Age at interview: 44
Infertility diagnosis: No
Contributing factors to fertility problems: Spontaneous Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI, also known as premature menopause)
Age at diagnosis: 34
Fertility treatments: IVF with donated eggs
Background: Kris works part-time in communications in the non-profit sector. She lives with her husband and three school-aged children in a metropolitan city. Kris is white Australian.
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Trying to conceive and first seeking help
I met my partner, who's now my husband, when I was 31. We pretty quickly moved in together and we travelled overseas together to Fiji, where we lived for a while, which was wonderful. We came back and got engaged and we started to think about starting a family together.
So I would have been about 34 then and I came off the pill and nothing happened. So I didn't get my period. I went to the doctor after a couple of months just to see if everything was going okay. She mentioned to me that it would normally be probably around the six to 12 month mark before they'd send me off to a fertility specialist and not really to worry about it, it sometimes took a while for things to get moving again after being on the pill for a long period of time.
So I went back at the six month mark and I still hadn't had my period. I had some hopeful moments where I thought maybe I might've been pregnant because I'd used an ovulation kit and I seemed to be ovulating quite a lot, like quite frequently within a month. So I thought that wasn't quite normal.
Fertility testing and being diagnosed with early menopause
My doctor still didn't seem concerned and she sent me off to have some hormonal tests done. So this was a GP at the GP clinic that I generally went to. And then I got a call from my GP, which I actually missed and I had a message on my answering machine saying that they got the test results back and it looked like I was in early menopause and that I should come in to the office or, call so I could get to work on contacting a fertility specialist.
I was pretty much devastated because I was 34. I hadn't really even considered that it could have been at that age, early menopause. I didn't really even know what that meant. I didn't know what the difference between perimenopause and what menopause was. And it was a difficult time to process because it was over the Christmas period as well.
Referral to a fertility specialist and considering IVF
So I did what I could to get an appointment with a fertility specialist, like an IVF specialist quickly. Everyone was booked up. It was a not a quick solution in any means. My doctor set me up with a referral and in the referral, it had written that it was suspected that I had gone through, my hormone results indicated early menopause, and that I still wanted to see what my fertility options were.
So we found a specialist, she was able to see us and we sat down together. My husband, who was my husband at this stage was very supportive. We both went to meet with a fertility specialist who pretty much straight out said, "Yeah, you've gone through early menopause. But we could try XYZ, they’re very experimental treatments. How do you feel about that?" I still...I think at that stage, it was still very raw for me. I hadn't really worked out what the menopause would mean. I didn't really...I don't think I really understood about the linkages between the two. We were given a whole bunch of tests to do so we went away and we did those tests and talked through some of our options, talked to family members and we just weren't ready to be going down an IVF path yet in that type of way.
Seeking a second opinion and seeing a fertility counsellor
We took a break. We went back to see a different specialist, someone that someone else had recommended and who didn't give us a different answer, but probably gave us an answer in a different way. So he looked at the results and he said, "Well, you know, this is early menopause." But that just gave us that opportunity to maybe grieve a bit as well, instead of this is such a massive loss. It's such a massive piece of information.
Look, there were very, very, very limited chances if anything, with my own eggs, because they didn't really exist anymore. I had maybe two or three follicles that were left. But he mentioned in passing that donor conception might be something we'd be interested in, but that really the first point was to speak to a fertility counsellor just so that we could understand what we'd just been through.
So, that was probably our next step and so we spent the next six months speaking to a counsellor. I also gave myself six months to explore whether there was anything else we could do around fertility. So we looked at a little bit of Eastern medicine as well. Nothing seemed to change or move at all because, you know, science is science [laughter].
Exploring donor conception
So then we went down the option of exploring ways, we might be able to conceive a child with donor eggs.
So I suppose the first thing we did was because we'd been quite open in talking to people about our journey as we were going through, all my friends knew about what we were doing in terms of where my fertility was at. Everyone was sort of...Even though the conversations were pretty raw, it was because all of my friends at the same time were going through having their first child or having their second child or having very young children. So the doctor we were seeing said, "Is there anybody within your network?" I don't have any sisters. I don't have any cousins that are close that were in that age range. There really weren't any options for us within our close network that we could look at, around whether we might be able to ask them the question about sharing eggs.
So at that stage, this was 10 years ago there wasn't a lot of information about what we could do in Australia in terms of...I know there's now more networks in terms of where women are prepared to share eggs at that stage. It was a process where you needed to advertise, so – and there seemed to be a lot of roadblocks.
Deciding to pursue donor conception overseas and conceiving three children
So we ended up looking to an overseas agency in the US. So that's where we ended up looking and trying to find somewhere which was sort of aligned with our values and somewhere where we could still have an arrangement where our kids could contact a donor in the future, if they wanted to have a relationship or wanted to have a conversation or just know a little bit more about their identity and then we began the process of preparing my body for IVF through donor conception as well.
So we prepared when we were in Australia and then we went overseas and went through the whole process at the same time as the donor did over there. So that was interesting. Like there was lots of injections of things like progesterone and there was oestrogen, there was preparing the lining of my uterus. And then there was that wait when the eggs were fertilised and it was the same process of ICSI, but with my husband's sperm and with the donor’s eggs and just the waiting process.
We were very, very, very lucky in that it was very successful in terms of her egg production, because she was younger, she was 28 compared to 34. But maybe that was my 34 I'm comparing it to and we were able to conceive twins out of that process and still have some embryos stored for what ended up being my son two years later. So we now have three children through that process. I was able to carry all three children successfully and I was able to breastfeed all three as well.
Early menopause and its implications
And I think from that point, I only really started to look at the fertility menopause angles again, after the childrearing aspects ended. So was able to focus a little bit again then on self and thinking, ‘Okay. So maybe there's some things that I didn't really focus on. Like I'm not really sleeping that well. Oh, I don't really have much of a libido.’
My obstetrician, after I had my son, said to me, "Oh, you've got..." And this is not the nicest terminology, but she's like, "You've got a bit of atrophy. So I think you should go on HRT." So all those types of things that I kind of pushed it to the side, being infertile, what it meant for my body not to have these hormones. I was so focused on finding a solution to having the children. I hadn't really focused on what going through menopause at such an early age had meant.
So yeah. So that was the second, I think, psychological part of the journey. So it was, which I feel like I'm still dealing with now, so I feel like I'm now dealing with the menopause aspect of the infertility now. Whereas the not being able to have children I have dealt with as a step-by-step type of process, and this has taken a lot longer, the second part.
Find out more about Kris’s experiences in the following short films:
Early Signs of Fertility Problems Later in Life
Donor Conception and Surrogacy
Navigating Infertility and Fertility Treatment: Relationships with Family, Friends and Peers
Thoughts and Feelings about Infertility and Fertility Treatment
Advice for Health Practitioners and Health Services