My struggle having children in my late 40s

Hazel Gachoka with her husband Kariuki Nderu, on Wednesday, March 06 2019 [Ben Brewster, Screenshot Productions]

Hazel Gachoka always wanted children, but not without a present father. That led to her finally having children through necessary but not-so-blissful experiences at ages 46 and 48. But her patience won. And she couldn’t be happier. By TRACY GESARE

I always thought that I would get married in my late 20s and get my first child by the time I was 30. But I broke up with my long-term boyfriend at 29 and the next 10 years passed in a depressed haze. I still wanted children, but I wanted that to be with the father of my children.

As luck would have it, at 41, I met my husband. And we didn’t waste time starting a family. We started trying to have children and almost as soon as we started, we got pregnant. I was very excited and thought everything would go fine. We were in the US then and I travelled to Kenya where I suffered a miscarriage.

I don’t know if it was the trip that complicated the pregnancy but the doctors said it was a blighted ovum. The miscarriage broke my heart. It had been exciting for me because it had come so easily at 41.  At age 43, I became pregnant again. But this time, instinct immediately told me that something was off with the pregnancy.

The week I went to see the doctor, they detected a weak heartbeat and I needed to go back to the hospital a week later to get some medication. When I went back there wasn’t a discernible heartbeat and the foetus had to be mechanically expelled from my body.

My fear then knew no bounds. Here I was at 43 and having trouble carrying a child. I could get pregnant, but my hormone levels could not sustain the pregnancy. I went back to the hospitals to get my tubes checked for blockage but they were fine. We kept trying to get pregnant in vain.

Finally, the doctors detected a fibroid growing on top of my uterus. They said that the fibroid would not allow me to have any children and would need it surgically removed. I wasn’t happy with the option as that meant another delay on trying to conceive. While in South Africa on a business trip, I sought a second opinion. The doctor there said he could do it non surgically. He performed a laparoscopy and removed the fibroid. I came back home eager to try again. But try as we did, it wasn’t happening, and when on another business trip to China, the doctors found yet another fibroid growing inside my uterus. They scheduled the surgery two months after I turned 44.

They performed the surgery and advised me to try having a baby through IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) immediately. They explained that at 44, it was hard to track my ovulation, the egg count was pretty low and the eggs weren’t really that strong anymore.  

I decided I was going to do IVF in Kenya. And so, two months after the surgery, I went to the Nairobi IVF Centre where the doctors said I was a good candidate for the treatment.

My husband wasn’t very enthusiastic about IVF. He hadn’t heard positive reviews about the treatment and he had made peace with not having any children. But once I made up my mind to carry through, he became very supportive.

By then I had quit my job as an Information Technology engineer. I didn’t want the stress of the job which entailed late nights and lots of travel hindering the process.

What to expect during IVF

The IVF process isn’t an easy one.

The process starts with an injection that stops the natural cycle which then allows the medics to take over the process with injections of estrogen and progesterone for 3 weeks. The three weeks I was being given the hormone were stressful. I was very light-headed and hormonal.

At the end of the three weeks, the eggs were harvested and fertilised with the sperm on a petri-dish. After 5 days, we had a blastocyst (a few days old embryo) which they then inserted in my womb through a painless process that feels more like a pap smear.

Then there was a two –week wait to see if it had successfully implanted. During that time, you can’t wear high heels, go on a bumpy road, smell paint or be in a freshly painted environment. You can’t eat eggs or move around much.

That period was very nerve-wracking. Thankfully, at the end of the two weeks, the results came back positive. And so I was set for my pregnancy.

Worry-riddled pregnancy

I was always worried and nauseated. Every time the baby didn’t move I would get scared. Once in the first trimester, I went on a bumpy road with deep potholes and I started bleeding. The doctor said I was so lucky that the bleeding came from beneath the sac holding the baby and not inside because then we could have lost the baby. I then went into an almost bed rest mode, doing very light duties. I did all the necessary scans. My biggest fear in advanced pregnancy was that baby would tie the umbilical cord around his neck. Finally, it was time for the baby to come. I was excited but scared of any complications.

I had to have a Caesarean section because of my prior fibroid surgery. And as they were winding up, I heard the nurse whisper to the doctor who was stitching me up that they had taken the baby to HDU. I was so nervous and kept rambling because I could not imagine losing my child after all I had been through. Luckily, the baby eventually turned out fine.

And that is how my first baby boy, now four, came into our lives. We now have a second child, a son too. Also through IVF. This second pregnancy was much better because I knew how to go about it. My husband was also very excited about the treatment this time around. The delivery was also infinitely smoother.

I don’t think I want to have more children. I wanted a baby girl but I think I am done. Who knows? We could adopt one. I turn 50 this year and I don’t think carrying another pregnancy is recommended.