Age at interview: 34
Infertility diagnosis: Yes
Contributing factors to fertility problems: Low ovarian reserve
Age at diagnosis: 29
Fertility treatments: Timed intercourse, IVF, considering donor eggs or embryos
Background: Aisha works full-time as an engineer. She, her husband and their pre-school aged child live in a regional town. Aisha has Indian heritage.
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Trying to conceive and first seeking help
I got married when I was about 27 and about six months later my husband and I decided to start trying to get pregnant. I did a lot of research because I'm a very scientific person. So I did a lot of research about getting pregnant. I had heard it might take a while or it might happen quickly. In the beginning I really hoped I was one of those people who it happened to really quickly. But we kept trying and unfortunately I kept getting my period. I have quite a, like, a cycle that's on the shorter side, so - and it was very regular and on the shorter side. So, you know, I always - my period came very regularly.
I had heard about IVF but I didn't know too much about it. I had read a little bit about online and I started looked at some forums about getting pregnant and I saw that if you didn't get pregnant in a year and you were under 35 it was time to go to a GP. So we waited and finally when it had been a year I went to my GP and I asked her to refer me to a fertility specialist. She had done all the checks for my husband and myself and we were all healthy. So we went to see a fertility specialist. He reviewed all our test results and he didn't find anything wrong either.
So we did timed intercourse for about three months and again, even with timed intercourse and having blood tests very often, nothing happened. It was quite stressful for me because my work was really really busy and we were quite private. So none of our family knew that we were going through this; I didn't, you know, wasn't telling anyone at work. So I was just having to go in the mornings for the blood tests and not tell anybody.
Starting IVF and being diagnosed with low ovarian reserve
So after about three months he asked if we would like to try IUI but by that time we just said we just wanted a baby and if it meant going to IVF we just wanted to go straight there. Since I was quite young; I think I was about 28 years old at the time, the doctor started off giving me a dose of GONAL-F [follitropin alfa], which is one of the hormones that was suitable for a person my age. And I basically, to my great surprise, had absolutely no response to the drugs whatsoever. I went for my first scan on day eight and basically nothing was happening at all. I was not growing any more eggs than what I normally grow so I think after one or two scans the cycle was cancelled, much to my surprise, and I was quite shocked because it had never occurred to me that IVF might not work; that I might not respond to the drugs. I didn't even know that that was an option.
I did a lot of research online. Again, because I'm quite a scientific person. I went through a lot of forums and I found that this could happen where people don't respond to the drugs and that there was a test called AMH test that you could ask for where that result would then give you an indication of what your ovarian reserve was like. So I asked my doctor for that test and it came back at a very very low result; only about 1.1 which is extremely low for my age at the time. At that time my husband and I were just going to just keep going and keep trying IVF until, over and over again. We weren't willing to give up.
So the doctor doubled the dose of GONAL-F [follitropin alfa] and we tried again. And much to our amazement, I managed to get five eggs on the second try and one of those eggs was put back in and became my beautiful little boy, who we're very, very blessed to have. After we had him, I knew how lucky we were. We had one more embryo in the freezer and I was very much hoping that that would become our second child and our family would be complete. When my son was just under two years old we went back and had that frozen embryo put back in but unfortunately that cycle did not work.
Trying for a second child via IVF
I went back again for another cycle and I managed to make, again, about four eggs, but I then experienced another thing that I had not experienced before in IVF, which is my progesterone prematurely increasing before it had been triggered, which is not good for the eggs and also means that you cannot do a fresh transfer. So, again, that was another shock to me; something I didn't know could happen in IVF when they're supposed to be controlling your hormones. And so we had to go back and get a frozen embryo transfer of - the only embryo that made it to being frozen a few days later - a few weeks later, sorry.
And unfortunately that one became a chemical pregnancy where it was very low levels of [hCG] detected and unfortunately no proper implantation. Because I lived in a regional area it was quite difficult for me work-wise to keep going back to the city. It was quite disruptive to work and life to keep flying back. Also, because I'm quite a private person I hadn't told everybody at work that we were doing IVF and that's why I kept travelling to the city for. So it was quite difficult emotionally. I was really starting to worry about the possibility of how hard it was going to be to have a second child, which we very much wanted.
I ended up doing another cycle with a different clinic to see if that would - having a different doctor would make any difference but unfortunately in that cycle I did not have any eggs retrieved at all and my AMH was tested again and it had dropped below one. So that was very disappointing.
Deciding to try using donor eggs
My husband and I then decided that we would consider going overseas for donor eggs. I didn't want to keep on going through IVF cycle after IVF cycle with the travel back to the city and the disruption to work when it wasn't going to work and I didn't seem to have any eggs left or quality eggs left.
We had all our flights booked to travel overseas but unfortunately COVID happened and we had to cancel our trip. I then decided to try again another IVF cycle using my own eggs. I managed to have just one egg retrieved and that was put back but unfortunately that did not implant. So now we're at the stage where I had, in July, advertised for an egg donor within Australia.
Deciding to try using donor embryos
Unfortunately I haven't had any success there with finding an egg donor within Australia, but my clinic does offer embryo donation. So we're currently on the waiting list and hoping that in the next few months we will be - make it to the top of the waiting list and be in line for embryo donation. That did take definitely a bit of a mindset change. There was, you know, a bit of a journey for us to go from being blessed with a child of our own DNA and thinking that we could still have a second one to accepting that we would have to use an egg donor but at least use my husband's sperm and then another - then having to go to using an embryo donated from another couple or another family that would have no genetic link to us.
But I think by now we've decided that our wish is to raise another child and not to have much more than having that genetic link. We're lucky enough to already have one child who is genetically linked to us but, you know, we just want to have the opportunity to raise another child. So that has been my fertility journey so far.
I think since I went on Egg Donation Australia, I’ve seen everyone else’s stories and I think that’s actually made me feel very lucky because I’ve seen so many other people’s stories where they haven’t had any children and they’ve been trying for, you know, 10 years. And, you know, a lot of – I think there were a lot more people who are actually planning to go overseas in 2020, who have not been able to now and so everybody is looking for a donor within Australia, which is why I think it’s a lot harder than it normally is to find an egg donor at the moment.
But it’s made me appreciate, and I always try to remember that we were so incredibly lucky to get pregnant with my son. So I try to make sure I keep appreciating that, though it is still very hard, I think, seeing other people around me have their second children and get pregnant very easily.
Find out more about Aisha’s experiences in the following short films:
Wanting to Become a Parent
Contributing Factors to Fertility Problems
Donor Conception and Surrogacy
Experiences of Health Practitioners and Health Services
Infertility and Fertility Treatment: Seeking Information and Support
Navigating Infertility and Fertility Treatment: Relationships with Family, Friends and Peers
Advice for Family and Friends of Someone Experiencing Infertility and Fertility Treatment