Age at interview: 43
Infertility diagnosis: Yes
Contributing factors to fertility problems: uterine fibroids, age
Age at diagnosis: 41
Fertility treatments or interventions: IVF, dietary and lifestyle changes, acupuncture, supplements
Background: Libby works full-time as a teacher. She and her husband live in a metropolitan city. Libby is Romanian.
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Reaching age 35 and starting to think about fertility and having a child
Well, I kind of always knew that you know, the woman’s body clock ticks faster than man’s and you’re kind of told that, not since a young age but I think past your 20s, you kind of realise that if you want children, children should be in your focus along with your career and whatever other things you do. I didn’t really pay much attention in my 20s, I'd been quite healthy, and I didn’t really, I don’t have any allergies, didn’t have any...So, per se I wasn’t really focused on thinking that I need to take care of my fertility.
I never thought I had any issues because I didn’t really pay attention to that, but it was always in the back of my head, but it wasn’t my priority in my 20s. And then the 30s come along and then when my first marriage started falling apart I realised that, ‘Oh I'm going to hit mid-30s, so what do I do from there?’ and that’s the first time when I actually went to the doctor and said, “Okay I should have a check-up you know. I'm 35.” There's no symptoms that I knew of and just the usual PMS and stuff that we all have, and we all deal with it. So, it wasn’t really that I was proactively trying to conceive because I had other, better things to do, I guess [laughter].
And then Mum had fibroids very early on, so for her that was part of her life, where I didn’t have any symptoms similar to her, so I didn’t think that that’s ever going to be an issue. And I was told, “Yes you have a few” and that’s when, maybe the first time I thought, “Oh okay, I am healthy but maybe I'm not as healthy from a fertility perspective.” But again, "Not an issue, don’t worry about it, continue doing whatever you want to do, just know that after 35 you go down the hill," and blah blah blah all that you know.
I think I did an egg count, it's an AMH test just for the first time just to know and I actually don’t even remember the percentage the doctor told me but it was quite low, but it wasn’t low to freak her out and it didn’t freak me out but I thought, “Oh it's pretty low”. So, definitely it must have been less than 40% but I don’t remember the exact number so don’t quote me on that, but it wasn’t, well obviously because you’re 35 so that was kind of the reaction. So, then I started thinking, “Okay I'm single again and time is ticking, and I think I do want a kid, just one. It's better to have one,” – and so I don’t have any siblings, neither did my ex-husband, neither does my current husband.” So, I guess I don’t know, I go for a single child, I don’t know!
Anyway so, well okay you’re single and I used to live in Japan where there are no sperm banks, there's no concept of frozen eggs still at this point so I'm talking about, so I'm 43 so this is a bit way back, 2012, 2013. So, that wasn’t an option, I wasn’t actually really thinking about freezing my eggs and people have started at that time so this is 2011, 2012 we're talking about, “Oh, we should freeze our eggs, that’s amazing, that’s a great investment if you were a young woman you should do that” and I thought ‘Oh, Japan doesn’t have that, it doesn’t exist, sperm banks don’t exist.’ So, there was kind of I need a partner.
Meeting a new partner and deciding to try to have a baby
But at the same time, I was thinking, ‘I'm not going to find another partner just for the sake of having children.’ So, I knew that it's not about children, it's about more than that so anyway time progressed and 2015 I caught up with an old friend that I've known for many years, he's my current husband, we’ve been friends since uni. We just happened to catch up again and, yeah, one thing led to another. We started dating, he was single, no baggage so I thought, ‘Oh this is wonderful.’ I didn’t expect to be married very quickly. After he proposed so we got married and then we thought, we both turned 40 so I don’t know, because I felt so comfortable and I thought. Even though career-wise I wasn’t where I wanted, I thought, ‘Oh maybe it's a nice way to give it a try, why not try and see. Especially that he's a nice person and - why not?’
So, we did that and I moved to [city name] in 2017 so we started the procedure – so when I went to the doctor in 2017 October/November, so I was 40, almost 41 and she said, “Well I think we need to straight away to IVF in your case.” The fibroids were under control, there wasn’t any big issue with them, but you still need to watch them and make sure they don’t get bigger, doesn’t impact your cavity, it's all good. I don’t usually trust doctors much, especially when it comes to something to do with my own body. With a common cold and stuff like that I'm fine but when it comes to deeper things, I realised that, ‘Oh okay she's moving straight to IVF.’ We did the tests, yes AMH is low, blah blah blah all that. The rest – “You’re healthy, vitamins are all in place. He's fine. He's fine.” So, he's always fine so there wasn’t much about him. So, that was one thing that really struck me at that clinic is that he's fine.
So, $300 test for his sperm count and morphology and all of that was just dismissed in one second. $300, that’s kind of a lot but again you’re going for IVF I think that’s just, I don’t know 0.0% of what else you have to pay. So, I said, “Okay, he's fine. So, I guess it's all on me.” “Well unfortunately you’re 41, blah blah blah.” That doctor at that time was very much focused on science she believed that – I don’t blame her some doctors are like that, it doesn’t matter what you do you’re 41, it's going to be very difficult for you to do anything regardless of your lifestyle.” I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, yes, I have coffee from time – I had coffee from time to time and then I thought, “Wait a minute, this is it, it's all on me?’
Being diagnosed with age-related infertility and starting IVF
So that was the second punch I got that it should’ve stopped me from moving forward but I did not. And then the fact that she said because I'm more into the holistic approach with acupuncture and taking herbs and she dismissed all that, “No, it's you’re 41 so you’ve got to face your age. Doesn’t matter what you do, it's your age. We're just going to do our best,” and I said, “Wait a minute, you can't compare me to a person who is an alcoholic, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke.” “No you’re the same, you’re 41. If that person is 20 they will conceive,” and I thought, ‘Okay, I'm not a scientist but I do have common sense and I've read about you know, IVF and stuff and I've paid attention to certain things, you can't tell me I'm in the same boat with that person.’
Unfortunately, I still went ahead with this doctor in spite of all the red flags and obviously it was horrible because I felt I wasn’t supported and I said, “Okay, I’ll give science a chance. Why not. Maybe she knows her stuff.” The first cycle was pretty horrible, but still managed to get an egg and it was this pressure from the nurses at the clinic that you need to have 5 embryos to be able to do genetic testing – “Because you’re 41 you must do genetic testing, you must do genetic testing,” and I said, “There's nothing really wrong with me genetically to transmit any diseases from you know me or my mum.” Because we had a DNA test as well. “No, no, no but you’re 41, you definitely need to go for it,” and I thought, ‘Mmm, actually don’t see the necessity, I should let nature take its course’. You know if it doesn’t implant, it doesn’t. Okay it didn’t work out. Yes, I know it's painful, but I felt that I'm hurting the embryo you know, thawing it and you know, doing all the sorts of things they do with the genetic test. Transporting it to [city name] because they didn’t have…
In spite of all this I still went ahead with the second cycle, now that I look back, I think I was just stupid [laughter] or brainwashed, I don’t know. So, the second cycle wasn’t as great either, we got only one embryo. And then we went ahead with the third cycle I don’t know why, in which she twisted a little bit my – she added extra supplements which totally messed me up. I kept on joking, saying, “Well I haven’t killed anybody yet!” I mean, that means it doesn’t hurt me, I was irritable, I was feeling like I've never felt in my life and she's like, “Ah, it's okay, it's okay. Do you want to stop?” The things that they tell you, especially at that clinic was more like, “Do you want to give up, because we can, we can stop right now?” and I'm like, “I'm not going to stop halfway now.”
And I'm the person who hates to stop, maybe my character and the process did not really help either and once you’re under the influence of these drugs they give you, you can't really think clearly, you’re not yourself anymore and I just, “Oh well, let's do it then, let's give it a try, you know, why not. Okay.” I mean it was the worst cycle, nothing came out of it, just I was bloated and angry and in pain. But then we had two frozen embryos, ‘Okay let's go for genetic testing.’ Obviously, you lose one through thawing because an embryo at 41 is not that strong to withstand all that.
The amount of reading I've done during these cycles; I think I haven’t done in my whole life regarding you know IVF and fertility. And they're all saying the opposite she was saying, so, I was like, ‘Okay, this is not going anywhere.’ So, we did the genetic testing for one, yes it came back bad, ‘complex’ as she said, which is the worst of the worst. So, I said, “Okay” – this is it?”, And she was, “Well, I think you’re done. As you can tell you are done, and I recommend a donor.” And I'm like, “Sure that is in my mind yes, there are different ways you can have a child, but not at this point, I don’t think I'm ready.”
She goes, “Okay, well you’re going to waste your time and money. I can do another IVF with you if you want but basically this is it,” and I said, “Okay fair enough. I appreciate that,” paid my last consultation and I never looked back, I just left that clinic and I said, “This is not the way it should be, maybe for some people it works, for some people it doesn’t.”
Changing IVF clinics
So, we had, this is February 2018, so I started researching new clinics and funny enough and very ironically while I was googling this woman in [city name] popped up who has a holistic and scientific approach to fertility for over 20 years. Once you check it keeps on popping up on your feed on Facebook and I was like, “Mmm, she seems interesting,” but I put it aside and I didn’t…But the holistic approach was intriguing for me but I said, “Okay, now let me look into IVF again, better clinics.” And again Facebook, I think it listens to me [laughter] or I don’t know what it does, it popped up with another feed for a different clinic in [city name] and I thought, “Oh okay,” and they had a workshop. I'm like, “Okay, it's IVF, I guess, recycle, I kind of know about it but let me go and see what they say.” So they said the same-same that I knew.
Then I came across this doctor who presented at the seminar and I said, “You know what, I need some help.” She was, “Sure, let's make an appointment”, and I had a nice rapport with her from a few discussions and she's like, “Okay, come in three weeks.” So, she was quite quick for a random appointment like that and I thought, ‘Okay, maybe it's meant to be.’
So, we caught up, she totally put me - I liked her, I felt comfortable. She also mentioned that, “Yes, I think your lifestyle, you know you need to improve your lifestyle. You need to live a less stressful life. You need to pay attention to your husband as well. And yes, keep going with the herbs and acupuncture and all this.” And I thought, ‘Oh okay, wow finally one that doesn’t focus only on the numbers and the science and she takes a different approach.’
Not that she can when she's constrained by the IVF clinics obviously, but she did not dismiss what I was trying to do on the side to help with the cycles and she put me on all minimum doses of everything. So, she said, “I'm going to let your body to take control of it, we're just pushing it a bit. You don’t need a lot, your body still doing pretty well, I'm not going to disturb the flow, I'm just going to help it.”
Having surgery to remove fibroids, more IVF
So, yes, I felt much better and yes I had six eggs collected I remember in that April and she was very happy about it and she's like okay, the fibroids were still there. And she was suggesting, “Let's have a laparoscopy and take them out, clean everything you know because a clean soil is much better to raise a plant,” and I'm like, “Okay sure.” “But maybe we should do more IVFs before you do that so that you know we get the best – because we're running around, you know, against the time.” I said, “Sure, okay” and then she said, “Look, do you want to do a fresh transfer?” and I said “Mm, okay well you sure? Because the fibroids are there?” And she goes, “Let's give it a try.”
And it did not work out and then we froze I think two and she's like “Okay, If you want to do one more it's up to you, you think about it” and I'm like “Okay, give me some time to think about it” and I tried one more in which I was so health conscious that I think it caused me so much stress. I mean, yeah and ironically what I'm doing right now it's totally against what I was doing then thinking I was healthy. So that’s pretty, the journey is turning into a very interesting journey right now.
So, yes, we had only one embryo, we froze it and then I had a laparoscopy last year which was actually really good to have. I was very scared to go for it, I've never had surgery, I've never been in a hospital, I was really so scared. I thought I'm going to die, basically [laughter]. So, the doctor who did the laparoscopy, was her friend, it was all this you know I felt I can trust them, the fertility doctor was also present at the surgery.
So, it was a very nice, friendly atmosphere which I was so happy about, joking and you know I wasn’t really sure am I going into surgery or am I going to go to a party kind of! [laughter] They both managed to really relax me because I was really freaking out, I mean I know people have serious stuff than I did and she's just, “It's one small cut, don’t worry about it.” I'm like, “Oh my God, it is a cut!” She goes, “We're not cutting you open.”
So, yes, I done that and – oh I felt so much better after I finished, not only physically but mentally I realised how much this kind of eating bugs are affecting me and feeling cleaner. Yes, there were 14 in there, not big ones but 14 is a pretty big number and having all that blood sucked, you know, from them. Obviously, my body circulation improved, mentally I was happier, so I realised this is good. Even if I don’t have a child this was a good decision regardless.
And the recovery took a month, it's not easy and then at the beginning of this year they were like, “Okay, we let you heal for 6 months and then we’ll do a transfer and see how it goes” so I got the okay from the surgeon I'm like, “Okay, let's go for the transfer.”
So, we did one in March and everything looked amazing. I didn’t require, it was perfect and I'm like, ‘Okay, this sounds pretty good,’ and it did not happen. It was right before COVID so end of March and I'm like, ‘Wow! Okay, I thought I did my best,’ just when I look at it in retrospective now, I thought I did my best, but I didn’t, but I will tell you later why. It didn’t work out, then corona hit, [city name] lockdown, and I just thought, ‘Okay, this is it.’ So, I had had one more left yeah.
COVID, taking a break from IVF, and finding a holistic fertility doctor
So, that was it so April, May, June you’re just in lockdown and then I think mid-June they opened, they allowed day surgery to start again, hence IVF the transfers were all ready. So, I did that in June. I lost my job at the end of March so I'm like, ‘Okay, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a child.’ Pretty much – I started my doctorate in February, so I'm like, ‘Okay, all I have is to do research every day, I’ll just do that.’ So, that in a way did rescue me a little bit, and I thought, ‘Okay, this is the only thing you do, why not do it.’
So, I spent my lockdown mostly just reading and kind of forgetting about IVF a little bit and then as I mentioned before the woman who I Googled who has a holistic/scientific approach, so again it popped up. It was in my head I'm like, ‘You know what, I'm just going to email these people and see what’s going on.’ It's all via emails and you know Skype and all that, so it didn’t matter COVID or not COVID.
So, with this she's like, “Do you want to have a meeting? I think you’ll be a great candidate for our clinic. We do work with people in your case and you know I had a challenge having my own children. Most of the people working in my clinic come from that background.” So, yes and I thought, ‘Mm, okay.’
The first meeting with her on Zoom, I was a bit upset, I think I was a bit stressed out at the fact that okay, let me see what she’s going to say. Even though what she was saying I totally agree with her, I totally understand every point of view she was saying. She takes an approach about saying that it's a team sport. You can't have the men just sitting on the side and the woman doing all the work or vice versa. Fertility is a team sport and we need to both work hard at getting what we want to get. And her concept was about you can't do IVF without preparing, changing your lifestyle, changing your diet. Both of you not just you, it's not only your fault, it's also his fault the fact that you don’t have a child.
It doesn’t mean that oh yeah, you’re 41, you’re all done. No, no, no if his sperm is perfect how come you don’t have the child then. It’s 50% right, so that 50% should at least work. And she's like, “Well, he needs to make changes as well.” You need, obviously that’s the story, women always makes the changes but no…So, the fact that she mentioned that he needs to be involved more than ever in this process it really, it woke me up and I'm like, “Yes, he does need to be involved and we need to cry together, we need to suffer together, we need to be happy together”. And I said, “Okay, let me think about this, I might join your program…” because you have to join this program, the fees are not cheap. But I thought, ‘Wait, I've already paid for five cycles, why suddenly I become stingy and say no, I'm not paying for this anymore?’
She’s very humble, when she said, you know, “They all have their successes, you know 30%, 40%”. She says, “My success is about 79 or 80. There are people who it doesn’t work out obviously, and there are people who are happy, there are people who walk out and say you know what I don’t think I want a child anymore, I'm happy with the way I am right now.” So, she made sure, because I had said, “Well, what if I don’t have a child? What if all this investment turns out going nowhere?” and she's like, “Well, you’re going to make a decision when you get there. We're going to do our best, we're going to do our best. The only thing that you might leave with from this program is feeling healthy, knowing that you are healthy and even if you go for egg donor, you’re still healthy. You have a newer lifestyle; you know what to do.”
Enrolling in a holistic fertility health program
So, it took me a few, no actually it took me another failed transfer to say yes to her. So, after I was done with the clinics I said, “Okay, let's just bite the bullet and go for it.” So, at the beginning of June, we enrolled in this program. We’ve been on it since then, so this is almost 4 months and I'm like, ‘I'm not going to worry about conceiving, I'm going to just enjoy my life and just detox. Let's detox.’ And all the things that she mentioned that I thought I was doing, when I did my transfers in March, were – okay, I wasn’t drinking proper water, she's all about filtering the water and all of that. It's all about the supplements and obviously the testing is still there, you need to know where you’re at.
It's actually overall health, I found out my husband has a fatty liver, so if the liver doesn’t work properly obviously not everything else will be in place. My thyroid is not that perfect, it's not bad but it's not perfect, let's push it up to a perfect number. Let's have perfect numbers and see how it works.
So, yeah that’s kind of where we're at now and I don’t think about the age anymore and I don’t think about…if it works out, it works out, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I think without her help, the supplements, the counselling, the nutritionist, the diet, the cutting out, you know, fried food eating more vegetables and more protein. Meat-based is quite important, so she really pays attention, you know, “If you’re a vegetarian then I need to give you more supplements,” if you’re not. So, I wish I had said yes to that email last year [laughter], but I guess I needed to go through the whole process, it's hard to judge.
Considering using an egg donor
At this point, I've actually applied for an egg donor at a different clinic because here, not all clinics do it, there’s only certain clinics that do that. And we kind of decided to go anonymous, we don’t have a friend who’s going to do that for me either. So, then the process is different, so we are on a waiting list because I thought, ‘Why not, I mean it doesn’t hurt,’ and yeah so I've done that during COVID.
We actually had an offer last month and I rejected the offer because I read through the profile and nothing wrong with the person, I don’t know who she is it's just the health profile and the kids that she has and the family history. I just said, “I'm not ready for this”, because you have to purchase the eggs first.
Yeah, so we said no to it and again I can wait for the next round but to tell you the truth I'm becoming more and more conscious about what health means.
So, yes it's shifting a bit my thinking, I don’t know if it's a good thing or a bad thing but yeah, the options are still there.
Contemplating a life without children
It's worth trying when we're 50 or something and we look back we should be like, “Yep we tried, we tried and it didn’t work out,” rather than, “No, we're not going to do anything, you’re old, this is it.”
So, that’s why we're trying to do our best with everything we can within the limited time we have and with this program I actually feel a bit more neutral about it. I feel like, “Yeah, it's fine. There are millions of people who don’t have kids, it's not the end of the world really,” So, I have a different reaction now.
Find out more about Libby’s experiences in the following short films:
Wanting to Become a Parent
Experiences of Complementary and Alternative Medicines and Therapies and Lifestyle Changes
Experiences of Health Practitioners and Health Services
Infertility and Fertility Treatment: Seeking Information and Support
Advice for others Experiencing Infertility and/or Fertility Treatment