March is Surrogacy Awareness Month! This month exists to thank all the surrogates, egg donors, healthcare providers, attorneys, and surrogate agencies that help build families....
Kirsty Lee lives with her fiance in Melbourne, Australia. She met her partner at work, and the two quickly realized they were a good match. Six months after their first date, he proposed and they were engaged. They started trying to conceive almost immediately. “We’d spoken about having kids really early on. At my age I don’t want to waste time with anyone. So we were really honest from the start,” Kirsty said. She was 35 at the time, and she knew that having children was really important to her. They began trying naturally, and Kirsty didn’t expect they’d have any issues in conceiving.
Two months into trying, Kirsty got pregnant, but this ended in a chemical pregnancy. They took a break for two months after the loss, and then went back to trying again. Kirsty got pregnant a second time, but her doctors found that her HCG levels were very low, and that it wasn’t a viable pregnancy. That was two losses in five months, which was hard on Kirsty and her partner. They decided it was time to see a doctor. Kirsty was turning 36, and she didn’t want to waste any time not getting the help she needed. After running some tests, the doctor found that Kirsty had an AMH level of 1.7, which is very low. “I always say it only takes one good egg to get pregnant. So we didn’t want to focus too much on that AMH level,” she said. They also ran tests on her partner, and found that his sperm was fine. Armed with new information, Kirsty decided to find an IVF clinic in Melbourne.
At the fertility clinic, the first thing the doctor suggested was surgery. Kirsty had a laparoscopy, hysteroscopy, and D&C to clear everything out after the miscarriages. The doctor also found polyps in Kirsty’s uterus, which were removed. Kirsty was told that these polyps near her cervix could have been the cause of her losses. After her surgeries, Kirsty moved forward with IVF. They got 10 eggs, nine which fertilized and seven which made it to day 5. They transferred one fresh embryo and froze the other six. The embryo they transferred didn’t implant- Kirsty never got a positive pregnancy test. After this failed cycle, she decided to dive straight into a second one. “If you stop for too long, you can sit in your grief for too long,” she said. In her second cycle, Kirsty’s doctor believed that her uterine lining wasn’t thick enough at 7.4mm, and the cycle was cancelled. This was greatly disappointing for Kirsty and her partner. “It was disheartening, because I had gone through the medications and everything,” she said.
Kirsty began her third IVF cycle while her partner was traveling for work. She did all the appointments and injections alone. When she went in for her first scanning day, everything looked great. Her lining was at 7.9mm. The clinic said they would transfer an embryo in 5 days, and that Kirsty should do her trigger shot that night. However, later that day, they called Kirsty and told her that she’d already ovulated. She was supposed to be monitored on day 7 or 8 of her cycle, but the nurses had scheduled her scanning day for day 11. Kirsty was devastated, and upset at the clinic for missing her fertile window due to a simple mistake. Her doctor felt terrible, but there was nothing she could do at that point. “She was very apologetic, I can’t get that time back. I was doing back to back cycles, and that was the third cycle with all of those medications,” said Kirsty. She was frustrated that she had done so much already, just to miss her ovulation due to a scheduling error. On top of everything, her partner was out of town. When she called him to tell him what happened, it was the only time that they’d been apart that his phone battery had died. “I was hysterical. That was our third cycle, completely messed up,” she said. The experience was deeply disappointing and upsetting.
At that point, Kirsty and her partner decided to change clinics. At the new clinic, Kirsty’s doctor was amazing. She ran new tests for Kirsty, such as an endometrial scratch. This doctor discovered that Kirsty had a very high level of natural killer (NK) cells. The doctor believed that these excess NK cells may have been “fighting off” Kirsty’s embryos as if they were dangerous foreign bodies. Kirsty was put on an immune protocol to address this. The medication thins her blood so that the NK cells don’t overpower the embryos. “I think it’s a miracle drug,” Kirsty said. “I absolutely believe that if she hadn’t found these natural killer cells, I wouldn’t be pregnant today.” Now, Kirsty is 11 weeks pregnant, after a successful IVF cycle with her new clinic. She believes that the tests the new doctor ran made all the difference for her. “Just doing that extra investigation made a huge difference. In my three previous cycles, the doctor just focused on my lining. She thought it wasn’t thick enough. At this new clinic, I transfered my embryo at 6.7mm,” Kirsty said. For a lot of women, that lining is really thin, but for Kirsty it was what her body needed to get pregnant. Looking back on her experience, she realized that her first doctor was too concerned with the thickness of her lining, when really there were other variables that played a role in her fertility. She feels like she didn’t receive all the tests she needed. “Apparently my old fertility specialist had written a thesis about how she doesn’t find any medical science that backs up NK cells impacting fertility,” Kirsty said. “I think that just because you don’t believe in a test doesn’t mean it shouldn't be offered to women. I’m just grateful that I moved to a new clinic, and found a doctor who did investigations, and trusted that the lining of my uterine lining was okay.” Now, Kirsty questions if her uterine lining had any impact on her first three cycles. She thinks it had more to do with her NK cells, which were never investigated at her first clinic. Kirsty believes that doctors should look into a wide range of potential causes when it comes to fertility.
Kirsty is thankful that her new doctor looked into more aspects of her health, or else she may not be pregnant today. It’s so important for women to get the personalized care that they need, and aren’t just looked at as a template. “If you’re with a clinic and they’re not giving you the tests you need, my advice is to change clinics. At the end of the day you have to be your own advocate,” Kirsty said. “I’m glad I know what I know now. Going into my second clinic, I was so much more confident. Sometimes I feel like we need to know so much to get the help that we need.” She had more knowledge about tests, protocols, and her own body. She felt like she knew what questions to ask and how to better communicate her needs.
Kirsty began sharing her story on Instagram, and it made all the difference for her along the way. “Sharing my journey has been so remarkable,” she said. She started documenting her experience from day one, but when she began IVF she really opened up about everything, the good and the bad. “I started being a lot more raw and real. So many women have interacted with me, it’s crazy. I think that that’s what got me through all the disappointment from my first three cycles.” The support that she has received online helped her realize that she’s not alone. “There are actually women out there who feel just like me, and I’m not going crazy,” she said. It’s been helpful to have a group of friends who she can talk to, and share her feelings with. “You can talk to your partner about everything, but when another woman comes to you and says, ‘“I’ve been there, I’ve done that,’” she said. She compares it to a diary that people can read and respond to. When she was going through her most recent IVF cycle, she felt so much support from the community online. “I had them in my corner for my last cycle. All the messages from them just put me in a better headspace, because everyone was being really positive,” she said. Kirsty believes that when people share their stories, it gives others hope. It can really help people to navigate their fertility journeys, and feel more empowered along the way. “This community is amazing. There’s so many stories. There’s so much hope,” Kirsty believes.
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