My Story of Hope – Novan Chan
“How many children do you want to have?”
“I don’t mind having as many as a soccer team!” I answered when I was a teen, a topic that many of us would discuss with our girlfriends. Little did I know my dream of motherhood would be such a challenge.
In 2016, the second year of our marriage, my husband and I started to wonder if certain physical conditions were preventing us from pregnancy.
We had several health checks that returned normal. We went on to consult a gynecologist who advised us to use basal temperature for natural family planning. It led us to notice the abnormalities — there were times when I might not have ovulated due to a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
While PCOS is a common hormonal condition in women, my situation was diagnosed as infertility. Infertility, I thought it was a dead-end to my dream of parenthood. Isn’t motherhood granted for all women? I have so much love for children, it’s a dream that I wished for my whole life, why would it happen to me? An intense feeling struck me so hard when I read the diagnosis on the medical report, a mixed feeling of despair, denial, confusion and deep disappointment.
Are you afraid of a pinch?
Fortunately, in some cases, it may still be possible for couples who suffer from infertility to have their own baby with medical intervention. We had several unsuccessful attempts of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). When it became uneconomical, we moved on to try in vitro fertilisation (IVF). In order to regulate my ovulation cycle, I was on daily medications throughout my years of trying-to-conceive (TTC). During each IUI and IVF cycle, I also had to go through the notorious injection processes. The needles were relentless, two jabs into the abdomen everyday during each course of treatment.
Tears were running down my face when I learned about the injections. It was not merely because of my fear of the pain, but also the question of why I have to go through such “torture” to stand a chance to conceive, the question of why it is so easy for so many to get pregnant but so difficult for me, the ever-repeating question of, “Why me?”
I knew I could only be brave in my quest of motherhood. As I administered the injections, my rational mind whispered, “Take a deep breath and feel the pain. It’s okay. The pain is not too bad. I’m just pinching myself. I can endure it.”
The sign of hope
As we progressed from the diagnosis to our IUI attempts, from egg harvesting to our first embryo transplant, I thought we were advancing in our journey to parenthood. I saw hope in every step we made. By every attempt, I felt I was a step closer to my child.
I recall the moment when our first embryo was gently deposited into my uterus. It was a shiny white dot on the ultrasound monitor as if it was a beam of light, a beam of hope, hoping that this was the baby that we longed for.
However, our hope didn’t last long. In 14 days, we didn’t see the positive pregnancy result that we desired.
Is there a line?
In my age group, then in the late twenties, the average successful implantation rate of an IVF cycle is 30%. We knew nothing is guaranteed – perhaps when we tried three times, we would be that one in three lucky couple.
After our second IVF trial in 2019, in the early morning on day 14 post-transplant, I was once again holding the pregnancy test kit in my hand, trembling. Even though I had had so many tests over the years, this result revealing moment was still nerve-racking for me. It was partly because I would soon find out whether I was carrying a baby, but also because what might follow – how to once again break the disappointment to my husband if we didn’t succeed.
“Is there a line?” I saw the dreamlike positive line. It was faint, but I was sure there was a positive line. We were lucky enough to see that magical positive line in our second IVF cycle. Imagine you reached the summit after a long hike, just that this mountain was so huge, the route was so tough that it took you four years to reach the top. We were thrilled, video recording this incredible moment with tears of joy.
We eagerly waited for the clinic to open to confirm the result. In that same afternoon, the lab report indicated that the pregnancy hormone reading was low, 10 times lower than an average viable pregnancy. Our hearts immediately sank. We cautiously waited for another 48 hours, to see if the reading would double to reflect a normal growth rate. In just 48 hours, our hope was once again vanished. We fell from the peak straight into the darkest abyss.
The pinches - May 2019
The faint positive line - Sep 2019
Pray for a miracle
On average, for every five pregnancies, one results in a loss. It’s common yet not talked about much. What are the odds for us to be that one in six infertile couple in Hong Kong, then the one in three couple that had a successful IVF implantation, but eventually became the one in five who experiences a miscarriage?
I’m tired. I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of all the Western and Traditional Chinese medical appointments, I’m tired of limiting my diet to food that are conducive for pregnancy, I’m tired of making sure I had all the prescribed pills and injections on schedule, I’m tired of keeping my hope high that would only result in disappointment every single time. I’m tired…
I constantly felt I was racing against time. The chance of pregnancy drops as we age. People might comfort me, “You are young, and time is on your side.” Yet, the reality was years flew by one after another, and I was still barren. The clock is ticking.
Taking a break in the TTC journey was a luxury to me, but I knew I needed a break in order to continue on this journey with no end in sight. I gave myself several months off to rest and recharge for the road ahead. My husband and I took a short trip to Israel. By chance, we met a group from the U.S. at the Garden Tomb. They were so kind to invite us to pray and partake the Holy Communion together. As a Christian, I accepted their invite. While the pastor was praying, my tears couldn’t stop flowing. I sobbed so hard that I needed to gasp for air. Not knowing what we had been through, these strangers lovingly prayed for blessings on our marriage. I looked up into the sky, embraced in the sun, and submerged myself in that moment of peace and tranquility. I prayed for a miracle.
The loving strangers showered us (in the middle) with blessings - Nov 2019
My moment of serenity at the Garden Tomb - Nov 2019
Can there be miracles?
A couple of weeks after we returned from the trip, I found myself pregnant again, our first natural pregnancy! I screamed in the bathroom with a pee stick in my hand — an irresistible monthly ritual. I dashed into the bedroom to wake up my husband and declared the miracle. He replied with cautious optimism, “Let’s call the clinic to arrange a blood test.” I was so touched and moved by the Lord’s answer to my prayer, and was in awe of the power of the blessings we received in Israel. I kneeled by the window thanking the Lord for the miracle.
Once again, we waited for the lab report. Yet again, the reading was low and we lost our second baby when it was only five-week old. Unfortunately, all over again, this was not our miracle.
I need an answer
My anger overshadowed my grief. While our gynecologist advised us to keep trying, I was adamant that something must be wrong to cause these years of waiting and recurrent miscarriages. I needed an answer before I could gather the courage to try again. I wasn’t sure I could bear another loss with no explanation — the pain, the disappointment and the frustration were too much for anyone to stand once, not to mention thrice.
My Chinese doctor recommended the late Dr. Bernard Chan who specialized in hematology & hematological oncology. Dr. Chan believed that the immune system could be at play in some infertility or recurrent miscarriage cases. However, reproductive immunology is a controversial area of medicine, at least in Hong Kong, and the treatments are expensive. I did some research online, read about Dr. Chan’s reviews in Hope Hong Kong Facebook group, and learned that reproductive immunology is in fact a rather common discipline in Taiwan and the Philippines. At that juncture, we were ready to have a leap of faith and use all our means to find the answer we needed.
I saw hope when I received my lab report from Dr. Chan. My results were all out of range for the three test categories. While it was worrying to receive a report with so many red flags, now that we knew what the underlying reasons were, we could formulate an informed medical plan.
It turned out there were silver linings in my past experience. From being barren to the first successful IVF implantation, on to the natural pregnancy that followed, Dr. Chan read these as signs that my body was gradually learning and adapting to bear a child. He devised me a course of treatment with high confidence that we will succeed.
Get ready for your miracle
On 5 November 2020, about three months into Dr. Chan’s course of treatment, I had my third positive pregnancy test. In that same afternoon, I saw a meme on Instagram, “Stop all that worrying. God has already worked it out. Get ready for your miracle!”
I used to be a career woman working in an international finance corporation. My job was intense, deadline driven, and required long hours. I strongly desired to find my soulmate and have a family but I never wanted to be a slave to my biological clock. I enjoyed the independence my job gave me, and my philosophy was that it’s "better not to have children than to have one with the wrong person.”
At age 34 I was lucky enough to meet my charming prince. We moved in together and slowly began planning to have a baby when I was 36. We were not in a hurry and were enjoying a beautiful life as "DINKS"- double income, no kids.
As I write my story, my thoughts are with those who are yearning for parenthood, those who have lost their premature baby and those who are enduring the pain of infertility in silence. No matter you are still on the journey, or settled, I wish you know there are many who share our stories. When you need a pair of listening ears, a shoulder to cry on or support in other forms, do reach out, seek help, knowing that you have companions on this journey.
My three beautiful babies - Sep 2019, Dec 2019 and Jun 2021