Motherhood

10 years of trying to have a baby | Claudio and Erika share their intimate journey


Claudio and Erika have been through 10 years of heartache trying to have a baby.  It was through trials, errors and years of waiting before they had their beautiful twin boys. They are one of many couples who are facing the same struggle but there are many people who cannot bring themselves to discuss it in public.  Claudio and Erika felt differently, and they wanted to share their intimate journey with other couples who could take something away with them from their story.  We applaud this amazing couple for sharing their incredible past 10 years with us.

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I am sure there was emotional and financial heartache over the last ten years, how difficult was it sometimes on your relationship?  You both have always had a solid relationship, how did you support each other?

In 2003, Erika went off the pill. We’d been married three years and prior to that had gone out for four years. Up to that point we had a notion in our heads that we should still enjoy being just a couple, free to do whatever, without encumbrances. Later on we would discover that we had perhaps squandered Erika’s most fertile years. I remember immediately slapping my hands together with a silly grin on my face and joking… “Feeling pregnant this morning darling?”…as if the process of having a child was so automatic.

After a year of trying to conceive

A year later we felt mildly frustrated, but not alarmed and at that time had started living 7 to 8 months in the States and 4 or 5 months in Sao Paulo, Brazil over the winter. We started seeing a fertility doctor and pursuing treatment in Brazil where generally it was several times less expensive than in the States. Erika had been diagnosed with endometriosis so first the doctor performed a videolaparoscopy and told us to have normal relations for a year.

Two years after trying to conceive

The following year, after no results, we started fertility treatments in earnest. At first it was two attempts at just artificial insemination. When that didn’t work we tried two attempts of in vitro. Even with the drugs, Erika produced only 5 eggs of which 4 were OK to use. We tried one attempt with two fresh eggs and when that didn’t work we tried a second time with the two remaining frozen eggs. I recall the night before she was to take the pregnancy blood test we were driving over to a friend’s house. Out of nowhere we erupted into an explosive short argument that was not characteristic of either of us. After the test gave us another negative, Erika told me that somehow she’d simply known that it hadn’t worked; her instincts told her and she had exploded in frustration over nothing. We watched a program on TV about a woman who had done ten in vitro procedures and finally ended up with a baby girl. “Don’t worry, I said grimly; if we have to do ten in vitros, then we will, if that’s what it takes.”

Claudio’s male issues

Although I had a good sperm count, tests had shown that I had a common condition called varicocele. My urologist said I could improve our chances of conceiving if I undertook corrective surgery. Anxious to make sure all the plumbing was in perfect working order I went ahead and did it. What a shock when I finally took another sperm count test to discover that I had no live sperm whatsoever; a big fat zero. I practically murdered my urologist. He later admitted to removing a small cyst, which later, according to another urologist, could radically alter the way things work down there. For a year I took heaps of vitamins, but after that could never produce completely well-formed sperm. I wondered if I’d totally ruined things for us.

Full time life back in Brazil and more fertility treatments

In 2010 we moved fully back to Brazil and settled in the south of the country by the beach. We found another highly recommended fertility doctor. We tried once, then twice, then a third time with her, and all the while we became somewhat inured to disappointment. Erika wouldn’t even bother to take the pregnancy blood tests; she just waited to see if her period came. The doctor always said that if she did not find a good enough sperm to use then there was a procedure called “aspiration” whereupon, under anesthesia, they would go digging deep into the gold mine and extract sperm with a needle.  I listened to that in a cold sweat while Erika gave me an evil smile and suggested perhaps I should do that; after all she had undergone many similar procedures over and over again in our attempts to have children. “Look at me” I said wagging a finger “NO BLOODY WAY”. That aspiration thing ranked equally with my worst way-to-die scenarios like being eaten by a shark, or trapped inside the wreckage of a burning vehicle.

Time Marches On

Fortunately I wasn’t called upon to do that. As time marched on we were resolute yet realistic and Erika said she’d deal with perhaps one or two more attempts max… and then we would give up and consider adopting or something else. Our relationship did not suffer, but we felt sad and incomplete.

Prayers

When we discussed starting another round of treatment her face would briefly light up with hope at the thought of having children and I prayed God would look kindly upon us. Erika proved to be a bad responder to the medications.



No viable eggs

No matter how big the dosage she just didn’t produce many eggs and they were always sort of malformed, either squarish or oblong or too small. On the third attempt, the doctor just canceled the rest of the procedure. On the fourth attempt it seemed like we had 6 eggs of which four looked nice and round. We got our hopes up; perhaps our moment had arrived. On the day of collection all the best looking black blobs on the ultrasound screen turned out to be cysts that the fertility drugs had also helped grow rather than eggs! There was only one egg made into an embryo with somewhat abnormal shaped cells that the doctor kept on life support for a few days…I think because she felt sorry for us. We told her we felt it best not to proceed with insertion; that embryo didn’t stand a chance of developing. It was at this point that the doctor diagnosed Erika with premature ageing of the ovaries. We don’t think this is very common.

The idea of egg donors

The doctor recommended an egg donor. Looking back we realized from all we’d learned that the surgical procedure of videolaparscopy had been a double edged sword. The cauterizing of the areas that had endometriosis had damaged one fallopian tube and at the same time thousands of follicles are permanently destroyed which probably contributed to the premature aging diagnosis. If we could have gone back in time, we would have started trying to have children immediately after getting married instead of waiting another three years.  Waiting more years allowed endometriosis more time to develop and become worse.

How did you hear about fertility treatments in Thailand? Why did you choose Thailand when you both live in Brazil?

Brazil has no type of egg donor program. Erika is Japanese Brazilian and the Japanese communities are not in the habit of donating eggs. If you could find a donor, the law prohibits you from knowing anything about her…what she looks like, what her background is etc. Thailand was a natural fit for us; the donors were all oriental and medical tourism was a big industry there.

Dr Google

I think we found out about fertility clinics and donors just by Googling. If anything the hard choice was deciding which one to go for as there were so many.  We chose a clinic that had been around for ten years and came with a lot of recommendations. They sent us 9 profiles of donors to choose from that all had Erika’s blood type.

Bangkok, Thailand

We selected one and a couple months later went to Bangkok for two weeks. Erika only needed to take drugs that synchronized her cycle with that of the donor. Most of our time we enjoyed as a holiday and we only saw the fertility doctor for 15 minutes during our entire stay. We followed SMS instructions when to come and when to go. On the day the eggs were collected from the donor I had to go in and make my contribution. The lady hosting us came back after a short while, frowning with bad news; there were no good sperm that they could use in the sample.  Either we could come back after walking around for an hour and try again, or I could do the dreaded aspiration procedure. As we walked around in circles my thoughts were in turmoil.

 



Premature Ethan

Aspiration procedure for Claudio

All these years, all this money, all our efforts and travel had come to this one inescapable conclusion; If I didn’t do the aspiration and hope they found good sperm then everything would be for naught. There was no other choice. I accepted my fate and returned to face the music. When the anesthesiologist’s grinning face floated in front of mine I told him “I don’t want to feel a thing, OK!?” Remarkably it was not an unpleasant experience. Afterwards I felt no discomfort or any evidence that they’d done anything down there at all. It was as if Scotty had beamed the treasure right out of the gold mine. Even probing around with my fingers detected no tender spots. I’m revealing all this intimate detail because fathers-to-be who might have to go through this can rest assured that there is nothing to fear.

Positive steps and meeting the egg donor

Our host returned smiling. Happily they found some good quality sperm and could start making embryos. On the day of the embryo implant, Erika was fourth in line behind an Indian, a Japanese and an Australian…all waiting their turn. Each woman was in and out in 20 minutes. The clinic was like a conveyer belt; very impersonal, but very professional. Our egg donor happened to be there saw Erika. She was a very attractive young woman with a wide smile and a Zen-like calm. She assured Erika that she would have beautiful children.

Number 7 and 11

Two good quality blastocysts numbered 7 and 11 (out of the total of 12) were implanted into Erika. Lucky numbers of the dice, I remarked. If they hatch I’ll nickname them Seven and Eleven. Our luck held out and Erika became pregnant with twin boys. We were so sure it wouldn’t work that we’d already been planning our return trip – so dim had become our expectations over the years.

For other parents who are facing the same issue, is there any advice that you can give them on an emotional level?

The lesson here for other couples is that one shouldn’t wait too long to have babies. The best chances for any woman to have children are when she is young. On an emotional level be philosophical about life in general; there will be ups and downs and nobody is to blame. God has things planned for you and maybe it’s a trial by fire. Above all be determined; don’t look back one day with regrets that you didn’t try something that you could have. And lastly remember; all surgical procedures for improving fertility are a double edged sword and may be best avoided…at least in our experience.



Break from the incubator

Can you tell me about the twin boys and was it a fairly straightforward birth?  Where were they born?

The birth of our twin boys was anything but straightforward. Our health plan, although national in coverage, just didn’t work well in the south of Brazil where we resided. Several months before the due date, we went to camp out in Sao Paulo where the plan was widely accepted and we were fortunate to get a doctor who specialized in high risk births. The first week into our stay, Erika asked me to take her blood pressure with a new Omron cuff monitor that I’d bought; she said she felt “funny” and was seeing points of light in her vision. She was also getting quite bloated, but I just figured that was part of being pregnant.



Pre-eclampsia birth complications…

Erika’s blood pressure is always low, so when I read 140/90 she called the doctor who directed us to go straight to the maternity hospital for some tests. She was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, an illness we were well acquainted with from watching Downton Abbey. This type of condition, it was explained to us, is an immunological response from the body which arises more in cases where there might be more exposure to various DNA. In our case we had my DNA, Erika’s DNA and that of a donor who had provided the eggs. Erika was interned for nearly three weeks as it turned out, doing batteries of tests each day…blood pressure, urine, ultrasounds etc. From day one her body was already having contractions that she couldn’t even quite feel, which was the body’s way of curing the illness; eject the babies. Our doctor had to perform a balancing act of giving her IV drugs and medicines that prevented the contractions, reduced her blood pressure and kept the babies inside as long as possible. Every one day in the uterus was equal to three days in an incubator, he said. After two and a half weeks the pressure cooker was building up and the eclampsia was defeating the drugs. Erika said she felt “off” and had some anxiety.

C-Section birth…

The doctor said he would perform a C- section the following day latest. That evening as I left her room and walked down the hall to meet some friends for dinner, a nurse chased me down and yelled that the birth would be taking place right then. Ethan and Elliot were born at 32 weeks and spent one month and five days in the incubator.



How is it to manage the twins everyday?

Managing the twins every day is not the ordeal we heard it could be. We hired a full time maid who cleans and cooks and helps us with the boys. Without her, no doubt life would be impossible. After a while, getting up several times a night just becomes routine. When they start to crawl I’ll have to hire more help to keep an eye on them. We enjoy all our moments with the boys and if anything it’s just a labor of love. As we are both stay at home parents we are fortunate to always be there for them.

Claudio, you work from home so you are a hands-on dad – can you describe the change in lifestyle?

Our change in lifestyle must be the same as for most parents. We stopped going out to night clubs and restaurants. Erika stopped drinking wine as she had to breast feed, so I gave it up as well. We eat out more at lunch time while walking the boys in their stroller. They tend to doze off and we’ll nip into a local eatery within walking distance. Generally we spend a great deal more time at home.

I know that you have both been dreaming about this moment for ten years but for everyone the first child is a full ‘force’ of positive and negative emotions – can you tell us the biggest changes in both your lives since the arrival of the twins?  What can other parents expect?

Before children, our lives were comfortable….almost a bit lazy, with only ourselves to be responsible for. All our time was devoted to our own needs and wants, but considering we were not a young couple (myself being 57 and my wife 36) we felt a quiet desperation at not having any children. I guess that could be considered a negative emotion. Erika and I wanted to progress to the next phase of life as mother and father and give our lives a more meaningful fulfillment. Now having children we’ve only felt a wave of positive emotions and experiences. We don’t care that all our time is consumed with them, that perhaps our lives are not really our own anymore, but rather belong to them. It’s what we expected and it’s all good. We joke that when they are teenagers and rebel against us, we’ll experience the full gamut of negative emotions at that time! But for now, when your little toddler sees you approach and his face lights up with a smile and his body and arms outstretch to be picked up, you’ll see what I mean.



Would you both like to have more children?  Or are the twins enough?

We feel that the twins are enough. I’d had my heart set on a little girl, but when it turned out to be two boys, that seemed perfect as well. We have 10 frozen blastocysts and there is a test they can do to determine the sex of the embryo. If we wanted a daughter we could go back and implant an embryo that has been tested to be female. But given Erika’s troubled gestation with pre-eclampsia, we think we’re done.

Claudio, you are from the US and Erika is from Brazil, will you raise the boys in Brazil?

We plan to raise the boys in Brazil until they are around 10 or 11. We want them to acquire the easy going, warm, open and fun loving Brazilian manner. We’ve talked about moving to England after that to complete their education.  I think it’s important to live in more than just one country. The trouble with growing up and being educated solely in Brazil is that they may end up being land-locked in this country and frankly Brazil is not an easy country to get ahead in. I want our boys to see the world as a stepping stone.

It is probably too early to say, but do you notice that you both have different parenting methods already?

The twins just turned 6 months so our parenting methods will probably be evolving year in and year out as they grow older and we adapt. At this stage Erika is the captain of the ship and I’m just taking orders. We stick to routines that the boys get used to and only show them love and patience. We let all our friends hold the babies so they become accustomed and don’t cry when it’s not us holding them. I’m aghast at friends we know where the father yells at his baby to shut up and stop screaming because he can’t take it. The baby doesn’t even speak yet. For us it’s constant interaction and to laugh and enjoy how are babies respond to us.

What are the thoughts about the future of the boys’ education.  Claudio, I know that you went to boarding school whilst Erika did not.  Would you both consider boarding school as an option in the future?

Although I went to boarding school in England and would be fine to send my boys to boarding school as well, Erika has her doubts and I personally can take it or leave it as an option. It’s expensive enough to send just one child to a top ten boarding school; imagine two. There are many options for good education and we’ll keep our minds open.

What are your biggest fears for your children?

My biggest fears for our children are general in nature and to do with the world they’ll live in. The world has become a more dangerous place, a more crowded place. I fear for climate change and the resulting food and water shortages that could lead to starving millions and wars over scarce resources or over spreading religious conflicts and commonplace terrorism. I worry in Brazil about random crime and our disgusting, corrupt workers party Government that could turn this country into another Venezuela. I worry about a US Government that wants to increasingly dominate and spy on its own people and encroach on all our freedoms. Hopefully I’m just being paranoid.


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Monday, July 14, 2014