From heartbreak to miracle, mum-to-be shares IVF journey

Inspirational: Amy Maree Campbell says social media has been a "healing" platform for her infertility struggles. Picture: Chris Lane
Inspirational: Amy Maree Campbell says social media has been a "healing" platform for her infertility struggles. Picture: Chris Lane

After five years of wanting the only thing she couldn't control, Gymea mum-to-be, Amy Maree Campbell finally has her wish. And along the way, she has lifted the hope of other women.

The beauty expert had it all - a successful tanning business, a supportive husband, a buzzing social life. Yet she yearned for a baby. What seemed like would be an easy process, turned out to be a roller-coaster of emotions.

Mrs Campbell, now 37, was only 19 years of age when she was told she would have to have IVF one day if she wanted to fall pregnant. At 15 she was diagnosed with endometriosis - a condition also suffered by her mother and sister.

Lesions and blocked fallopian tubes meant getting pregnant naturally would be near impossible.

"I grieved back then," Mrs Campbell said. "Even though at that age I was not ready to have a baby, I felt ripped off. But I accepted it and moved on. When I was ready to have a baby, I went straight into IVF. I'd saved lots for it, but I wasn't prepared for how long it would take. You get into a false hope because you think it will happen first go, but it's not exact science."

She had an ectopic pregnancy - a life-threatening and non-viable pregnancy where a fertilised egg implants in the tubes, in 2017, when she was on her third IVF cycle. Following a forced termination, she says this was the most horrible time.

"You walk in excited to see the scan at eight weeks thinking it's a happy stage," she said. "I didn't even know an ectopic would happen with IVF because the embryo is inserted into the uterus. But it can float back down. I opted to have a double tube removal, which meant I could never fall pregnant naturally. But we had two frozen eggs. So that removed the possibility and fear of it happening again."

A year later, she unfortunately had a second miscarriage just before nine weeks - a crucial stage in development.

"Even though there was no heartbeat in the end I was more OK with that because it happened naturally," Mrs Campbell said. "But it was hard because my husband Scott and I wanted a baby so badly."

It was after that she finally pushed for surgery to remove the endometriosis.

"After surgery, the doctor said there was no way I could have gotten pregnant naturally. But they said I would have a good chance of getting pregnant soon after the procedure."

A further three IVF cycles later, and in February this year, one of those rounds was successful, on the eighth transfer.

She is now 31 weeks pregnant. Her baby girl is due on October 30.

"It hasn't been easy, and it's a huge financial burden on any couple," she said. "We have spent between $40,000-$50,000 on treatments and surgeries."

But sharing the ups and downs on Instagram has helped with the healing, she said. Describing herself as an "endo warrior", Mrs Campbell uses social media as a way to publicly vent, and open up the conversation about infertility, IVF and pregnancy loss.

"In the beginning I didn't really talk about it. But because I had a social platform of about 10,000 followers through my beauty business, I thought, why don't we talk about this?" she said.

"My story got so much response. People were sending me private messages, saying they've been through the same thing. Some people who had initially unfollowed me, returned, because they realised my life wasn't so perfect - it was real."

She has since grown her Instagram to more than 19,000 followers.

"I have a passion for sharing my story and helping others feel less alone," she said. "I'm on a mission to lose the stigma. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, and one in eight couples have fertility issues. Many people often go through this in silence. This has given me purpose because you get so much support."

Just this week, model and former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins announced her pregnancy, after miscarriage. It's people like this in the public eye who can be role models for women's health, Mrs Campbell said.

"Lots of celebrities have followed suit," she said. "All of a sudden what might look like the perfect life is something than becomes more talked about. It's still a taboo and hidden discussion for many people, and that's OK too."

The excited mum-in-waiting also hopes to launch community events to give women the opportunity to share their experiences in a relaxed, social setting.

"I'd love to come up with something like that, with guest speakers like fertility coaches," she said. "This Saturday I'm having my baby shower, and a group of Sutherland Shire businesses have donated their support, and I'd like to do something for other women too."

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report published on Thursday also revealed one in 15 women aged between 25 and 29 were estimated to have been diagnosed with endometriosis. But experts say even more women may be affected.

In 2016-17, there were about 34,000 endometriosis-related hospitalisations, 95 per cent of which involved at least one procedure. Data is likely to reflect the more severe cases, and does not account for all incidences of endometriosis, the report stated.

In April this year, the federal government announced a $10 million funding boost for endometriosis research and awareness. Money will go towards improving the treatment and understanding of what is often misunderstood and painful condition - a chronic menstrual health disorder that affects about 700,000 Australian females. There is no cure but there are treatment options.

A total of $9 million was allocated for non-invasive diagnostic testing, to better understand of the causes and underlying factors that lead to the development and progression of the disease. This research will pave the way for prevention and the development of a possible cure.

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