By Sola Ogundipe
When Ngozi and Okechukwu started out to tackle their infertility challenge, it was at the right time and they went to seek the right help, from the right place. About a year earlier, Ngozi had an ectopic pregnancy and lost it.
“To get pregnant in the bedroom was very difficult. I tried it for eight years and it did not work. Whenever I saw a pregnant woman, I would burst into tears, Ngozi recalled. Attending baby showers or baptisms was out of it for her because she would be in tears all through.
“Several of these women got married way after me, while I was going from pillar to post, believing everything I heard and was misled severally.”
Then a friend introduced her to a social network group that was dedicated to helping couples and individuals battling infertility. She and her husband joined and began to learn about the possible and probable solutions to their problem.
“To my disappointment, it wasn’t going to be that easy. Month after month we tried, and nothing happened. After about six months, my gynaecologist referred me to one fertility specialist, and I went through a series of tests.”
An HSG showed Ngozi’s tubes were open, with no blockages. Further testing showed she had plenty of healthy eggs, in fact, like a 20-year old according to the doctor.
“My periods were clockwork, and always had been. The only abnormal thing was that I had been spotting slightly mid-month for the past couple of years, which I thought might have something to do with a hormonal imbalance of some sort, but the doctors were not too concerned about this.”
Strangely Okechukwu never got his sperm count tested, but other than the possibility of a problem on his end, there was no reason they should not be getting pregnant.
The couple decided they really wanted a child, and were prepared to go the route of fertility treatments even IVF. After about two and a half years going on like this, Ngozi was searching the web for information on how to boost fertility naturally and came across several websites on fertility treatment.
One of them, Nordica Fertility Centre, appealed to her and she decided to give them a trial. They visited the Asaba branch and got a rare insight into the world of infertility treatment options. They saw one counselor after the other and after just one week was convinced they were in the right place to undergo treatment.
“At the end of it all, we opted for IVF. It was a long battle and I had challenges but I had my mindset to achieve what I wanted. I borrowed, begged, saved, and, along with my husband, I raised money for the IVF cycle. It was a team effort. And we succeeded, ” Ngozi recalled.
For her, anyone who has been through it will tell you that IVF can be tough. There are the frequent doctor’s appointments, the injections, the procedures, the scans, the nerves, the hopes and often the disappointments. There’s the financial cost, the stress and the strain it can put on a relationship.
But then anyone who has been through IVF and held their baby at the end of it will tell you it was worth it, even though not all of them may be willing to go through it all again.
However, Ngozi and Okechukwu’s story is proof that happy endings can happen twice. Now 48, she still remembers that aching feeling of longing she felt when she and her husband were trying to conceive.
“I felt like there were babies and everywhere,” she recalls. “I remember looking longingly at bumps. It was very difficult but at the same time I wouldn’t have wished it on anyone, it’s devastating not to be able to have children when you desperately want to have one. I had a really hard time but thanks to that fertility centre, I coped. “
When she was younger was diagnosed with Endometriosis, a condition affecting the lining of the womb. Ngozi needed surgery to have a painful cyst removed, but the procedure revealed how damaged her womb was and one of her Fallopian tubes was less than optimal in potential.
“I was advised that it might cause fertility problems, but I didn’t really think about it too much,” she says. “At the time I felt I had time on my side and I remember thinking… ‘well, hopefully, it’ll happen’.”
Unfortunately, hope wasn’t enough. Despite changes to her diet and work routine Ngozi was unable to conceive naturally. It was devastating but they had to look for alternatives.
In July of that year, they started IVF treatment with the fertility centre. The process is one of the most popular routes taken by couples battling conception difficulties. Daily injections of medication are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce a number of eggs which are then collected and mixed with the male’s sperm in the laboratory, allowing fertilisation to occur.
The developing embryos are then monitored closely and the healthiest embryos are then transferred to allow for implantation. There were so many stages and so much time to be dedicated until pregnancy test could even be contemplated.
Ngozi’s first cycle was cancelled early on because she had no follicles to produce eggs for collection. The second cycle also ended prematurely when they were told there were no eggs.
The couple was upset and disappointed but resolved to be prepared for setbacks. They joined a number of groups of couples trying to conceive soon after they decided to be open with friends and family from the start.
“We wanted to talk about it and we found that the more we spoke to people, the more we realised how many other couples we knew had gone through similar experiences.”
The couple’s attitude always was that if this IVF was something that would help, then it was amazing, but definitely not something to be ashamed of.
The third attempt also failed. On their fourth attempt, the couple completed a full cycle of treatment and Ngozi was given a date to take a pregnancy test. After counting down for two weeks, the result was devastating: negative.
She broke down and cried. Okechukwu was just as devastated. “We had to leave it for a while after that, just to get our heads around it, but I still knew that I really, really wanted to give it one more shot.”
The fifth attempt at IVF turned out to be the best. The pregnancy was viable from the onset and just over nine months later, Ngozi and Okechukwu were rewarded with a healthy 3kg baby girl. She arrived just when it mattered most.
They felt so unbelievably lucky to have their first baby. The couple was not certain if they would have tried as many cycles again had the 5th attempt failed. As they looked lovingly at their bundle of joy, the couple felt an indescribable sense of fulfillment.
Ngozi has advice for couples considering IVF. “ Research and review your choice of clinic asking questions about services offered, success rates, inspection records, and any hidden costs. Ideally, you want to avoid long journeys as a number of visits to the clinic will be required for scans and having a local clinic will eliminate the stress and the cost of travelling.
“Ensure you fully understand your treatment plan and are aware of any possible side-effects. Decide in advance whether to tell family and friends. And it’s important to look after your relationship during treatment,” she urges.
Initially, when they started the IVF treatment, Ngozi and her husband kept it to themselves, but from the day she achieved a positive pregnancy test, she started talking about her pregnancy and the benefits of IVF.
“When I was pregnant, everyone knew I went through IVF because I talked about it. I did not hide it and when I finally had my babies, it was like a circus. I overcame whatever stigma from the day I got pregnant. That is why I have not stopped talking about it.
“IVF is no longer strange, yet couples are still reluctant. People who had their children in the bedroom can talk about it freely, and so should not condemn IVF because condemning it will discourage those who have had children through IVF to keep it to themselves and deny others from benefiting.