When you experience infertility, you learn very quickly to keep your hope in check. So when your obstetrician gives you a baby. Your baby, screaming and covered in blood and white goo. It hits you, you have a baby and you are grossly underprepared, not the "no one is really prepared" kind of under prepared. You actually haven't planned for this at all.
Let me rewind to three years ago. My husband and I married two months shy of my 35th birthday. We started trying right away. But with no luck after six months, we made our first medical appointment. There followed hours at the fertility clinic, endless blood tests (once they collected 17 test tubes), invasive pelvic scans, drugs to timebox my cycle, money sunk into naturopathy, psychology, anything and everything that would help.
At 36, I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis and underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove it. Four months after that, we started IVF.
For someone my age, IVF had a thirty per cent chance of success per cycle. I was not a gambling woman. To me, that meant we were likely to fail. As a protective mechanism, I never looked that far ahead.
I treated IVF like hurdles, taking it one step at a time. The first hurdle was the daily hormone injections and vaginal ultrasounds required to check that my body was responding to it. Then came egg collection, then the number of successfully fertilised eggs, then the 4-week "am I pregnant?" blood test, then the 6-week "is there a heartbeat?" scan.
The time in between each hurdle was torturous. I kept myself insanely busy while managing the needles, appointments and side effects (for me, mainly fatigue and bloating) in secret. As my husband and I passed each hurdle to positive news, there was very little time for joy, only relief as we mentally prepared for the next one.
When we passed our 6-week scan, we moved onto the "normal" pregnancy hurdles. IVF or not, one in five pregnancies will end in miscarriage before 20 weeks.
Even as we passed 20 weeks and beyond, worry subsided but never went away. I approached every check-up, test and scan with cautious optimism. I was reminded that an IVF pregnancy carried slightly increased risks of complications such as premature delivery and lower birth weight. I was induced at 39 weeks because the risk of stillborn was higher in IVF pregnancies if left any later.
When I finally delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl, there were tears of exhaustion and disbelief.
The first weeks with her was a rude shock. I cried when I brought her home. I cried when my sister gave me a card with a baby penguin following two adult penguins. I cried at the thought of a Medicare card with her name on it. It felt like we were a "real" family.
I put my tears down to sleep deprivation, hormonal fluctuations and meeting the general demands of a newborn. In part, that was true. But there was something else, something more.
When I returned to my obstetrician (who was also my laparoscopic surgeon and fertility doctor) for my six-week postpartum check, I mentioned how hard motherhood was. He said, "You didn't get here easily".
His words rang in my ears as I left. I didn't get here easily. It was only then I realised how much anxiety I was carrying and had been carrying in the months leading up to my pregnancy and birth.
My cautious optimism meant I didn't really believe a baby was possible, even during what was a straightforward pregnancy. I hadn't allowed myself to imagine or plan for a life with a baby. I hadn't cleared out the spare room. I hadn't unpacked the boxes of second hand clothes. I hadn't bought much more than a car seat and a pram. I hadn't learnt to breastfeed. I figured these would all be hurdles I would jump when I got to it, if I got to it.
When you start IVF, you become patients, not parents-to-be. It's easy to forget that a baby is very possible when the process is gruelling, the wait is long and there are no guarantees.
It's important to prepare for disappointment, but perhaps it's okay to prepare for success too.
After all, one in three – that's pretty good odds too.