Fertility

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Baby joy after heartache

Rene
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LOVE CONQUERS: Rene Schliebs is pregnant with a healthy baby girl, her and her husband Tim are looking forward to welcoming baby Willa in June.

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Day after day Rene Schliebs supports and encourages couples trying to get pregnant, counselling them through the disappointments and celebrating with them when their families finally start.

However, the journey to parenthood for her and her husband Tim has been a long, arduous one and is a true example of how love can endure and conquer despite all the odds.

Her story is one so many women can relate to and she hopes that it may encourage couples dealing with the heartbreak infertility can bring:

"My name is Rene Schliebs I am a medical herbalist, clinical nutritionist and colon hydro therapist. I specialise in women's health, natural fertility and reproductive health care. I have had three miscarriages, gone through IVF and intra- uterine insemination with drugs used to stimulate ovulation. None of these conception methods has proven successful," Rene says in the introduction to the book she is currently working on about her experience.

The medical explanation for Rene's infertility was endometriosis; she was officially diagnosed in 2006 via laparoscopic surgery after years of battling debilitating pain during her periods.

"From the age of about 20 I started having very severe, painful periods. It was so bad I would end up vomiting and had diahorrea. I passed out on the toilet floor and woke up half an hour later because I was in so much pain," she told Essential Mums.

After 11 years of dealing with the pain, Rene finally received a diagnosis and was hopeful that removing the growths would help.

"I thought it was normal for period pains to be that bad. I wasn't studying natural health at that point and I didn't really know what was going on."

After the surgery, it was expected that the pain would go away, which it didn't. Although it did relieve it for a while, it was not until after her first miscarriage that the pain sub-sided substantially.

"After that all my period pain went away. It is actually quite common for a pregnancy to resolve a lot of the endometriosis issues. It is not known what causes endometriosis, there are a lot of theories around the functional immune system and having too much oestrogen in the body, but they haven't pin pointed what the exact cause is," she says.

Love, marriage and baby

The loss of their first baby in October 2007 was difficult for Tim and Rene, who had been dating for a relatively short time.

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The two met through a mutual friend in what Schliebs describes was a "love at first sight" moment.

"We were both at a party and saw each other across the room and just instantly gravitated towards each other, it was quite hilarious. We spent probably about seven hours of that night talking to each other. After that, things progressed quite quickly, we just knew straight away," she explains.

Two months later the happy couple were living together and four months after that, Rene was pregnant with their first baby.

"It was a natural conception which was fantastic, because I had had so many problems when I was with my previous partner. I had had seven years of infertility with him. So I was really excited."

Unfortunately, Tim and Rene lost the baby soon after she fell pregnant and in 2009 while on honeymoon, conceived a second time, unfortunately, they lost their second baby in March 2010.

"I was about eight weeks and it seemed to be a recurring pattern that at about eight weeks, I would miscarry. When you have endometriosis, you have an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone in your body. The oestrogen is too high and the progesterone is too low and progesterone is the thing that holds the baby in place until the placenta starts to take over at about nine weeks to do that job for you. So my progesterone levels just weren't quite high enough to actually hold the foetus in place," Rene explains.

The couple decided to take some time out from actively trying, although it continued to be something they desperately wanted.

"We spoke to a specialist about doing IVF treatment, I had been doing extensive natural fertility management, I am a nutritionist, specialising in reproductive health, it just seemed so unfair."

Rene then tried IVF, so the very best egg and sperm could be put together and the embryo placed in the best possible place.

This too failed.

"That was probably one of the worst moments of my life, getting to the end of that cycle and having that phone call from the nurse to say it hadn't worked. I remember calling my mum to tell her... you know when you have one of those nightmares where you want to say something and your voice just won't come? I couldn't even speak; she didn't even know who it was on the phone. Then she heard me breathe and I started crying and she knew what had happened."

Focussing on each other

There were no concrete answers as to why the IVF didn't work, but it was devastating.

In November 2011, Rene lost her third baby at five weeks and at the beginning of last year, the couple decided to spend some time getting themselves back together, refocusing on their marriage and each other.

"You spend so much time focusing on getting a baby that you can sometimes forget what is important and the important thing for me was our marriage. So we spent a lot of time going away together which was really lovely," Rene says.

Although nothing was happening naturally, they decided to try Intra uterine insemination a procedure in which the sperm are directly inserted into the uterus, so the sperm are  better able to make it to the egg. At the same time, Schliebs was given drugs to make her ovulate at the same time.

This too was unsuccessful.

"By this stage, we were just trying to keep it together really and almost accepting of the fact it wasn't going to happen for us. I mean, my husband is 41 and I am 36 and you do think of that biological clock ticking away."

However, Rene spoke to her specialist about a new procedure during which a poppy-oil flush called Lipidiol is injected vaginally.

The treatment lasts for up to two years and creates an optimum environment for the sperm to travel and for the foetus to implant. 

"As a herbalist, I found this quite fascinating. We were booked for IVF at the same time, but I just decided that physically I didn't want to go through that again."

Without much expectation, Schliebs had the procedure done in April.

"When you go through all of this, you become so obsessed with all the timing and it is so unromantic. In August, I just completely lost track of my cycle, I didn't know what was going on, we had let ourselves have a bit of a social life and just relaxed," she says.

" I was at a staff meeting at work one day and thought I was getting sick, I was hot and cold and I thought I was getting the flu. I was up and down all the time and when I got home I realised I didn't know when my period was due!"

Rene did a blood pregnancy test and sent it to the lab, when a nurse from Fertility Plus called her and told her she was pregnant; she was in a state of shock.

"She said the good news was I was pregnant! I started laughing and hysterically crying, I couldn't believe it. My husband was at home at the time and we were just completely blown away and ecstatic!"

During week six, Rene started to bleed but after rushing to hospital, the specialist said the baby had a very healthy heartbeat.

Every scan since, including Rene's 23 week scan last week has shown their baby daughter Willa is perfectly healthy and is expected to be born in June.

Supporting women in the same place

Rene hopes her own experiences combined with her knowledge about infertility and nutrition can help other women in the same position.

"Thinking about what we have been through and the kind of work that I do, I specialise in all of this in the clinic and there is no way I could be doing this unless I had been through it. I wouldn't be able to speak to someone empathetically about IVF, about miscarriages, about this whole fertility picture if I hadn't gone through it myself."

When she was four months pregnant, Rene says she woke up in the middle of the night and realised she wanted to write a book about her experience and infertility in general.

"I love sitting with clients and helping them to understand it, talking about it, understanding their emotions. It is such a rewarding job," says Rene.

As a couple, supporting each other through the infertility journey can be very difficult.

"It had its moments, but I think more than anything it has brought us closer together. We are incredibly close already and we communicate very well, we never leave anything too long if there is an issue. One of the things that we always did whenever we had a miscarriage or IVF not working, we would go away. Either book into a hotel in town, or out of town. Just getting out of the environment in which we had tried to hard to make it work," she says.

The joy baby Willa has brought to her family already is palpable.

"We are just all so excited. My mum has already bought her baby Christmas outfit!"

Rene Schliebs works for Mission Nutrition and is currently working on her book, dedicated to their baby daughter, Willa. She can be contacted at rene@missionnutrition.co.nz

- Essential Mums

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