Thin and in her early 30s, Lisa Morris had no idea she was suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome. One year, and a cocktail of fertility drugs later, her dream baby was finally conceived.
When I turned 18 I ceremoniously popped my first contraceptive pill and sailed through the next decade with regular-as-Larry periods and not even a glimmer of cramps or PMS. When I turned 31, I tossed those same pills into the bin and announced to the world that we were "trying". And then nothing happened... no period, no cramps, no baby.
6 months later I took my reluctant ovaries off to the gynae for a check-up. A scan revealed a white and waxy covering on them – a clear sign I was suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS? Me? But women with PCOS are overweight, hairy and addled with acne? I was enviously skinny and didn’t even need to shave my legs most of the time.
The drug regiment
But the overriding symptom was there. I was given a short course of a drug called Provera – ironically a form of contraceptive pill – to kick-start my periods and when Aunt Flo finally showed her head 10 days later I was over the moon. But my excitement was short-lived – a "day 21" blood test confirmed that I wasn’t ovulating. No egg means no baby.
Because I hadn’t had a period for 6 months and was clearly not ovulating, my gynae was willing to proceed with fertility treatment after a barrage of blood tests ruled out any other possible causes for my anovulation. After another course of Provera I was given Clomid, the most common fertility drug that is used locally.
This was it – I was going to be pregnant at last. But PCOS was a stubborn adversary and when my period didn’t show up, and an army of pregnancy tests all came up negative, I realised that my battle with infertility had just got serious. 70-90% of women fall pregnant within 6 to 9 months of taking Clomid. I wasn’t one of them. My gynae doubled my dose, but after two more unsuccessful rounds he sent me off to a fertility specialist.
Walking into a fertility clinic is a humbling experience. You realise just how many women there are out there who are desperate to have babies – and you are one of them. A new round of blood tests – and the required sperm analysis – unearthed more red herrings. My husband’s sperm had poor motility. High levels of certain hormones revealed that I might be experiencing early menopause. My doctor urged me to put on a couple of kilos as he felt my weight was a little low. I was beside myself.
And so I went where desperate people go – online. In a support group for women with PCOS I discovered others that didn’t fit the normal profile of the syndrome – and ovulating was only one of the many hurdles that I might have to climb. "MaybeBaby" was struggling to find a GP who would diagnose her officially so she could go on an IVF waiting list. "Clomid Queen" had successfully conceived 5 times but had miscarried each of them.
Because I was now officially "clomiphene resistant", my next step was injectibles . Unlike the cheerfully cheap Clomid, these drugs come with designer label price tags. This is the point that the medical aids gently deliver the words "for your own account".
Beginning the injectibles
So, credit card in hand, I began pumping myself with hormones. I'd dash across town every couple of days to have an internal scan to check my follicle development. The aim of this costly new development was to "ripen" the follicles in my ovaries to a point where one developed enough so that another drug could be injected to "force" ovulation. If this works, natural conception, artificial insemination or IVF are all options.
I was getting uncomfortably familiar with what my insides look like. As my bum filled with tiny bruises from the injections, my heart filled with hope. I'd prod my enlarged ovaries at night, cheering them on towards the finish line.
The danger of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
Unfortunately, they heard me and suddenly I was faced with dozens of follicles all ripe and ready to take the next step. My doctor shook his head as he nudged my aching ovaries with the dildo-like internal scan. It was time to retreat. Any more fertility drugs I injected could cause me to develop a potentially life-threatening condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a situation that occurs when all the follicles ripen at once.
After a year of gentle negotiating with my ovaries, it was time to call in the big guns. Laser guns, to be precise. Ovarian drilling anyone? Nope, it didn’t sound like fun to me either. The procedure – performed through non-invasive keyhole surgery – literally zaps each ovary with 6 to 10 holes. No-one knows exactly why it works, but it’s thought that reducing the waxy covering of polycystic ovaries assists in hormonally balancing your reproductive system.
There are a couple of cons (it tends to be less successful in women who smoke and can lead to scar formation that can block your fallopian tubes) but I was overwhelmed by the success stories shared with me online.
My recovery was quick and a month later – to the day – my period made a welcome appearance. I put my husband on a strict schedule ("Do it days 8, 9, 10 ,12, 14 and 16, "SoulCyster’s" baby-making recipe recommended) and went on holiday.
It took 6 dodgy-looking Thai pregnancy tests to believe I was pregnant. Those two blue lines appearing felt like I was crossing the finish line of the Comrades Marathon.
When my son finally makes his grand appearance a few months from now, I’m sure the agony of my experience will vanish with his first breath. Will he know how hard I worked to get him? Nope. All he’ll worry about is eating, sleeping and pooping. And I thought all the difficult work was over...