We started trying for children a couple of years into our marriage. My husband and I have been married for just shy of 11 years, and our oldest is nearly 5. If you do the math, it’s easy to see we tried for quite some time before falling pregnant.
My husband wanted to start trying within our first year of marriage, but I was finishing off my studies and wanted to wait a bit. I figured I would finish my studies and work for at least a year before we started a family. That way we’d also have time to grow as a couple before we introduced children into the mix. Funny how we sometimes think things will just fall into place the way we plan it. It didn’t for us. After a couple years of marriage, we both wanted to start a family, and I went off the pill. Nothing. But these things take time, right? My husband and I were aware that after going off the pill it can take some time to fall pregnant. But many months later, still nothing. I had an irregular period, but it was still a period, so surely it can’t be too hard to fall pregnant.
I eventually had an ovulation test done after being advised that getting a period doesn’t mean having an ovulation. After receiving the test results that I was not ovulating, I went on a course of medication to correct this. There was a layer of concern, but I was mostly optimistic about taking the prescribed medication and the effects it would have. And bingo! I got the call from the gynaecologist’s receptionist with the news that I had a good ovulation. I must have been smiling like a loon, but didn’t care, because I was ovulating, and this was a step closer to having a baby. But months later still nothing happened. During this long period of trying I got assigned to a project in Johannesburg for just over a year, and my husband could get a temporary transfer for about half of this time. So off we went to work in the City of Gold for a bit, and decided to just make the most of it. A colleague mentioned to me her daughter fell pregnant after moving to Jo’burg for a while, so perhaps the air will be good for me. I decided to take this optimistically as well. Between work, visiting home in Cape Town, and enjoying seeing parts of Jo’burg, we still weren’t pregnant. We took it as maybe being for the best, because how do you commute frequently during pregnancy, or with a little baby to take care of, because after my husband came back home I was mostly commuting back and forth between Cape Town and Jo’burg for several months.
But even reason couldn’t dim the desire to have a baby, and we decided it was time to seek further medical intervention. My husband got in touch with a fertility clinic in Cape Town while I was at work in Jo’burg. My heart seemed to beat so loudly in my chest as we spoke over the phone and he said he was advised that we might need to consider in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Oh God! My heart sunk, which is a terrible feeling when you’re away from home and family, when your husband or mom is not around to hug you. IVF! Was that really where we were headed? How could this be? My mom had three children, all conceived and birthed naturally. How was I heading in the direction of IVF? Your thoughts can become emotional and out-of-touch with proper reasoning when you hear that you need to consider trying a treatment that is not only expensive and not covered by the majority of medical aid plans, but also has no guarantee of working. The option remained on the table for consideration, but we decided to just let things be, to just trust that what is meant for us will be. We even spoke about adoption – I told myself I have enough heart to love someone else’s child as my own. The thought even got me optimistic about being able to conceive after adoption – I had read about parents who adopt and then are able to conceive naturally. Something about the dramatic reduction in stress from trying to conceive, and voila!, the couple is expecting. So there were options at least.
But somewhere in between all this, I get a message from my younger sister one evening and I replied, correctly answering her “Guess what?” She was pregnant. I was going to be a maternal aunt!!! I was so excited. Really, I was thrilled at the prospect of a little baby between me and my sisters, of being an aunt. Part of me always suspected I would become an aunt before I became a mom, I just didn’t realise that amidst all the excitement I would feel that little pang of sadness. It didn’t come from not being happy for my sister and brother-in-law; I was thrilled for them. It came from knowing that I might not experience that same feeling for myself and my husband from finding out we were expecting.
A few months passed and my husband and I were both in Cape Town and buying a house. We had work, family and friends, and the freedom to give in to spontaneity – date night did not need to be scheduled. We could go catch a movie on a whim and not need to think about babysitters. But we still yearned for a baby. Dammit, I wanted to experience breastfeeding, complain about sleepless nights and need to schedule date night. And oh boy, did I just want people to stop making comments every time they saw us, without offering a stitch of advice. I’d smile, sometimes comment that we were still practising. I did not feel like telling everyone how hard we were trying and need to deal with a pity party about it; I did not feel like reasoning that I know work is not everything (yes, I was told this as if my career was all I thought about); and I certainly did not feel like getting another piece of wisdom that I should not wait too long! All that well-meant, but ill-timed, comment did was leave a lump in my throat that I may need to wait forever, and somehow made me wonder if this was my punishment for wanting to wait a bit initially. Like I said, your thoughts become emotionally charged and sense gets tossed out of the window like a boomerang, returning later to make me feel ‘normal’ again.
Between all this, I got a piece of advice that I am forever grateful for: Go and see the uncle of the beauty therapist my mum and I used to frequent. He was a pharmacist by trade who then became a reflexologist, one with a keen interest in fertility. What could it hurt, right? I wasn’t against alternative medicine so gave it a shot. I contacted him with an open mind and he suggested seeing both myself and my husband, since fertility challenges do not just reside with the female. After a lengthy consultation and some tests, I went for a follow-up and found myself sitting with a lump in my throat at being told I had something called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that is common amongst women and leads to various reproductive issues. My heart sank a bit, even as he told me that we could do a treatment program. At the very least it would help regulate my period – less bloating, less chance of my anemia returning. At best, pregnancy. By this time I had already gone through negative pregnancy tests (yes, plural), so I was at least optimistic about feeling healthier, but not so much about pregnancy. As the months passed, my cysts reduced and my periods became more regular. I did the regular blood tests and needed to do the occasional pregnancy test as well so that the reflexologist would know whether to keep at the planned treatment or alter it to ensure a healthy pregnancy – falling pregnant while still having cysts can increase the chances of miscarriage. So it was with equal regret and relief when a test would be negative while I was still in the early stages of the treatment.
Months passed, my nephew was born, and my I felt better as my treatment progressed. My period was becoming very regular, cysts were dramatically reduced and I barely felt bloated. I felt so positive about a healthier me that I felt the treatment was worth it, even if I still cannot fall pregnant. At least my inner mechanics were working better. I even looked forward to visiting him and having my feet rubbed with cream at the end of each session!
Then one day the reflexologist tells me to get a pregnancy test. By this time we were very well into the treatment and even my husband had gotten a couple of testosterone boosting shots (bless him for being so supportive on a journey when some men actually see infertility as a “women’s problem”). We were out that weekend and bought a test. I didn’t let myself feel too hopeful. Afterall, I did this a dozen times before and the result was always the same – a single, solitary, sad line on a plastic device. While waiting for the test result to appear its always the same – butterflies doing a nervous dance in my belly, and my eyes wanting to peek while the line appears but not wanting to look until its time. Then time’s up. I picked up the plastic device like I did a dozen times before, just this time it was different. Joy, absolute joy, was ping-ponging disbelief. I’m sure I even checked the box again to check I understood how to read the results! Two lines, two lines, two lines… Oh wow! I was pregnant. I walked out of the toilet and could not wipe that smile off my face – my husband need not ask what the test indicated. I let the reflexologist know (who was a little surprised himself as he suspected it to happen a little bit later that year. I went for a blood test first thing before heading to work. The reflexologist called me a little while later that morning, it was confirmed. WE WERE HAVING A BABY! I called my husband, so ecstatic I could not stop smiling while I told him. Then I immediately messaged my mum, something slightly cryptic and waited for her response. True to form, she called me. If I wasn’t at work I’m sure I would’ve given in to the desire to just cry. I was so happy. It was January, and come Spring we’d have a baby.
I walked back to my desk like a woman with a secret, because at that point I did not want to spread the word until I was in the safer zone of the second trimester. But of course, the morning sickness forced me to disclose early. But it didn’t matter. A full trimester of nausea could come, and it did. I was happy. Each peach or sandwich or morsel of food I needed to purge was just a reminder that after years of trying we were going to expand our family. We’d be three. It didn’t matter that I’d always wanted to have a few kids, it didn’t matter whether this would be a boy or girl, it didn’t matter if I was going to expand like a balloon and waddle like a duck. We were having a baby, and three seemed the perfect number!
A couple of years later we thought to start trying for a second, figuring that it would take us quite some time to get there, we’d better start sooner rather than later. That is, if we got there at all. I prayed for my daughter (yes, we had a baby girl) to have a sibling. But we also knew it may not be meant for us. But we tried anyway. I saw the reflexologist again to ensure my cysts were under control. I had some again, this time on a much smaller scale. I felt okay with this. I would just go through some treatment again. And just a few months later I did a pregnancy test and was pleasantly surprised at seeing two lines. We (as in myself, my husband and our reflexologist) were not expecting this to happen THIS quickly. Within 3 years, less, of our little girl being born via emergency caesarean, we welcomed our second child, another daughter, into the world. Again, by caesarean.
We have two beautiful little daughters, and although we didn’t end up adopting, the option never fully got dropped off the table. So who knows. But I have embraced having 2 daughters. I have embraced the long, emotional, and physically taxing journey of becoming a parent, of becoming a mother.
There’s a plethora of women and men who struggle with infertility. For some, like me and my husband, alternative treatment worked like magic. For others, IVF ends up being the road to parenthood. And yet for others, becoming biological parents is just not in the cards, and they either choose to remain childless or adopt. But it doesn’t matter how you become a parent – through IVF, surrogacy, fertility treatments, or adoption; it doesn’t matter whether you give birth naturally, or take an epidural, or have a caesarean; it is about the joy of holding a child your arms, of kissing their face, of telling them you love them, of knowing that no matter what happens, you have been given a gem!