My Name is Jina, I am a South African, 32 year old gay women and am undergoing my first pregnancy. As I write this (04 September 2020), I am 19 weeks and 1 day along with a bicornuate uterus pregnancy.
As a same sex couple, my partner (Dom) and I, had been saving for 4 years so that we could both try and get pregnant. We managed to save about R150 000 but +-80% of that had come from the money Dom received in selling her 50% portion of a house that she had bought with her Brother. Dom is a train driver and I am an Administrator.
Our goal was to try and get pregnant at the same time, using the same donor. By getting pregnant together, our kids would not only be related by blood but they would also have each other from the very beginning. Nothing would be able to fill the void of not having an actual Dad but we would have given them the very best that we could, and that would have been each other from the very beginning. I think that would have created a very special bond between them.
Our journey began at the beginning of this year. We went into our first consultation (we had done blood tests before this) and both had our first viability scan. Dom did her scan first which was relatively quick and I was up next. The Doc looked a bit more focused with me than what he had with Dom but didn’t say anything until we were both back on the couch.
He started talking about Dom and he said that he was happy for her to proceed with the first attempt. He then moved onto me and explained that I had something called a bicornuate uterus. He continued to explain to me what this was but everything he said immediately brought up red flags and my heart just sank. In lamens terms, my uterus is split into two parts, where a normal uterus is one part. If I have a baby, the baby will have half the space of a normal uterus to grow in.
He was trying to be straight with me, he didn’t want me to get my hopes up but he also didn’t want me to think there was no hope. “I don’t have all the facts” he said, “ I can’t tell you how bad it is until we have gone in and had a proper look” he said. That day we booked an endoscopy and hysteroscopy which was scheduled for a couple of weeks later.
This was a day procedure that would cost R 52 000 (Hospital Bed R24k, Surgeon R17k and the Anaesthetist R10k). My medical aid contributed 11k out of this so that was already almost a 3rd of our savings gone before our first attempt.
The day that I went in for this procedure, is the day that we had ordered our first 2 straws of sperm from the sperm bank for Dom’s first attempt (for artificial insemination you need 2 straws per procedure, each straw cost R2500). We had taken quite some time to get to this point (We were initially given a list of donors which provided us with basic information for a donor including race, height, eye colour, hair colour, hobbies, and education. From there we would need to request and pay for extended profiles which consisted of 30- 40 pages of information which included everything you needed to know from family medical history, their favourite things in the world to the shape of the Donors nose and face. We eventually nailed it and were happy with our decision (funny enough it ended up being the very first one we looked at).
I went in for the procedure and took over a week to recover. I was to hear the results after my recovery. It was quite an experience and though you would never think it, I had never endured such pain. It wasn’t from the 3 incisions I had around my abdominal area, the pain was from tiny air bubbles left behind from the carbon dioxide which was used to blow up my tummy during the procedure.
Before I had fully recovered, the time had come for us to go through the first insemination process with Dom, I was still in quite a bit of pain but there was no ways I was missing this. During our first visit to the Doc, Dom was given a script to take from day 4 of her cycle, this would boost her hormones and assist with the follicle growth.
She had taken that in the days leading up to this and when we went to the doctors rooms for a scan, Dom had a sizeable follicle and it looked viable, we were set for the insemination for the next morning (this is generally done 24-48 hours after the scan). Next morning came and the insemination was performed…we could take a test in 2 weeks. The excitement started to overcome us and the wait began.
My Doctors appointment was set for a few days later but I had spent weeks thinking about whether or not I was going to be able to have my own child and it shattered me. More than anything I wanted to be pregnant, I wanted to experience the miracle of growing a life inside of me and I wanted to bring something special into this world.Something else which also played on my mind was that my father has 2 children (my brother and I) and my brother and his wife were not able to conceive. They have since adopted and I have a beautiful 4 year old niece but this leaves an “unspoken of” expectation on me to carry on our bloodline. When I spoke to my father about this I could not only see his sadness for me but also for that there was a very real possibility that we were the last of our name which made the whole duration even more difficult to comprehend but alas, the wait was finally over and we would finally know.
There was good news and bad news. I definitely had a bicornuate uterus BUT there was enough space in both the left side and right side for me to carry a baby. I was overwhelmed with joy to hear that but he continued to explain that having a bicornuate uterus comes with a significant risk of preterm labour (before 37 weeks). My thought was that there are over 15 million preterm births a year most of which are by mothers who have a normal uterus so preterm birth in general is already quite a significant risk, not to mention a whole bunch of other risks that being pregnant comes with. Nothing worth fighting for is risk free so we decided that this is a risk we are willing to fight! The doc gave me a script for the hormones to take on the 4th day of my next cycle and we went on our way.
THEN the COVID-19 pandemic happened and we were in lockdown. During this time, the 2 weeks after Doms insemination had come, we had taken a pregnancy test and it was negative. Dom had also started her cycle so that definitely meant it was unsuccessful. Not to worry though, this was her first time and the average amount of attempts before a successful insemination is 3, so we were happy to try again.
My time had also come to take the hormones but because of lockdown I didn’t, it would have been a waste because we couldn’t go for the insemination, so we waited. Finally, the announcement came that we were going out of lockdown and it just so happened that Dom and I’s cycle synced during the lockdown for the first time ever. The only problem was we didn’t have a script for Doms hormones. The Doc was only opening on the 4th day of our cycles so we so we quickly organised one to be emailed to us. She unfortunately missed the first day but we thought that it was a sign that we were able to go through this together on the exact same day so she started on day 5 instead – it was better than nothing.
On day 12 of our cycle we went in for our follicle scans – both were big enough and looked viable. Dom’s was a bit further ahead than mine so her insemination was scheduled for the next day and mine was scheduled for the day after that. We were then told that Dom needs to go for an injection (we were a bit perplexed because she had not done this before) but we were told that she it was too late for her to take it last time but they would like to try giving it to her this time so the nurse did it for her. I was told that I need to take the injection too but because my insemination was only in 48 hours and I need to do it 32 hours before, I would need to inject myself with it.I am petrified of needles, so Dom helped me with it!
At this stage, as I am sure you can imagine, we were both excited beyond words. The possibility that our babies could be born at the same time was beyond us, we could honestly not have anticipated this and this is obviously why Dom didn’t take the first time, this was meant to be!!!! The 2 week wait began.
Believe it or not, I started to feel changes in my body not even a week after the insemination. I started feeling things I had never felt before but I was also extremely nauseous, light headed, I had a fever every second day and my body just felt over all different. By the time the 2 weeks had come, I said to Dom that I am either pregnant or I have the Corona Virus but there was definitely something up. I built up the courage and bought a pregnancy test. Once we got home I ummed and aaahhhed about taking it, what if its all in my head, what it I have the virus? Maybe its too early to take, maybe I should wait a few days. That day I was with my brother and the family and they convinced me to take it….so I did…I WAS PREGNANT. The happiness I felt that day could only be described as a dream.
I was also torn because Dom had taken a pregnancy test again and again and it was negative – it was also confirmed by the arrival of her cycle. I was extremely happy but I was also very sad for her, I know that she was happy for me, for us, I could see the glow in her eyes but I could also see that this was tearing her apart. I said to her that this is not the end of the road, we would try again, 3 times is the average, we have only tried twice. I already beat the odds, lets give it another go, I am certain it will work the next time.
And so we tried again. Again it was unsuccessful. We tried a total of 5 times and every time was harder and harder. The processes became tense and I could see it getting to her more and more each time it didn’t work. It got to the point that we needed to start facing reality. Although it was one of the toughest decisions we have ever had to make, we had decided to stop trying with her… for now. I assured her that this was not the end, that we would try again, we just couldn’t afford to keep trying right now. This broke her as she knows how long it took us to save that money and it would surely take us winning the lottery to try again. Artificial Insemination is the cheaper fertility method, the next step would be IVF which costs R73-100k for 1 attempt. I still assured her that somehow we would make a plan and I intend to keep that promise.
In the meantime, my pregnancy has already been a long road. We knew that it came with risks but I could never have imagined the journey we were about to go on. I thought our risk was only in the 3rd trimester, I was wrong, there is risk throughout and I learned that very quickly!
Other than the changes I was experiencing in my body and a bit of nausea here and there, it was relatively easy going before the 7 week mark. I had gone for a 6 week scan and everything looked good. After that, other than your standard pregnancy symptoms, I started experiencing severe pain in my back, I also started bleeding. Being pregnant for the first time, I called the doctor out of worry, he said I could come in again which I did…it turned out that I had a blood clot in my uterus which was causing the bleeding and I just had to let pass through. A week or so later I started bleeding heavier than I would on my normal cycle, this did not seem right, I was certain I was having a miscarriage so again I panicked, I called the Doc and he told me to come in right away. He did another internal scan and guess what….this time I heard the babies heartbeat, ever so lightly but I heard it. I was soooo relieved!He told me the baby “seemed” ok, that everything looked normal but the blood clot was still there. He also told me that there could be a possibility of miscarriage and that we just had to hang in there. I always respected my Doctor for being open and honest with me but the comfort of hearing my babies heartbeat was soon lost after hearing his words. He was not confident in my pregnancy and I am sure did not think we would make it this far!I knew in that moment that this was just the beginning. During that visit, the doctor put me on Progesterone to help me stop the bleeding. (this didn’t happen until just after 13 weeks). I had had weekly visits with the doctor up until the 11 week mark where after I went to see a foetus specialist for my 12 week scan. I was no longer allowed to see this specific doctor after the 12 week mark as it goes beyond his license as a fertitly doctor so I needed to find a new gynae which would carry me through.
Apparently the 12 week foetus specialist scan is quite normal (this is where they do the down syndrome screening and determine certain risk factors). It not a mandatory scan but its beneficial and because I was scared of the outcomes was reluctant to go. What if there was something wrong with baby, if they had down syndrome or there was something else seriously wrong. I’m the type of person that would save an insect in the swimming pool, there is no ways I would ever be able to intentionally terminate my pregnancy, however early it maybe. This really ate up at me but we decide that it was in the best interest of the baby for me to go, its better for us to be in the know and be able to prepare than not.
Due to Covid19 and the fact that this was in a hospital, this was the first appointment Dom wasn’t allowed to go which is really sad because it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was however, allowed to take a video which I was able to share with her and the rest of the family and friends later that day.
During this appointment, I had blood test done as well as a scan. During the scan the Professor analysed the pregnancy and my baby with a fine-tooth comb, he literally went through everything, from head to toe and the surrounds. I was able to see my baby’s fingers and toes, even his brain…everything was just so so clear, I could not believe my eyes, he was a full little human after just 12 weeks. In that moment I felt so humbled by life and I couldn’t believe this gift I had been given.
Before he finished the scan the Prof asked me if I wanted to know the sex of the baby. Could he really tell it so soon?? Everything I read was from 18 weeks and onward…I was to excited to question it, so I said that I would LOVE to know but that he couldn’t tell me right now, that was a moment I needed to share with Dom. I asked him it wasn’t to much trouble if he could write it on a piece of paper and Dom and I could open it together that evening. He said he would.
Once the scan was over, we sat down and he went through all the results with me. He confirmed what I had already known, that I am at very high risk of a preterm labour (however it could be as early as 34 weeks) but what I didn’t know was that I am also high risk for preeclampsia. To help prevent these he has put me on a medication for each one which I need to take daily until I give birth. These along with my pregnancy vitamins are costing me R2k a month so its not ideal but definitely necessary and we will do what needs to be done to get through this! I have a follow up appointment with him for a 20 week scan where I assume he will be able to give me more accurate information and let me know if there have been any other developments with the babies growth.
Because I was no longer able to see my fertility doctor, I had to find someone else. None of this was covered by medical aid so we have had to pay everything to date in cash,we no longer had any savings and I have racked up so much debt on my Credit Card that I can’t afford to pay out of pocket anymore so I checked my Medical Aid to see what they cover during this time and found an Obstetrician at a Hospital that falls under their network. I made an appointment because I had to see her at 12 weeks as well. During this time, we spent over an hour going through my pregnancy, medical history and the results of everything to date. She did both an internal and external exam. She too confirmed the preterm labour but said that we need the baby to make at least 34 weeks in the womb. She is confident that the baby will survive anything after 34 weeks but not as confident for anything before that. She also said that if I give birth after 34 weeks, I can go to the Hospital where her office is, anything before 34 weeks will require another hospital which are experienced and equipped to deal with preemies, but is not covered under my medical aid plan. It was also confirmed that I must have a caesarean, natural birth is not an option, it is too dangerous and there is not enough space, there is also a high likelihood that the baby will be in a breach position. I was happy with my new Doctor and scheduled my next appointment for a month later.
A few days after my appointment, I had FINALLY stopped bleeding.
At this point though my days started becoming much longer, the pain in my back was now causing me to have a permanent limp and I am constantly feeling cramps and growing pains in my stomach. I am always tired; I have no energy but am not able to sleep at night. I feel like I have aged about 50 years and I am no longer able to do simple daily tasks. Everything has become an effort; I need to take a moment to find the energy to get up and to go to the toilet. It’s not that I have become lazy, it’s because my body is putting everything I have into this pregnancy and its draining my energy.
Not even two weeks after my first visit with my new Doctor, I started bleeding heavily again. Along with the bleeding was severe cramps that would come and go. I was also experiencing bladder infection like symptoms including sore kidneys and a burning sensation when I went to the toilet. Those symptoms started a few days before the bleeding and cramps but after taking citrus soda for a few days, those went away so I didn’t think of it when I started bleeding with the cramps. I immediately called my Doctor who told me to come in for a check-up. She did an internal exam and my cervix was still closed which means I wasn’t going into labour just yet. She said that the pain that comes and goes concerns her because they could be contractions, so she called this a threatened miscarriage. If my cervix was open, she said it would be ab inevitable miscarriage so it was positive for now.
We then did an ultrasound and baby was healthy. Doc said that there was no way of knowing for sure if it was a miscarriage and there was no timeline she could give me that once that time passed, I know it would be over. She basically said that if it was going to happen, we could delay it but it would be inevitable. That made me feel very uneasy. Alongside that she pretty much told me that its not going to get any easier from here, she said I will experience more pain that most people do and its only going to get worse, that the road ahead will be a tough one. I will more than likely end up in High Care for a while and I need to start taking it easy.To end the appointment off, I remembered the bladder infection symptoms and spoke to her about it. She had me do urine and blood test and in the meantime gave me antibiotics.
A few days later, she called to tell me that I did have bacteria in my urine and gave me another course of antibiotics. After another follow up, the infection had still not cleared, the Doc mentioned that some bacteria are more sensitive to certain antibiotics than others so I was given a 3rd course of antibiotics. At this stage, I am on 19 tablets a day. 3 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon, 2 late afternoon and 12 at night. The medication along with the financial implications of it is draining me even more.
I have my next 2 appointments in the coming weeks, one with a foetus specialist and another with my Obstetrician. Although up until this point I have already been seeing a doctor more than once a month, from 5 months it will be required of me to see her every 2 weeks so we can start monitoring my baby closely. I have financial help for these two appointments but I am in serious trouble for anything that’s needed after that.
This has been a very scary time in my life, people tell me that I shouldn’t be worrying and that it will affect the baby but that’s easier said than done. I know that the months ahead are going to test me far more than the months that have just passed. I have braced myself for the physical fight that both myself and my baby have ahead of us but I need a little bit of help. With no savings and an ever growing debt, I am not able to keep playing catch up with my finances, thinking about it puts my heart rate on steroids and I can literally feel it pulsating out of my body. I cant imagine the consequences that has on my body during this time.
I worry that what we already have to go through will put a lot of strain on my baby, we are at high enough risk as it is, if anyone could help reduce that just a little bit, we would forever be grateful.Any funds received would go into a medical savings which would pay for my monthly medication, bi weekly appointments, on going blood tests and any emergencies that arise. Any contribution is welcomed and appreciated.
PS. We are having a BOY!!!