My Infertility Journey started back when I was just 27 years old. I never wanted to be an old Mom and so, after 6 months of marriage, we started trying to conceive.
After 6 months and, being the controlling type of person that I am (am sure most women going through this journey can relate), I took myself off to my GP. We were living in the UK at the time and our male GP told me that we needed to try for at least 12 months before coming back for a referral to a Fertility Clinic. That wasn’t good enough for me… (surprise surprise) so, I made an appointment with a female GP and got our referral to the closest fertility clinic.
After a few tests on me at the clinic and a sperm test, we were diagnosed as having male infertility and referred for ICSI. Once they diagnosed David, they ceased their testing on me. Interestingly, now that I know as much as I do, I know that should not have happened, all tests should be carried out on both parties so, the full picture is available. A few (wasted) years later, I was diagnosed as having a low ovarian reserve. That could have been picked up earlier had I had the full realm of tests.
In the 7 years, we had only 3 IVF treatments. We were so naïve during our first cycle, we were so sure that it would work and we would be pregnant that we weren’t emotionally prepared at all to deal with a negative outcome. Even when we only had 1 embryo make it to day 3, we were of the mindset that it only takes one to make a baby and we named our embryo Chesney, after the song “I am the one and only” by Chesney Hawkes. Fast forward 14 years later and I still get a tear in my eye when I hear that song.
The negative pregnancy test that came along with that cycle, really knocked us for 6 and we had a long talk afterwards about our expectations going forwards. We decided that we would only do 3 cycles in total, not just due to financial reasons but also due to emotional ones. We said we would throw everything we could at the cycles, we would do everything right and, if by the 3rd nothing happened, we would get off the crazy train. All Specialists generally say to allow for 3 cycles at least and that’s why, over the 7 years, we only completed 3 cycles of IVF.
We flew to South Africa for our next treatment, a whole 2 years after our first cycle failed. This time we had 2 embryo’s make it to day 5 and we left the clinic and the Country with the Specialists words ringing in our ears: prepare yourself for twins. So, 2 weeks later, when we got our 2nd negative test result, we both fell apart emotionally.
In 2009 my sister had a baby girl. They got married after us and, only started trying to conceive when they did as we were struggling. Within 3 months they were pregnant but, I will never forget how they told us they were pregnant. We got a call from my parents who were having a braai (BBQ) with my sister and brother in law. After a chat, my Mom handed the phone over to my sister telling me that she had something to tell me. Instinctively I knew…. And I didn’t react well, I tried to keep them from hearing the tears in my voice but, I couldn’t and, after congratulating her, I handed the phone over to David. Why couldn’t my sister call me privately or message me at least? Why do it in public out of the blue? Anyway, later that week my Mother called me selfish and told me that I upset my sister. No one even thought about how I felt. I didn’t speak to my sister her entire pregnancy and I actually don’t think I have ever truly forgiven her for that.
In 2010, we made the decision to apply to adopt. Adoption was never a last resort for us, it was actually something that we had talked about, before we were even married, back when we were looking at parenthood through rose tinted glasses. We planned to have 1 biological child and then completing our family through adoption. Ironic, right?
We started the adoption process in the UK and boy was it invasive. By then David and I had been married 5 years and yet, they still wanted to contact my last serious boyfriend to ask about my character… I mean, seriously? At the same we decided to move to South Africa and so, we resumed the process here in 2011. The process is still invasive but you can get onto the list within 6 weeks if you do all the work. We took a bit of time to complete everything and we got on to the adoption list in November 2011.
Once we had something in place should our final IVF fail, I was then ready for our 3rd and final IVF cycle and began the process in May 2012. Prior to starting the cycle, I went to see a Medium. I know many people don’t believe in them or tarot cards etc but, I needed to try and get answers in any way that I could. Infertility treatment makes you totally obsessive and blinkered and desperate to try and regain even a sliver of control. My Gran had died the year before and she had known what we were going through but, she was a very strict Catholic and so would never even have entertained the idea of a Medium. However my Gran also knew how much I needed to know what she had to tell me and she came through and told me that we would have a baby boy by the end of the year. Considering it was May, even if we had gotten pregnant by the June/July when our cycle ended, we wouldn’t have the baby by the end of the year, I didn’t dwell on that but, we focused on the fact that we were going to have a baby!!
As it was our final try, we used Donor Sperm, as well as my husband’s and we did a ZIFT procedure, which is pretty invasive but is proven to work well in cases of male infertility.
The cycle ended in my first ever pregnancy. This is it we thought, the one we have been longing for, our take home baby.
Then came our first hurdle… the beta levels didn’t rise as expected. They are supposed to double every 48 hours and, our 4th beta only increased by a small amount, from 544 to 714. Our Specialist recommended no more beta tests and to rather do an early scan. The scan was fine, there was a sac in the correct place (so, not an ectopic) but, it was too early for a heartbeat. Then came our week 7 scan, where we were super excited to hear our babies heartbeat. However, the sac had collapsed and the specialist told us it was more than likely all over but, to come in for weekly scans free of charge so we could monitor the situation. Miraculously our baby caught up and was perfect by our 12 week anatomy scan.
We had a gender reveal party just after our 17 week scan, which still ranks as one of the best days of my life. Our family took turns guessing what sex baby would be and, my husband and I were so sure we were having a boy, after what my Gran had said through the Medium that we nearly fell over backwards when the cake revealed pink icing.
It was at the 20 week scan that our world came crashing down. There was something wrong with our little girls’ brain. Thinking back, our Gynae definitely picked something up at our 17 week scan but, as we had revealed our plans for the gender reveal party, he let us have our few weeks of joy, before the inevitable pain. Her ventricles were swollen twice as much as the normal range for girls. Our Fetal Assessment scan was brought forward to the next day. There we found out that the enlargements could be down to a blockage, which would be cured by a shunt, as everything else was growing normally. We did an amniocentesis to rule out any chromosomal abnormalities but the specialist was relatively positive and we started to breathe again.
The interim results of the amnio showed no signs of any of the trisomy’s nor down syndrome. We just had one more hurdle to clear, the full results which looked at every chromosome our baby girl possessed.
On the 15th November 2012 at 8am, the fetal specialist called us and told us that our daughter had a chromosomal abnormality, not compatible with life.
She explained that there was a translocation of 3 chromosomes (no’s 2, 7 & 20), which means something along the lines that some of chromosome 2 is on chromosome 7 and 20 and vice versa. Now, translocations aren’t necessarily a bad thing, when they are balanced, as you still carry the same amount of gene matter, just in a different configuration, but, balanced translocations tend to happen between 2 chromosomes, not 3.
After crying buckets full of tears, we decided to consult with the geneticist who did the tests, as she would be able to clarify the situation better, we were not just going to take the fetal lady’s word for it that we were going to lose our daughter.
We went through to the Flora Park Clinic to consult with Dr Rosendorff. She explained that neither me, nor my husband are carriers of translocated chromosomes and that Eloise’s configuration (ie: 2, 7 & 20) is extremely rare, and, without us being carriers, the chances of our daughter getting it were 1:1million!!!
Without the enlarged ventricles (Hydrocephalus), the chances of severe birth defects would be 50% but, with the hydrocephalus, they became 80%.
We went back to our Gynae straight from Flora Park and he said that, given all the facts, he recommended a termination. Our hearts shattered but we were not going to give up.
We booked an MRI, to get a better picture of her brain and idea of possible damage.
We also went for a 3D scan to spend time with our brave fighter.
The MRI wasn’t good news, the ventricles were now 65% bigger than normal range, just a few weeks on from our fetal assessment and we still had 16 weeks left of the pregnancy. The prognosis was very bad.
Still we weren’t done, we consulted with the head of genetics at WITS and phoned a professor in the USA who was touted to be the top geneticist in the world. They all came back with the same prognosis and we had hit a brick wall.
Terminating for medical reasons was not a term I was familiar with until we came face to face with the decision that no parent should ever have to make. We went to see our Gynae at 8:30pm and sat with him for an hour discussing everything and making the final decision together.
He organised the termination for late the next day, once the hospital would be quieter and he put together a special team as, understandably, not all medical staff want to be involved in such a harrowing operation. I told him I wanted to give birth to her naturally but, he explained as gently as he could that it may damage her swollen head and then we wouldn’t be able to see her or to take pictures of her. He sent us home to spend the next 20 hours with our baby girl.
The 22nd November 2012 dawned as a rainy day. We danced with our girl in the rain, we listened to and recorded her heartbeat, we read to her, we took family pictures and we officially named her Eloise Iris Seanna Williams. Iris is a name on both sides of the family and Seanna means God has given. Eloise is just a beautiful name for our beautiful girl.
Mothers of babies who didn’t make it into our arms, are huge carriers of guilt. What could I have done differently? It has to be my fault, it happened in my belly! Now, just imagine the guilt of a mother, who has to make the decision to end her daughter’s life. As long as I live, I will never, ever get over having to do that.
In the days following her death, we saw signs from her, more specifically we saw dragonflies, which we never really had seen as we don’t live near water, nor do we have a pool.
They appeared in our garden, flying next to our cars while we drove and anywhere we visited. When we looked up the meaning of seeing so many dragonflies, we found that a dragonfly represents ”a short life well lived” and they tend to appear to many people after a loved one dies and people have believed for many generations that it’s a sign that your loved one is ok where their soul now resides, We took it as a sign of forgiveness and love from our Eloise.
I was signed off for the rest of the year to heal from my operation, as well to be able to work through all my emotions.
I phoned our social worker to let her know what had happened as, she holds back adoption profiles from biological parents, when the adopter is pregnant and, until a live birth occurs, when she shelves it until the parents are ready to adopt as an option for their 2nd child (like we had always planned). When Zoe first told us that they pause their search until you have a live birth, I was confused in my naivety…. Now I know exactly why they do it, after all, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a loss.
On the 14th of December, I was at home alone, just going through the motions, completely cocooned in my own grief. It was around 4pm in the afternoon when my mobile phone rang and Zoe Cohen’s name flashed up. Zoe was our adoption social worker and the most amazing human being. I was sure she was just calling to check up on me and to see how we were doing, which she was but, after she asked after us both, she asked me where David was and I told her he was on his way home from work. She then told me that there was a baby whose biological mother had chosen our profile as first choice. I was floored with a mix of emotions. When you are on the adoption list, you imagine how THE CALL will go, the one when your social worker phones you and tells you about your babies’ existence. In your imagination, it’s always an immensely happy phone call, with shrieks of joy and excitement but, you never imagine that the call would come just 3 weeks after the most traumatic loss of your entire life and that you wouldn’t actually be able to process what you were being told.
She told me that the baby was a boy, she said she would never have put us forward for a girl, as she knew that would be too much for us to cope with. She also told me that she very nearly didn’t put our profile in, as it was so soon after Eloise went to heaven but, as there were 13 other eligible profiles being sent, she knew the chances were slim that we would be picked so, she sent it in and left it in God’s hands. I was silent throughout this exchange, so she followed on with the information that there were a 2nd and 3rd choice too and so, if we felt it was too soon, we shouldn’t worry that the little boy would be homeless. She told me to speak to David when he got home and to call her in the morning. I called David straight away and told him Zoe had called and asked him where he was…. He was 5 minutes away. The longest 5 minutes of my life later, he walked in and we just fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried. When we pulled ourselves together, I explained what Zoe had said and that she said it was completely our decision whether or not it was too soon to bring a baby into our home.
We talked most of the night and we decided that this little boy was a gift, not from God but from Eloise. Their souls would have crossed paths in heaven and she sent him down to be with her Mommy and Daddy, as she couldn’t.
We called Zoe in the morning and we made a time to meet with her that day, to hear the background and information about the baby boy and to talk to her, before making our final decision.
During that talk and after hearing all about him, David and I made our mutual decision by squeezing each other’s hands under the table and we told Zoe that we would be his parents.
We decided that we needed to start therapy asap as, parenting a newborn, whilst dealing with the kind of grief we were dealing with, both the loss of Eloise and the guilt over the decision we made, would be difficult and we owed it to this little soul, to work on ourselves to be the best parents to him that we could be.
Ashton came home 3 days later, when he was just 10 days old.
For more information on our journey: https://dragonflydreams.co.za/