This guest blog is from Australian mum Jessie Schuhart McRae who will speak at the 4 July Domestic Surrogacy Webinar
Infertility isn’t something you ever think about growing up. You fall in love, get married and say one day when we are ready we will start our family. For us we did a lot of travelling early on and spent real quality time together and being out in the world. I can clearly remember though when I turned 35 a very primal switch turned on in my body and I knew I desperately wanted a child. Little did we know this was the start of an 8-year journey that included 9 rounds of IVF, 7 doctors, 4 surgeries, numerous alternative health practitioners and a whole bunch of negative pregnancy tests (and grief).
Having a journey that takes 8 years you can imagine I could write quite a novel, so apologies if it is too long.
Around the age of 35 my cycle changed and after multiple scans I was diagnosed with fibroids, though not just a few which can be common for a lot of women; my scan results said > 100 which meant they couldn’t even put a definitive number on how many encased my uterus. Around this time, I was also diagnosed with Hashimoto’s which meant I had some significant health challenges to address.
Our first fertility specialist tried as much as he could which included 2 rounds of IUI’s, 4 rounds of IVF and 2 surgeries, but I thought every time I walked out of his office, I would prove my statistics wrong.
I often reflect on certain parts of our journey and wonder if I wasn’t so stubborn would we have welcomed our little one sooner? Though I now call my stubbornness tenacity and through every negative pregnancy test and IVF cycle where you hope for double digit egg collection and only get 1 or none, we did not quit.
We ended up getting 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinions as well as trying everything we could possibly think of to help me heal, reduce the number of fibroids and boost hubby’s sperm motility and I mean everything (naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, Mayan abdominal massage, nutrition, energy healing). I sought out everyone specialising in fertility support and you name it we tried it.
After our first Dr felt he did all he could, he referred us to a senior fertility Dr. (Warren DeAmbrosis) who was very well known at getting successful results with difficult cases and he was the first one after trialling a very specialised IVF cycle to suggest we start thinking about Surrogacy.
Through the years and the amount of procedures and Dr’s we saw, I really did want to feel like I had done everything I physically could before I could really wrap my head around the idea of surrogacy. It did take a bit of time, but we did however start to look further into it and started to educate ourselves about surrogacy, both here in Australia and overseas.
During a discussion with one of my best friends, she did offer though because she hadn’t had her own children yet, the fertility clinic we were with didn’t allow a surrogate who hadn’t had their own family and as it isn’t actually QLD legislation, we did find another top fertility Dr. (Glenn Stirling) in Brisbane who would allow this… though it turned out unfortunately my friend had some health issues of her own which meant she wasn’t able to be our surrogate.
This then motivated us to get more active in the surrogacy community in Brisbane/Australia and we attended catch ups and local/interstate seminars. Like every part of our journey, we were all in. By now our friends and family were aware of our situation, and they knew we were going to actively look for a surrogate within Australia. We considered going overseas however it was very important to us to be a part of the journey, be able to go to appointments and for our little one to have a relationship with our surrogate.
On a very sunny beautiful day on the 8th July 2018 at a local surrogacy catch up we met Susan who was a surrogate. We chatted for hours and it felt like we hit things off instantly and my hubby and I can remember feeling very giddy as we walked back to our car. We organised another catch up very soon after and met her husband Lawrence and as they say, the rest is history. The friendship between the 4 of us quickly grew and on another sunny day Susan and Lawrence offered to help us.
Words fail me when I think about certain times of our journey, both the real dark times but also the times were joy, elation, gratitude, hope just don’t come close and this was one of those times etched in my memory forever.
We continued to work on creating embryos in preparation. Dr. Glenn Stirling was also the first fertility Dr. to be completely honest and straight up with us regarding our situation and the likelihood of me carrying our child and if I was to get pregnant it was a very likely I could go into labour very early in the pregnancy due to the size of my uterus and lose the child. I remember thinking even though it was hard to hear I appreciated a Dr. being completely honest. I knew this journey had been hard, but I also knew I didn’t think I could come back from it if this were to happen. We really felt Glenn really cared about my health and working with us to achieve our dreams.
By this time, I was having a very hard time with my cycle, bleeding heavily each cycle (2 weeks out of each month) and having iron infusions every two months due to severe anaemia. Due to the size of my uterus egg collections with IVF were always difficult to access my ovaries, and it was Glenn who suggested I should seriously consider having a partial hysterectomy where he would remove my uterus and cervix. He not only felt this could make future IVF cycles easier, but more importantly for my ongoing health. Yet another very hard decision to make, especially as this would be something very final. But, I knew this needed to happen as I was struggling every month. So, on the 8th of October 2018 I farewelled my uterus (which weighed in at an impressive 1.25 kg). Through the whole journey, I met the loveliest nurses and hospital staff, though I will never forget the care I was given on this day with even my Dr. holding my hand as I drifted off with the anaesthesia.
Recovery was full on, and I needed a good 12-14 weeks to recover before we could go through another cycle of IVF. Our Dr. advised he would like us to have about 10 embryos ready before we proceeded with our first transfer with Susan and before my hysterectomy, we had 2. Our first cycle post-surgery was also completely different as I had what I considered a typical egg collection. I was given the green whistle and it was done in the clinic vs. going to the hospital to be sedated. And I can remember being in a state of shock when they said 17 eggs! The most I ever had collected in any past egg collections had been 5. Many of you may know you ideally want quality over quantity when it comes to IVF egg collection, however, the more eggs you have the greater the percentage of what would fertilise. We had 8 eggs fertilise with 4 embryos making it to day 5. We were ecstatic! We then decided we would have one final cycle before moving forward with scheduling our first transfer. Another great result (or great result for us) with 12 eggs, 4 fertilising and 2 making it to day 5. We had 8 embryos in total and our Dr. was happy to stop here.
It did not take us long to organise the other important parts of the surrogacy which included counselling and having a legal agreement created by our respective lawyers. We were ready to transfer!
On the 4th of July 2019 we all journeyed into the fertility clinic to have our first transfer. We were shown a picture of the embryo which hatched perfectly and as my husband says jokingly ‘on this day we got another man’s wife pregnant’ and we were all there to watch. Anyone who has gone through an IVF cycle knows about the 2 week wait and we were all trying hard to preoccupy ourselves. However, Susan came to visit on a Wednesday night with a little surprise. Susan had done a home pregnancy test – and it was positive!! Another hard to describe moment which included a lot of ugly crying. We were pregnant! The first positive pregnancy test in now over 7 years. I cried tears of happiness the whole night, and the next day and almost every day since (and still cry even while writing this and our little one is 3 months old).
It has felt like up to the point of meeting Susan our journey was filled with challenges, failure and heartache. But since meeting Susan and Lawrence and that little embryo hatching roaring and ready to go, it has all gone to plan. As if it was always meant to be this way. Susan was a complete trooper through the pregnancy as she did experience some pretty horrendous morning, afternoon and evening sickness. Though through every test and scan, our little one who we affectionately were referring to as “Groot” was growing bigger and stronger every day.
On the 14th of March 2020 at 6.47pm as I held Susan’s hand, our beautiful miracle baby boy was born. My heart broke open and love like I had never experienced before flooded in. I now say we are one of the fortunate ones, and our son has been blessed with not only 2 people and 2 hearts lovingly welcoming him into the world, he had 4. What a miracle and a blessing.