The subject of this week’s What She Said is in her mid-thirties. She shares with us her struggle with fertility and pregnancies, her IVF journey, miscarriages, and living with her happy family of three.
Since it’s PCOS month, let’s talk about periods.
Well, my earliest memory of my period is quite vague. I remember getting my period at the age of 13 and not telling my mum because I was angry with her. By the time I had my third period, I didn’t have cash for sanitary towels, and I was stuck. So, I asked her. That’s how she found out I had started menstruating.
Actually, I even got diagnosed with PCOS in 2006. My period had always been irregular, but since I was underweight at the time, I didn’t take it seriously. My mum is a nurse, and she thought my terrible eating habits and the fact I was underweight was why my period was so irregular.
In my fourth year in school, I had a roommate whose mum was also a nurse. One day she told me about her own experience with her irregular periods. I told her about mine and she said I needed to get it checked just in case it was more than I thought. Her logic was that since some of us would soon finish school and would be thinking of getting married, I needed to be sure.
I called my mum and told her I was going to get my tests done. She got me an appointment at the hospital she worked, I was diagnosed with PCOS and put on oral contraceptive pills. As long as I took the pills, my period would come. I stopped the pills in November 2009 because I was getting married in March 2010 and wanted my body to adjust.
Why didn’t she take you seriously, didn’t the periods hurt?
Well, my periods were never painful. Plus, I didn’t have endometriosis. When my period came, it was usually for three days. The first day would be heavy and the other two days would be light. PCOS is such a spectrum and the symptoms can vary from woman to woman. If you put 10 of us in the same room and ask what symptoms we face, a lot of us might record so many different things.
My only concern was fertility and having children. Luckily, I had my first child in August of 2011. I was just about to start a round of fertility treatment when I got pregnant with my son in November 2010. In fact, I had been given a drug to induce my period so they could then start the process.
I was supposed to do a thing called follicular tracking to determine what methods and other things the doctors were to proceed with. They also wanted to know if, during the period that was induced, my body released any eggs. When the test results came back, they told me that my body didn’t release any eggs. I was angry, but I didn’t know I was already pregnant.
Since the eggs weren’t released yet, I decided that I would start the fertility treatment after my birthday in January 2011, so I could enjoy the holidays and my birthday. I was at my parent’s place in December when I started cramping. I told my mum and she told me to just get a pregnancy test. I was so excited when it tested positive.
After my son turned two, we started trying again for a second child. I had started my fertility treatment and had gotten pregnant by February of 2014. Unfortunately, I lost the pregnancy in the sixth month. I waited for a bit after that miscarriage to continue the fertility treatment, and that was when I had the ectopic pregnancy which they couldn’t for some reason find in the urine and blood tests until it ruptured.
A miscarriage AND a ruptured ectopic pregnancy?
The miscarriage happened in 2014, and my husband had travelled for work. I sent my help to call my mother-in-law because I could feel the head of the baby coming out. She came to pick me up and drive me to the hospital. My father-in-law met us in the hospital. They were there with me till my mum came from Ibadan. When they dispose of a fetus at that age, they usually give the family to make arrangements. My parents-in-law shielded me from having to deal with all of that. They buried the fetus and everything.
The ruptured ectopic pregnancy happened in January of 2017. I was sitting on the rug in my living room, loosening my hair and planning on picking my son up from school when I got the most violent pain I had ever felt in my abdomen. I thought if I pooped it would help, but the pain wouldn’t go away. I called my mother-in-law on the phone and told her that I didn’t know what was going on, but it felt like someone put a knife to my intestines and was slicing it to bits. My parents-in-law came and rushed me to the hospital. By the time we got there, my stomach had already doubled in size and was looking like I was five or six months pregnant. After the tests, it turned out I was accumulating blood in my abdomen. I had emergency surgery done and had to get four pints of blood transfused. One of my fallopian tubes was also removed because of the surgery.
I am so sorry that happened. Did you still keep trying for a child after that?
Yes, I did. After the ectopic pregnancy in 2017, I started IVF in 2019. The first IVF cycle I had was not successful, and in my second IVF cycle, I had Ovarian Hyper Stimulation syndrome (OHS). It’s a condition I was predisposed to because I had PCOS. The doctors kept monitoring my medication and adjusting it accordingly. With my first cycle, whatever eggs were harvested, we didn’t freeze them, but for my second cycle, I did not want to go through the egg collecting process, so I froze the eggs. During the second IVF cycle, I had decided to freeze the eggs because I did not want to go through the collection of the eggs process again. When it was time to transfer the embryos, they couldn’t because of the OHS. So, they waited for a few months before we continued with the cycle. This time, they didn’t have to harvest any eggs. They just gave me a lot of hormones to get me to a point where I would bleed and my body would be ready to receive the eggs.
That sounds emotionally and physically tasking.
It is. You keep asking yourself why your body does not function the way it is supposed to. I had a picture of a family of four, but it wasn’t happening because my body was failing me. My son wanted a companion and friend. He used to cry when people who come to visit go back home and was always so emotional when people talked about their siblings. I just wanted to give him that.
In addition to the hormones and steroids, I had to inject myself with and things I sometimes had to insert vaginally, I would sometimes ask myself why I couldn’t just have sex and get pregnant like every other person? Why did I have to have PCOS and emotional imbalance? There are so many things you have to deal with. The hormones also mess with your body and your mental health. There was a particular injection I used to take that would make me sad till mid-day. Months even after stopping my IVF I still felt a lot of pain in my thigh. I even had blotches of pink on my thigh that eventually became brownish.
I can’t imagine what it was like for you to live through all of that.
I have had a very strong support system around me. I come from a very close-knit family and knew there was no emotion I couldn’t express to them. My in-laws have been wonderful. They’ve been a gift and have walked me through a lot of my journey. My husband was also amazing, being there for me and supporting me. I also drew strength from my faith. I allowed myself to express my anger, anguish, and hurt to God. I also have really good friends who care about me. When I got pregnant again, I had family taking turns to come to be with me. I was constantly surrounded by people.
You got pregnant again?
My third IVF was the only successful one, but I had a miscarriage. While I was pregnant, I was put on five weeks of compulsory bed rest. A friend of mine who makes jewellery called during that time and asked me if I could be in a product shoot happening the day after my five weeks of bed rest would be complete. I agreed to it because it was an opportunity to glam up and take pretty pictures.
The night before the shoot, I was having intermittent throbbing pain in the area where my fallopian tube used to be. Since it was night and my IVF clinic was closed, I decided to go to my regular clinic to have it checked out. They didn’t find anything, and the moment I told them I was pregnant and it was from IVF, they didn’t want to bother me or touch anything. They gave me painkillers and asked me to go home. I sent a message to my IVF doctor, and he told me to take the painkillers, my medication, and just let him know if anything changes.
When I woke up the day of the shoot, there was no pain. I was quite comfortable. At the venue after the makeup artist was done with my makeup, I felt a strangeness wash over me. I couldn’t tell what it was, but because I promised my friend I was going to do the photo shoot, I was certain I was going to get through with it. During one of the sets of pictures, I felt a warmth in my nether regions I knew I should not be feeling. It spread some more and was followed by a little lump. By the time I felt the lump, I knew what had happened but I was determined to get through the shoot.
The second outfit I was to wear was a bubu, and I didn’t take off the leggings I was wearing because I knew that taking them off meant I had to deal with whatever was going on in my pants. After the shoot, I had checked and knew I was bleeding. I called my husband and we drove down to the IVF clinic. When I got there, they did some tests and told me they, unfortunately, could no longer see my gestational sack. The night before in my regular clinic, they saw the sac, but by the time I got to my IVF clinic, they didn’t see it. When they told me that, I knew what I experienced was a miscarriage. I went home and had a good cry and just waited for my body to do what it wanted to do.
A few days after, something was feeling wrong, so I called my doctor and he told me I had to have an evacuation because I still had some pregnancy materials in me. This was my second evacuation done. It was a same-day procedure so I got home by 9 in the night. It was a total emotional mess and my husband held me tight. I had a good cry.
I am so sorry. You went through so much. Did you continue IVF after that?
I wanted to, but my husband didn’t. I was not accepting the fact that my body had failed to do what a woman’s body should do. After that, my husband said we were not trying anymore. I couldn’t believe it was so final. I didn’t want to accept it. We had about fourteen embryos we had proven from the first cycle, and I wanted us to freeze it for a year hoping he’d change his mind. But he was adamant. He said, “Why would you want me to lose you in the process of having a child?” He had seen everything I had gone through and was being so strong for me, but I couldn’t accept him saying we would not do it again. I was angry with that, angry with God. I drew strength from my support system.
What’s life for you now?
Well, I am not doing any form of assisted fertility anymore. I am no longer actively pursuing conception anymore. I am happy and living my life with my husband and my son. I also no longer have to calculate when to have sex.
I have made my peace with the fact that I have just one child, and we are praying to God to help us raise him. We are in a space where we were each other’s friends and are just present for each other.
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