How infertility led me to expat life

This blog has mostly focused on my experiences as an expat.  But today I want to talk about what brought us to this point in our lives and the difficult experience that pushed us to take the leap and move overseas.  Bear with me – this is a long and pretty personal one (including details of reproductive health – if you’re uncomfortable with that, leave while you can!).  It may seem off topic at times, but that’s because big life decisions like this are complex beasts and the factors that are important come together in some pretty weird ways.

I never really thought I would be an expat.  I didn’t have very itchy feet.  I loved where we lived in New Zealand. When I came home from my two months working in the Netherlands and our six week trip around Europe in 2009, I wanted more.  But it wasn’t more travel that I wanted.  I wanted to settle down and have a family.

So when we got married in 2010, we decided it was time to start trying for a baby.  We bought our house, complete with room for a growing family and a great back garden for our future kids.  I knew it might take a while because I have PCOS, but we thought it would be great to have a bit of time to update the 1960s decor and have a few adventures before any little ones arrived.

During the year after our wedding, my work started to really stress me out.  I was a technical project manager, and worked with a lot of timelines and deadlines and task management.  But the only parts of my job that I really enjoyed were when the projects involved training people and working with them to develop new skills.  So I applied for a new job in Human Resources, closer to home, and much lower stress.  I hoped that the stress reduction would help me get pregnant (after all, everyone tells you that if you just relax, it will happen).  And I had in the back of my mind that the new job would be much easier to fit around family life.

The new job was fantastic.  I loved the people.  I loved the work.  I loved being close to home.  I started training with a group from work for a big walking event (Oxfam Trailwalker), and loved all the places we got to see.  I lost weight (which is supposed to help fertility in women with PCOS).  I felt healthy and happy.

Training for Oxfam Trailwalker 2011.

Training for Oxfam Trailwalker 2011.

Every decision we made was with our future family in mind, hoping that it would happen soon.

But a year of extremely irregular cycles later, we realised it wasn’t going to happen without help.  I visited my GP, who referred me to a gynaecologist.  They ran some tests, and together we decided to try treatment with Clomid.  We were young and healthy, and I was sure this was just the kick-start my body needed.  But the fake hormones were hell.  Coupled with increasing stress at work (due to a very exciting new opportunity), it was a pretty terrible time.  A time that involved more tears at home and at work than I would like to admit, including in the office of a very senior male manager (who was fortunately very nice about the whole thing).

After four cycles of increasing Clomid doses failed to achieve anything and a HSG dye test revealed a blocked tube and uterine abnormality, the gynaecologist told me they couldn’t do anything more.  I was referred to Fertility Associates.  Cue more tears.  I expected this to be hard, but not this hard.

The combination of stress and synthetic hormone treatment drove my body and mind completely out of whack.  In the end I couldn’t take it any longer, and decided that our future family was more important than the job.  I reduced my responsibility, and my hours, and started studying part time for a qualification in Career Development.  As soon as I made the decision to change my work, part of the burden lifted.  But I wanted to try something new on the fertility front as well.

Enjoying the sunshine at Womad in 2012

Enjoying the sunshine at Womad in 2012

I decided to switch tactics and to visit a naturopathic doctor.  The three month wait for my fertility appointment included extensive blood testing, a strict diet and supplement regime, a lot of relaxation, and the start of my love of yoga.  I felt a bit better, but unfortunately it cost a bomb and did nothing to bring on natural cycles.  I continued elements of the regime, and enjoyed the focus on natural health.  But by the time my specialist appointment rolled around, I was ready to get serious about treatments and try whatever it took.  I had always been uncomfortable with the idea of IVF, but the longer we waited, the more I accepted that it might be an option for us.

When we visited the specialist, I was surprised to find that there was another option before IVF.  I was referred for a laparoscopic surgery, which has been shown to sometimes restore ovulation in patients with PCOS.  We were also placed on the (fairly long) waitlist for publicly funded IVF.  This meant we had four months to continue with the natural methods and hope for a miracle before surgery, then a further 6 or so months to hope the surgery would work before we were in for IVF.

I started the wait feeling pretty positive.  By this time our journey to a family had involved more than two years, three significant job/career changes for me, way too many tears, and thousands of dollars.  But, as with each step, I was hopeful that this next step would be the one that worked.

During the two years of waiting, I had endured countless pregnancy announcements and births, including my older sister and most of my close local friends.  I was happy for everyone, but was feeling more and more left out.  I wanted to join them all in the crazy journey that is pregnancy and motherhood, and it was getting harder and harder to watch as it happened to everyone else except me (this isn’t quite accurate, but it’s how it felt).

Then a couple of months into the wait, several things happened at once.  Yet another close friend announced her pregnancy, I finished my study, and The Engineer started to feel frustrated at the repetitiveness of his job.  I was spending a lot of time at home, and feeling frustrated that this wonderful family home didn’t yet have a family in it.

So when the opportunity came up in Brunei, I was willing to consider it.  I won’t say that I jumped at it.   It was still a difficult decision.  I had some exciting career opportunities coming up that would have to go on hold.  I would miss my family and friends.

But in the end we decided that our designed-for-a-family life was becoming too difficult without the family, and we needed to embrace another adventure.  I was enticed by the travel possibilities, and I was sure that the surgery (which I had just before we left) would work, and we would be able to enjoy a few adventures and then settle here with a baby (and me conveniently not-working to look after it!)

Waving goodbye to our house and our life in New Zealand, ready for our next adventure.

Waving goodbye to our house and our life in New Zealand, ready for our next adventure.

Of course, as you can imagine, it didn’t quite all go to plan.  The surgery was unsuccessful, and discovering that while newly landed in a new country was difficult (to say the least).  We then decided to pursue further treatment at a local hospital.  Three months after we arrived, I was thrown into the two weekly crazy cycle of fertility injections and IUI.  This involved three hour drives every couple of days for two weeks of every month, and a lot of mental energy.  I was exhausted and it was very difficult to plan holidays around the appointments.  By the time our fourth cycle rolled around in October, I was nearly ready to give up.  We agreed that if it didn’t work, we would do one more cycle in November and then take a break.

But instead of having to make that difficult decision, in early November, more than 3.5 years after we started trying for a baby, we (finally) got the news that changed our lives.  I was pregnant.  The next few months were difficult and scary.  I was terrified that it would all be taken away from us.  But six and a half months later, I am still pregnant, and everything appears to be normal.  I am starting to believe that this is really happening, and we are very excited to welcome our life-changing little one in July.

Our journey to get here has been long and difficult and truly life changing.  But I can truly say that I am grateful for the experience.  It may not have been how we planned it, but infertility has profoundly affected me, our marriage, and our lives, and has resulted in many positive changes.  Without these challenges, we would have missed some of the wonderful adventures that have made the last four years great, including this expat adventure in Brunei.  And now that we are finally facing the future we always imagined (or at least a variation on it) we are so very very ready to combine all of these great experiences and use them to help us through our latest adventure: parenting!

This post is part of my effort to raise my voice for National Infertility Awareness Week, which runs from 20-26 April 2014. This year’s theme is ‘Resolve to Know More…’ and I think that the first step to people knowing more is people sharing more.  So I am sharing my story and admitting that one of the main reasons we are expats is our journey with infertility, and the extremely difficult feelings that come along with that journey.  This post is more than long enough as it is, but there is so much more to this story.  If you want to know more, feel free to comment or email or Facebook me with any questions.