After walking down the aisle, society expects you to head to the nearest Mothercare and sign up for your baby registry. Marriage, then family – easy peasy, right? But what happens when the second part doesn’t go according to plan? According to Celine Gabriel-Lim, for a lot of women suffering from infertility, it can feel as if you’ve failed as a wife and as a daughter…as a woman – or what least by the measure of what society dictates a woman should be.
Here’s the thing: infertility is a serious matter, with some organisations even considering it a disease of the reproductive system, impairing the body’s ability to perform the basic function of reproduction. And it can affect anyone, sometimes without any known explanation. Meaning, an otherwise healthy person can experience infertility, and it can be devastating because it can feel like their health is out of their control, for no given reason.
That’s why telling someone who’s having trouble conceiving to “just relax” or “take a vacation”, that the former will cure them, is probably the worst thing you could say to them. Because the truth is, it can be a lot more complicated than that.
One in eight couples will experience infertility and in order to conceive, they’ll need to try assisted reproduction treatments like IVF, which, we discovered, is no walk in the park. Infertility is one of the most isolating experiences a woman will ever go through so what they really need is all the support they can get.
HoneyKids recently had a chat with Celine about her IVF experience, how it’s changed her life and why it’s important for her to share her story and break the stigma and culture of shame and silence that exists around infertility:
On why she decided to do IVF
After getting married in 2011, Celine and her husband, Matt took their time before having a baby. They were having fun as newly weds, travelling, renovating a home, going out with friends, focussing on their careers – babies were not their priority. But one day, she decided that maybe she wanted a baby. Both Celine and her husband were quite relaxed about the whole process because she didn’t think they would have a difficult time getting pregnant. And then they didn’t get pregnant. After a year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive naturally, they went to see a specialist. Convinced that seeing a specialist would solve all their problems, Celine was surprised when she couldn’t get pregnant, even after following the specialist’s advice.
After trying to conceive for five years, Celine and Matt started seeing even more doctors. She tried everything: ovulation kits, fertility pills and supplements, IUI (Intra-Uterine Insemination) and finally IVF – in Manila (a total of 3 failed transfers) and finally in San Francisco (one failed transfer and one successful transfer). The most ironic thing was that none of her doctors found anything wrong with either Celine or her husband. “I remember going to San Francisco hoping they would find something that the doctors in Manila missed.. but nothing. They call that unexplained fertility and for me, that’s even worse… because if there’s nothing wrong, how do you find a cure?” says Celine.
The IVF process
When a person resorts to IVF, it usually means that they have already exhausted all other options. Before going to The Zouves Clinic in San Francisco, Celine had seen three of the top IVF and infertility specialists in Manila and a very well respected immunologist. She was also doing weekly acupuncture sessions with a famous Chinese nun who specialised in infertility.
Celine did one full cycle of IVF in Manila which resulted in 8 embryos viable to transfer. Medicine was used to stimulate her ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible, which, according to Celine, the discomfort level felt like having dysmenorrhea. She also had to inject herself with hormones to help support the pregnancy, which she said wasn’t so tough. When the transfers in Manila failed, she decided to see one of the most renowned fertility specialists in the world, Dr Christo Zouves of The Zouves Fertility Clinic, where she produced four viable embryos and had two transfers. The first transfer was unsuccessful because she had an unexpected, severe allergic reaction to one of the Estradiol (estrogen) patches, which she thinks may have affected the transfer. The next transfer, fortunately, was successful and resulted in her daughter, Iris.
Dealing with disappointment
Throughout the whole process, Celine experienced constant heartbreak but was steadfast in her goal to have a baby. “Imagine the disappointment every month for about five years knowing you’re still not pregnant despite all the efforts and help from the best people. There were many times I thought, maybe this really isn’t meant for me. But something in me also would not just give up,” shares Celine.
Although she felt lucky she had the support of family and friends, the stress still got to her. “I read somewhere that the stress levels of a person going through infertility is just as high as those of a person with cancer,” she says. Her own husband or family never pressured her into having children and yet the deep yearning to have a child wouldn’t go away.
It was also financially draining. Celine and her husband poured their savings into treatments. And when it wouldn’t work, she would feel guilty thinking about all the money they spent and frustration at what felt like her body failing her again.
IVF is a journey that one does alone
Despite having a strong support system and a supportive partner, Celine points out that IVF is always hardest on the woman. Which is why she believes that IVF mums need to stick together. “Only a person going through IVF can understand how it truly feels: the roller coaster feelings of anxiety, sadness, worry, hope, managed expectations, guilt; the self-loathing and disappointment when it fails… the joy when it succeeds,” she explains.
And because she went through and overcame so many challenges during her IVF process, Celine believes it helped her deal with her pregnancy better. “I felt like a warrior who could overcome anything. I was so much in awe of the miracle of life growing inside me, against all odds.” says Celine. It also awakened a positive change in her outlook on life, and made her realise the importance of self-care, in all aspects: mind, body, spirit. “For all the tears I shed, there were just as many blessings. I will never be the same person again because of what I have experienced and for that I will always be grateful to God because I like this version of myself so much better,” she adds.
After a relatively easy pregnancy, Celine delivered her daughter, Iris, at 38 weeks. Choosing the name Iris was symbolic for her, not only because she saw a rainbow when she found out she was pregnant but because of the message of hope and promise that it embodies. “It felt like God was telling me my journey through infertility was over and I was about to have a new beginning,” she says.
Celine has been vocal about her IVF experience ever since her first failure in San Francisco. Today, her story about her IVF journey has continued to touch many lives. Through her blog, she inspires other IVF mums to stay faithful to their goal because she knows firsthand the emotional roller coaster these mums are subject to. “We all have to draw strength from something/someone when facing something bigger than ourselves,” Celine says.
Thank you, Celine!
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