Welcome to the second post in the One Mom series. The aim of this series of four posts is to highlight that even though our journeys to motherhood were different, we are all united in our title of ‘mom’.
At the end of the day, whether you had a C-Section or natural birth, whether you got pregnant easily or had help conceiving, whether you had your baby in a hospital or at home, or whether you were old or young when you became a mom, you’re still a mom.
It doesn’t matter what the particulars of your story are. You’re a mom, I’m a mom, and the woman standing behind you at the grocery store is a mom. We are One Mom. We’re here to share our stories and lift each other up. That’s what matters.
My readers know that my pregnancy was the furthest thing from a planned pregnancy as can be. I got pregnant not just without trying, but while actively trying not to.
At the time, my pregnancy felt like it was the end of all my dreams, but to others, finding out they’re pregnant is the realisation of all of theirs.
Cristy is ‘others’ and this is her story.
Hi, so I’m Cristy, a full-time working mom to my gorgeous IVF twins Ally-Rose Mckenzie and Cole Marshall James — my miracle babies who are currently 9 months old.
I never really knew if I wanted children when I was younger, I love my baby sister so much I didn’t think I would have the desire to have my own children.
I also had big plans, many dreams of traveling and tackling the lack of education in our local townships, but alas my dreams came crashing down when my legendary single mom couldn’t afford to put me through varsity.
I did try the Unisa thing but bunking with my bestie and lying on the beach were far more of a priority than studying. So, I had to enter into the adult world quickly and find a job to help my mom a little — and fund my partying ways!
I quickly found a passion in pharmaceuticals and even more so in selling, so that’s what I currently do.
At 25 I was diagnosed with endometriosis, something I was told not to worry too much about that it wouldn’t affect my fertility. I had it removed and so started the journey of crippling period pains, surgeries, and eventually having to face the fact that falling pregnant on my own was probably going to be a challenge…
When I eventually found my Prince Charming and settled down, I was already at an age that would not be classified as a “good time” to start a family.
After a year of trying to conceive naturally, my husband and I decided to consult a fertility specialist, at that point, I was already 34 years old.
I fell pregnant two years later.
The ABCs of IVF
1. What led you to IVF and were there any other assisted reproductive methods you considered?
So as I mentioned we tried to conceive naturally for a year, after that we decided to see a specialist. I was given an injection, oral tablets, and a timetable and told to go have fun and make a baby.
I started the meds, my husband had tests done and after the specified time to “have fun and make a baby” we got a call to say there was also a male factor in our fertility issue. I didn’t feel confident in the doctor after that and decided to move to another fertility clinic.
It was there that the doctor picked up that I had more than one issue. I was literally killing the sperm. I had another endometriosis removal (I think that was my fifth removal) and scope and we were told to try to conceive naturally for three months after that as you are more fertile after the surgery.
We then tried what is called an IUI. Basically, they put you on meds to make more eggs, take a sample from your partner and filter out all the non performers, and then they insert the sperm into you while you are ovulating.
We had no luck there either.
By that time we had spent R 50,000.00 trying to fall pregnant. At the clinic where we were, an IVF cost R 90,000.00 excluding ICSI (where they inject sperm into an egg) and we didn’t have that kind of money.
I heard about Dr Trouw at Pretoria East Fertility Clinic that was at a fraction of the cost. So we then moved to that clinic, once he saw our files and treatments received he suggested IVF as our only option.
2. If you were asked to sum up the actual IVF process to someone who knew nothing about it — leaving out all of the technical terminology and medical jargon — what would you say?
Trying to stay rational rather than emotional is so difficult. Eventually, after the failed IUI, I decided to take everything one day at a time.
I know that sounds so silly, but you deal with so many different emotions, difficulties, and lack of support from people who do not understand what you are going through emotionally. Every one of us is different, and that’s ok…
I would try to explain to someone who knew nothing about IVF that it is a journey. One day you’re happy, the next an emotional wreck. You can’t be expected to be ok, you are taking hormones — orally, through injections, vaginally — and you will not feel like yourself.
Please be prepared to be spread eagle a lot of the time, at first it’s uncomfortable because you’re menstruating and shy, how could you not be. Then it will happen more frequently to see what is going on… Your meds could be adjusted, this is normal.
After egg retrieval it is painful, stay at home for a day or two if you have enough leave. Once they did the insemination I took a week off, lay with my feet up, ate pineapple, and drank pomegranate juice (apparently this helps with implantation).
NO ONE will understand your feelings in the two-week wait. Try to get your partner to go with you to all your appointments, you will need the emotional support, actually, you both will. Ask all the questions you can, as you only have limited time with the doctor, and write them down because they will come to you in the middle of the night.
After the failed IUI, I tried my best to live a healthy lifestyle (a glass of wine here and there didn’t hurt me, but it’s a personal choice.) You will research your socks off… But just follow your doctor’s advice. And if you’re not comfortable with your doctor, move. It’s expensive and taxing emotionally.
You will hold onto something special. I wore a lucky top given to me by my sister, earrings that my husband gave me, and a fragrance that my mom gave me so I felt like I had all my people with me at the same time.
Join Facebook support groups and find ladies who are going through the process with you, it made the world of difference to me.
Be prepared for the worst, but always hopeful for the best.
3. What, if any, emotional hurdles did you have to overcome throughout the IVF process? And do you feel that you were sufficiently prepared for those emotions?
I don’t think I can ever explain the feelings associated with IVF. It’s feelings of excitement, anxiety, hope, fear, anger, feelings of helplessness, and being let down by your body.
It’s not easy. Don’t feel shy, do ask questions. Get over any fear you have of needles because you will be poked and prodded and feel like a lab rat. But it will all be worth it in the end when you hold your baby.
I don’t think anyone can ever be prepared for the emotions associated with IVF, and for every person going through it, it will be difficult and different. The only thing you can hold onto is the desire to have a baby.
4. Did the IVF process have any kind of physical impact on your body? What are the common physical ‘side effects’ of IVF?
Yes, I put on 12kg. I think it was a combination of hormones and comfort eating and drinking. Everyone is different, not all teenagers get acne for example, so it’s hard to say what is common.
I have heard of skin outbreaks, weight gain, extremely painful period pains, and back pain.
You will be sore after retrieval, the headaches are a killer. Take the meds offered and stay hydrated.
5. It’s a well-known fact that almost half of all successful IVF treatments end in multiples. Even knowing this, how did you feel when you found out you were pregnant with twins?
I must be honest I don’t like to use percentages without trials and clinical data, you don’t want to give false hope to desperate couples, but, yes, obviously the more embryos transferred the higher the chance of a multiple pregnancy.
There are so many factors to be considered like age, quality of eggs, and stress levels. All these factors have an impact on implantation. At the clinic, I was told that when you do a single transfer the chances of that taking are less than with a single transfer, which makes sense and this is not just for a multiple pregnancy.
So, when I had my egg retrieval there were seven eggs. Two were immature. Five were fertilized through ICSI. Of the five, only two made it. Only one had reached blastocyst and the other was getting there but very slowly.
I did a five-day transfer. The hope was that there would be eggs to freeze. Given the situation, we decided to do a double transfer, especially since the one was underdeveloped.
I had prepared myself for a negative result, so we were over the moon when our second Beta confirmed that I was pregnant. Even though we had done the double transfer we never thought both would take, especially since the one was so far behind in development.
I’ll never forget that shock. My husband and I were just quiet. I don’t think we spoke for two or three hours after receiving the news.
I can remember calling my sister first and she had had a special onesie made, I said she better get another, she just gasped and then gave this nervous giggle.
I still sometimes battle to believe I’m a mom to twins… I look at them in complete awe. I could not be more blessed… Or tired!
6. What is your response to those few people who have an “if it’s meant to be, it will happen naturally” kind of mindset? And is this something you personally experienced?
OMG, all the time. Just relax! Stop drinking. Go away on holiday. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
We did ALL that and still, nothing worked. I think people should mind their own business, you have no idea how hard it is to deal with infertility.
How can you possibly tell a woman, or a man for that matter, that “what is meant to be will be”.
That is cruel.
No one deserves to deal with infertility and to suggest things will only happen if they were meant to simply isn’t fair.
People always asked me when I planned on having children because I was so good with theirs, not knowing I was peeing on a stick to see if I’m ovulating, having very timed sex, rushing to doctor’s offices at 05:00 am in the morning, having countless surgeries to try have a baby and the repeated heartbreak of feeling your period coming on.
There is no shame in needing some help, we all take medication and we have the technologies and science to help us… Why feel ashamed to use it to fulfill your deepest desire to have a child?
7. What were the 3 best parts of your IVF journey?
I have made the most amazing friends, sisters rather, that shared my hope, fear, and pain. People who actually understand. I thank God for my special ladies. We celebrate together and cry together. I have forged an unbreakable bond with these ladies and I will forever be grateful that our paths crossed.
You learn how strong you actually are. You are pushed to your limits and your hope allows you to get up and try again. Even when all the chips are down and you feel lost and abandoned. Giving up is not an option.
It has opened my eyes to see how many people suffer from infertility, and as a result, it has taught me to try to be more understanding and sympathetic. I want to try to help ladies and break the stigma attached to infertility.
I don’t know much about it, but I feel if we can encourage someone instead of tearing them down, some of the battle is won because you don’t feel so ashamed and let down by your own body.
8. What were the 3 most difficult parts of your IVF journey?
Trying to explain what it is and why you need to have the treatment. People just don’t get it.
The fear is crippling.
The expense of it. That medical aid didn’t cover it… I hear now some medical schemes do cover it, but with many hoops to jump through
9. What are the biggest misconceptions regarding the IVF journey?
That it is guaranteed to work… Or if you do a double transfer you will have twins.
Some people will support you while others will tell you that if you only did “this” you would fall pregnant.
“Stop this, try that.”
No, it’s a medical condition, not an artsy-fartsy made-up disease or ailment.
10. As someone who yearned to be a mom for so long and spent so much time, effort, and money to become one, how does it feel when you hear that someone got pregnant without even trying?
Like someone stabbed you in the tummy. I became very angry and emotional about pregnancies.
While I was truly happy for people I felt let down by my own body, the one thing I’m supposed to be able to just do… and I can’t.
But eventually, you let go of your bitterness… Nobody deserves to be in my situation but nobody deserves my resentment.
11. What advice would you give to women who are considering IVF as their key to unlocking motherhood?
I don’t really think it’s a consideration. If it’s your last chance you will jump through hoops to get there. The infertility and IVF road is long and tiring. You will hit rock bottom and not be able to get out of bed, other days you will jump out of bed, fueled by the possibility of becoming a mom.
Take it one day at a time. It’s ok to be down. All the negative test results, ovulation counters, and early morning drives will all be worth it. I was lucky it worked the first time for me… I know of ladies who have done many rounds and no luck. Everyone is different.
You will be heartbroken.
But you will pick yourself up.
12. If one thing is clear, it’s that IVF is not for sissies. How can we support IVF moms throughout their journey? And is there anything NOT to say to an IVF mom?
OMGness, I could not believe people. That lady is broken but smiling. Be kind, and take her for a spoil. Just be there. Without adding your two cents worth.
Let her cry on your shoulder or tell you about the pram she saw today. However she deals with it is up to her, try putting yourself in her shaking shoes trying to put one foot in front of the other and you will quickly change how you treat a lady or man suffering from infertility.
Please, help us break the stigma. We all have desires and not everyone wants to be a parent and that’s ok, have the same respect for the couple or person who does.
We already hate ourselves. Hate our bodies for letting us down, hate that we are the reason our partners are without a child… So, please show some love.
Over and Out
Cristy told me that reading through my questions took her back and brought her to tears. I’m not going to lie, reading through her answers had me bawling my eyes out.
It was difficult for me to put this post together in many ways. For starters, I know that I haven’t given the IVF mommas in my life enough support. Not intentionally, but I haven’t given them the support that I now know they so needed.
Secondly, I’m guilty of taking my title of ‘mom’ for granted. One hundred percent. And right now, as I write this with tears in my eyes, the guilt feels mildly crippling. I didn’t have to fight for my spot in motherhood, it was handed to me on a silver platter and I will never, ever, ever forget that.
Thirdly, I realise now that I knew precisely NOTHING about IVF before reading this article. How it actually works, how those who are going through it feel, and how much IVF mommas have sacrificed to be a part of the mom club.
Thank you, Cristy.
For sharing your words with us. For being so open and honest. For educating me, and I’m sure, many others. For giving those who are battling with infertility a beacon of hope in what I’ve learned can feel like a hopeless journey.
Nobody deserves to be a mom more than others. All I ask that you take away from this article is a healthy dose of admiration for the women like Cristy who had a little help putting on their mom pants.