Experiencing fertility issues can be an incredibly isolating experience, often described as a burden hidden deeply away.
During Hannah’s five year infertility journey, she shut down emotionally from those around her, as the difficulty of the experience was too raw and vulnerable to share. Over time she developed a beautiful friendship with Natalie, slowly opening up to her friend, which gave her much-needed strength to get through.
Now the two friends, along with their husbands, have used this fraught but beautiful shared experience to help others and have created a community of support.
Graeme and I have been together for 13 years, enjoying many adventures, travel, while building our careers. When I turned 30 we decided it was time to start our family. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy person, I eat well and go to the gym, so when we started trying it never entered my mind that we might not get pregnant.
We’d been trying unsuccessfully for six months, when a UK friend FaceTimed us to share their great news. When they held up an ultrasound I was genuinely excited for them but it hit me that we weren’t having much luck. After the call, Graeme turned to me and said, “Are you ok?”. I said, “Yes”, but deep down I knew something was off.
We persisted for two years before accepting we needed to get professional help. We had health insurance so our GP sent us straight away to get tested. Graeme had no issues, but while I didn’t seem to have any fertility issues, I did have polycystic ovaries which was impacting my ability to ovulate. I was prescribed medication to encourage ovulation followed by examination to count the eggs released but this wasn’t successful.
I underwent ovarian drilling for polycystic ovaries, which is surgery that breaks through the thick outer surface of the ovaries to lower testosterone levels and allow normal ovulation to be restored. The doctors advised us to wait 6-12 months for this process to help recovery and encourage natural conception. Over that time, I tried everything I could to help us get pregnant, and was given so much advice from everyone which I found intense. We didn’t have any success.
About 18 months into this recovery period, a friend suggested we see Dr Neil Johnson at Repromed for a Lipiodol flush. Meeting Neil was so reassuring, his empathy and caring nature was exactly what we needed after all of our disappointment. He opened our eyes to the options we had and what could bring us the best outcome.
Our insurance advised we could do 1 IVF treatment or 5 treatments of IUI (intrauterine insemination – assisting the sperm in reaching the eggs by precisely timing the procedure). That was a really hard decision to make; we decided to go ahead with the IUI treatments alone as we felt we had more opportunity for success. We booked in to have the Lipiodol treatment with Dr Neil Johnson as well to help prepare the womb, The stats were low with IUI, I had an 11% chance of becoming pregnant after this first treatment, so we hoped the Lipiodol flushing would give us the best chance of success.
The procedure itself was relatively straight forward – Lipiodol flushing is similar to a smear test, and IUI required some medication and timing ovulation exactly with blood tests and scans. Two weeks later I had a blood test to find out if I had become pregnant and the wait began. The day we were expecting the call with the result from one of Repromed’s nurses was my birthday. I was working night shifts at the time and I asked Graeme to get the results while I slept during the day. I knew if I got the results and I wasn’t pregnant I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would then have a whole night shift to get through feeling upset and tired.
When I woke, Graeme sent me a text to say he was in a meeting and was waiting for the results, he kind of put me off so I figured it was bad news. When he got home I was sitting on a couch and he gave me a present, which I thought was for my birthday, a book he knew I wanted. But when I opened it up and it was a baby journal book! I was over the moon. The pregnancy went really smoothly and we are so thankful to have our 4 month old boy now.
Looking back I was a very different person during this time of infertility. It was all so hard, I just shut down emotionally. I really changed as a person, I became quite hardened and cold. I really struggled to open up with anyone about what I was going through. Through my work I deal with emotional elements every day and I thought I was handling it fine, but in reality I was pushing it down and not facing it. My husband wanted to talk and suggested therapy but I am pretty stubborn, I didn’t want to get help. I think I carried this journey on my own and shut him out of it, which is something I’ve since seen and apologised for.
I was also in a life stage where all of my friends were starting their families and I found that so difficult. Four months later, Nat also fell pregnant. Her approach was so gentle and kind. Graeme called me first to say Nat was going to call me with some news, and prepared me. Nat rang me in tears and let me know her great news and she was so kind and sincere and that meant the world to me.
The way she handled it with empathy and understanding impacted me profoundly and showed me how important the support and compassion given by our friends, really is.
The truth is, it’s really hard when you are trying to conceive to see other pregnant women or with babies, you ache with longing for what they have. I always knew that when I got pregnant, I didn’t want other women going through infertility to look at me like I looked at pregnant women. I wanted them to know that I had been on a hard journey too and I got it. I understood them.
After I had Hunter, I was at my antenatal classes and I wondered, ‘Am I the only one who had fertility treatment’? I asked the question and it came it out that half of the group had been through IVF or IUI! Seven of the thirteen mothers there! None of us had spoken about this the whole time that we were together during pregnancy but it all came out when we had our babies. My neighbour once said to me they are called “Dawn babies’, meaning the light after a period of darkness, which is where Aurora Foundation came in. I decided to start this supportive community to help others on the journey to open up, and share their experiences to get that valuable friendship support.
It’s been awful to see many of my friends going through such a hard time with fertility issues, 90% of my friends have had problems with conceiving especially the second time around. During my own second pregnancy I had so many friends at the same time going through really hard things, like fertility issues, miscarriages, personal health issues, going through IVF; it was horrendous for them. It made me feel incredibly guilty that I was having an easy pregnancy and I was so nervous telling anyone as I knew how hard their struggles were. I really felt for them.
During their fertility journey, Graeme and Hannah didn’t open up much about it. One weekend we were all way together and Hannah popped out to the shops so it was just Graeme with us. Surprisingly he opened up and shared with us that what they were going through was incredibly hard and we we’re able to chat with him and support him.
Hannah had shut down during that time but I knew she really needed someone and I didn’t want to give up on giving her the opportunity to talk. I kept asking her out for coffee and would ask how she was going. Often she wasn’t able to open up, and that was okay. But other times she was ready to share and be vulnerable and we would shed tears together and have the hard conversations.
It’s really hard to know what to say to be honest. When a friend has a miscarriage you just can’t say the right thing, there’s no right thing to say. I think that just being there with kindness and compassion and being an ear is enough.
It’s also important not to give advice, as well-meaning as it might be. I can remember feeling really frustrated that Hannah wouldn’t consider IVF, I couldn’t get my head around it when she wanted a baby so badly. But I held my tongue as it was her decision to make not mine. A few months later, I was at the park with her I was heavily pregnant with my second and she opened up and told me her and Graeme were now considering whether to do IVF or IUI. She had come to get that decision herself, without my prompting, she needed to process it in her timing not mine. We talked through all of the options, and they decided to go the IUI route along with Lipiodol and she got pregnant straight away.
I remember so clearly the day she told me. It was her birthday and she popped in to meet Gracie, who had just been born. I had had a very traumatic delivery with my firstborn, and when she came over I wasn’t in a good way. I’d had another bad birth, and I was telling her all of the ins and outs about how terrible it was. She just listened the whole time and empathised with me. At the end of my story, we both paused, and she just looked at me and I knew something was up. Instantly we both just started sobbing and laughing and it was just the best, she was pregnant! It makes me tingle to remember that special moment.
Previously I had been having counselling and therapy for the traumatic birth I’d had, to help me get the tools I needed to cope with going through a second birth. I think having that professional support with a great counsellor really taught me how to be a great friend and what a friend needs. We need to be listened to, it’s about finding who your people are. The ones who will just listen, be there and understand your journey through your lens.
Adam and I were really honoured when Hannah and Graeme asked us to help with the Aurora Foundation; it’s amazing to be able to reflect on this journey as a group of friends, and share our experiences to help others find their way through it.
Repromed offers ‘fertility excellence with heart’ and we are passionate about offering highly personalised fertility care. Our doctors will be transparent with information to ensure you are clear on the chance of treatment success. It’s our ‘no sugar coating’ promise. Our Auckland based clinic offers new clients a free 15 minute phone consultation with a fertility doctor. To book, please call 0800 483 105 or email .
Thanks to Hannah and Natalie for generously sharing their story. It’s important to note that fertility is unique and individual results may vary. Find out more about Aurora Foundation on their Instagram page: www.instagram.com/aurora_foundation_nz