“The urine pregnancy test is negative”, “My periods started”, “I’m sorry you are not pregnant this time” – dreaded situations that I was in nearly 40 times and all because I have issues with fertility.
This is my experience with the struggles of conceiving and so similar to what thousands of women go through across India too.
I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (commonly known as PCOD). About 2% to 22% of Indian women are affected by this and about half of them need assistance in getting pregnant. And I fall into this latter category.
In November 2015, about a year and a half after we got married, we decided to try for a baby. My mother is a fertility specialist, so she guided us on what is the right time to try. Most people don’t realise this, but a woman ovulates in the middle of her cycle and that is the best time to try to get pregnant. A friend of mine conceived in February 2016 and I got very excited, thinking that we would have our babies close together – and what fun it would be to compare notes. Alas, she reached her 9th month, delivered a beautiful baby girl and things were yet to move for me.
2016 was full of travelling and I remember very tentatively planning out my trips because I was not sure how pregnant I would be at that point. This was especially the case for a 6 week trip to the US that I had planned with my parents for September 2016. When I wasn’t pregnant by May, I confidently made my bookings and went on the trip. It was during that trip that I met a cousin who was 5 months pregnant and I was so ecstatic for her.
At that point I had no thoughts of “I wish I was in a similar state”, “Why is it not happening for me, etc.” I was still very hopeful that I would become a parent very soon. We came back from our US trip and then my mother decided that we should try the most basic level of intervention – scanning me to ovulation at which point we would try naturally. Of course, exercising so I would lose a few kgs and eating healthily were cornerstones to the treatment.
By this time, my husband and I were near our third wedding anniversary and pressure from external family members started building. It began with simple questions like “When are you planning on expanding your family?” and moved onto more directive conversations where I was told the importance of having a baby early and how it is my most important duty as a wife and daughter-in-law. And let me point out, that all this was only addressed to me. As soon as my husband would enter the room, the conversation would come to a halt.
My frustration at this lopsided advice kept increasing with each instance and I finally reached a point when I had to finally tell my husband that I understand that everyone is well meaning, but it takes two to make a baby and its undue pressure on me when I at told these things at every opportunity.
Initially my husband told me that they are just trying to be helpful and I should not get affected by what people around say. At the end of the day, my husband and I know that we want to have a baby and are doing whatever is necessary. I tried really hard to practice that advice and not get very perturbed when the same conversations happened around me. But honestly that was very difficult. I decided to let our extended family know that we had started fertility treatment and my mother – the specialist – was helping us out in all the ways needed. As I was still 28 years old and nothing major was wrong with either my husband or me, my mother decided to go step by step. The extended family was mainly understanding and took a back step in advising me. However it took me by surprise that a few extended family members (who had undergone fertility treatment themselves) continued to exert pressure on me and check in with me every month if my periods had come or not. It felt like complete intrusion into my privacy. Both my husband and I belong to large families that are very close knit – so I am sure you understand why the extended family is mentioned so often in my narrative – a very typical Indian joint family scenario.
A number of my friends, classmates and cousins intermittently gave us the news that they were pregnant and I was able to take all that on my chin. But in mid 2017 when my first cousin told me that his wife was expecting, I went into a spiral of ugly emotions. I started to feel inadequate about my being a woman – started questioning the fact that I was incapable of performing a task that is gifted to women only. Of course I was not able to appreciate my physical well being or beauty anymore and felt fat, ugly and useless. I know that these were thoughts about what I usually consider superficial and don’t give too much importance to, but they suddenly took centre stage.
At this point, we moved onto the next stage of fertility treatments – intra-uterine insemination. I was going for regular scans, checkups and had blood work done frequently with lots of different parameters being monitored. With my mother’s expertise and those of her colleagues in the field, I had the best in Bangalore giving me the latest treatment. I was taken care of by the staff and doctors of Milann Fertility Centre like I was one of them. Their welcoming smiles and happy expressions always made me feel very calm. I would like to specially mention Dr. Deepika, who explained everything to me in her gentle voice and made me feel like she understood exactly what I am going through.
From a very young age, I had been keen on adopting a child. I decided that we had reached the right situation where I could bring up that wish of mine and I spoke extensively to my husband and our parents. With everyone’s cooperation, we applied for adoption and started our wait in the queue. We had been warned that for the age group of 0-2 years that we had applied for, the average time for a referral was 2.5 years. It was August 2018 when we applied, and the wait seemed interminable.
It didn’t help my situation that both my sister-in-law and co-sister got pregnant the following year. I was completely devastated. On reflecting back, I realise now that I went through some of the stages of grief in those months – anger, depression and bargaining. I endlessly asked myself as to what I had done wrong – whether in this life or my previous – and wondered why I was being asked to pay this price. In those moments of depression, not getting pregnant or not having a child was HUGE and I was unable to see the numerous good things that I had in my life. I was also really angry with the whole world. I was happily doing everything asked off me and yet this small thing that I was asking in return was not being given to me. I reached my lowest by September 2019, when the first IVF was done and proved unsuccessful. I had also reached this point where I tried to maintain some hope and positivity, but a part of me was also in the state of saying that nothing would work out. I would take yet another urine pregnancy test (I could no longer take the tension of waiting for my periods to come or not and would take a pregnancy test at the earliest possible date) and wait those few minutes knowing that only a single line would show up.
By September 2019, I had a nephew and niece (courtesy my brother and brother-in-law), and while I enjoyed watching them grow, it increased the yearning inside me for a child. It was here that I understood that I just wanted a child – whether biological or adopted. I spent a lot of time introspecting to realise that my aim and wish was to take care and bring up a baby. Not necessarily go through a pregnancy, though of course that would have been a wonderful bonus. This realisation brought a lot of contentment and peace in me – and I noticed the difference only after I made the decision that having a baby is important – regardless of whether he/she is a heart baby or a womb baby.
I had also been going for extensive counselling to my counsellor and psychotherapist and they helped me deal with all these emotions so that I was able to function better and also reach a stage of true happiness. As a counsellor, I had initially decided that I would deal with all this by myself but very soon realised that the fog that all these thoughts and feelings had caused had totally overtaken my brain. I needed external help. For all of you who are going through similar situations, please reach out to others to help maintain your mental balance and stability – there is nothing wrong in us needing to talk to someone who is an outsider and neutral.
My mother had alternatively been looking at the best fertility treatments across India and explained to me that going to Dubai would be the best option. Her previous boss – Dr. Pankaj Srivastav – had started a state of the art fertility clinic – Conceive Gynaecology and Fertility Centre there and is regarded as one of the best in the field. A spark of hope ignited within me – with the ever present cautious side in action too. So plans were made to go there in March 2020. Lo and behold – we all know what happened then – the entire world went into a lockdown due to Covid19. I was heartbroken and decided that this was the last thing going wrong that I could take.
Over the months of lockdown, I came to the conclusion that I was not destined to get pregnant and would try to patiently wait for my heart baby to come to us.
Of course the lockdown meant that referrals from CARA (Central Adoption Resource Agency) slowed down and our wait time increased to 3 years. Just thinking of those 6 months of delay was torturous. But I took a lot of solace in my work, my family and the opportunity the lockdowns gave to spend time with my loved ones and to get back to gardening and baking.
My husband and I were infected with covid19 in September 2020 and I am grateful that we all made a complete recovery. As the pandemic slowed down in India, my mother brought up the subject once again of going to Dubai for the IVF. After our brush with covid19, my husband and I decided to take this chance and made all the plans again. So in December 2020, my mother and I packed up our bags and moved to Dubai for a month. The idea was to put all our energies into the treatment so we took the call of being there from when my period starts till a few days after the embryo transfer. Our cousin and her family – Mallika, Ram, Ananya and Anandita, and our dear friends – Dr. Pankaj and Dr. Nishi – hosted us for the entire month. They seamlessly included us in their routines and made us feel like a part of their household. This unexpected bonus made the holiday a once in a lifetime experience.
I’ve got to say that we are truly blessed. The staff at Conceive – from the administrators to the nurses, embryologists and technicians – made us feel just like family and made feel extremely comfortable. The difference in medications and techniques used by the embryologists is what sets this centre apart from so many others in the field. Despite the challenges that I posed in terms of my PCOD, wonders were performed. One of the signs of my PCOD is that I work along the ‘all or none’ pattern. Either I produce no eggs or when given stimulants, my ovaries go into over-drive. In that cycle, I produced a whopping 30 eggs – about 15 in each ovary!!!! Of course, not all of were good quality and we ended up with only 11 viable embryos. But that was a big step forward as compared to previous cycles of treatment.
Well, the embryo transfer was done in January 2021 and the wait and watch game started.
I will keep you updated on what happened next in the next article. I know that this was a really long read and kudos to you if you reached all the way to the end. But what to do – emotions and feelings are so messy and were all so important to me that I was not able to choose what to write about and what to leave out.
At the point of writing this article, the sum total of my fertility treatments are: 5 intrauterine inseminations (IUI), 1 invitro fertilization (IVF) and 2 Frozen Embryo transfers. When waiting for my turn at Milann for scans, etc I got into conversations with other patients and that is when I realised that there were long gaps between treatment cycles. My mother’s reasoning for this makes so much sense – “That cycle of treatment did not work for a myriad of reasons. The more the cycles we try, the more we can eliminate certain factors. Unless we take time in between cycles of treatment to try and rectify the imbalances in the body, what is the use of rushing from one treatment to the next.”
So ladies, take a deep breath, take a break between cycles of treatment, maintain a regular and rigorous exercise routine (no matter how slim you are), eat healthily, try to keep up your levels of positivity and most importantly do not lose hope.