The Miracle of Motherhood – One Mum’s Journey with IVF
Contributed by Judith Alagirisamy
The motherhood journey is an exhilarating, challenging and ultimately fulfilling one. While many of us slip into our ‘mother’ roles easily, for others, the road to parenthood is much harder. For these mothers, the process of conceiving a child is complicated, difficult and marked with many tears and trials. This is one such story of a mother who faced a daunting challenge in conceiving a child - and overcame the odds.
Listening to Cheryl Chua happily chatting about her one-year old son James, one would not imagine that beneath that happy bubbly personality is a story of personal struggle and true grit in the face of adversity. Having married in her mid-30s, Cheryl was looking forward to motherhood – having children was something she had long dreamed about. However, conceiving proved to be difficult for the couple.

After a year of trying and failing to conceive naturally, Cheryl and her husband began to explore and research other avenues such as fertility drugs and treatments. After consulting their gynaecologist and weighing their options, they decided to try in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

This marked the beginning of their six year journey with IVF. This was a difficult and heartbreaking time for Cheryl. The physical pain and discomfort was one factor she had to contend with.

She shares that she needed to inject herself twice daily with hormones, at the start of each IVF cycle, “Each time you need to inject two needles, totalling four a day”.

She also had to be careful to inject her stomach through a layer of fat to reduce the pain. This would be followed by frequent visits to the gynaecologist for scans to check if the hormone injections had taken effect. After around two weeks of self-injections, she would go under general anaesthetic for a procedure to extract the eggs from her ovaries. These would be analysed to assess if they were mature eggs and suitable for IVF.

Even after this intricate process, it was possible that some eggs would remain unfertilised. (Under Singapore law, you are permitted to implant up to three embryos in a woman’s womb.) “After three days, the embryos are put back inside your body and you hope that at least one will latch onto the womb,” said Cheryl.

The emotional stress was great, especially when she experienced seven successive failed IVF attempts. Cheryl had to draw on her inner strength, her belief and support from her husband to pull through this difficult period.
She shares that having a loving supportive husband made all the difference. She says, “IVF is a physically tough and invasive procedure, and my husband was very encouraging throughout”.

However, even in the midst of the trials, Cheryl chose not to wallow in her sadness. She was determined to have a fulfilling life, even as she hoped and longed for motherhood. She spent quality time serving as a volunteer teacher in her church and building a relationship with her niece and nephew.

Her husband too, became involved in music for children in their church and volunteered as a tutor for kids from needy homes. She says of this period in their lives, “Instead of looking at what we didn’t have – we decided to do something useful”.

After taking a 2-year break from IVF, Cheryl decided on one last attempt in 2012. This eighth IVF attempt was successful, and she delivered a healthy baby boy the following year! Cheryl is currently a stay-at-home mother to her active son James, and revels in every antic and milestone of her active little boy.

While her new homemaker status is a big shift from being a career woman for the past 20 years, she savours the time that she can spend caring for James. She says, “Having a baby was a desire for so long! I really appreciate every moment and milestone now.”

Cheryl shares this piece of advice for couples considering IVF, “Make an informed decision. It’s important to understand the process, and both parties need to be fully committed to it. Also, be ready that if the process doesn’t necessarily work, it can be disappointing – IVF is not just a treatment where you put your body through physical stress, but it’s emotionally and mentally stressful too”.

While Cheryl’s journey to motherhood may not have been a smooth one – her courage and strength are an inspiration to us all.
Navigating your way through your IVF

Here are some tips from Cheryl’s personal IVF experience, on how to make the process less stressful.

#1 Share your situation with your boss.
IVF is an incredibly private and sensitive matter. As you may need to be away from work at irregular and unexpected times, it is best to inform your boss of your decision to undergo IVF. Telling your employer in advance will give them sufficient time to make manpower adjustments, and also be more supporting and understanding of your situation.

Cheryl recalls that one boss sent her a long encouraging email after a failed IVF attempt, which made her feel cared for in the organisation.

Some things you will need to frankly discuss:
  • Set expectations on how often you may need to be away from the office, and ask for understanding.
  • Who will cover your duties while you are away?
  • Are there flexible work options that you can tap on, to telecommute or work-from-home so that the work can proceed smoothly?
#2 Build a strong open relationship with your colleagues.
While you may not want to share every detail of your IVF with your colleagues, do invest time in building a good relationship with them. As you will need to spend a lot of time away from work for doctor visits and medical leave, your colleagues may need to cover your work duties for that period. Having a good working relationship is vital, as you will need to work well as a team during this time.

#3 Find a daily routine that is meaningful and relaxing.
While it is natural to feel anxious as you undergo IVF, Cheryl advises that it’s good to find a ‘normal routine’ that gives structure to your days, and keeps your mind off the IVF process.

In Cheryl’s case, she continued to work, as her bosses were supportive and she enjoyed her career. Find interests and hobbies that relax you – watching movies, reading books or even taking up a new skill like baking, can help to alleviate stress.

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