hundreds of births in his profession, this one was absolutely special for him. Stacey was so calm throughout the labour and it happened so naturally. Noah was born in tip top condition straight into Neil’s arms. His birth was very healing for all the years of trauma due to the miscarriages and repeated pregnancy failures.
Noah is such a delightful little character – he is the light of our lives and he is much loved by his three older siblings. I am so thankful for him, for our amazing surrogate Stacey, the NZ surrogacy support group and all our family and friends that kept cheering us on from the sidelines!
Professor Neil Johnson is a Fertility Specialist at Repromed and past President of the World Endometriosis Society. Learn more about his passion for fertility, particularly for helping women with endometriosis, and how he got into this specialist field, here.
At Repromed we provide highly personalised care for all. Based in Auckland, both public and private treatment are available. If you’re a new client, we offer a free 15 minute phone consultation with a fertility doctor. Take the first step today.
Individual results may vary depending on your personal circumstances. With thanks to Joy and Neil for generously sharing their story.