Age at interview: 36
Infertility diagnosis: No
Contributing factors to fertility problems: ovarian cyst, damage to right ovary after surgery to remove cyst, endometriosis, damage to uterine tubes following IVF
Age at diagnosis: 18 (cyst), 32 (endometriosis)
Fertility treatments: IVF, IVF add-ons
Background: Sue-en lives with her husband and their baby in a metropolitan city. Sue-en is South Korean and migrated to Australia as an adult.
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Early signs of endometriosis and ovarian cysts
So when I was first year in uni I had bleeding problems. I went to see a specialist and I was told I have a big cyst so that's the beginning of my infertility journey which I didn't realise back then. I knew I had a problem and I've seen specialists every year just to double check and five years ago when - so I was in Korea - so my partner is in Australia so we decide which country we are going to live together. I thought Australia's easy for us so I just checked everything before I came because we wanted to start a family as soon as possible because we knew I have a problem.
Deciding to start trying for a baby and further surgery
So I went to see a specialist. I was told I should have another surgery because of the endometriosis and there are so many adhesions and cysts and everything just really make my life pretty miserable. So I have a second surgery and I also had CIN [Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia] so pre-cervix cancer I think. I have a…as well and then all surgeries really went well and I moved to Australia and it took me almost a year to settle in. Then we were, “All right it's time to start a family,” so I went to see a specialist and I did all the tests again just to see what I am at and I was told I should start IVF straight away.
But for my husband, he knew I had a problem but he just wanted to try to conceive naturally for a couple of months so I had my cycle trackings and things for three months which didn't really work as I expected. So we decided to start IVF treatment. The first specialist we saw was private and he recommended to have another surgery to get rid of all cysts and adhesions from endometriosis but I wanted to avoid it and I was also told it's not going to be one or two cycles considering the problem I have.
Undergoing IVF at a bulk billing clinic
So we were told at least 3-4 cycles and we thought, ‘Well it's going to be a long journey and we don't want to I guess stress financially,’ so we found this bulk billing clinic in [city name]. We saw a specialist there and they're pretty happy with us to start having treatment. So we started three years ago and it wasn't really easy because my ovaries didn't respond to the injections, the medication much so it was a pretty long stimulation. It normally takes 12, 13 days for people but it took me 20 days to have all follicles grow and they managed to extract five eggs but just only two fertilised and I had one embryo transferred and I fell pregnant but it didn't develop at six weeks so I had a miscarriage at 7-8 weeks.
But it didn't naturally miscarry so I had to have medication to get rid of all the baby out of my system. After that we had another four cycles there but, yes, it didn't really work for us. It was really frustrating because I knew I had issues and the problem is they couldn't do a frozen cycle for me because I only have one embryo normally get from one cycle..
But the problem is my endometrium is really thick from stimulation so normally my endometrium it's 11 mil to 12 mil which is normal but always after stimulation gets 19, 20 millimetres and brought it up to the specialist, “I don't think that it's working, can I do a frozen cycle?” but we were told they don't want to take a risk because of the one embryo and if you freeze an embryo it maybe won't survive. So that's the same story over and over again for over four cycles. Then my left ovary which is normal had adhesions from egg collections and surgeries so I went to see another specialist, a private specialist, and I was told I need to get rid of my tubes because they are blocked and it's not really helping to conceive. Also my ovaries stuck with other organs so I was thinking of having surgery but again it's my third surgery. That is the last thing I want to do.
Getting a second opinion and undergoing IVF in Korea
That's when I decided all right, let's go to Korea and see what they say and I went to Korea just to see another specialist. I went to see three specialists and two of them say, “No, surgery's the last solution and just keep trying,” and one specialist said, “Maybe.” So I didn't have surgery and I thought, ‘Oh maybe I can go back to Korea later’ . So I thought maybe I can just come back later and just get everything sorted.
But the specialist, they actually said, "Oh when are you going back to Australia?” and I was going back this date and, "When is your husband coming?" I'm like, “This date,” and they said, "Oh maybe we can do one cycle here while you are here and see what's the problem." So they did a mini IVF cycle so I get less stimulated and have one embryo and have the transfer and, yes, here you go, I have a baby! [laughter]
Thoughts about the future
Interviewer: …do you and your husband think that you would try again?
Sue-en: What we are thinking is I'm happy to give it another try for a second one but it's not going to be seven cycles. He's pretty happy with one. Well before she arrived he's like, "Oh, yes, maybe we can have a second," but because the whole process was really stressful for him he's like, "No, I'm pretty happy with one." But more like me because for me I want to give another try to have a second one because definitely it helped endometriosis. I haven't had my period started since January so that's great! That definitely helped. I went through so many dramas but definitely not having a period is a big benefit of pregnancy.
That's another reason why I'm still breastfeeding because I would have my period a little bit later if you breastfeed. I will start my pills straight away when I start my period just to slow down endometriosis. Well my body needs at least two or three years of recovery from my pregnancy and all the dramas I went through and then I will stop taking the pill and will definitely have another cycle in Korea. But not five or six cycles, just one and see how it goes. Then at some point I will have to get both my ovaries and uterus removed at some point because maybe not but there is a possibility that will maybe make my life better. But I will try to have a healthy lifestyle, just keep my body going.
Find out more about Sue-en’s experiences in the following short films:
Wanting to Become a Parent
Experiences of Conception, Pregnancy and Childbirth
Navigating Infertility and Fertility Treatment: Relationships with Family, Friends and Peers
Advice for Health Practitioners and Health Services