I believe this is a story that needs to be told in order to give hope and courage to miscarriage sufferers everywhere. Despite comments by some in the medical profession and others that it’s “time to shut the door”, “it’s obvious you’re age and history are working against you” and “are you sure you’re not wasting your time and money?” the story is one of great triumph in the end.
My husband Roc and I decided to start a family at the beginning of 1996. 3 months later, I was pregnant and we were elated. After a rather non-eventful pregnancy, our beautiful daughter, Simona was born.
In 1999 we decided to extend the family. I fell pregnant for the second time – again my husband and I were thrilled. However, when I went to have a routine scan – the sad news came – no fetal heartbeat was detected – I had miscarried.
The doctors reassured me that, albeit sad, miscarriage was a very common occurrence – in fact, the statistics would suggest that probably one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. I was told “better luck next time”.
We tried again – a second miscarriage would ensue. Once again – no heartbeat was present.
A fourth pregnancy. This time the morning sickness was very severe – I believe partially attributable to the stress of the possibility of another loss. I was admitted to hospital. I was re-assured that being sick meant the hormones were doing their job and were signs of a healthy pregnancy. After 10 days in hospital I went to have a scan feeling quietly confident that this time things would be different. All the suffering was worth it.
However, my third miscarriage was pronounced – again, no heartbeat in the fetus. Something was obviously very wrong. I was told about the Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic at the Royal Womens’ Hospital in Melbourne. It was here that my husband and I underwent every test possible to try and determine the cause. It was also here that Dr Shane Higgins, a specialist in multiple miscarriages and Di McGreal, an empathetic psychologist and counsellor who had suffered this ghastly experience herself on multiple occasions, gave me the courage to persevere. Unfortunately, this encouragement wasn’t the case with all in the medical profession as my story will tell.
After my fourth miscarriage, the Clinic carried out extensive tests on the fetus – the cause was severe chromosomal abnormalities.
My husband and I decided if we were to try again, we would have to do something differently. We went to see a Chinese Herbalist who had achieved very good success with problem pregnancies. So, the sixth pregnancy followed with much anticipation – the fifth miscarriage followed with much devastation. Again, chromosomal abnormalities were detected. However, Doctor Higgins assured me that this was a random occurrence – it didn’t necessarily mean that all my eggs were chromosomally impaired.
This gave my husband and I some hope so I fell pregnant for the seventh time. Finally, some good news. At my routine six week scan, a heartbeat was detected! Sadly, the joy didn’t last long – the scan two weeks later showed the heartbeat had ceased. My sixth baby had died.
The tests following the miscarriage also came back with a different result. Just as Dr Higgins had suggested to me that all my eggs might not be impaired, the test results showed no chromosomal abnormalities were present. Although this news was encouraging, it added to the confusion. A heartbeat, no chromosomal abnormalities – why did I miscarry again?
I was virtually at the end of the road – the hormonal and emotional upheaval were really taking their toll. Each time hearing I was pregnant, each time the ‘rollercoaster ride’ wondering whether this was or wasn’t the one. Do I dare to feel elated and tell the world I’m pregnant or do I keep it to myself and develop a bizarre sense of detachment, terrified that it might result in yet another miscarriage?
Each time hearing the devastating news, each time the long lonely walk down the cold corridor to the operating theatre to remove yet another one of my babies. Was it a boy or girl this time? Did it have black or brown hair, green or brown eyes – a myriad questions – no answers. I even started to wonder whether I was becoming mechanical and obsessed. What gave me the right to conceive these little lives knowing they would probably die a few months later?
Dr Higgins suggested I try Heparin injections – maybe nutrients weren’t crossing my placenta.
Another reason to hope – another light at the end of the tunnel? God only knew but we raised up enough courage to try again.
The eighth pregnancy resulted in my seventh miscarriage – the daily Heparin injections had had no effect. The test results came back – chromosomal abnormalities were again detected. Time was also not on my side – I was 40 years old and my chances of having a baby, let alone a perfectly normal one, were very fast deteriorating. If I was to continue I had to know how many, if any, of my eggs were still ‘normal’. I expressed my concerns to Dr Higgins who told me of a very new test – Comparative Genomic Hybridisation (CGH) which could determine if all my embryos were chromosomally impaired or not. In order to find out, I would have to undergo the IVF program where my eggs would be harvested, fertilized and then checked.
This test was so important to me – after all, if all my embryos were chromosomally impaired it would definitely be time to give up but I needed to know for certain. Also, if I had some normal embryos they could be re-implanted thereby minimizing my chance of having a chromosomally impaired baby. I went off to see an IVF specialist who acknowledged the new test – but given my history and my age he suggested I consider “shutting the door”. I told him, despite my age and history I wanted to continue with the tests as the results were very important to me. This was in January 2001 – he suggested I go back to see him in October as there was a huge waiting list. I thought of the irony – time wasn’t on my side but I would have to wait almost a year before I could undergo the tests I needed. I thought maybe he’s right – maybe its time to accept reality and the possibility of never having another baby. At this point my heart was aching.
I went to see Dr Higgins for some solace and to thank him for his tireless efforts – and to tell him that I was seriously contemplating giving up. I remember Dr Higgins words distinctly – “you’ve already proven you can have a normal child in Simona. Tests results have shown that one of your eggs was perfectly normal – we even detected a heartbeat – so if you and your husband can emotionally handle it Felicia and its not taking a toll on your relationship – don’t give up unless you want to”. He also suggested I go and speak to another IVF doctor.
I went to see the noted IVF specialist – Dr Geoffrey Clarke – who was sympathetic to my case but who also pointed out some harsh realities which I needed to contemplate.
What if , after being given drugs to stimulate my egg production, I couldn’t produce enough eggs to harvest? What if there were enough eggs to harvest but all proved to be chromosomally impaired?
What if some eggs were perfectly normal, were fertilized but did not survive the harsh rigors of the IVF process?
What if we got to the stage of harvesting some perfectly normal eggs, these were fertilized to become embryos they survived the IVF process but did not take in the womb?
A myriad of dilemmas and hurdles to jump but I really needed to know. Who knew, however, that an ever bigger stumbling block was waiting in the wings. Doctor Clarke pointed out that the PGD test was a very new, elaborate and expensive one, that there was only two scientists in the world (luckily they were based in Melbourne) who could carry out the tests and that there was a sizable waiting list of patients seeking to undergo the process. He also pointed out that, because the test was in its pioneering stages, they were desperately looking for success stories to put a strong case to the government for funding.
Unfortunately, my situation wasn’t a very hopeful one. He did pledge, however, that given my reasons for wanting to undergo the test, he would put my case to the IVF medical board and to the scientist who would perform the test on the embryos – if I was to get that far – so that I might be placed high on the waiting list. In the meantime I spoke to a very intuitive girlfriend of mine who said I needed to put a human side to this whole process – she suggested if at all possible I speak to the scientist who would carry out the process and convince her of my case. Luckily for me the scientist, Dr Leeanda Wilton, was a very amenable person who listened to my story and promised she would do the best she could – including trying to convince the Board of my urgency. After a long and nervous wait I was informed of the Board’s decision.
The Board, Dr Clarke and Dr Wilton agreed that I should undergo the test as soon as possible. Luck was finally on my side. 13 eggs were harvested, 7 of these fertilised. Of these 7 fertilised eggs, 3 proved chromosomally perfect – a huge relief for my husband and I. The next stage was to re-implant these perfect embryos – one at a time. Seeing that I had no problem falling pregnant in the past, we were very hopeful. Again, devastation was to follow. None of the three embryos ‘took’.
Where to from here?
Another girlfriend who had followed my case and given me much hope and encouragement told me of a co-worker who had tried falling pregnant for 3 years with no success. She was finally pregnant and about to give birth. What made all the difference for her was that she had gone to see a naturopath who specialized in fertility. To begin with, my husband and I were naturally skeptical – however, this was our very last hope. I never realized there was an organization which operated in Australia and the United Kingdom which concentrated very heavily on fertility and conception. Known as the Fertility Management Group, my husband and I were very glad we found them in the end.
The naturopath (and qualified scientist) we went to see – Doreen Schwegler in Essendon, Victoria (Doreen specialises in Natural Fertility) – was confident and very professional with her recommendations and therapies. She told us of all the requirements and tests we would need to undergo for four months if we were to have a successful pregnancy. It was a big commitment and lifestyle change but we were prepared to do it. Amongst these we were to: Check for genito-urinary infections – considered a major contributing factor to miscarriage; Eat organically as much as possible – it isn’t what you eat once in a while but what you consume every day that is of concern; Drink purified water – thereby avoiding heavy metals and toxins; Wherever possible, avoid everyday hazards of the environment and social poisons – including VDU’s, microwaves, electric blankets, lead emission from cars, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes; Test for food and chemical allergies – in my case I was found to be intolerant to lactose and sugar; Of crucial importance are the vitamins, minerals and herbs prescribed by the health practitioner to re-balance your system and provide you with optimum health.
I underwent a test which indicated my body had a problem absorbing zinc. A normal zinc level, amongst other vitamins and minerals, is crucial to a successful conception.
Given my past history, we decided to follow the program for 6 months instead of the recommended 4 months. The time passed very quickly and, if nothing else, we were making ourselves healthier. I remember the day of ovulation, 5 August 2002. It was now or never. 6 weeks later it was officially confirmed – I was pregnant. This time I was determined was the last time. Coming to terms with this reality broke my heart. I knew I was pregnant before getting the results because I was starting to have terrible ‘morning sickness’ and began to feel very weak to the point were I could not continue work and generally couldn’t cope. I remember telling my husband I wanted to speak to someone I had wanted to see for a very long time but my failed pregnancies had never allowed me to get that far – my Obstetrician. His words provided me with instant relief – “if you are this sick so early on in your pregnancy and you’ve had so much trouble I think you’d better meet me in the Emergency Department of the Mercy Hospital for Women. I’ll see you there in one hour”.
When I saw my doctor in Emergency, he suggested I have a scan. I trembled at the thought and initially refused. What if I’d miscarried again. I told him of my fears and said to him “if I have miscarried and you see me here pregnant again, come with a psychiatrist because I must be insane!” He insisted the scan would be good.
Surely enough he was right – a lovely little heartbeat pounding away, totally oblivious to all my past agonies. I was then admitted to the Mercy Hospital for 6 weeks. The staff treated me like a queen – nothing was ever too much for them. Luckily my obstetrician was very open-minded. I told him of the special diet I was on. He placed me on a drip to re-hydrate me but he also included vitamins and minerals which I desperately needed to sustain the pregnancy. I told my obstetrician that now he had started the trend, it would have to continue.
Every Monday morning, around 10 am, I would go down to the Ultrasound Department for my scan. Every Monday morning, with my heart in my mouth, praying to God and all the Saints that the scan would show a heartbeat and that everything was normal. Every Monday morning for six weeks I would pinch myself and my heart would jump for joy – everything was going great. However, I would spend every other day of the rest of the week thinking it might all come to an end next week -I never allowed myself to get too excited for too long.
The uncertainty at times was unbearable. The fear of losing the baby at 3 months when it was forming so beautifully was frightening. Finally the time came for the tell-all amniocentesis. At the age of 41 and considering my past history only a miracle would provide me with a perfectly normal baby. I was working against incredible odds. An agonizingly long wait for the results – absolute joy and disbelief that all was well. My obstetrician would see me, scan me and re-assure me for the next 22 incredulous weeks. Finally on the 11 April 2003, to much joy and anticipation, the very precious little Siena was guided down by the angels – so perfect I couldn’t have painted her better myself !
The health practitioners who provided me with the strength and encouragement to persist against all odds, my wonderfully supportive family and friends together with my faith helped me believe that I would one day achieve this great blessing – even though my path was more treacherous than most women could contemplate.
I urge all miscarriage sufferers and couples who considered themselves infertile to never give up – to try a collaborative effort between naturopathy and conventional medicine as I did. The results might prove to be very worth while in the end.