The short version...yes, this is the short version...
My story starts four years ago when that buzz of excitement and nerves took over my entire body as I looked at the two lines on a pregnancy test and shared the news with my husband, Dean. I had an 8-year-old from a previous marriage and my husband no children of his own, so we had a desire to complete our family. Immediately I went into planning mode, and just as immediately I went into doubt mode. “holy sh*t, how am I going to do this newborn thing again after so long?!” But that doubt soon faded and the sheer excitement took over.
Sorry, there's no heartbeat
It was not meant to be. At the second scan we were confronted with the “sorry there is no heartbeat” scenario. Never being in this situation before, as my previous miscarriage during my first marriage happened naturally, I felt confused and scared. My immediate thought was that I just wanted it out of my body as sadness and shame took over. How could I carry something that wasn't alive within me for two weeks without knowing? How could I not know I was no longer pregnant? Organising everything with my Obstetrician I was in surgery the following day for a D&C. It was simple enough as I was early on, but this was the start of both the emotional and physical scares that shape who I am today. We grieved, but in my usual way I was taking comfort in knowing we would try again. And a couple months later we tried and sure enough after peeing on a stick we had a positive pregnancy test. Then during the next few weeks I had a number of hemorrhages - I would go the bathroom and be bleeding, episodes both at home and when I was out somewhere, and every morning I'd wake wondering if I was going to miscarry that day. But the early scan indicated all was ok, until the second scan, where the heartbeat was very slow. It was inevitable that I would miscarry, we just didn't know when. I had to go back out into the world after that scan and get on with life knowing that my little one inside me was slowly loosing theirs. And a couple of months after that positive pee on the stick, I was confronted with the exact same scenario at the exact same number of weeks and days: “sorry there is no heartbeat” and so back to surgery for another D&C. I was numb, confused and felt awful. Just awful and utterly alone. How could this happen, twice, in exactly the same way?
I never thought I would need to do IVF
We were able to test the 'products' (can you believe that is what they call it?) and it appeared that both pregnancies resulted in chromosome abnormalities, in fact the same chromosome abnormality both times. Given my age and the tick-tick-tick of that damn biological clock women are faced with, we took the recommendation to undergo IVF. One round done and one embryo transfer later, I was given one of the many terms I would learn in the world of IVF, the two week wait (or ‘2ww’ as it is so eloquently abbreviated). The blood test 2 weeks later revealed I was pregnant, and although my close friends and family were ecstatic, I was holding my breath because I had been here before. Pregnant. Somehow falling pregnant was the easy part for me.
There is a holding of breath during a pregnancy when you have suffered loss in the past. Every twinge you question, every time you go to the toilet you wonder if you will see blood, every scan you wait for the sonographer’s facial expression. Constant holding of breath. I held my breath for close to 14 weeks until the anatomy scan where we were told that there were some significant things wrong with our baby which meant the chances of going term were slim to none, and the chances of the baby surviving were none to none.
How could this be happening?
Completely emotionless, I sat there as my husband held my hand. Every scan up until this point was perfect. How could this be happening? I am not quite sure what unfolded next but it involved needing to organise a termination the following day. After everything, I now had to say goodbye to my little one and set their spirit free, but I was responsible for this - it wasn't a miscarriage, it was a termination. How surreal and unfair and utterly sh*t this was.
When I had a moment between all the tears, I had the painstaking job of telling my son in the best way I could manage what was happening. He didn't need the details, just that the baby wasn't healthy and we needed to say goodbye. For him, it was more about seeing his Mum so upset that really got to him more than anything else. And seeing his concern for me broke my heart even more.
It is 4 February 2019, a date forever carved in my mind and forever with me. Before heading off to surgery I said goodbye to my son and then to my husband, saying "we have been here before, we will grieve and try again", but it felt different. There was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t quite place and even though I had been here a few times before, going for a D&C, it was unnerving. Fast forward to me laying on the table, eyes heavy from the general anaesthetic kicking in, I look at my obstetrician and feel compelled to say, “look after me” just before I fall asleep.
Just when you think you've endured the worst
Darkness, confusion, unable to open my eyes properly and unable to speak because there are tubes down my throat, I feel Dean's hand holding mine and can hear a lot of talking but my eyes seem to be fused shut. Then I hear my obstetrician's voice “I’m so sorry Anita, we had to take your uterus”. Did I just hear that? Am I dreaming? What is actually happening? I feel like I am under water in the dark, shackles around my ankles, unable to move or come up to the surface. Immediately I think of my son and wonder where he is and if he is ok, was he picked up from school, where was he? Dean clearly senses this and says, “He is fine, don’t worry, he's being looked after”. I drift back to sleep.
I wake up in darkness, no idea what time it is, still confused, still with tubes down my throat. Laying there in what I would come to realise is ICU, with a nurse sitting at the end of my bed. All I feel like doing is ripping out the tubes down my throat. I cant breathe, I feel like I am suffocating, I am scared, confused and I have no idea what is going on or what happened. I signal for a pen and paper and manage to scribble “what happened to me?” to which the nurse says, the Dr will tell me in the morning.
The next morning, I listen as I am told that my 40-minute surgery turned into a 7 hour ordeal. That I bled out and the surgeons could not stop the bleeding. Regardless of all the interventions and the specialists on site being called into my surgery, I just continued to bleed, loosing 4 litres of blood (when my blood volume is 5 litres). With my body starting to shut down my husband and my Dr had to make the decision that would ultimately save my life. There was no choice but to do an emergency hysterectomy which left me with nothing but my ovaries. The reason was confirmed the following day, I had placenta percreta, a rare condition where the placenta grows through your uterus. So as soon as the placenta was taken, it left all all the open blood vessels in and around my uterus. I was “lucky” though. Had the pregnancy progressed we would have had no idea of what was happening as this condition doesn't show up on scans. The placenta would have started fusing to my other organs like my bladder and liver and with the Doctors saying I would have most certainly have bled out in an uncontrolled environment, I knew I would have ultimately lost my life if.
My baby saved me. I have absolutely no doubt. Doing what needed to be done to terminate the pregnancy early to save my life. My little angel became my little hero.
Plan C (or are we up to Plan Z?!)
I found while still in hospital that the raw sadness of what had happened was met with some sort of relief. I felt relieved that I wouldn't need to go through the horrendous experience of miscarriages again. The constant stress, the worry, the doubts, the heartache. The decision of not being able to fall pregnant was taken out of my hands.
However, I am a control freak - at work, at home, and in life - I need to be in total control of the situation. So, for someone like me who typically sets a goal and goes about achieving it, this situation completely threw me. I no longer was in control of something I thought (naively) would just come easily. It has taken so much work to understand and appreciate that being in control of everything is a complete myth. So, I focused on what I could control, the next step in this journey. While still in hospital and yet again with the blinkers on, my whole world became researching and understanding surrogacy. From joining forums to understanding how it works within Australia and across the globe, my mission was to jump into this next part of our journey with a renewed energy focused towards surrogacy.
It wasn't just emotional recovery this time
Arriving back at home after a week in hospital, I was confronted with a 6 week recovery which meant that I had to learn to, (not just metaphorically and emotionally), get up and learn to walk again. You see the surgery I had left me with no strength particularly around my stomach and meant I needed a lot of help at first to do the simplest of things. Being so fit and healthy, this was a new struggle I was faced with. What an incredibly hard six weeks. It was dark and lonely. Although I had friends and family visit, I was on my own at home mostly during the day, with my thoughts, but with a determination that I would get through this and move onto the next chapter of my story.
I finally understand what grace is
In my own time I finally realised that to be vulnerable is to be strong. I thought strength was in the resilience I had shown time and time again. But it is also letting your guard down and getting out of your comfort zone. For me, that meant sharing our story publicly on social media. So I did just that - I wanted to control the dialogue (see, told you I am a control freak!) And I wanted friends, family and the wider community to hear in my words what had happened and what we were doing next - looking for a surrogate. And with that vulnerability came such an outpouring of support that it literally left me speechless (something my husband will tell you is a very hard task). After communication with a number of women, there was one that I found an immediate connection to, and after spending time with her and her partner, we all came to a decision that we would embark on a surrogacy journey together.
To find grace, true grace, is something that is indescribable but I finally understood what grace is. I have found it in the patience I have had to find and learn over the last 4 years, I have found it in surrendering and understanding so much is out of my control and I have found it mostly in the amazing woman who is completely selfless in wanting to give me and my husband the opportunity to have a baby, when I have the inability to physically do it myself. I feel grace every day in the little moments where I am grateful for all that I have rather than focus on what I don't have.
I thought finding a surrogate would be the hard part
When we ventured down this path, my husband and I talked at length about how difficult it was going to be to find a surrogate. We talked about me reading on the forums about women searching for 10 years and still not able to find someone. we talked about seeing the demand for a surrogate far out way the number of surrogates. So, we made a decision that we would give ourselves a certain amount of years to find someone then call it a day. But to our absolute surprise we found our surrogate within a couple of months of searching. By the time we did, we had a few frozen embryos as I did multiple rounds of IVF when I could, to ensure we had some ready to go. We went through the entire process during the 2020 lockdown - legal agreements, 9 hours of intense counselling and everything in between. The ability to find the process so easy was down to not only our surrogate and her partner being some of the best humans on earth, but that the four of us were connected in a way that we were always all on the same page. I thought finding a surrogate would be the hard part.....
Gee the universe can be cruel
We have now had three frozen embryo transfers to our surrogate without success. I cannot explain the emotional rollercoaster of the hope that comes with after all you have endured to then find a surrogate and having this amazing team working together to make a baby, to the heartache of it still not working. The cruel cruel universe that she is - giving me this amazing selfless woman, and still not being able to make our dreams a reality.
The fat lady isn't singing.....yet
We have one more frozen embryo. One more shot. So the fat lady is standing there on the stage but she aint singing yet.
Knowing when to draw a line in the sand
After a lot of talking it out, we have made the decision that I won't do any more IVF. My beautiful husband says it is my call. But it is our call. We are a team. The sad reality is that now given my age, the chances of a viable embryo and successful transfer gets lower with each passing few months. I could physically do another 10 rounds of IVF, the process never bothered me, it is the mental and emotional load, that even for someone as strong and resilient as myself takes its toll. It is all consuming and relentless and I need to start moving to a place of acceptance and learn to let go. One embryo left - we haven't had success yet, so although we still have hope, because that is all we have, we are very realistic that our chance to have a baby is very slim.
I have had many people say to me "keep fighting". We will see how this last transfer goes but for me, there is more strength now in knowing when to draw a line in the sand and knowing when to let go then to keep fighting this battle.