If my doctor had sat me down when my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby and said “Kim, this is going to be a hard road and also you’ve got two vaginas”, I would have doubled over and laughed at the absurdity of it.
Yet here we are, three years down the line. It has been a hard road and I am laughing at the absurdity of it. But I’m also devastated. And hopeful. Can I be both? I think so.
In the beginning the lows I felt when my period arrived weren’t too bad. I knew it could take a healthy couple at least 12 months to conceive. I read blogs and downloaded ovulation tracking apps. I found myself on forums where women supported each other with baby dust and the ability to invert pictures of pregnancy tests to search for a second line that usually wasn’t there. I slowly built up my knowledge of TTC (trying to conceive) acronyms – DH (dear husband), HPT (home pregnancy test), BFP (big fat positive) and let’s not forget BD. That little beauty stands for baby dance.
As the months went by I learnt more about my body than I thought was possible. I interrogated every twinge, every cramp, every pop. If I got a sore back, I thought I was pregnant. If I was thirsty, it was probably because I was pregnant. Sore boobs? Definitely pregnant. How did I not have 47 babies already?
Our first trip to the doctor came after I had a 45 day cycle followed by a 21 day cycle. Alarm bells were ringing. We told the doctor how long we had been trying and I showed her my period tracker app where I recorded the length of every cycle, every symptom, every mood, every time I saw ferns on my ovulation microscope (yes that’s a thing) and every time we had sex. She asked questions about my period and if I had abnormal pain or discomfort. I didn’t. She ordered blood tests, recommended sex three times a week and told me to stop all the tracking.
When we left the appointment I cried ugly tears. I felt helpless. What was wrong with us? Were we not getting pregnant because I was thinking about it too much? Science says absolutely not. But at the time I was getting so much advice from well meaning people, I thought maybe?
I followed the doctor’s advice and stopped the tracking. Well, almost all the tracking. I couldn’t let go of recording every time we had sex, just in case I got pregnant. I wanted to pinpoint the exact time of conception. I don’t know why. I realise now that’s odd too, but I’m still doing it.
The results from my bloods all came back normal. Relief flowed, followed by the realisation that there might be something up with Dave’s swimmers. You all know how that turned out but if you don’t, you can read all about it here.
Meanwhile it felt like everyone around us was having kids. Pregnant women were everywhere – in the streets, in my office, in the supermarket. Every day it seemed there was a new pregnancy announcement. Every time we heard the news my wonderfully empathetic husband would look at me tentatively and ask if I was OK. Sometimes there were tears, mostly there was jealousy and self pity, but always there was happiness. Because even though I was hurting, I knew how much these families wanted children. I knew this because they wanted them much as I did, and I can’t even put into words how much that is.
It’s been a lonely existence, even though our friends and families have been incredible. I know not everyone going through this is lucky enough to have the same unconditional love and support that we have had, so I’m not going to throw a pity party about the isolation and alienation I’ve felt. But it does make me incredibly sad for those going through this alone. If I felt this alone and I’m surrounded by so many supportive people, I can’t even begin to imagine how those going through it by themselves must feel.
Some of our friends have asked us about every detail and others don’t know what to say so have said nothing at all. It’s been pretty tough, but we realise that our friends’ lives don’t revolve around us. Everyone’s got their own stuff going on. But the thing about good friends is that even though you might not be talking to each other every day, you still love each other and would move mountains if they asked you to. This thought has made me feel better about absent friends but at the same time has made me feel guilty for being an absent friend. I’ve missed some really important moments in my friends’ lives because I’ve felt too low to take part. I feel selfish for that. Infertility runs so much deeper than just not being able to get pregnant. Some days it controls me and I hate that.
Because we knew Dave’s little-Daves were A++, our fertility doctor ordered me in for an ultrasound to check out what was going on inside my uterus.The sonographer presented what my husband likes to call dildo-cam and away we went. About halfway through she piped up. “Aha! I think we’ve found the culprit”. As we both squinted up at the black and white mess on the screen above us, I struggled to see… anything.
“It looks like you have a septation in your uterus”, she explained. “Ohhhhhh” we responded in unison, not wanting to sound ignorant but sounding incredibly ignorant. She went on to tell us that when a female fetus is developing, two uteri merge together to form one. The piece of tissue where my two joined seemed to still be there and that was called a septation. “OK great”, she continued without taking a breath, “you can go back to the waiting room, the doctor will be with you shortly”.
Cue two frenzied millennials living up to every stereotype, glued to our phones all the way back to the waiting room, frantically tapping away for information about this thing neither us ever knew existed. “Haha, you’ve got two vaginas, we’ll call it Double-cunt!” Dave announced proudly (and possibly a little too loudly for a hospital waiting room). When the doctor called us in, we were in fits of giggles at the thought of someone with two vulvas sitting side by side.
It’s in times like these my husband shines. No matter how dire the situation, he can always make me laugh and I am so thankful for that. It helped calm the panic that was creeping through my body and into my brain. Just breathe. It was going to be OK.
It turned out the septation is easily fixed with a simple procedure done under a general anaesthetic. They would go up and in and simply snip the little bugger out. Forty five minutes, tops.
Ironically when I turned up to the hospital for my operation I had to take a pregnancy test. You know, just in case. Not surprisingly, it came back negative.
Our fertility doctor came in to see me just before the surgery to explain the procedure. Honestly I wasn’t really listening. David was nodding but I don’t think he was listening either. My ears pricked up when he said they might find more than one uterus in there. This was new information. Before I could ask too many questions, I was whisked into the operating theatre and out for the count.
I don’t remember a lot immediately following surgery, I had been given a lot of drugs, but the nurse in charge of me in the recovery room was the best. She quickly became my new favourite person. I liked her even more than Dave. I loved the way she doted on me and smiled warmly every time I sought her watchful gaze for reassurance. When she was on the other side of the recovery room I felt an overwhelming urge to express my gratitude to her. “Oi!” I yelled with absolutely no class at all. Every nurse whipped their head around to make sure I was OK. “Yes Kimberley?” my new best friend replied. “You’re so nice” I slurred, a huge goofy smile on my face. I gave myself an internal self-five for what was obviously the perfect thing for someone in my current situation to do. I don’t remember what she said, but I like to think she felt our connection too.
When my doctor came to see me to explain what he found, I was still an absolute space cadet. To help me understand what uterus didelphys was, he drew me a helpful diagram showing two uteri, two cervices and a vaginal septum. Next to it he wrote “DC = correct” and tucked it under my pillow. He went on to explain he also found moderate endometriosis and I might have some bruising to the right of my stomach where he had to stitch my ovary out of the way so he could get rid of it all. In my influenced state I thought it would be hilarious to joke that I was going to tell everyone he punched me in the stomach while I was under. He laughed. Then panicked. Realising I might not remember things exactly as they happened and that I might actually leave believing my terrible joke, he patted me gently on the shoulder and reassured me that no, he one hundred percent did not assault me while I was unconscious.
From the time I was wheeled away to the time I was wheeled out of recovery, it was about three and a half hours and poor David was distraught. We didn’t think it would take that long at all. When I eventually emerged through the double doors with my entourage of hospital staff, I grandly waved my piece of paper the doctor had given me in his direction. “I’ve got two vaginas!” I screamed down the hospital corridor. That’s where my memory of this time ends. I vaguely remember there were a lot of drugs and in every photo taken of me I’m giving the peace sign. Not because I was feeling particularly peaceful but because I wanted everyone to know that I had two systems.
At our follow-up appointment, our doctor drew us a diagram of my uteri. At this point it was all still relatively new and I hadn’t been able to find that much about my condition on the internet. I was fascinated and eager to learn as much as I could. Does the sperm know where to go? “Yes”. Are our chances of conceiving halved each month because I’ve got double of everything and only a single lot of sperm? “No”. Do I now need to have two smear tests instead of one? “Yes” (goddammit). Am I menstruating from both uteri at the same time or do they take turns? “Same time”. Are they both viable for pregnancies? “In your case yes it seems so”.
Because of my irregular cycles, my doctor predicted I don’t ovulate properly. He prescribed me a drug called clomiphene to get things humming. I had read about this drug and to be honest it sounded pretty bad. But if it got us a baby, I was ready to try it.
The first month was a complete bust. I didn’t ovulate at all. Of course I had convinced myself I was pregnant, so when my nurse gave me the news, the all-too-familiar emotions came rushing back. Not to worry though, we would just double the dose and keep trying. Month two was a success in that I ovulated, but a failure in that I wasn’t pregnant.
At this point I was starting to feel out of control. I cried at everything. Sometimes because I saw something sad like an NZ Post ad, sometimes for no reason at all. Sometimes it was because I was happy or surrounded by my family, other times it was because I knew in my heart of hearts that I needed to hug every animal in the world and that just wasn’t physically possible.
I felt helpless. Angry. Like a total failure. Why couldn’t my body function the way I was taught it would?
There were some pretty dark days, for both of us. Occasionally I wouldn’t even get out of bed. I would sob into David’s arms and apologise for what I was lacking and for not being able to give him the one thing that seemed to come so painfully easy for others. He would hold me and tell me it wasn’t my fault and that it was just shitty luck. He told me he loved me just the way I was and he wouldn’t have it any other way. I loved him more for it, but in all honesty his words fell on deaf ears. Rationally I knew that it wasn’t my fault. That I have a medical condition. But emotionally I felt like a woman who’s not really a woman. My biological urge to procreate is so strong and my body was failing me. I couldn’t see my way out of the fog and I didn’t know how to handle all the negative emotions that had taken over. I was lost.
David supported me in silent anguish. This was hurting him too, because it was hurting me. And I couldn’t stop any of it. That made me cry too. A lot.
One shining beacon of light was my nurse at Wellington Hospital. I’m not sure if she knows it, but alongside my husband she kept me sane (well as sane as I could be) through the clomiphene days. Talking to her was like talking to my mum, but the version of my mum where she is a medical professional and her advice is backed up by science, not unconditional love and saying everything she could to make her baby feel better. I called her with all sorts of questions and she never once made me feel like I was being silly or that I was wasting her time. Even when I called her in tears because I thought I had gotten my period but I wasn’t sure. Of course I was sure, I have been getting my period since I was 15 years old. I just didn’t want to believe it.
We lived this life for six months until we went back to the hospital. We were expecting to find another three rounds of clomiphene in our future, but instead we were referred to Fertility Associates to look at IVF. Almost instantly the fog started to clear. I hugged my nurse goodbye and promised to keep in touch. I was lucky enough to be going back to see the same doctor I started the process with who I trust through and through.
We arrived at Fertility Associates a full 35 minutes before our appointment. I wanted to be sure we didn’t get stuck in that brutal, non-existent Wellington mid-morning traffic. We were good.
I don’t know if it was the excitement of being somewhere that wasn’t the hospital, but all of a sudden I didn’t feel like we had been failing for years. It felt like we were about to embark on the real beginning of our story and an emotion I hadn’t felt in a long time reappeared. It took me a second to recognise it. Optimism.
We ran through some paperwork with our doctor to see if we now qualified for the public waiting list for IVF. We passed with flying colours.
He explained that the waiting list was about 12-14 months long, but while we wait we could choose to fund our own private cycle. We had waited so long already that our answer had to be yes. I don’t think I could have coped with anything different. We were taken to see a nurse and she ran through all the medication that I would be self administering over the course of about two weeks. She showed me how to inject myself and I even got to try it out for real with an empty syringe. Thankfully I’m OK with needles but even if I wasn’t, they are so fine you can’t even feel them.
I looked over at David and his mouth was agape. He was white as a ghost and I could see the helplessness in his eyes. This is our battle, but I would be on the front line. Again. I honestly don’t mind though, not even a little bit. I would take a bullet for that man, a few needles is nothing.