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Sasha and Rob's story

In 2016 I was 27 years old, single, had travelled the world, come home and finished studying. I was ready to settle down and start a new life in NZ. What I had thought was final exam stress taking over my body turned out to be symptoms of premature ovarian failure (POF). A condition where a woman has run out of eggs prematurely resulting in early menopause. As a woman in my late twenties this was devastating news. Finding out about my own infertility before ever having had tried for a baby was very difficult to process. I had no idea POF was even a thing and up until then I had always been healthy with regular periods. I had always wanted to have children but felt it was important to have lived and experienced the world first, so I was in no hurry.

Not only was I faced with infertility, which in itself almost downed me. I was also having to deal with menopause and all that goes with it. The hormone overload at a time when I was already emotionally weak, along with the hot flushes every 45 minutes lasting 10-15 minutes at a time, 24 hours a day, left me sleep deprived with little reserve to cope with my situation. All I wanted to was to crawl inside myself and privately get through this difficult time, but the constant hot flushes made this impossible. There was no hiding how sick I had become, and even though I was still getting up and going to work every day there was no hiding from my colleagues or clients what I was going through.

While outwardly they were supportive of my situation and likely grateful it wasn’t them it was happening to, it did take its toll on my career. My constant appointments made me an inconvenience. A year later I ended up changing jobs for somewhere I didn’t feel judged or held back because of something that happened to me, outside of my control. This in part is what has made the decision to go public and share my story even more difficult, but I believe I am now in a place where I am comfortable enough with my situation, that I am able to speak out about it.

After months of tests and numerous specialist appointments, it came down to if I was ever going to try for my own baby it had to be now. PANIC! In steps my incredible parents who without a second thought offered to support whatever I decided, even if it meant moving in with them with their potential grandchild. If it was going to be now or never, I knew I had to try, even if it meant hoping for a miracle. I needed to know that I would be able to look back on that time without regrets, knowing I had done everything I could to make my dream of being a mother a reality.

Again, PANIC! Making the decision was one thing, but where does a student come up with the thousands of dollars it costs for fertility treatment? And where do I get the required sperm when the public system takes several years to be given a donor?

Several awkward weeks followed where I practically begged every male I knew for his sperm. Up until this point I had been pretty quiet about my diagnosis, but desperate times called for desperate measures and a few very uncomfortable conversations. It is amazing how little men know about female fertility.

An unexpected but very generous friend offered to come to my rescue. Not only did he offer to be my donor but he became an incredible support throughout the process. I jumped right in with both feet and was ready to get the process underway. All of my hope was pinned on this one little sperm sample, just to be let down once again when the sample came back as a dud, leaving me with the job of telling my friend - who was so generous with helping me - that he would also be unlikely to have children of his own.

Along comes another friend and another set of tests. Surely this was my chance, but even with a slightly better sample than the 1st donor, the odds of less than 5% success were hard to swallow.

At this point I had pretty much given up all hope. Getting pregnant had completely taken over my life for 6 months and I was turning into a single-minded crazy lady. I decided I needed to give myself a break. I had tried everything possible and had to accept the truth that it just wasn’t meant to be.

Along comes Rob. What started as a distraction quickly turned into a whirlwind romance. In no time we became inseparable and I was faced with having to share my diagnosis with him. After everything I had already been through, this was by far the most difficult. Where I already knew how I felt about him the possibility of rejection and losing him was real. I knew him well enough to believe he wouldn’t instantly reject me but I had no idea if he would be able to completely accept me and all my baggage. It shows an incredible strength of character that he allowed himself to love me despite the very real possibility of what may be the ultimate sacrifice. From the moment I shared my story with him he has been by my side for every appointment. He has been my main support system through this journey and has taken it all in his stride.

After letting go of the idea of starting fertility treatment it became a decision of if/when to start hormone replacement therapy, HRT. Weighing up the pros and cons. Hours of research and discussions with my incredible endocrinologist. Eventually the choice was made for me when the symptoms of POF became completely unbearable. Not long after Rob and I met and had told him about my condition the symptoms increased in severity. I became unable to work, being up literally all night with night sweats and becoming so light headed I would almost pass out every time I was hit with a hot flush. Rob was incredible during this time, getting up and getting me cold flannels and standing outside with me in the middle of winter as I tried to cool down, then holding me when it finished and I shivered damp in bed. Months followed of trialling different hormone combinations, trying to minimize side effects, some of which were almost as awful as the POF symptoms themselves. I think 18 months later we have finally found a tolerable balance that I am able to live with long term. I have gained weight during this time (thanks to the hormones) and am having regular bone scans to monitor the decrease in bone density. A woman’s body really wasn’t designed to have a decrease of hormones at such a young age.

I now manage to live a relatively normal, albeit infertile life. I look back on this time in an almost emotionally detached way. Together we are currently in such a good place where we are so optimistic for the future that it is hard to remember living through such hell.

Rob’s story
I spent my twenties travelling the world and having a good time. I chased winters to NZ, Canada and Japan, went on the Mongolia Charity Rally, and backpacked around South East Asia.

While this was all fun, there was something missing from my life. I wanted to find someone special I could spend my life with. Someone to share the adventures with me on a deeper level. On top of this, I always wanted my own kids and think I would make a great Dad.

I met Sasha in early 2017, and we hit it off right away. Early on in the relationship Sasha felt comfortable enough to share with me that she had recently been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. This was no doubt a very hard thing for her to put forward, unknowing how I would respond. I think it was the right decision to bring this issue to light early in the relationship. We were both at an age where serious discussions tend to happen sooner. It’s better to be open and understanding of what each person wants out of a relationship. I have always wanted to have my own kids, and infertility was never something that crossed my mind. It’s rarely spoken about within my circle of friends and society in general. What transpired as a result was a deeper connection and being pushed a little quicker into making some big decisions. I guess they were big decisions, but they didn’t seem to be difficult to make. Sasha is super fun to be around, she’s smart – cliché I know, but it’s true – and we have a blast just hanging out together as well as with our friends. She was someone I could see myself with in the future and starting a family.

Sasha told me the story of when she was diagnosed with POF and how it affected herself and her family. I think she showed an incredible amount of courage asking her friends to donate, and again to move on when it didn’t work out. By the time we met, Sasha had somewhat come to terms with the situation – as much as one could.

Since then our relationship has grown from strength to strength. We moved in together, took a long holiday to Canada where we have both spent our own time chasing the snow, bought a house, and are currently going through the motions of finding an egg donor.

We have told a few of our closest friends, but whether or not they fully understand is another story. Our next step is to reach out to a wider circle of friends to inform them of our situation. It’s a difficult thing to do. What do you say? Who should you ask? What will they think? As Sasha has come to accept the situation, she is more comfortable and willing to share our story and shed some light on the infertility issue. A decision I wholeheartedly agree with and support.

Where we are at now. As a result of POF Sasha underwent tests that confirmed there are no eggs left to harvest. There is no reason why Sasha couldn’t carry a baby to full term, just that an egg donor is the only way we would be able to have our own child.

We have gone to appointments together, had tests done, and applied for government funding. Our funding was allocated to an Auckland clinic earlier this year, and now we are trying to find an egg donor so we can proceed with treatment when the funding is available hopefully as soon as early 2019.

The key to all this is to openly talk about everything, to support each other, go to appointments together, and share with your family and friends. If more people talked about infertility, you would be surprised by how common it really is. We hope by sharing our story it will help others on their journey.

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