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The adoption process is not easy, but for some parents adoption it is their last chance at a family.

After 10 years of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments, plus two and a half years of waiting in the adoption program, hairdresser Pina and her husband John were finally able to have that chance.

The Melbourne couple, are one of the lucky sets of parents who were able to adopt a baby boy 20 years ago. Both had wanted children since their mid to late-twenties and after exhausting all their options to have their own biological child, they turned to adoption.

The 10 years of IVF treatments had taken their toll on Pina physically and mentally, seeing her future continuously taken away from her, made her feel like the adoption process would be just another form of torture and in some respects it was.

Still, she felt she had nothing to lose and if IVF had taught her anything, it was that she was willing to risk it. Thankfully, luck was on her side and after 13 years of waiting, Pina and John welcomed a baby boy into their family.

Pina explains how the IVF treatments hurt her. “We kept making beautiful embryos, through IVF,” Pina shares.

“For whatever reason, they never stuck to me. However, I think there is a reason in life, why things happen – I was meant to have Damien.”

IVF is an intrusive procedure that has a success rate per fresh embryo transfer of 38.8% for live birth and 44.9% for clinical pregnancy (ages 18-34) and 32.2% (live birth), 41.7% (clinical pregnancy) for ages 35-38, ages greater than 38 it drops even further.

“They kept saying to me that there is absolutely nothing wrong, my husband had the low sperm count that’s the reason we went on it. As the woman, I had to go through a lot,” Pina recalls.

I was at the point where I thought, I’m not meant to have kids and that’s it, end of story.” It was then, Pina’s husband, John mentioned adoption.

Although adoption seems like a great back-up plan for a family, in reality, it’s a very complex system with the average wait time being between five and seven, if one passes the qualifying stages. Between 2018-2019 there was a total of 310 adoptions Australia wide, 82% were Australian born children and 67% of the 310 adoptions were from their foster parents.

With the increase in women’s rights and family planning and the resulting drop of children in the adoption system, means there are more parents waiting to adopt than there are children needing to be adopted.

Australia’s adoption policies differ depending on the States. In Victoria there are three kinds of adoption systems: local adoption, inter-country adoption and permanent care.

There are also only 13 partner countries with Australia for adopting children, each having independent rules and regulations which can restrict options. Factors such as being married, single, male or female, in a de-facto relationship, one’s age, gender orientation and sexuality can all affect one’s chances of adoption.

The local adoption requirements are less strict, for example a persons’ orientation or relationship status does not matter but there is a demanding application process which examines a person’s life in minute detail.

The biological parents learn everything about the adopting parents as well has gaining many rights, one of which is the right to visitation.

Even though we would be adopting their children, they still get to see them,” Pina says.

Pina didn’t have a problem with this requirement because she believes it’s important for a child, any person for that matter, to know their heritage to better understand oneself.

To be qualified and placed in the adoption program would take two years for Pina and John. As Pina says, “They wanted to get to know us better than we knew ourselves.”

Answering endless questions fuelled a gruelling and extensive qualification process. It was also yet another period of trying not to get their hopes up in fear of disappointment.

The final step, after 2.5 years of the application process, was an intimidating interview with a panel of lawyers, doctors, psychologists and Department of Human Services (DHS) staff.

Pina says she thought they were successful because of her view of it not mattering to her who or where the child was from, to her a child was a child and if she could supply the home then she would gladly do it.

Two months later, they got the call that they were to be the parents of a 4.5-month-old baby boy, whom they named Damien.

The first time I lay eyes on him, I just thought he was the most beautiful little baby ever,” Pina recalls.

However, their adoption story did not end there, it has always been in the background through Damien’s childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.

Damien has known he was adopted from an early age. Pina took the approach to start filling him in as soon as he could understand.

Pina strongly wanted Damien never to question where he belonged, she made sure he knew he was a part of this family and nothing could change it.

I told him little bits and pieces and as he got older,” Pina says.

“He knows that he has biological siblings, and yes that was a bit hard, I did not know how he would take it. I suppose growing up he knew nothing other than us; we are his parents- this is his family. He never really questioned it and had no interest in meeting her (his biological mother) or his siblings.”

Although Damien never questioned who he was and where he belonged it was still difficult to understand why his biological mother gave him up, especially when she had children already.

Even though Damien’s biological mother hardly used the visitation rights, as she wanted a clean break, she has been in contact with Damien over the past 20 years.

In some ways it was more detrimental than good for Damien. Each time would raise his expectations, to have some sort of relationship and understanding, only to be rejected all over again.

Damien does not know who his biological father is, although he knows it is where he gets his aboriginal heritage. While having no information on the biological father has been challenging in having real access to the Australian Indigenous community for Damien, both Pina and John made sure he was in touch with his cultural heritage.

“Adoption is a gamble. Any child is a gamble. Whether you adopt or whether you have one biologically. They can grow up to be the best, they can grow up to be the worst they can grow up to be anything,” Pina explains.

It has nothing to do with whether you gave birth or not. In the end it’s all the same.”

Adoption and its process are not for the feint hearted but if fate is on side it’s the best chance at having a family.

 

 

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of women freezing their eggs for future use, establishing a trend that can be seen across every state in Australia. Over this time clinics themselves have also made information regarding the processes behind egg freezing and IVF more accessible to the wider general public.

In the two years from 2016 to 2018, national Australian IVF clinics have seen a 48% increase in the number of women freezing their eggs. This incredible increase of nearly double that of previous years has been the result of a number of social and economic factors, as well as the increasing knowledge of the methods behind the process of freezing eggs.

What is egg-freezing?

Originally, freezing eggs was an option available for oncology patients who were about to undergo cancer treatment, designed to protect their chances of fertility in the future. However, over the last 20 years there has been an increased interest in egg freezing by the general population. Treatment is now available to anyone, regardless of health conditions or potential future fertility problems. As women have a finite number of eggs, which decreases dramatically after the age of 40, egg freezing has become popular for those choosing to start families later.

Frozen eggs can be stored for many years; in some cases, a pregnancy has even occurred after the eggs have been frozen for 14 years.  When women are ready to use frozen eggs, the eggs are warmed, fertilised with sperm and then if an embryo develops it will be transferred to the woman’s uterus through IVF processes.

Why are so many women considering freezing their eggs?

In times gone by, the majority of women were married and had started a family by their twenties, with only 23% of the female population in 1991 having their first child over the age of 30. This figure has since increased to 48% by 2016. While the prime fertility age for most women being on average between the ages of 20 and 35, some women are not ready to become mothers at this age.

There are a number of reasons for this. Some women have not met the right person who they would like to start a family with, others have chosen to focus on careers and establish themselves in businesses which (depending on the individual) they feel leaves them little time for both dating and motherhood. Other women who would consider having children may have experienced a change in relationship status or the ending of a long-term relationship, and are re-assessing when they will meet someone new who they might want to have children with.

The process of freezing eggs

Women undergo a self-administered hormonal stimulation for 10 to 12 days which enables 6 to 15 eggs to mature. Stimulation comes in the form of an injection which can be done at home after instruction from the clinic. The only currently known side effect from the stimulation is cases of mild bloating.

The eggs themselves are then collected from the ovaries using a probe guided by ultrasound. This part of the procedure is carried out under light-to-general anaesthetic, with the patient usually allowed to go home one to two hours afterwards.

Once the eggs are in the laboratory, they are frozen through a procedure called vitrification. Vitrification involves the rapid freezing and extraction of all fluids to prevent damaging ice forming on the eggs. Once this is completed, the eggs can be stored for many years.

 

Pregnancy rate after freezing

Success depends on the quality of the egg at the time of freezing. The health of eggs can be negatively affected by:

  • Age and individual genetic makeup.
  • Smoking, poor diet and obesity.
  • Chronic medical conditions (including diabetes and high blood pressure).

On average, for every 10 to 15 eggs that are frozen by someone under the age of 35, 1 pregnancy could be expected. For women 35 years old and under, 1 stimulation cycle (collection of 12-15 eggs) will produce between seven and nine eggs suitable for freezing and storage

  • Approximately 80-90% of these eggs survive the warming process.
  • Approximately 50-80% of those surviving eggs would fertilise.
  • Approximately 80-90% of fertilised eggs develop into an embryo.
  • 1 single embryo has a 20-30% chance of developing into a pregnancy.

A simple blood test can be done when a woman is in her thirties to assess her fertility before undergoing egg freezing. However, IVF Australia reminds us, don’t leave it too late!

Financial Costs

Medicare and other government subsidies are available, but they will only pay for fertility treatment when there is a medical indication. Individual cycle costs vary according to circumstance as well as clinics across the country.

Mahsa Fatantoni of NewsDaily did an investigation into the costs of the procedure in 2018. Her figures indicate the following:

  • Between 2016 and 2018 there was a 48% increase in the number of women freezing their eggs.
  • In Melbourne clinics their patient numbers doubled in the space of two years.
  • IVF Australia in 2018 cost $6885 per cycle of freezing.
    • This did not cover the cost of the hormonal stimulation which can run into the $1000s.
    • There is an additional $500 per year storage cost for the eggs
    • The cost for thawing, fertilising and transplanting the eggs (IVF) is $3650.

These figures vary from clinic to clinic, with Melbourne IVF costing nearly $2000 more for the egg cycle than IVF Australia, but with a lower per year storage cost.

 

IVF Australia’s medical director, Associate Professor Peter Illingworth, says,

If women wish to freeze their eggs, they should regard it as a backup and not as the main plan.”

Dr Rozen of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says that it is not usually necessary for young women, particularly those in their early twenties, to freeze their eggs as they usually fall pregnant naturally.

 

Ari Chavez chats with Sally Obermeder about beating cancer, thriving on green smoothies and most importantly to Sally, being mum to three year old Annabelle, amidst a high profile career.

Sally Obermeder knows her way around a curve ball or two. In October 2011, the bubbly author, a National Entertainment and Lifestyle Reporter for Today Tonight was on top of the world. Her career was thriving and she loved her work but, most importantly, the then-37 year old was 41 weeks pregnant with a longed for baby, a successful IVF attempt after many years of trying to conceive naturally with her husband of a decade, Marcus.

Preoccupied with the imminent birth of Annabelle, Sally paid little attending to the nagging pain in her breast, and a small amount of skin puckering, believing the changes in her body were pregnancy-related. After a routine check from her obstetrician, however, she was referred for urgent scans and a biopsy.

The results were grim. Sally had a rare and aggressive form of Stage 3 breast cancer, and the medical advice was to start chemotherapy immediately. Sally needed to give birth as a priority, so she was induced while oncologists undertook further testing throughout her labour.

“Reeling from shock, Sally gave birth to Annabelle just one day after her cancer diagnosis. Ten days later, she started aggressive medical intervention.”

Ultimately, Sally’s treatment involved eight months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

The chemo, she said publically, was like being “nuclear bombed”. Her nails fell off, her mouth and throat ulcerated, she lost her hair and eyebrows and the ache in her bones was so relentless she could not lie down. The double mastectomy triggered such feelings of grief and shame, she revealed at the time that she felt “unworthy of being in the world.”

And all the while there was Annabelle, baby Annabelle, who needed feeding and changing and cuddling. Sally was too sick from her treatment to do it and, even if she could summon up the energy to kiss her baby, she was forbidden from doing so as the chemotherapy was too toxic for the newborn. It was a painful reality, another loss.

“I can’t get up in the night to feed Annabelle or change her during the days of chemotherapy treatment,” the popular media personality told The Australian Women’s Weekly not long after Annabelle’s birth.

“This is not how it’s supposed to be. She is supposed to know that I am there for her no matter what, not just when the cancer allows. And I hate the cancer for that. Because I feel like it has taken something precious from me and from my baby girl.

“This is something I have wanted my whole life, and now that I have it, I feel like it’s completely compromised. I thought I would be in this baby-and-me bubble. It would just be us, and it would be so beautiful. But instead there’s me and the cancer in one bubble and me and Annabelle in the other bubble, and I just keep shuffling between the two.”

Finally, twelve months later, Sally was given the all clear. She was completely cancer free.

Sally struggled on with her treatment, which at times was so debilitating it took all of her mental strength to continue with it. Courageously, she raised awareness of breast cancer by making public appearances and attending industry events, either with a wig or bald. Finally, twelve months later, Sally was given the all clear. She was completely cancer free.

It had been a brutal battle, but Sally had won it and, determined to restore her chemo-ravaged body to health, she set about pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Key to this was her love of green smoothies, a healthy blend of vegetables, fruits and super foods, which have boosted her energy levels, and helped her lose 15 kilograms, weight she gained due to eating to help fight nausea and sickness caused by the chemotherapy. The smoothie ingredients, which can include any fruits or vegetables, are blended with water or nut milks or cow’s milk, ensuring all the fibre and nutrients are consumed.

Such is her belief in the health benefits of green smoothies, Sally has written a book, with her sister, Maha Koraiem, Super Green Smoothies (Allen & Unwin, $19.99), which includes loads of recipes and tips for the smoothie lifestyle.

“We have been drinking green smoothies for about a year and a half now, and we wanted to include our favourite recipes, the ones we absolutely love that we knew other people would love,” Sally explains, enthusiastically.

“We really tried to think about what is it that’s important to us and to other people, and usually it’s weight loss, so we have a whole section on weight loss, we have a specific kids section because Mums want to know how to get veggies into their kids’ diets and we did a section for people who are just starting out and just want to settle in. We really worked the book to start simple and then get a little bit harder and add a few more ingredients. We wanted people to start to love smoothies and have it for your lifestyle like it is for us.

You’re not juicing, it’s in a blender. You get all the fibre, you get the entire vegetable, you get all of it.

Coming off the back of such aggressive medical intervention, and as a busy working mum juggling numerous demands on her time, Sally was searching for something to boost and sustain her energy levels throughout the day. The rainbow plate of fruit ‘n’ veg that makes its way into her morning smoothie has proven to be the answer, and she does indeed radiate health.

“My energy levels are incredible,” she says. “That’s the thing, suddenly you are not reliant on five coffees a day, and you’re not suddenly going, ‘when is it three o’clock so I can have a coffee? Oh my gosh, how can I prop myself up with sugar?’ The thing that happens, and you notice it straight away, is that you want good food, you don’t want sugar and you don’t really want crap anymore. Then you start to get this buzz.

“I think it’s because if you put it on a plate and look at how many vegetables you’re having, you wouldn’t have that much. You wouldn’t have two cups of spinach, a handful of broccoli, you’re not going to have kale as well, you’re not going to have quarter of an avocado or half an avocado, a banana, a lime, coconut so you are having all these vegetables, some fruit, some super foods. So you’re suddenly going, ‘Well, this is actually really good for you,’ and when would you do this? Probably not ever. Certainly not at the beginning of the day.”

Sally is clear about the benefits of blending versus juicing, believing blending wins hands down in the health-boosting stakes.

“The things that happens, and you notice it straight away, is that you want good food, you don’t want sugar and you really don’t want crap anymore. Then you start to get this buzz.”

“You’re not juicing, it’s in a blender,” she explains, firmly. “You get all the fibre, you get the entire vegetable, you get all of it. That’s why it’s so good for your digestion. I think if you’re juicing, and there’s a lot of people who love juicing and swear by it, I think what happens is you don’t get the fibre, you don’t get the bulk, you are only extracting part of it. You’re not getting the whole vegetable. It’s just like eating it [fruit and vegetables] only you couldn’t eat this many!”

Sally’s changed approach to diet, and her resulting good health, is only one of many changes being a cancer survivor has wrought. The eight months of gruelling chemotherapy, the double mastectomy, the hours lying on the tiles in the shower unable to move, the inability to kiss her longed-for baby have changed her irrevocably. Time is now a precious commodity, something she does not waste.

“That whole experience of having cancer has completely changed my outlook on life – motherhood and everything else outside motherhood. I was grateful before, I have always been a grateful person, but I am far more grateful because I appreciate that it’s not a given that you’re just going to live until ninety,” she explains.

“Sometimes, when you’re younger, you’re just in a bubble where you assume your life will play out in a certain way, and when something shocking like that happens and then you come so close to dying, you really realise, ‘oh, actually this is not a given anymore and every day I am on this planet is actually a gift’.

You choose how you want to spend it and who you want to spend it with. You really re-evaluate that. You think, what is it that is important to me, what is it that I want to do with my time because time is not infinite…You really value your time and it becomes so precious because you realise there is not endless amounts of it.”

One of Sally’s key priorities is to spend as much time as possible with her beloved daughter, Annabelle. Sally, a naturally warm and engaging woman, literally lights up when talking about her daughter.

“She is hilarious and amazing, like they all are, and it’s such a fun age…she’s three and a half now. It’s a really fun time, we do Adventure Wednesdays and we wander around and we create our own adventures, and we talk and talk and it’s just beautiful,” she says, proudly.

I think it [motherhood] has made me a lot more present because you just have to be. They are so interesting, they demand so much of you, you don’t drift off I find, you are really in the moment.

“I think it [motherhood] has made me a lot more present because you just have to be. They are so interesting, they demand so much of your time, you don’t drift off I find, you are really in the moment. If you are playing with them or you are in the park or you’re running around, that’s just what you’re doing and it’s good because it keeps you focused.”

Despite her obvious pleasure in family life, Sally is not immune from the common complaint that mothers typically carry the thought load of the family, the mental lists of commitments, meals, groceries, bills, laundry and housework, and the mental exhaustion this can bring.

“It’s hard being a mum, it just is hard. There are so many demands on you. Sometimes I’ll say to [husband] Marcus, ‘I’m so jealous because you’re so helpful with everything but ultimately you’re not the general manager of the house or whatever’. If I say, ‘Hey Babe, tomorrow can you get the groceries’ then yes, he will do it, but guess what? There’s a step before that, and that is he didn’t have to think of anything that led up to that moment.

“Most mums I know, working mums and non-working mums, it’s them that that falls on, the planning and organisation and orchestration of the family – who is going where, and when and at what time, and the flow on effect of everything – and that is exhausting when you are a mum. It is. My girlfriends and I call it pinging because your brain is always pinging with everything you have to do.”

 

“Most mums I know, working mums and non-working mums, it’s them that that falls on, the planning and organisation and orchestration of the family.”

“Sometimes I juggle it so well, and I’m like, ‘I’m such a rock star!’ and then the next week I am in tears every day thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is a disaster!’. I think I have learnt to accept that some weeks it goes to plan and some weeks it just doesn’t, and that’s the nature of life. It takes a long time to accept it.

“I had a real turning point late last year when I decided that I’m going to stop trying to have a set routine that I create on January the 1st that carries me through the whole year because I have finally accepted after ten years that the nature of my job is that it is a job with no routine, so I have gone, ‘Okay, I am going to stop trying to force it into a box and make it fit and then getting pissed off when it doesn’t fit. I am just going to look at this week on its own and next week on its own…and just keep it a little bit fluid’. Some weeks that means I work all day Saturday, some weeks that means I work five nights after Annabelle has gone to bed…I just fit it in as best I can for that week.”

The mind-boggling demands of juggling her high profile media career, her online store and authoring her books, have not distracted Sally from what requires her full and considered attention – Annabelle. When she is with her daughter, all the other demands on her time are put to one side and she focuses on the task at hand, mothering her child.

 

-Ari Chavez

*MORE INFO*

Sally’s book: https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/food-drink/Super-Green-Smoothies-Sally-Obermeder-AND-Maha-Koraiem-9781760113711

Sally’s online store: http://www.swiish.com

Benefits of green smoothies: Click below

GREEN SMOOTHIES! WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?