And baby makes 3

Many New Zealanders face a tough road to get pregnant, with one in four couples now experiencing infertility. A Gisborne couple share their life-changing journey to have a baby, ahead of a visit by fertility specialist Dr Simon McDowell to Gisborne on Monday night. Sophie Rishworth reports.

Many New Zealanders face a tough road to get pregnant, with one in four couples now experiencing infertility. A Gisborne couple share their life-changing journey to have a baby, ahead of a visit by fertility specialist Dr Simon McDowell to Gisborne on Monday night. Sophie Rishworth reports.

Tony Pereira, Kylie Potae and their daughter Penina.
Dr Simon McDowell is in Gisborne on Monday night (5.30-6.30pm) to host a free information evevning about infertility. Dr McDowell is a fertility specialist, obstetrician and gynaecologist.
“It’s pretty cool helping people have babies and find out any problems they may have , putting embryos in and hopefuly taking it out 40 weeks later as a baby.” Picture supplied.
Dr Simon McDowell

HER NAME is Penina Pereira. She is six months old and her name means precious pearl in Samoan.

It took her parents Kylee Potae and Tony Pereira more than 10 years to hold her in their arms.

They are one of many New Zealand couples who experience infertility and need external help to get pregnant.

Kylee, 41, had always wanted to be a mum. But she and Tony were deep in their careers during their 20s and 30s — she as a chartered accountant and he in the fishing industry. Like many, they left it late to start their family.

Tony, 46, supported his wife in having a baby but was more philosophical about being a dad. If it happened it’d be nice he thought, but if it didn’t then that was going to be OK too.

About 10 years ago they had “the conversation” about starting a family. But after four years of trying there was no pregnancy so Kylee made an appointment for them to see their GP.

So began their five-year journey of endless tests, needles, lots of waiting and plenty of let downs.

They were told they had “unexplained infertility”.

By the time Kylee was 40 she had already gone through two unsuccessful attempts at IVF.

The first one didn’t work and the second time she miscarried at eight weeks.

There were two embryos left.

It was going to be their last shot.

Tony and his wife had discussed that if it didn’t work this time then that would be it. They would just focus on other things. The emotional roller coaster was too much to carry on with.

Kylee asked their fertility doctor to implant both embryos, then she hopped on a plane for a work trip, resigned in the knowledge she had done everything she could to get pregnant.

Tony said he had a funny feeling that this time it was going to be successful. As Kylee was going under the anaesthetic to have the last two embryos implanted in her uterus she and the fertility specialist Dr Simon McDowell discovered, after some small talk about being from Gisborne, that they were in fact related.

Their grandfathers were brothers and their mothers were first cousins.

“Simon joked that it was like our family was on the line.

“You have a lot of laughs along the way; you have to otherwise you’d go insane.”

Kylee and Tony are full of praise for the “fantastic team” at Fertility Associates.

After the double embryo transplant the staff could tell pretty much straight away whether it was a successful singular pregnancy or a multiple pregnancy.

“They measure your hormone levels. If they are really high it is an indicator of a multiple pregnancy.”

Not getting their hopes up

Kylee’s were high enough to indicate she was pregnant but not high enough to indicate a multiple pregnancy. But after the let-down of their first miscarriage neither wanted to get their hopes up again until they passed the 12-week mark.

“We’re so lucky to have a positive outcome,” she says.

In fact every night Tony tells his daughter, “We’re lucky to have you and you’re lucky to have us.”

He still gets emotional whenever he thinks about the first scan, and the moment she was born.

And after being ambivalent about becoming a dad now he can’t wait to finish work so he can race home and be with her.

He credits his wife Kylee for getting them through the five years of IVF.

“Kylee is mentally tough and determined. She handled it really well.” He knows this because he watches Inconceivables, the new TV One documentary following eight New Zealand couples trying to get pregnant.

Infertility affects 25 percent of New Zealand couples. It is associated with psychological distress and a contributing factor is thought to be the delay in childbearing by many couples until later in life.

The journey begins differently for everyone but for everyone it is a tough road. IVF is short for in vitro fertilisation and is the process where the woman’s egg is fertilised by the man’s sperm outside the body or “in vitro” which means “in glass”.

Kylee recommends going to your local GP first as, providing certain criteria are met, some of the rounds of IVF can be government-funded.

Your GP will then refer you to Fertility Associates in Wellington, but the wait to get an appointment there can be anywhere from six months to a year.

People can go direct to Fertility Associates but it is expensive.

Climbing a mountain

Kylee describes the process of trying to becoming pregnant as a “huge mountain to climb” with a lot of the stress on your mental wellbeing.

Many women will appreciate her candour having been through it themselves. On top of the normal monthly fluctuating hormones, synthetic hormones are also injected to boost your fertility during treatment.

“There are endless tests, you are always waiting for outcomes, and every month when you try and fail, you get upset.

“Especially when you get to a certain age and people start saying, ‘come on, hurry up, you’re getting old, have a child’.

“You don’t tell everyone you are going though fertility treatment so you have to put a brave face on.”

Kylee and Tony know how lucky they are that their IVF story ended with a healthy baby girl, now six months old. It doesn’t always end with a baby for every couple.

She keeps from sharing her story because of that but the flip side is that talking about it can also give others hope.

Their diagnosis of “unexplained fertility” is common.

“It was frustrating because there is not much that you can do. There was really no reason for it; everything was OK.

“At the same time it gave you an element of hope because there was no reason, so it messed with your head, it was sweet and sour — like when you hit your funny bone and you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry.

“The really cool thing was at the clinic when they did the transfer of embryos, the specialist would say to me, ‘Now it’s waiting for the miracle to happen’.

“The downside is when it doesn’t work and you go through a really let down phase.

“But when it does work, you realise it was a miracle.

“It is a good way to cope with it otherwise it can turn into a blame game. It is hard on the person, on a relationship and everyone around you. You think, ‘whose fault is this’? But it is no one’s, it is purely a miracle.”

Reality kicks in

Being so focused on getting pregnant meant reality did not kick in until Penina was born.

“It’s so fantastic but such hard work and exhausting all at the same time.

“It’s a lot more work than expected.”

Kylee returned to BDO Chartered Accountants, where she is a partner, four weeks after Penina was born.

She puts it down to her own “pigheadedness” and the fact that being self-employed meant there were things that didn’t stop just because a baby came along.

“I was determined not to let the fact that I had a child mean that I could not perform at the same level as my male counterparts.”

Kylee juggles family and work every day. Some weeks she works full time, while other weeks she can work nights and weekends to compensate.

Her schedule is “borderline crazy”, especially with the added factor of sleep deprivation.

“My mum gave up work to look after her for me. So she’s got the best of my time, her dad’s time and her grandparents.

“I could not have done it without their help.”

A lot of people feel a level of guilt when they go back to work after having a baby but Kylee does not.

“I constantly check in with myself and I don’t feel guilty at all.

“Guilt is such a waste of energy. As long as I feel that she is getting the best care, with me or someone else, and I see how happy she is then I know it is the right thing to do.

“I miss her a lot. I would love to be full time with her as a full-time mum but part of my mental health and sanity is kept in check by having this balance and I didn’t want to make a long term decision to leave my career for a short term period of her life.”

HER NAME is Penina Pereira. She is six months old and her name means precious pearl in Samoan.

It took her parents Kylee Potae and Tony Pereira more than 10 years to hold her in their arms.

They are one of many New Zealand couples who experience infertility and need external help to get pregnant.

Kylee, 41, had always wanted to be a mum. But she and Tony were deep in their careers during their 20s and 30s — she as a chartered accountant and he in the fishing industry. Like many, they left it late to start their family.

Tony, 46, supported his wife in having a baby but was more philosophical about being a dad. If it happened it’d be nice he thought, but if it didn’t then that was going to be OK too.

About 10 years ago they had “the conversation” about starting a family. But after four years of trying there was no pregnancy so Kylee made an appointment for them to see their GP.

So began their five-year journey of endless tests, needles, lots of waiting and plenty of let downs.

They were told they had “unexplained infertility”.

By the time Kylee was 40 she had already gone through two unsuccessful attempts at IVF.

The first one didn’t work and the second time she miscarried at eight weeks.

There were two embryos left.

It was going to be their last shot.

Tony and his wife had discussed that if it didn’t work this time then that would be it. They would just focus on other things. The emotional roller coaster was too much to carry on with.

Kylee asked their fertility doctor to implant both embryos, then she hopped on a plane for a work trip, resigned in the knowledge she had done everything she could to get pregnant.

Tony said he had a funny feeling that this time it was going to be successful. As Kylee was going under the anaesthetic to have the last two embryos implanted in her uterus she and the fertility specialist Dr Simon McDowell discovered, after some small talk about being from Gisborne, that they were in fact related.

Their grandfathers were brothers and their mothers were first cousins.

“Simon joked that it was like our family was on the line.

“You have a lot of laughs along the way; you have to otherwise you’d go insane.”

Kylee and Tony are full of praise for the “fantastic team” at Fertility Associates.

After the double embryo transplant the staff could tell pretty much straight away whether it was a successful singular pregnancy or a multiple pregnancy.

“They measure your hormone levels. If they are really high it is an indicator of a multiple pregnancy.”

Not getting their hopes up

Kylee’s were high enough to indicate she was pregnant but not high enough to indicate a multiple pregnancy. But after the let-down of their first miscarriage neither wanted to get their hopes up again until they passed the 12-week mark.

“We’re so lucky to have a positive outcome,” she says.

In fact every night Tony tells his daughter, “We’re lucky to have you and you’re lucky to have us.”

He still gets emotional whenever he thinks about the first scan, and the moment she was born.

And after being ambivalent about becoming a dad now he can’t wait to finish work so he can race home and be with her.

He credits his wife Kylee for getting them through the five years of IVF.

“Kylee is mentally tough and determined. She handled it really well.” He knows this because he watches Inconceivables, the new TV One documentary following eight New Zealand couples trying to get pregnant.

Infertility affects 25 percent of New Zealand couples. It is associated with psychological distress and a contributing factor is thought to be the delay in childbearing by many couples until later in life.

The journey begins differently for everyone but for everyone it is a tough road. IVF is short for in vitro fertilisation and is the process where the woman’s egg is fertilised by the man’s sperm outside the body or “in vitro” which means “in glass”.

Kylee recommends going to your local GP first as, providing certain criteria are met, some of the rounds of IVF can be government-funded.

Your GP will then refer you to Fertility Associates in Wellington, but the wait to get an appointment there can be anywhere from six months to a year.

People can go direct to Fertility Associates but it is expensive.

Climbing a mountain

Kylee describes the process of trying to becoming pregnant as a “huge mountain to climb” with a lot of the stress on your mental wellbeing.

Many women will appreciate her candour having been through it themselves. On top of the normal monthly fluctuating hormones, synthetic hormones are also injected to boost your fertility during treatment.

“There are endless tests, you are always waiting for outcomes, and every month when you try and fail, you get upset.

“Especially when you get to a certain age and people start saying, ‘come on, hurry up, you’re getting old, have a child’.

“You don’t tell everyone you are going though fertility treatment so you have to put a brave face on.”

Kylee and Tony know how lucky they are that their IVF story ended with a healthy baby girl, now six months old. It doesn’t always end with a baby for every couple.

She keeps from sharing her story because of that but the flip side is that talking about it can also give others hope.

Their diagnosis of “unexplained fertility” is common.

“It was frustrating because there is not much that you can do. There was really no reason for it; everything was OK.

“At the same time it gave you an element of hope because there was no reason, so it messed with your head, it was sweet and sour — like when you hit your funny bone and you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry.

“The really cool thing was at the clinic when they did the transfer of embryos, the specialist would say to me, ‘Now it’s waiting for the miracle to happen’.

“The downside is when it doesn’t work and you go through a really let down phase.

“But when it does work, you realise it was a miracle.

“It is a good way to cope with it otherwise it can turn into a blame game. It is hard on the person, on a relationship and everyone around you. You think, ‘whose fault is this’? But it is no one’s, it is purely a miracle.”

Reality kicks in

Being so focused on getting pregnant meant reality did not kick in until Penina was born.

“It’s so fantastic but such hard work and exhausting all at the same time.

“It’s a lot more work than expected.”

Kylee returned to BDO Chartered Accountants, where she is a partner, four weeks after Penina was born.

She puts it down to her own “pigheadedness” and the fact that being self-employed meant there were things that didn’t stop just because a baby came along.

“I was determined not to let the fact that I had a child mean that I could not perform at the same level as my male counterparts.”

Kylee juggles family and work every day. Some weeks she works full time, while other weeks she can work nights and weekends to compensate.

Her schedule is “borderline crazy”, especially with the added factor of sleep deprivation.

“My mum gave up work to look after her for me. So she’s got the best of my time, her dad’s time and her grandparents.

“I could not have done it without their help.”

A lot of people feel a level of guilt when they go back to work after having a baby but Kylee does not.

“I constantly check in with myself and I don’t feel guilty at all.

“Guilt is such a waste of energy. As long as I feel that she is getting the best care, with me or someone else, and I see how happy she is then I know it is the right thing to do.

“I miss her a lot. I would love to be full time with her as a full-time mum but part of my mental health and sanity is kept in check by having this balance and I didn’t want to make a long term decision to leave my career for a short term period of her life.”

The fertility specialist

Dr Simon McDowell, of Ngati Porou, enjoys his job working as fertility specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist.

“It’s pretty cool helping people have babies and finding out any problems they may have, putting embryos in and hopefully taking it out as a baby 40 weeks later.”

His father was a vet and his mother did animal embryology.

“Then at medical school I found gynaecology, and fertility was a natural progression.

“It’s a great job, hard but pretty special.

“You are part of their lives for that particular period and it doesn’t always end well but if you can help them it is rewarding.”

Simon, 38, is a father as well. He and his wife have two children aged 4 and 7.

“Once you’ve got kids it is hard to imagine not having had kids.

“But in saying that sometimes I think society tells us you have to have kids to be happy and that is not true.”

From Simon’s perspective it’s just about awareness.

He is hosting a patient information evening where everyone is welcome to hear about fertility treatment and what might be causing problems.

“A lot of my Gisborne patients wait a long time before seeing someone. If it is not happening seek help earlier rather than later — you can’t fight age.”

■ Dr Simon McDowell will host a Fertility Information evening on Monday, September 19, at the Tairawhiti Health Learning Centre, Gisborne Hospital (5.30-6.30pm).

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Mary - 2 years ago
Thank you for sharing your story, so beautiful that you had a fantastic begining and yes she is definitely a precious pearl. I agree you always need that balance, even though it would be great as mothers to be able to stay at home full time. Marvelous to also hear about our talented Gisborne people who give back to the community in one form or another. Malo Lava!!!

Jen - 2 years ago
Thanks for sharing, gives me a little bit of hope as we are on the waiting list for IVF at the moment, and waiting on a miracle. :)