Real Women


Sooo, I saw the above headline regarding Serena Williams last Sunday. I was so astonished that I doubted what I had just read. I had to read the quote a few times. I winced as though I had just been kicked in the gut. Surely, the media have grown up and are past such archaic statements? Apparently not! I am quite sure Ms Williams would recoil in horror if she saw her words twisted to make a point as to what constitutes being a real woman. I felt for women struggling with infertility when I saw the headline. I was one of those women. I look back on those years as the most achingly painful and lonely of my life. Opinions such as that above seared my soul, and made me doubt my worth on more than one occasion. When I came to the point of IVF being an absolute necessity, it was in some ways a relief. By then I had come to know myself. By then I knew that being a complete and functioning woman had nothing to do with fertility. It had to do with my biology, and the fact that I coped with constant agony courtesy of endometriosis. I was a woman because I had survived the un-survivable. I was a woman because I supported my sisters, both younger and older, providing counsel and comfort. I was a woman because I sought to rise to the status of survivor, and steer my destiny without interference. It would have been unfair to expect that a baby might gift me the label of woman. If anything, having a baby takes your autonomy for a time, and you need to grip on to retain your identity. Thousands of women read that headline, and winced last Sunday. Know that you are already a woman, and having a pregnancy neither heightens nor completes that status. It is time the media steered toward inclusivity and created less blanket statements which end in exclusion.

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I met my daughter’s Embryologist!


Softly spoken, her voice redolent with kindness. An English lady whom I only saw in scrubs and cap, highlighting her beautiful skin and soft eyes. We had three frozen sperm and one follicle, that is all. It was my last chance. I woke from egg pickup with ‘2’ written on my hand. There was a chance this follicle may contain nothing; two was beyond all expectation! This lady watched them grow and divide, and I held my breath. One divided too rapidly, and perished within days. The other burst into a blastocyst; which was terrific news! This lady wished me luck during the embryo transfer, and gave me the dish my embryo had grown in.

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Eleven months later, I brought my miracle back to meet her, and she held my child in her arms. Years passed, and the scientist moved far away. We became reacquainted on social media. She sent a message that she would be staying nearby this Christmas, and another IVF mum and I planned to meet her with our girls. When I walked in and saw her, I squeeled with joy. My daughter was overwhelmed, meeting the lady whose picture is on our fridge; who carefully watched her as a little embryo. We hugged and looked at each other in wonder. Such a long road from where we started to having a ten year old child! I showed her the dish, and she noted the ‘2’ on the plastic. We had a moment of silence and I appreciated that the women present understood the heartache behind the second number. We talked ‘IVF speak,’ and I laughed that nobody else would understand our conversation!

Our girls both love science, and this lady set up a microscope the other miracle had been gifted for Christmas. We saw extraordinary images of cross-sections of hair, blood and many other wonders. Life-when broken down into tiny segments- really is the most amazing thing! Our girls had to battle for life, and their strength is displayed in their lives today, and shall carry them into their future. We swam in the pool on this hot summer day, the girls playing together as though they are soul sisters. I know that they are. Hours passed as we hurridly relayed what we have been up to; what the girls dreams are for their wild and precious lives.

The odds were mightily against this other mum and I, but this lady helped to see us through, changing our lives forever. How can you begin to thank her for the precious gift she handed us? Humble and kind, I pray that 2017 blesses this lady beyond her wildest imaginings. I hope the same for you all. x

Gnomes and Destiny


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When I was nineteen, I started a business, selling my art and poetry, as well as crystals and curiosities at markets and on consignment. I was extremely busy during this ten-year period, particularly when I reflect on all the surgery I had at the same time! I lived in a grungy, funky part of Sydney, and would often walk down the street to hang out at the all-night bookstore and grab some fabulous Indian food. I was into ceramics, and had my Greenware fired in the kiln of a nearby business, before painting them. I only managed to hang onto two of my pieces from this time. Before I left the area, I retrieved them from the shop where they had recently been placed…

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I haven’t paid them much mind in the intervening years, only to gift them a smile as I passed them in my living room. I have pared back my commitments since Christmas, and have made time to clean and reflect, de-clutter and organize my home. I stopped yesterday and studied my little friends, reflecting on a time when I had created and painted, written and pottered. I recalled the nights spent painstakingly painting them; the joy I felt when what I had created was bought. I looked closer, and noted that they hadn’t been cleaned for a while. Getting a wipe, I lovingly set to work. I turned them over, and there on the base was my daughter’s name, a daughter I wouldn’t have for another decade. I don’t know why I had thought to send them off with the following: Painted with love by E.Rose.

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A chill went through me. When I had finally fallen pregnant with IVF, I had another name altogether picked out for this baby, if it was a girl. In my eighth month, I dreamed of her, and she said that her name was E. Rose. (full name obscured to protect privacy). I changed her name accordingly. I had no recollection of ever signing my work with her name years before. How many hundreds of times had I done so? I called to her and told her the story and she was as delighted as I. “You knew me even then! You loved and wanted me before I was here!” I certainly did. Slowing down and having time to notice my little gnomes gave me a great gift. My daughter was intrinsically entwined in my younger years, letting herself be known, even on an unconscious level. When you say “I can’t do this anymore,” and allow yourself to slow, it’s amazing what you notice. Gnomes may even hold a breath-taking, thrilling message, just for you.

Aftermath of IVF


 

 

 

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So many emotions swirl around when you discover you need IVF. You go in search of your tribe, uncovering a plethora of online support. I want to address what happens when-after a truckload of heartache- you fall pregnant. The IVF clinic were my family. I clung to them, and saw them most days. I knew all the staff’s names, and it was familiar and secure, this place of dreams. They celebrated along with me upon my positive pregnancy test. I had one follicle. It was a miracle. Upon discovering that my baby’s heart was beating soundly and I didn’t indeed have a chemical pregnancy, I was released. What the? I am not ready! I was sent off to find an obstetrician, to join the ranks of the fertile I had previously avoided and feared. I had been turfed out of my nest.

I found the same online. I was ever-aware that my friends were struggling, and pondered on breaking my news. Everyone was most joyful, but I knew I didnt have a place on the IVF boards anymore. Interestingly, being on the post-IVF boards was painful too. There were ladies falling pregnant again naturally, with their second and third children. I didnt feel like I belonged nor identified with the group gathered for the pregnancy classes at the local hospital either. They had all travelled extensively and then decided to fall pregnant. In my world, that wasn’t an option. I felt intimidated to be around couples who had timed their lives. When they complained about their pregnancies I felt indignant.

I didn’t belong anywhere in pregnancy. I lost contact with those still going through the process, just as those who had fallen pregnant whilst I was undergoing IVF were lost to me. It is such a painful journey, and whilst you rejoice in another’s success, it is a reminder of your grief. In my mother’s group post-birth, I didn’t feel as though I belonged either, especially when they went on to have other babies. I was in and out of hospital having surgery and tests, praying to have a second child. They were lost to me too.

Oh man, the injections and nasal sprays, pills and procedures, egg pickup and embryo transfers, the two week wait, who could I share this with? Only those who have been to this precipice to insanity could understand. Our bond is so strong that a woman I had never met in person called around upon hearing that I had endured more endometriosis surgery in the hopes of having a second child. She came armed with flowers, a meal and a huge hug for my daughter. There are another set of mothers out there, who have been through IVF and had to leave that world, though don’t fit in with mothers who conceived naturally. I am proud to be amongst their ranks. This journey isn’t for the faint-hearted.

#ProjectPositive,September 15th. The Biggest Thing I’ve Overcome.


The biggest thing I have overcome is…

I don’t have a personal favourite. Each time I overcame trauma, it was humbling,  surprising and wondrous!

Child abuse. Being told that you are a slut, being labelled as stupid and being hyper-vigilant. A pleasant occasion, with cordial conversation and laughter makes such a child tense up. You sadly know it is a harbinger, ringing in screaming and fighting. As a result, I grew up extremely aware of my surroundings. I can tell you who is standing in the next paddock after a quick sweep of an area. Sensitive to noise and environments. There were times I wanted to die. Times when I felt I would never recover, nor feel whole. I went back to each place of trauma, wrote about them, took pictures. I was in fact saying that I was here, and I survived. Throughout this period, I learnt  a lot about myself and why I respond the way I do to situations. Don’t like loud knocking at your door, nor talking on the phone? There is a reason for that and its  a perfectly normal response when given your history. Need time alone to process and unwind after a social function? Again, perfectly reasonable. When I started to understand why I am the way I am, with my little “things,” I began to heal.

Being told I was stupid. I lost so much time at school in primary and high school, due to being drugged or being  in hospital. I was told I was stupid and wouldn’t amount to anything in Year Seven. When you are told often enough, you tend to start believing it. They were wrong. A kid who isn’t clever couldn’t have survived the years that followed. I left school at fourteen, when I was put in the clinic, and was extremely nervous when I was signed up to Distance Education by my surgeon when I was fifteen years of age. I was in my rotor bed when the first pack of lessons arrived. To my astonishment, not only did I enjoy it, but I was also good at it. The teachers were encouraging, and I knew I had been lied to about my intelligence and ability to learn. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to find out. Don’t believe them when they label you, please don’t absorb it!

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Eating disorders. I had no control over anything in my life. I couldn’t make sense of schoolwork, as I had lost so much time. Where to find a modicum of control? I would alternate between bulimia and anorexia. I thought if there was little left of me, I could disappear. It was harsh and brutal. Walking for hours with an empty belly. Swallowing vomiting tinctures designed for victims of poisoning. Being happy when getting my stomach pumped as I would lose a kilo or two. It was savage and hard. Learning to love and appreciate this body took years. It was hard to look at food in a normal manner again. This is why I don’t hop on scales now, and make myself eat regularly.

Endometriosis. This one brought me to my knees. After having survived such darkness, I wanted a baby with all my heart. It was the carrot I clung  to. Since age eleven, the pelvic pain had been agonizing. A proper diagnosis got left behind in the pressing need to stay alive. I was only officially diagnosed in my twenties. Hospitalized regularly, I was always placed in the maternity ward, a cruel and unusual way to be treated. The years of drug treatments and surgeries were tough. IVF was beyond hard. I went to ground, shutting off completely. That it eventually worked, was astounding to me. I had wanted more children, and nearly lost my life in the attempt. I grieved for quite some time, before finding peace.

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Surviving it all! I am still amazed by the dawn of each new day. Amazed that I am here to see it. To have survived is extraordinary. I have my medical notes, and at times, the prognosis was grim. Here I am, an intelligent woman in her thirties, who smiles more than she frowns. Who plans for the future, and has left the pain behind. There was no magic secret I uncovered. It had to do with giving myself a break, understanding myself on a deep level, and kindness. With self-love and kindness, the healing begins. You define who you are, not them. xxx

 

 

A Buried Treasure of Emerging Seashells


A stunning piece on infertility and the road to healing.

Ever Upward™

The house had a seashell room.

The entire ceiling of a bedroom was decorated with a mosaic of seashells and mirrors.

Picture frames made of shells.

Lamps filled with more shells.

Glass tabletops filled with even more shells.

Then we found the moldy boxes full of seashells, at least four of them, buried in the basement.

They loved seashells.

As we cleaned out the house, we threw them all out, along with their years of painful hoarding and our years of three lost babies and a lifelong dream.

And yet, we see seashells every day.DSC_1658

And, I feel my lost babies every day.

The shells continue to come up in a certain part of the yard.

And, my scarred heart and soul ache and yet, feel whole every second of every single day.

Both like a buried treasure, that isn’t worth much and yet is a constant reminder of the past.

Just…

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The IVF Support Crew


Eight years ago, I discovered endometriosis had robbed me of the ability to conceive naturally. When one hears the dreaded words, “you will need IVF,” one reels. They rattle on about syringes and doses, and side-effects, and you freak out some more. I went searching for my tribe and came across an IVF support group on Yahoo (those were the days), and found no topic off-limits. Nina, the moderator, was the guru of IVF. If you wanted to know anything, you asked this chick. A veteran, as were many others. They had battle scars, but they weren’t done fighting. I shared that the doctor mumbled so much at appointments that it rendered him incoherent, and  I would have to beg the secretary to come in to translate. We laughed about the “wand monkeys,” and the hideous internal ultrasounds, and how big our bazooka’s got on the drugs. We laughed at having to take an esky everywhere we went, and regaled each other with stories of having to explain why we were snorting and shooting up in public toilets. They became my advocates, and my battles with beastly staff were theirs too. “I would have blown a gasket at the rude bitch! Demand your money back love, and charge them 10% interest if it’s late like Brenda did. Build up those little arms so you can sock her,” wrote Shell. I typed back, “My plan is to make millions, invest in the fertility industry, and send free drugs to everyone.”   I had three disastrous cycles in a row, and the girls urged me to swap clinics. “Don’t give up!” they begged. We left the first clinic, and they were with me all the way. Finally, I was able to go to egg pickup. My girls, not demure in the least, had this reaction, “I don’t believe it Raph, you are finally having a trigger shot! Holy Shit! Sending you the stickiest, bestest, growingest, great-fertilizingest thoughts I can.” We all wondered what it would be like to simply pee on a stick to confirm a bit of horizontal folk dancing had worked. I got advice on what level I should spin the drugs to, in order to get the best follicular action. I felt rather naughty, upping it from what the experts advised, but it felt so right. I got one follicle, but it was a good one, housing an egg that became my daughter. I am still in touch with my mad mates. Emails with titles like ‘We found the sperm!’ after surgical extraction were commonplace. They wanted me to write a children’s book about the amazing travelling sperm, after I shared the adventures my husband’s three sperm went on after we swapped clinics. He strapped the large canister into the front seat, stopping off at his building site, on the way to the new place. If you are going through IVF, find yourself a support group, and you will have  best friends for life.

Early Menopause



“Aren’t you lucky? No more periods!” I have heard this many, many times over the past few years. The reality is quite different to the freeing experience other women believe it to be. It is hell. I have been thrown off a building, had my spine shattered, and a cacophony of other traumas have been inflicted on me. Early menopause is the worst, I can state without compunction. Endometriosis led me to have my IVF/ICSI daughter. She is our joy. I had one follicle, despite being on high doses of hormones that encourage many eggs to come forth. She was one of two eggs in this follicle. Both fertilized, but her twin perished before embryo transfer. We so wanted to give her a sibling. After our dark pasts, we wanted her to have blood family, as a kind of buffer in life. My last endometriosis surgery saw me almost bleeding to death. I was rushed back to surgery the next day, after having the doctor warn that I could very well die, and that if the bleeding was stemming from my reproductive organs, I would need a hysterectomy to save my life. I prayed that these organs would be saved. I wasn’t willing to give them up just yet. The bleeding came from blood vessels near my belly button. I was so grateful to have been spared a hysterectomy. When I saw the doctor for a post-op consult, he showed me a picture that still holds me spellbound, and renders me heartbroken. He couldn’t believe it himself. When he went in, he captured the moment a healthy egg was being released from my fallopian tube. It was white as snow, determined. He reassured me that I was ovulating, and that IVF was able to go ahead. We were thrilled. We saved, and we planned. I had another period, and then realized that the following was late. I couldn’t bear the thought that my body had shut down as a result of the trauma I had gone through.

 

I started to feel ill. Constant migraines, vomiting, dizziness, intense sweating and body heat. I couldn’t remember things, nor could I get my thoughts together. I put on weight virtually overnight. I looked puffy. My hair became like straw. I saw my IVF doctor, and it was broken to me that my FSH levels were double that of a normal, healthy woman in her early thirties. “Unless it comes down, IVF will not be an option,” she said sadly. I was put on strong HRT, in the hopes it may reverse what was happening. I put on two stone in a month, and had abscesses in my breasts. I had to be taken off it after two months. It had failed. I had two tumours on my face, and one on my breast. I had thought they were warts, but a dermatologist referred me to a plastic surgeon for their removal. We all concurred that the hormones had fed them. The day I found out whether these tumours were cancerous, was the day I also found out I was in full menopause. I was thirty-one. I sobbed from the depths of my soul as it was explained the health problems which can occur as a result of going into menopause so early. I already had fragile bones, as a result of my fractured back, and the many surgeries I had endured. A bone scan found I was now at high risk of neck fractures and forearm breaks, among other areas. I couldn’t take HRT after having had the tumours, to deal with the hot flushes and many other symptoms. I felt so very alone. The women I knew were falling pregnant, extending their families. It was never discussed with them, nor did they ask. People couldn’t understand why I was sick all the time. They certainly couldn’t comprehend the mind-shattering depression. I felt guilt for my little girl. She wanted so much for me to have another baby, and my heart broke when I saw her joy at holding her friend’s siblings. I felt as though my body had failed. I tried many alternative health practices, and spent thousands on herbs, potions etc. I was so delighted when I saw a spot of blood that I told everyone that I believed a period was beginning. It ended up being a normal part of menopause. I was still sent for regular FSH tests, and the last one was in the 90’s. It should be under 10. We booked a holiday and left town whilst I came to terms with the diagnosis, in its entirety. It was a time of deep grief, not helped that I wasn’t sleeping. When I say not sleeping, I mean I went weeks without having more than one hour. I felt old before my time. I had a five-year old, yet I felt eighty. I had nobody to talk to about any of it. The loneliness was unbearable.

Since the start of 2013, I have taken matters into my hands. So much has been out of my control, and it feels good to be proactive about what I can do. I go to the gym daily to be in the best shape possible, and do weight-bearing to insulate these fragile bones. After trying every remedy on the market for the insomnia, I saw my GP, and take a powerful sleeping pill every third night so I can rest. To those who are going through this (only 1% of women go through early menopause), my heart goes out to you. I can’t see the silver lining in being in a state not meant for another twenty years, but I have uncovered strength I never knew I had. A toughness despite my being soft. One has to be, when people think hot flushes are funny, that it’s hilarious to say that women in menopause have more swings than you would find at a park. I go gently into this new phase of life.