The roadmap to parenthood is different for everyone but I am pretty sure most women would assume things happen in the natural way for them regardless of relationship status. But for many women the natural way is no longer an option when you have a disease that affects fertility. For me that disease was twofold, one was Endometriosis and the other Adenomyosis. The first of these diseases, Endometriosis robbed me of both my ovaries in separate surgeries, not to mention the other 40 or so surgeries for these diseases and other related issues that I have faced over 20 years.
Endometriosis is a disease where the tissue that is similar to the lining of the uterus occurs outside this layer and causes pain and/or infertility and affects 1 in 10 women worldwide. Adenomyosis is a condition of the uterus where the cells that normally form a lining on the inside of the uterus also grow in the muscle wall of the uterus. This disease made it hard to get pregnant in the first place and caused tremendous pain over the years.
Unfortunately for me by the time my specialist recommended retrieving some eggs to freeze I only had 3 viable ones before my ovary quite literally disintegrated and had to be removed. I felt like on old laying hen being put out to roam free range, I was single and wasn’t prepared to go down the path of using a sperm donor and being a single mum at that point in my life and to be honest I wasn’t all that clucky or particularly maternal at that point. Ironically I met someone within weeks of this procedure who ended up becoming my husband, you have to love 20/20 hindsight!
Several years later we married and soon after decided to go down the path of IVF, without knowing if the eggs would defrost successfully or come out a bit like something you don’t wrap properly and it ends up with freezer burn on it. We had to prepare my body for potential implantation and this meant endless injections, tablets and creams, all of which fed the underlying disease and pain caused by Endo. Weeks of preparation occurred only to get a call a few weeks before Christmas that none of the eggs survived the thawing process. We were devastated, it hit me harder than I expected, I had been so stoic about it until it finally dawned on me that I would never have a biological child of my own. I was crushed, I would spontaneously burst into tears and could not face the world for days.
Skip forward a few months and we investigated either adoption or egg donation. Adoption is beyond difficult, especially when you are not religious as most countries that have children for adoption also require the potential parents to be regular churchgoers. This along with being over 30 ruled us out of almost all overseas adoptions and local adoptions are pretty much non-existent in Australia. This realisation led us down the path of egg donation, it was a long and emotional rollercoaster but ultimately one that was worth every moment of stress, anxiety and pressure. We were lucky, to find a generous and selfless donor that provided us with 15 eggs that resulted in 12 embryos. Once again we prepped my body for what was to come. My husband was brave and injected me every day, I pushed through pain and sickness and on our first attempt we were pregnant. The joy was enormous when I got the phone call but in the same breath of them telling me I was pregnant they told me my progesterone levels were too low and they were 95% certain I would miscarry. I remember standing outside of work sobbing to my husband on the phone saying I wish it hadn’t worked if I was just going to lose it straight away.
The next 2 weeks were the longest in our life while we waited for the next scan and blood test, every day I would talk to my belly and tell bubs to hang in and not leave us, I willed with every fibre of my being and to our astonishment this little jelly bean hung in there, he was a fighter just like his mummy. It wasn’t until then I realised just how much I wanted to be a mum and how strong I would become.
Now I’d love to say pregnancy was a delight but it really wasn’t. Thanks to scar tissue, adhesions, ongoing endo, the pain from adeno and from my uterus stretching to almost breaking point it was excruciating. I was in more pain than I thought humanly possible and as much as I loved feeling our little miracle in my belly at the same time I was miserable and barely coping with the pain. Then at 7 months we nearly lost our son after going into early labour and haemorrhaging and I spent the remainder of the pregnancy on bed rest. At 37 weeks our amazing little man was delivered via c-section and although small he was perfect and healthy. The first few months were tough, as they are for any new mother but couple that with recovering from a c-section, ongoing pain from Endo and Adeno and it was hard, but looking at my sweet little man made all of it worth it.
Whilst he may not have the same biology as me, five years on and not once have I ever looked at him and entertained even the remotest thought that he’s not mine. He has my smile, he has my sense of humour, he is a product of his loving upbringing. He knows he is loved more than anything in this world. We were lucky to have this one little miracle, we had multiple attempts at IVF with every remaining viable embryo after this but our luck ran out, my body failed us and last year after too much pain I had a hysterectomy to cure the Adeno and had the remaining Endo excised. I think for every mother who wants to have multiple children and can have less than they planned the sense of loss remains, the sense of guilt that you can’t provide your child siblings or your partner the children they perhaps dreamt of too. But what is essential to remember is that if you are lucky enough to have even one child then you hold them as tight as you can, you give them as much love as your heart can hold and you appreciate every moment you have with them and never feel guilty for what is out of your control.
It doesn’t matter what your path to parenthood his, whether it is biological, adoption, step parents or any other path, loving your kids and being there for them is all that matters. For those of us that battle through this while managing a chronic illness or chronic pain, loving them and being a strong role model is one of the best things we can do. Life with a parent with chronic illness is tough, but what we do bring to our children is a strong sense of empathy and compassion. This journey has led me to a path of wanting to help others who have been in, or going through a similar journey, who brave the battle of parenthood while surviving chronic illness or chronic pain. We need to be kinder to ourselves, be proud of what we have achieved and that each day we keep showing up and doing our best.
This blog was written as a guest piece for BHND.com a great site for women to talk unfiltered, head over and check them out.