One mother shares her honest journey to become a mother and what it’s like going through IVF as a same sex couple...
On the decision to become a mother:
In my 20s, I was largely ambivalent about motherhood and I wasn’t sure whether it was something I truly wanted or was socially conditioned to want. It wasn’t until I reached my thirties that I realised how important it was to me to have children.
Going through IVF as a same sex couple is an interesting process because it’s not really designed for you. The majority of people who undertake IVF are heterosexual couples with fertility issues, so the tone is often very sombre and serious. Early on we were made very aware of the difficulties we could encounter, including being shown a chart displaying the likelihood of falling pregnant based on my age. While I think it’s important that people are given realistic expectations, it set me up to feel as if something was wrong with me or that it would be very difficult to fall pregnant. When the whole system is directed towards couples with fertility issues it’s easy to fall into that way of thinking.
Friends of ours who had recently been through the IVF process encouraged us to make the experience more enjoyable by doing something nice around the appointments. For example, making a point of going out for breakfast or getting coffee together before or after the procedures. Looking back, I remember the mornings we excitedly ate our breakfast before one of the inseminations or transfers. It gave us time to connect and talk about how we were feeling in the moment.
I wish I knew how long the process can take. Even without complications, waiting for appointments, tests, cycles, donor sperm, results, all take much longer than you anticipate.
On egg extraction:
You go into the hospital in the morning and get changed into your glorious hospital gown and slippers. You wait in an office while each medical professional comes in to explain the procedure and ask if you have questions. Then it’s off to the operating room. I opted to be put to sleep with a general anesthetic (you can also have the egg collection with twilight sedation and pain relief) so when I woke up in the recovery area, a nurse told me how many eggs they retrieved. Then you have something to eat. Once you’re feeling ready, it’s time to go home. I was feeling pretty crampy and tired from the medication, so I slept for the rest of that day. By the next day, I was feeling back to normal. Make sure you give yourself time to rest after the procedure and have someone ready to cook and look after you.
On embryo implantation:
This is a really quick and straightforward procedure. You go into the hospital again but this time it’s just a small room with a bed and stirrups. You strip from the waist down and get into a very awkward position; imagine a pap smear but legs higher in the air and a spotlight shining on your bits. An embryologist comes in and shows you a photo of the embryo that they are going to transfer. The rest of the procedure feels a bit like a pap smear, uncomfortable but not painful. You can then watch on a screen as a very thin catheter is inserted into your cervix and the embryo is pushed through into your uterus. It looks like a tiny flash of light or a little shooting star. Then you’re off the bed, dressed and crossing your fingers for the next two weeks.
On the two week wait:
The two-week wait is really hard! We couldn’t wait for the official test so we would do at-home pregnancy tests as early as we could. This isn’t something for everyone though and I’ve had friends say that this made it harder for them. The only thing that made the wait slightly bearable was staying busy – so make lots of plans over that fortnight!
“ I want her to know the things we gave up and went without, the experiences we had to forgo, and the people we missed. And that we did it for those we loved and those we didn’t even know. I want her to be an advocate for public health, science, facts and critical thinking. But most importantly, I want her to know that in the darkest moments there is light and in times set to tear us apart we are strongest when we stand together ”
On feeling supported:
The great thing about being a lesbian couple going through IVF is that all of your other lesbian friends having babies are all going through the same thing. We were lucky to have friends who had already been through the process and we relied on them for support and answering the million and one questions we had. Other than that, we decided to keep our IVF journey private. For me personally, I felt that the less people who knew, the less pressure I felt (even though this pressure was largely coming from me). The other benefit of having only a few people in the loop, meant that it was easier to distract myself from the process as I didn’t have lots of people asking how we were going or where we were at.
If you are doing it with a partner, try to go to all of the appointments together – not just the big ones like the retrievals and transfers. My wife came to every appointment, as well as every blood test and ultrasound. She also did all of the injections (I was way too squeamish to do it myself). Having her there with me for every moment really made it feel like we were a team. I never felt alone or that the responsibility of getting pregnant was just on me.
If you’re doing it without a partner, try and enlist a few special people in your life to come along for the ride. There are so many tests and appointments and it’s nice to have someone by your side. It’s easy to think “It’s just a blood test, I’ll go on my own”, but some of those moments are surprisingly tough and it’s nice to have someone there to take your mind off it or hold your hand.
On stigma around fertility:
I think the stigma around fertility exists because despite how common fertility issues are, people don’t talk about them. Often, we only hear stories from the two extremes, people who have sex once and fall pregnant or people who aren’t able to have children at all. There needs to be more stories on the in-between to normalise the reality of fertility, especially among a generation who are having children later in life.
On having a COVID baby:
Being pregnant and giving birth during COVID definitely added a layer of stress and anxiety to the experience. Already, I was attending prenatal appointments alone and worrying about getting sick, but then the hospital rules began to change regarding visitors and partners. Thankfully our hospital didn’t change the partner rule and my wife could remain with me and our daughter for the entirety of our stay, but there were lots of tears shed during those announcements. In some ways, I feel a bit robbed of the pregnancy experience I was expecting. I had to forgo all of the celebratory and enjoyable parts of pregnancy such as babymoons, baby showers and shopping for nursery items. However, the most difficult part was not being able to share such an important moment in my life with my friends and family, many of whom never saw me pregnant.
Late in my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with Cholestasis and my obstetrician made the decision to induce me at 37 +6 days. My induction began at night with the balloon catheter and then the following morning my waters were broken and I was given syntocinon through a drip. The syntocinon wasn’t having a great effect on my contractions so it was turned off and I continued to labour without it. My labour was mostly active and I moved around the room and changed positions regularly. For pain relief, I used a tens machine and spent time in the shower, both of which really helped. At one point I had an internal check and was told by my OB that I was 7cm dilated, he left the room and about 30 minutes later I began to feel an overwhelming feeling to push. I was standing up at this point and all of a sudden I had a shuddering sensation down my body as it began to push on its own. The midwife called my OB back and another check revealed that I was now fully dilated. I got onto the bed and after about 50 minutes of pushing my daughter was born and placed on my chest. It was an incredibly hard, beautiful and surreal experience and I’m grateful to all the wonderful people who were in the room. I’m also lucky that my wife caught it on camera and I’ve watched that video countless times since.
On being a new mother:
Like most new parents, sleep deprivation and breastfeeding were some common aspects of motherhood that I struggled with. Resources such as the Maternal and Child Health Line and the Australian Breastfeeding Association were invaluable for troubleshooting in those tough moments. As important as practical advice was, just being about to open up to a friend or family member about the difficulties of new motherhood was just as valuable. I was lucky to have friends with young babies who could understand exactly what I was going through. When you’re in the thick of cluster feeding and sleep regressions, having people who will listen – and who you can be vulnerable with – is exactly what you need.
Coming into motherhood during a global pandemic has heavily influenced the values I want to impart on my daughter. Never before have we been more directly responsible for protecting and caring for those around us. I want my daughter to feel proud of the sacrifices we have all made to keep our community safe. To keep those most vulnerable safe. To keep her safe. I want her to know the things we gave up and went without, the experiences we had to forgo, and the people we missed. And that we did it for those we loved and those we didn’t even know. I want her to be an advocate for public health, science, facts and critical thinking. But most importantly, I want her to know that in the darkest moments there is light and in times set to tear us apart we are strongest when we stand together.