At 27 years old the future looked wide open for Sasha Perry. The Auckland dispensing optician had finished her studies, traveled the world and was looking forward to settling down and starting a new life back in New Zealand.
But what she thought were symptoms of stress after final exams turned out to be the symptoms of premature ovarian failure (POF) - a condition in which a woman runs out of eggs prematurely, resulting in early menopause.
"As a woman in my late twenties this was devastating news," she says. "I had always wanted to have children but felt it was important to have lived and experienced the world first, so I was in no hurry. I had no idea POF was even a thing."
The early menopause that followed brought with it round-the-clock hot flushes that struck every 45 minutes and lasted 10-15 minutes at a time. Sasha was left feeling completely sleep deprived. She continued going to work every day but after a year left her job to take up another one where she felt less judged.
Several months of tests and specialist appointments showed that if Sasha wanted to have a baby, it would have to be now. Her parents told Sasha they'd support her in whatever way she needed them to.
"I knew I had to try," Sasha reveals. "I needed to know that I would be able to look back on that time without regrets, knowing I had done everything I could.
"Several awkward weeks followed where I practically begged every male I knew for his sperm. Up until this point I had been pretty quiet about my diagnosis, but desperate times called for desperate measures and a few very uncomfortable conversations."
An unexpected offer came from a friend who became an incredible support for Sasha. But when his sperm quality was tested it was discovered he would also be unlikely to have children of his own.
A second friend offered his sperm, but while the odds of success were higher than they had been with her first friend, there was still only a five per cent chance of success.
It was at this point that Sasha decided to take a step back from her quest to get pregnant.
"Getting pregnant had completely taken over my life for six months and I was turning into a single-minded crazy lady. I decided I needed to give myself a break. I had tried everything possible and had to accept the truth that it just wasn't meant to be."
Then along came Rob.
Sasha and Rob Garrett met in early 2017 and hit it off straight away. Their mutual attraction started as a welcome distraction for Sasha from her infertility troubles but "quickly turned into a whirlwind romance".
"In no time we became inseparable," Sasha smiles.
She decided to tell Rob she had POF relatively early in the relationship, knowing that it could be a deal breaker for him. She says she feared the worst – that Rob would "reject" her and look for someone who did not have fertility issues.
But he didn't.
Rob, a business analyst, recalls, "I think it was the right decision to bring this issue to light early in the relationship. We were both at an age where serious discussions tend to happen sooner. It's better to be open and understanding of what each person wants out of a relationship.
"I have always wanted to have my own kids," he admits. "But what transpired was a deeper connection [between us] and being pushed a little quicker into making some big decisions."
He says even though there were some big decisions to make "they didn't seem to be difficult to make".
"Sasha is super fun to be around, she's smart and we have a blast just hanging out together. She was someone I could see myself with in the future and starting a family."
Rob became Sasha's biggest support.
"He has been by my side for every appointment," Sasha shares. "He has been my main support through this journey and has taken it all in his stride."
The couple decided to forgo fertility treatment and instead focus on getting hormone replacement therapy for Sasha. By this time Sasha's POF symptoms had become "unbearable" with severe night sweats and hot flushes that left her so lightheaded she would almost pass out. She soldiered on at work but, in hindsight, "probably shouldn't have". HRT was started sooner rather than later.
"Rob was incredible, getting up [in the night] and getting me cold flannels and standing outside with me in the middle of winter as I tried to cool down, then holding me when it finished and I shivered damp in bed," she says.
It took several months of trialling different hormone treatment combinations to find the right one for Sasha.
"I think 18 months later we have finally found a tolerable balance that I am able to live with long term. I have gained weight during this time (thanks to the hormones) and am having regular bone scans to monitor the decrease in bone density. A woman's body really wasn't designed to have a decrease of hormones at such a young age."
Tests have confirmed that Sasha has no eggs left to harvest. However, she and Rob are still hopeful they may be able to start their own family. They have set the wheels in motion to find an egg donor.
Rob says, "There is no reason why Sasha couldn't carry a baby to full term, just that an egg donor is the only way we would be able to have our own child.
"We have gone to appointments together, had tests done, and applied for government funding. Our funding was allocated to Repromed earlier this year, and now we are trying to find an egg donor so we can proceed with treatment when the funding is available hopefully as soon as early 2019.
"The key to all this is to openly talk about everything, to support each other, go to appointments together, and share with your family and friends. We hope by sharing our story it will help others on their journey."
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