When Martha started trying for a baby, she expected to fall pregnant within a few months.
At 29, the Melbourne nurse was fit and healthy, newly married and had a regular menstrual cycle for calculating ovulation.
But the excitement of waiting for a positive pregnancy test quickly turned to anxiety.
“Once it got to six months, I started to get concerned,” she says. “Each month, it just got harder and harder. The stress started to build up.”
After about one year of trying naturally without any luck, Martha and her husband Mike got a referral from their GP to see a fertility specialist.
“I felt quite relieved at that stage because I thought we could get to the bottom of things. But when I called for an appointment, it was still another three months to get in.”
Martha was hoping she would fall pregnant while waiting to see the doctor. But she didn’t. As time went by, she became more fearful that something might be wrong.
A fertility specialist ordered some tests and recommended the couple use IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) – a technique used to overcome problems with sperm. After their first IVF cycle, they had three embryos to try for a pregnancy. However, none of them worked.
“It was a rude awakening,” Martha says of the disappointment she and Mike experienced after trying each embryo.
Martha’s specialist did a biopsy of her uterus to see if she could detect any problems and diagnosed endometritis – inflammation of the lining of the uterus which is usually caused by an infection. She was prescribed antibiotics and her next period was unusually pain-free.
The specialist had previously considered the possibility of endometriosis – a condition where tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It can only be diagnosed with surgery. But together, Martha and her specialist decided to try another IVF cycle first before an operation to investigate.
The second IVF cycle was particularly painful. Martha’s ovaries were over-stimulated by the drugs used to produce more eggs than usual for IVF. She was diagnosed with Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, causing her to fell very lethargic and bloated. Her doctor monitored her carefully. To her relief, she did not need treatment in hospital.
The cycle produced nine embryos, and tests showed that six were chromosomally normal and suitable for transfer to try for a pregnancy. The first one resulted in a positive pregnancy test. Martha and Mike were elated, but a viability ultrasound at about six weeks’ gestation showed the baby had no heart beat.
“It was the first positive pregnancy test I had ever, ever had. You try to keep calm and know it’s early stages but you have so much hope around it."
“Mike couldn’t come to the scan with me because of COVID. I didn’t expect those results, so I ended up on the street outside bawling my eyes out. It was pretty hard to take.”
None of the remaining embryos from that IVF cycle worked, so Martha’s specialist performed surgery to look for endometriosis and found it. The specialist removed scar tissue during the operation and advised Martha that it might help.
The diagnosis was no great surprise to Martha who has had painful periods since her teens. She remembers vomiting with period pain when she was young, but a GP told her to manage it with painkillers. She wonders if more could have been done to diagnose and treat it earlier when she was a teenager.
Since being diagnosed with endometriosis, Martha has had one more IVF cycle which was followed by another miscarriage. In May 2021, she told her specialist she needed a break from the treatment to mentally prepare for another cycle.
“I felt like I had lost my spark,” she says. “It’s quite isolating, this experience... It impacts on your entire life. There are physical, mental, financial, and social impacts on your life.”
Martha’s workplace has supported her to take time off when needed and she’s grateful that her and Mike can afford the high cost of treatment. Over time, they have become more open with friends and family about their experience and tell people what’s helpful to ease the pain. For example, Martha has told some friends to send her a text message when they’re announcing a pregnancy because it makes it easier to process.
“It can be really hard to receive that news on the spot. At our age, a lot of people are having kids around you.”
It’s also hard to face probing questions from people who unwittingly ask: When are you having a baby?
“I just smile and say: ‘Hopefully soon’.”
After three and a half years of trying, Martha and Mike are hopeful IVF will work for them soon. They continue to focus on the things they can control, such as eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol intake.
Martha hopes her story will help others feel less alone.
- Unexplained infertility and the chance of pregnancy
- I've been trying for a while
- Miscarriage support network - Pink Elephants