When Invercargill couple Laura and Derek Dudley decided they wanted a baby to complete their blended family, they had no inkling of the sorrow and heartache that would follow.
They met five years ago through Brownies, where their daughters – 12-year-old Nataliya, Laura’s daughter from her previous relationship, and Derek’s girls Hannah, also 12, and Courtney (10) – were in the same group.
Within two years, builder Derek and Laura, a court registrar, had married and taken over the running of a family dairy farm.
Yet while they had their three gorgeous girls, they also wanted a baby together. The couple made an appointment to have Derek’s vasectomy – which he’d had during his previous marriage – reversed.
Sadly, despite the operation initially appearing successful, there were problems with the motility of Derek’s sperm and their only hope of having that desperately wanted child was through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
It was a devastating blow for the couple who, says Laura, were “meant to be together – we feel like we should have met years and years ago”.
They went on a waiting list and had two cycles of publicly funded IVF in Dunedin, followed by three private cycles, using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where a single sperm is injected into each egg.
For Laura (35) each cycle meant medication to help ovulation, followed by blood tests, then egg collection, more blood tests and many, many tears.
“It was gut-wrenching, a real rollercoaster,” says Derek (38). “Early on, particularly, we went through some pretty rough patches. You’re looking for someone or something to blame. You question what you’ve done wrong or what the other person has done wrong.
“At the outset, we told a handful of people that we were trying for a baby, but as the years went on, we stopped. It was too hard telling them when it hadn’t worked.”
Laura – who describes Derek as “one in a million” – adds “I’m quite tough with regards to the physical side of it. I can handle the injections and the egg collections are pretty invasive, but it was the emotional heartbreak that was the worst part.
“Each time it didn’t happen, it would be, ‘Why us? Why isn’t it working for us?’ Here was something we both really wanted and we couldn’t have it. The failed embryo transfers always felt like we had lost something precious – what could have been.”
But this loving, determined couple weren’t giving up. In May last year, they approached another clinic, Genea Oxford Fertility in Christchurch. The specialist there recommended Derek undergo TESE, a procedure where a tiny amount of testis tissue is taken by biopsy under local anaesthesia.
Another egg collection was carried out and the couple flew back to Invercargill to wait. Two days later, they were phoned to say they needed to get back to the clinic.
“We didn’t know at that stage whether there would be any embryo to transfer, but we walked into the clinic and the specialist came out and gave us the thumbs up,” recalls an emotional Laura. “I just burst into tears.”
They spent another nail-biting fortnight waiting for the results of blood tests, during which time Laura started bleeding.
“All the times it didn’t work, I got my period on the same day and I had started to bleed on the same day again,” tells Laura. “It was like, ‘Oh, no, not again.’ I think I had a cider [the couple stopped drinking alcohol and caffeine to give themselves a better chance of conceiving] and thought screw the universe.
“And then the nurse rang to let me know I was pregnant. I think I swore at her as well!”
Derek, who was in the cow shed at the time, continues, “I was milking and she came racing in crying. I wasn’t sure what was going on and then she said it had worked. We were both a bit stunned.”
The couple are expecting a boy in April. It’s taken more than 40 blood tests, 300-plus injections, six egg collections, 60 eggs collected, 15,000km travelled and $60,000. But for Laura and Derek, the journey’s been worth it.
“I’d say he’ll be one of the most spoilt kids around,” says the proud new dad-to-be. “People haven’t said we’re crazy, but I’m sure they’ve thought it. Some people would spend $60,000 easily on a car and I know for a lot of people money’s a big issue with IVF. But we both work hard, we had a savings account and this is what we wanted.
“We’re in a great position to give a child a loving home that he can flourish in. There’s a lot of kids who don’t have that.”
And how did their three girls take the news?
“We didn’t tell them until we had the scans to make sure everything was okay,” Derek says. “Once we had the scans, we made up a box of goodies with some baby booties and the scan picture, and a couple of other things in it, and gave it to them to unwrap. They were running around screaming like idiots. They’re really excited.”
Words: Julie Jacobsen
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