Julie and Rick Fleming went through IVF in 1988 when it was still in its infancy in New Zealand.
“We were in our early 30s and we decided we wanted to try for children but things didn’t happen. We went to see a doctor but I wasn’t inclined to want to be patient and be told to go away and try again for a year, so I organised going to see a specialist,” says Julie, 62.
Julie was put on fertility drugs for two months, then had a laparoscopy and found there was a problem with her tubes; getting pregnant naturally wasn’t going to be an option. Despite an operation, the couple still couldn’t conceive, so decided to get on the private IVF list as soon as possible.
IVF was very new at that time and the couple was quite private.
“We didn’t talk to people about it because we came to the decision we didn’t want people to look at us as ‘the couple having trouble having children’. We didn’t want that to define us. We told only two people, a friend and someone at work. We didn’t even tell our parents until we were well into it.”
They started the process of blood tests, scans and drugs in preparation for their first round.
“Turns out I didn’t respond very well to the drugs I was taking to hyper-stimulate my ovaries. I wasn’t really developing very many eggs – in fact only three!”
Julie finds reflecting on the process emotional, even almost three decades later.
“I didn’t find the physical side of it that difficult, but for me the hard thing was looking down the barrel of it not working – ever. Rick was amazing and great at focusing on looking ahead to the next step, but sometimes I’d let my mind run away and start thinking ‘what if I never get pregnant?’ It was hard seeing friends having babies too.”
The doctors only managed to retrieve one embryo. With the technology and odds at that time, the doctors told them their chances of conception were less than 5 per cent and it would be completely acceptable to abandon the whole process and start again. Despite this, Julie and Rick pushed on through. That fertilised embryo is now their gorgeous daughter Jade, 28.
Even though they had succeeded in having a first child, they knew a second one would be challenging.
Since they knew what the problem was, they were eligible for public funding, but had to wait two years until their turn came round.
They were successful with the first attempt and the blood tests said the pregnancy looked good, but the six week scan was to show no heartbeat.
“We were devastated because my hormone levels had been good.”
Fortunately after that disappointment, the next round was more successful and resulted in the conception of Reed, who is now 24.
Julie admits it wasn’t an easy time; she saw many couples in her infertility support group split up because of the pressure.
Her advice to anyone going into IVF:
“Make sure you’re on the same page from the start. Rick and I never put an end time or limit of cycles and agreed we would just keep on trying until we got a baby, one way or another. It would have been awful if we hadn’t both felt that way, as it’s a tough process and our strength as a couple is what got us through to where we are today with our lovely family of four.”
Lesley Armstrong-Jennings, 57, and her husband George always thought having two kids would be nice. But conceiving even one was hard.
“It took nearly two years and we were about to go to hospital to have my fallopian tubes looked at when I missed my period, found out I was pregnant and along came Monty!”
Montana, now 25, was conceived naturally against the odds, given Lesley had polycystic ovaries and endometriosis as well as a problem with her fallopian tubes. The couple dared to hope for another miracle, but after another two years trying realised they were going to need help.
“We went to Fertility Associates and they put me on Clomid to stimulate ovulation. We went through that dreadful rollercoaster every time that blasted period would arrive, and hope would go up and down and up and down each month. They did a scan which showed one of my fallopian tubes was tied down with adhesions, and finally said the only option for us would be IVF.”
Out of all the embryos fertilised, three looked a lot better than the others.
“In those days they could put up to three in, so they did. We hoped like crazy, even though we knew the chances weren’t great.”
The call came on Christmas Eve. They went in for a scan and the specialist, Freddie Graham, said “George, I think you’d better sit down for this. I’m really sorry but there are three embryos showing.”
“It was so amazing because it was like three little jumping beans all bouncing around in the womb. Freddie said, ‘Chances are, when you come back for your next scan there won’t be three babies.’”
But he underestimated the will of Libby, Zoe and Sophie, now 20.
“It was funny as we’d moved into this big two-storey house in Whangarei. George liked it but I didn’t, as it was huge and there were only the three of us at that stage. When we found out the girls were on their way I was very glad I’d gone along with what he wanted – we needed the space!”
The pregnancy was challenging. Lesley went into labour at 28 weeks and was rushed to Auckland from Whangarei. She returned home and was helicoptered back to Auckland at 31 weeks. The hospital was able to keep the girls in utero till 33 weeks when they had to be delivered.
“Despite all the stress I am still so, so grateful to Fertility Associates for making the girls’ lives possible. Grateful for making life happen, a life I wouldn’t change a bit.”
Kylie Allison-Miller, 42, was never the maternal type but when she and her husband Glenn, decided they were ready to try to have children, and struggled, she realised just how much she wanted a baby.
“I had never changed a nappy and was very reluctant to hold other people’s babies.”
In her late 30s she realised time was running out and her feelings changed. The couple tried for two years to conceive naturally, without success.
“We spoke to Fertility Associates and pretty much decided then and there we didn’t want to wait another 18 months on the public list so would do our own privately-funded IVF.”
The cost was $12,000 plus extras, but Kylie wanted to get started. This turned out to be a good decision as the ride to getting their gorgeous bundle of joy wasn’t easy.
The first harvest of eggs was successful and four embryos were fertilised; two embryos ‘took’ and two didn’t. But the couple’s hopes were dashed at the eight-week scan when there was no heartbeat. They were both devastated but determined to try again.
At that time Kylie’s name came up on the public funded list, so they were able to get the next round without incurring cost.
They did however opt to pay for new tech-nology – PGS (Pre-implantation Genetic Screening) to get an indication of the viability of the embryos.
The results came back with one known ‘good’ embryo and one unknown.
“They plugged in the good one and that didn’t take at all so we had a two-week wait followed by a negative test. That was heartbreaking because in our heads we thought it was a known good one and this could be it.”
They decided to try with the unknown embryo; it stuck but the eight-week scan showed this pregnancy had miscarried too. Despite being totally distraught, they tried a third round of IVF.
Again, they used PGS, which reduced the six fertilised embryos down to two – one ‘good’ and another unknown.
The ‘good’ embryo was used and after two positive pregnancy tests they were hopeful.
“At seven weeks, we went for a scan and the doctor said ‘This is it!’” The couple saw a heartbeat for the first time.
“It was amazing but I still didn’t want to get attached after all we’d been through.”
That long-awaited heartbeat became the adorable Annabella. Understandably the couple are thrilled after a hellish five-year ride, made worse by living in a social media era.
“I’d see other people plastering photos of their kids everywhere and complaining on Facebook about sick kids and pregnancy and sometimes I thought ‘they don’t know what they’ve got.’”
“It’s hard when you’ve lived a life so much in control of everything. In control of the time you do this and the time when you do that. Then you decide okay, we’re going to have a baby and realise you have no control over what your body does at all. I also felt like people might think I’m a failure because we couldn’t do it unsupported.”
But it was all worth it.
“We just decided we would keep going and not give up. It was worth every cent and every bit of heartbreak. For me, if the baby’s crying I don’t care. If I’m sleep-deprived I don’t care; we’re just so glad to have her here with us after trying for so long.”
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