The Highs & Lows of IVF and Being a New Dad

18 October, 2016

Personal trainer, Curtis Palmer, who generally blogs about his personal experiences, and how to make improvements to your life through tried and tested methods, shares a blog of a different kind. Curtis tells us his insightful journey about becoming a new father to his new son, Lenny...

Fourteen weeks ago my wife gave birth to our first child, a baby boy that we named Lenny. As you can imagine life has changed considerably in the past few weeks but to get to this point, there have been plenty of ups and downs. I won't go into all of them in this article, but there are a few things that might help you in your decision making, if you were thinking about expanding your family.

Being a C6-7 complete quadriplegic with no sensation or movement below nipple line, I/we had no choice but to do IVF. At the beginning of this journey, I wasn't at all confident that my sperm was capable of doing the job. I've been sitting on them for the past 24 years, not great conditions for sperm to thrive, so I was sure that the quality and motility was severely affected. Well, as it so happened, the fertility specialists at Melbourne IVF worked a lot of magic, and after extensive IVF therapy, we were able to fertilize six eggs of which three survived and were subsequently frozen.

The first steps in all this are relatively straightforward. Your fertility specialist guides you. I/we had to have a blood test, some counselling and eventually a surgical procedure to extract my sperm and my wife's eggs.

Your partner will need your support through much of this as they must go through far worse than what you do. Your partner/wife will be poked, prodded and jabbed many times to ensure the optimal environment for growing your baby is met. All of this can be very stressful, especially if you are desperate to have a baby. Being as relaxed as possible throughout these stages is imperative, so any added pressure or stress should be avoided.

During these early stages, I was feeling optimistic, but not overly confident. To me, being too confident is dangerous thinking that could set you up for a big fall.  I knew my chances of success were slim so any good news we got was a bonus. Any bad news we got (and there was some) was lessened by not having huge expectations in the first place. I think this attitude alleviated a lot of pressure. Neither my wife nor I were desperate to have a baby. That's not to say we weren't excited about the prospect. To explain it best I would say that we had a good grasp of the reality of our situation and decided to give it a shot regardless. 

It's hard not to get excited about the prospect of six fertilized eggs, but the reality of IVF soon hit home when overnight only three had survived. Our slim chances of getting pregnant just got halved.

A few days later a fertilized embryo was put into place, but we found out soon after that it wasn't successful, and we would have to wait at least another month before we could go through the procedure again. This, as you can imagine, was a big blow. There's nothing that can prepare you for this kind of news but we took to heart the fact that IVF pregnancies rarely happen after the first go. It still sucked, big time.

So, after a month we tried again. We were ready and felt confident, but there is always that thought in the back of your mind that makes you hesitant and nervous to go ahead with it again. Our fertility specialists were fantastic at making sure we didn't get overwhelmed, and they didn't give us any false hope. Dr. Sholmi Barak offered his advice with a warm smile, even if sometimes it wasn't great news. We felt like we were in good hands throughout the whole process.

Two weeks later and two days before we flew to Fiji for some much-needed sunshine and adventure, and where I planned to ask Georgia to marry me, we got the news. Our embryo had taken and Georgia was pregnant! But as with all pregnancies, we had to keep a lid on things until the 12-week mark.

Newly engaged, pregnant and in Fiji, the feeling couldn't have been better.

I want to add that we were really lucky. This story isn't the case for everyone. It's a stressful thing to go through for anyone, and to get you through this time it's critical to keep the communication lines open between you and your partner or seek guidance if things aren't working. You need to air your concerns and try hard not to hold onto them. Work as a team. Hormones are rampant, it's an emotional time, there's a lot on the line and things can get out of hand if you don't keep perspective.

Georgia's pregnancy went as smoothly as expected with only one real issue that I'll talk about now. Being pregnant is never going to be 'easy.' The male part in all this is a doddle compared to what our partners go through.

Everything was going great. We attended birthing classes, and despite being at 6:30pm on a Friday night, they were an excellent way to learn about what was to come. You only visit the hospital in the early and later stages of the pregnancy, so you are left to your own devices for quite a long time. During that period we utilized the Baby Center App, which gives you a week by week description of what was happening inside the womb. This part of the journey is mind-blowingly fascinating.

At the 36 week scan, we found out that our baby was in the breach position. That means that instead of coming out head first as normal, he was around the other way and unless he could be turned would have to come out bum first. Not ideal, but we always felt we were in good hands. Plus, we were assured that the birth could still go ahead as planned. There were just a few extra things to consider, nothing majorly scary but things to consider seriously.

After a calm birthing class over a weekend, we were ready to proceed with a breach birth. Most people opt for a caesarean section, but we saw real benefits in birthing the natural way.

Well as it all turned out on the birth day things didn't go to plan, but true to our nature we adapted as things arose, and our son was born happy and healthy.

Yeah, it was an enormous effort on Georgia's part. She had a long labour, with 24 hours of contractions. We had incredible support from The Royal Women's midwives, simply amazing, but the biggest issue was that Lenny didn't want to come out. He was stuck. After a prolonged period of pushing both mum and bub (and me) were starting to get stressed. So the safest way to complete the mission was to have an unscheduled c-section.

Thirty minutes later we had Lenny in our arms, safe, healthy and unfazed by the entire situation.What a journey it was!

As much as this article is about a general birthing experience through IVF, meaning it would be much the same for me as it would be for any other male who goes through it, the differences come more so after your child is born. This is where you are tested more than any other time in your life and a positive attitude is as equally important. So, let's run through a few issues quickly before we finish up this article. 

It's important to remember that despite some limitations you may have, the early stages of being a dad mean that you are fairly redundant in the care of your newborn. You can hold your baby and do some other cool stuff, but initially, your bubba will simply sleep and eat and cry. Mum does most of the work (e.g. breastfeeding) so it’s no reflection on you as a person, as a man or your level of ability; it just means that your turn will come a little bit later on.

You can do lots of other things like change the nappies, but the reality is that you're needed for other important things at this time. You need to take control of the house to make sure things are clean and tidy; you need to organise the meals, the washing, do all the driving, the shopping and monitor the number of visitors. It's complicated, but this job helps mum stay focused on what she needs to do: feed and care for the bubba.

You just need to concentrate on the things you can do and figure out how to solve the things you cannot. We've all been here before, and it's how we got to where we are today. If we focussed on all the stuff we can't do we wouldn't get anywhere, would we? Being a father is challenging, and the only thing that can mess things up in all honesty is a crappy attitude.

I'm a quad with poor balance, so I can't walk around and settle Lenny like my wife can but I can get him out of his cot when he wakes up, and I can put his dummy back in when he pops it out. I can't pick him up off the ground, but in time I know that the pram will be ditched in favour of my lap. I can't push the pram safely, so I make sure that the bags are packed, and we have everything we need for our outing. Simple changes in mindset can make a big difference.

The last thing is that there are plenty of us out there that have gone through the IVF/fatherhood thing. If you're unsure about things, make sure you reach out and get some reassurance.

Good luck!

Curtis Palmer is a Paralympian wheelchair rugby player, qualified personal trainer, coach, motivational speaker and father. He has also been a journalist, TV presenter and authored a book about his life's journey:

Tags: Blog, Parenting & family