Marnie Goss had only been with her partner for six months when she felt the need to have ‘the talk’. Her biological clock was ticking, and she knew that her time to fulfil her dream of becoming a mother was limited. She had no idea that that conversation was about to take her on a journey that would last years…
With a PCOS diagnosis complicating things, Marnie was advised to start IVF. “I remember the first night that I took the medication”, she recalls. “I sat on the bathroom floor for what felt like hours, trying to pluck up the courage to put those needles into my stomach. While Scott sat out in the loungeroom watching the news, unaware of what I was going through, I finally found my courage and put the needles in while the tears rolled down my cheeks. I am not sure why I cried that night but it was the first of many tears I shed on our journey.”
Infertility affects one in five Australian women. So while Marnie’s story is heartbreakingly common, it’s nothing short of extraordinary. Here, she shares the incredible lengths she went to, to finally become a mother.
Main image: Bianchi Photography
One thing that I have learned over the years is that no two roads to motherhood are the same...
Some have accidents and fall pregnant without even trying or wanting the baby, while others make the decision to try for a family and fall pregnant relatively easily on their own. There are others who take years and years filled with doctor’s appointments, miscarriages, blood tests, scans, needles, medication, vitamins, acupuncture, herbs and many, many tears. And then there are the women who experience the most heartbreaking and gut wrenching journey of them all. The journey where despite all of their best efforts and intentions, they fail to ever fall pregnant.
My journey to motherhood started a little later than most. While my friends were settling down and having babies, I spent my twenties living abroad and travelling the world, and my early thirties focused on my business. I always knew that I wanted to be a mother one day, but I always thought that I had time. It never occurred to me that falling pregnant was going to be difficult and may not be an option. When I think back to those days, I shake my head at how naïve I was.
I dated a lot of lovely guys during those years (some not so lovely) but there was never anyone I could see a future with or could imagine having children with. It wasn’t until I met Scott one Sunday morning, at a friend’s birthday celebrations, that things changed for me. We got off to a slow start but the more time I spent with this kind and gentle soul who always made me laugh, I knew he was the one for me. The more time I spent with Scott, the louder the clock started ticking in my ear. Given my age, I knew we would need to act soon if children were in our future – but how do you tell someone you have only been dating for 6 months that you need to start thinking about children? He would either run for the hills or he would join the conversation. Thankfully, my kind and gentle soul joined the conversation. I had been told years earlier that due to PCOS, my only chance of having children would be through IVF. So whilst Scott wasn’t quite ready for children, he agreed to undergo a round of IVF to freeze embryos for when he was ready.
“ How do you tell someone you have only been dating for 6 months that you need to start thinking about children? ”
We researched IVF clinics and visited a lovely doctor who came highly recommended to us. We sat down at our first appointment and as he read out the statistics, a bead of sweat slowly trickled down my back. The realisation set in that this journey wasn’t going to be easy. However, I was determined and confident that we would be one of the couples who succeeded. Those early days of tests and scans were a blur, and we finally started our treatment which required injecting medication through needles into my stomach. I remember the first night that I took the medication, I sat on the bathroom floor for what felt like hours, trying to pluck up the courage to put those needles into my stomach. While Scott sat out in the loungeroom watching the news, unaware of what I was going through, I finally found my courage and put the needles in while the tears rolled down my cheeks. I am not sure why I cried that night but it was the first of many tears I shed on our journey. After two weeks of injecting needles every night, blood tests and internal ultrasounds every two days to check on my follicle growth, we were finally ready for egg collection. I took my trigger injection and 36 hours later, we were ready for collection and took ourselves off to hospital for the procedure. While Scott was taken away to provide his sample and I joked about the fancy movie he was about to watch, I was handed a cap and gown and taken to the waiting room. After what seemed like an eternity, I was taken into the operating theatre while the anaesthetist started getting ready. The sheer number of people in the room that day was terrifying. How could there be so many people here to collect my eggs? The nerves kicked in and I begged the anaesthetist to knock me out quickly so that I didn’t have to think about it any longer.
I woke up in the recovery room and looked straight at my hand where I knew the piece of tape with the number of eggs collected would be waiting. 11. I was over the moon. We had plenty of eggs waiting to be injected and frozen as embryos, ready to start our little family. I received a call later that afternoon from one of the scientists who had been in the theatre to tell me that 6 of the eggs were mature. What do you mean, where are the other 5? The scientist explained they were immature eggs and had been discarded. She promised to call in the morning with another update. When the call finally came through, we found out that five of our eggs had successfully fertilised. Another one had left the party. Two days later, she called to tell me that we had 3 embryos remaining. My god, where were they all going? By the fifth and final day, we had 2 embryos remaining. Phew I thought, I always wanted 2 babies. Onto ice our darling little embryos went.
As time passed, the clock started roaring in my ear and I spoke to Scott about transferring the embryos. We went back to our doctor and he suggested doing another round of IVF, rather than transferring the embryos we already had. Why, I asked, we have all we need on ice? ‘Because you are getting older, it might be time to try and get out as many eggs as you can, while you can’. I felt like I had just taken an uppercut to the chin and the sweat trickled down my back again. We went through another round of IVF and this time we decided to do a fresh transfer. As we went through the motions again, we were left with one very fine blastocyst on day five for transfer. I ducked out of work and had the embryo transferred into my uterus, and I returned to work with a smile on my face, day dreaming of baby names. As the days passed, I prayed and prayed our little embryo was doing well and hanging on. One week after our transfer, I raced to the bathroom at work between meetings and saw the tell tale sign that it hadn’t succeeded. I pulled myself together enough to collect my phone and walk outside to call Scott. I only just made it onto the footpath outside work before the tears escaped. I sobbed and sobbed as I told Scott the news. I could hear the tears and wobble in his voice also and he told me everything would be okay, we would try again he said.
We went back to our lovely doctor and went through the same procedure several more times, with similar results and without success. Each cycle resulted in a phone call to Scott on the footpath outside work with tears on my cheeks. As the time passed, I endured more and more pregnancy announcements from friends and family and while I was overjoyed at their wonderful news, each announcement broke my heart a little further. Baby showers became harder to endure, and I started to hate myself for being jealous at such wonderful occasions for my friends. During one cycle, we were unable to do a fresh transfer as my estrogen levels were too high, so we were required to freeze the embryo and transfer it during my next cycle. The next month, ironically I was at my sister in law’s baby shower while waiting for the call to come through with my transfer time for the following morning. When the call finally came through and I went outside to write down the details, I was stopped in my tracks as the scientist told me she was very sorry, the embryo hadn’t survived the thaw. I took myself upstairs to our apartment (the benefits of living in the same building as your sister in law) and remembered that my father in law and brother in law were hiding out in our apartment while the shower was on, so I didn’t even have anywhere to cry in private. I took myself to the bathroom where I shed a few quiet tears, did some star jumps to perk myself up and took myself back to the shower. I couldn’t tell you who was there that day, who I spoke to or what food they served, but as soon as it was polite enough to leave and the coast was clear in our apartment, I took myself home where I lay on the bathroom floor and sobbed for hours.
At the end of our 7th unsuccessful round, Scott had had enough. He said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and expecting a different result. We either try a different doctor, or we give up. I felt like my doctor and I had been through so much together, and I didn’t want to give up on him, but I didn’t want to give up on our dream either so I reluctantly agreed to see another doctor. We went to see another doctor who specialises in treating more difficult or older patients. Once again, we went through a round of tests, and he prescribed a fresh new protocol of drugs to kick off our cycle. By this stage, I was injecting up to 5 needles every night, I felt like I was running a drug ring in my bathroom. To think how terrified I was of injecting that first night, now I was a pro at injecting at work, public bathrooms and friends’ homes, while everyone was none the wiser. We went through the motions with our lovely doctor and with each failed attempt, our chances were looking slimmer and slimmer and Scott was losing his patience. We couldn’t go on he said, we needed to draw the line somewhere he said. We both agreed that my birthday that year was the line in the sand.
“ I felt like the worst friend in the world but how could I celebrate the one thing for her that I had just lost? ”
As the date fast approached, I knew I could squeeze in one last round in before then, and Scott reluctantly agreed. When we started this process, we discussed doing 2, maybe 3 rounds of IVF and we were now up to round 13. How on earth did we get here? We finished the cycle with two lovely blastocysts that were given a strong fighting chance when put through the AI computer at the hospital. ‘This is it’ I thought, ‘this has to be it’. My doctor decided to transfer both of the blastocysts, to give us a fighting chance, and we waited and waited for what felt like the longest two weeks of our lives. On the day of the blood test, there was still no sign of my period and my hopes were soaring. As I waited for the results to come through in the afternoon I started daydreaming of baby names again, and what kind of a dad Scott would be.
I was at my sister’s house when the call finally came and I went outside to speak with the nurse. Negative. I crumbled into a heap on the footpath and felt the sobs escape from my throat yet again. The nurse asked if I was alone, was there someone who could help me, would I be okay. I took myself home and climbed into bed where I remained for three days. My birthday came and went. We were supposed to be catching up with a dear friend who was visiting from interstate, who had just announced her pregnancy, and I couldn’t even drag myself out of bed to celebrate with her. I felt like the worst friend in the world but how could I celebrate the one thing for her that I had just lost? Scott handed me a birthday card in bed and as I read it through my tears, I smiled at him, put it on my bedside table, pulled the covers up and went back to sleep.
After a few days of this, Scott had had enough and told me it was time to start getting on with life. ‘How’, I asked? How do I get on with my life when the vision of how my life should look had suddenly changed? How do I just put aside my dream of holding a baby in my arms like it doesn’t matter anymore? But sure enough as time went by, the tears began to dry and I slowly started climbing out of bed. It was a slow climb, it felt like I was learning to walk again for the first time. ‘How can this be’ I thought, how can I not be a mother, what does life look like for us now? I remember putting my sneakers back on for the first time to take myself for a walk and get some fresh air. Just get to the corner I thought to myself, you can do this. I made it to the corner and came home and got back into bed. The following day I made it to the next corner, and the day after I made it down the end of the street. It didn’t take long before I was doing my regular walk down to the park again, and starting to feel human again, only this time with a broken heart.
I went and visited my IVF doctor one final time, not to enquire about doing another cycle but to ask any unanswered questions and for my peace of mind as I was still convinced there was hope. He gently suggested our best option may be to look at egg donation, and he placed some brochures in front of me. As I violently shook my head, he asked me what it was I really wanted. ‘To be a mother’ I said. ‘You can still be a mother, it may just look a little different to how you planned’, he said. As I left his office that day, my kind and gentle doctor gave me a huge hug and I sobbed and sobbed as my tears stained his shirt. ‘Please think about it’, he said.
Scott and I had a holiday planned to visit the US several weeks later at Christmas time. I told Scott to cancel it and he gently suggested that we go so that we could remember what it was like to have fun again. He asked if I could remember when was the last time I laughed. A searing pain burned in my chest as I thought about not only what this journey had done to me, but also to Scott. How horrible for him to watch his partner so utterly consumed by something that hadn’t worked, and had caused so much grief. I agreed to go.
Our holiday ended up being the tonic that I desperately needed. As I watched Scott fall over while ice skating in Central Park, I laughed so hard I cried. I remember standing on the ice, looking up at the blue sky with happy tears on my cheeks, and thinking how much I had missed laughing. I made a promise to myself to do it more. And I did. I laughed at the big things, I laughed at the little things. I still cried when I remembered the pain of the last few years, but it got easier. Ironically, we caught up with some dear friends in New York who had adopted two beautiful little girls. I didn’t think I could see anyone love their children more than those two beautiful souls, and it made me start to realise that parenthood does come in all shapes and sizes. One of them mentioned that their doctor had made a comment regarding his four children – two were adopted and two were biologically his- that he loved them all so much that he couldn’t remember which ones were adopted and which ones were biologically his. I had never heard anything more beautiful in my life.
We returned from our holiday and I felt like I had a spring in my step for the first time in years. There was still a desperate ache in my heart, but I was starting to let go of the idea of having a child with my own eggs or even having one at all. It hurt like hell but I was starting to make peace with it. I registered for the egg donor database and looked at the candidates who could potentially donate their eggs to us, but wasn’t sure it was for me. It was time to get on with our lives.
“ It was time to get on with our lives ”
Two months later, I was focused on my fitness, being healthy, and trying to enjoy life again. I started having the occasional drink again, threw all of my pregnancy vitamins in the bin and started giving away all of the baby clothes I had been storing over the years. With Scott’s encouragement, I had taken up running and we regularly went down to the park in the morning together to jog and run sprints. All of the hormones had taken their toll on my body and I was keen to shed the extra kilos I had put on over the years.
My body was still adjusting to normality after the cocktail of drugs I had been feeding it, and my period was still irregular. It was overdue that month and I put it down to the irregularity I had been experiencing during IVF. As the days ticked by, I thought it was odd at how late it was, and of course the mind can’t help but wonder. I purchased a pregnancy kit to put my mind at rest and because old habits die hard. I sat in the bathroom texting girlfriends while waiting for the results and for the first time in my life, there were two lines on the stick instead of one. I don’t know how long I stood there and stared at it. It was as if I was frightened that the results would change if I took my eyes off it. Eventually I did, only to race out and buy three more pregnancy tests. All of them had two lines. I raced out to the local medical centre and demanded a pregnancy test. The urine test came back positive, but I needed to wait for the blood test results which would come in the next morning. I text Scott to come home early because we needed to talk. Scott raced home, worried that the results of a recent pap smear and breast scan were the cause of the text. As I sat on the couch and handed him the pregnancy tests, I don’t think he could quite believe his eyes. We both cried and hugged, but remained weary and cautious. After the journey we had been on, it seemed too good to be true. The next day, the blood test results confirmed what we had been dreaming of. I was 5 weeks pregnant.
After a series of phone calls to the IVF clinic, I returned to them for monitoring in the first trimester before the standard first visit to the obstetrician at week 12. Even though this was a natural pregnancy, they wanted to check if the pregnancy was viable and to take care of me after what I had been through. Our doctor explained there was a strong possibility that the pregnancy wasn’t viable, and even if it was, that I would miscarry.
As our doctor performed that first scan, I held my breath for what felt like an eternity and held Scott’s hand so hard I am pretty sure I drew blood. I don’t think he even felt it. It wasn’t until many scans later, that I realised our doctor had turned the volume down while checking for the heartbeat in case there was nothing there. But when he turned the volume up and I heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, it was the greatest sound I had ever heard. The tears streamed down our cheeks and for the first time in our journey, they were happy tears.
We were warned not to get our hopes up as there was still a strong chance of miscarrying and so we cautiously began our pregnancy journey. With each positive scan and test, we began to realise that I may carry this baby to full term and we started to let ourselves get excited. At the end of the first trimester, we were passed onto the most wonderful obstetrician who took the greatest care of me and my anxieties. Given the complexities we had experienced trying to get pregnant, it was ironic that we had a fairly straight forward pregnancy. Yes there was the usual tiredness and morning sickness but I could not have been happier. How lucky was I that I had morning sickness! As my tummy swelled and my bottom grew, we got closer and closer to meeting our little angel. I was convinced it was a boy due to terrible pregnancy acne, but we decided to wait until our babymoon to find out the gender. Our obstetrician wrote it down on a piece of paper which we decided to open at sunrise on the beach at Noosa, which was one of our favourite places. As we pulled out the piece of paper that read FEMALE, we both cried tears of joy. Suddenly everything seemed so real and we were nearly there. Our little angel was in the breech position and in no hurry to turn around, so I was booked in for a caesarean. Neither of us slept a wink the night before she was due and before we knew it, we were in a taxi at 5.30am on the way to hospital.
As I checked into hospital and was taken to my room, the nerves started to kick in. Eventually I was handed a cap and gown and told to get ready before I was finally wheeled down to the waiting room. The handsome anaesthetist started telling jokes to try to calm me down while my wonderful obstetrician came to check on me. The spinal tap was finally inserted and an incredibly weird sensation came over my legs as I started to lose movement and feeling in them. The curtain went up over my stomach and Scott held my hand. It is a strange feeling to be shielded from the team on the other side of the curtain operating on your body. As I watched them starting to cut open my stomach in the reflection in the overhead lights, I decided it was best I look away. My little breech baby was in no hurry to come out, and the clock started ticking on a procedure that is supposed to take 5 minutes. 37 minutes later, I finally heard a little cry from the other side of the curtain and it was the most magical sound I had ever heard. The team dropped the curtain so I could see my daughter for the first time before she was whisked off to be checked over, and the tears rolled down my cheeks. Tears of pain at the loud cries now coming from her while I was unable to comfort her as the paediatrician attended to her, and tears of pure joy that she made it out okay. After what felt like hours, Scott finally bought our daughter over to me. As the midwife helped him place her in my arms, I cried and cried tears of joy. I had never felt such happiness, such contentment and the feeling that for the first time in my life, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Not every infertility journey has a happy ending like mine and every day I thank my lucky stars at just how blessed we are. Charlotte is 6 months old now and I still can’t believe that she isn’t a dream and that I get to keep her. When I think back to all of those early mornings at the IVF clinic, I remember the hope and the sadness in the eyes of the women in the waiting room. I remember the feeling of sadness and despair in my eyes towards the end of our journey. IVF is a very lonely journey, one that women don’t talk about or share. I think it is difficult even for our partners to understand the toll that it takes on our minds, bodies and hearts. Infertility is not a disease or illness, it is something that 1 in 5 women experience. I often found that when I opened up a little bit and shared pieces of my story, the response was overwhelming and I didn’t feel so alone. I was often surprised at the amount of my friends who had gone through something similar but had heartbreakingly kept it to themselves. I wish there was something I could say or do to help women in similar situations because I know just how heart breaking and gut wrenching it is, and I know not everyone is as lucky as me. But what I will say is that is families come in all shapes and sizes, children come in all shapes and sizes and love does not discriminate. Whatever path you go down, whatever your future holds and whatever your family looks like, you’ve got this.