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December 26, 2022

What a Journey Life is – Amy Walpole

What an inspiring story to be shared during this festive season. As we relax this Boxing Day after a busy Christmas Day, let’s take the time to reflect and be grateful for all we have in our lives. You never know someone else’s journey, so be kind xx

“Sharing my personal journey to parenthood has always been something that I have wanted to do. Whilst there are many challenges and risks associated with trying to conceive, carrying a viable pregnancy to full term and beyond once a baby has been born, some people have a more challenging and enduring journey then others and this was certainly the case for me.

Back in May of 2018 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It’s something you hear about, read about and think it won’t happen to you, and then it does. In the space of a month, I went from being diagnosed to being told a hysterectomy was my only option to give me the best chance of living a cancer free life, let alone considering the option of having a family. I distinctly remember the day I first saw my gynaecologist/oncologist specialist, where he told me that not only surgery (but a hysterectomy) was my only option due to the size of the cancer. Given that outcome, he referred me to a fertility specialist where we discussed the process for the freezing of eggs and embryos, a procedure that would need to happen in the next week or so to allow me enough recovery time prior to the hysterectomy which was planned for later that same month. My partner and I had about 24 hours to decide what we wanted to do. Everything was moving at a very rapid pace and it was probably one of the most overwhelming experiences I have had in my life.

Fast forward a week, and by some miracle (following a clear PET scan), my gynaecologist/oncologist’s recommended way forward had changed. Surgery was still required but it was dependent on what was found at the time as to what would happen. I had one of three possible outcomes; a hysterectomy, a trachelectomy or chemotherapy. In August 2018 I went into the surgery not knowing the outcome until I woke up, which made the whole experience that much more terrifying. The fate of myself was completely out of my hands. After 6 hours in surgery and a slow recovery, it was made known that they had opted to do the trachelectomy, which meant I would still be able to try conceive and carry a pregnancy – the best possible outcome. During this procedure my specialist also put a permanent stitch in to act as a surrogate cervix, and assist the carrying of a pregnancy.

Fast forward to post-op recovery, in October of 2018 we managed to conceive naturally on the first try. I thought it was a miracle and a blessing that it was able to happen so instantaneously for us as we were pre-empting a challenging path to conception as well as possible IVF given my medical history. But little did I know that was just the beginning of what would be a very nerve-wracking few months, our biggest challenges were yet to come as the conceiving was not to be the biggest challenge but the carrying of the pregnancy to a viable gestation (at least 28 weeks).

Labelling a pregnancy ‘high-risk’ automatically adds so much more angst and stress to what is already such a stressful time, particularly for a first-time mum. You question everything so much more, and are constantly counting each day. There were also so many unknowns with my high risk pregnancy as the trachelectomy procedure had only been introduced as a medical option a few years prior. I remember mentioning it to a few physicians who were involved in the care of my pregnancy at the time and most didn’t know what the procedure was, or could not comprehend how you could be pregnant without a cervix. You never want to be a guinea pig, especially with something as precious as a pregnancy where so much can go wrong already, but here I was running that race with no turning back.

Frequent ultrasound scans with both a specialist who deals with high-risk pregnancies in Sydney and locally on the coast as well as more frequent regular appointments with my obstetrician were the precedent of how my high-risk pregnancy was managed. Each week was a huge win as we got closer to the 28 week gestation. When I think back to it now, I vastly under estimated just how much emotional turmoil I was carrying with me each day but being in that scenario the only option I had

was to keep moving forward and follow the advice of the medical practitioners overseeing me. When I found out I was pregnant I was advised in the beginning that it was likely that there would be a high chance of pre-term birth, and that it could happen as soon as 28 weeks due to the size of the baby. If that were the case, I would need to be prepared to birth in either Sydney, John Hunter or elsewhere depending on the availability of hospital beds at the time. Again, it was not an easy thing to digest but at the same time I didn’t have much choice. I had to do what I had to do to ensure that we could deliver baby safely and soundly, and if that meant travelling off the coast then that is what needed to happen. I was also put on progesterone to help manage pre-term labour risks.

In June of 2019 we exceeded expectations and my waters spontaneously broke at 34 weeks. I was admitted to hospital and baby was born at 34 weeks and 1 day as my body had started to naturally contract about 24 hours later, something that we needed to avoid due to the permanent suture that had been fixed during my surgery. We spent 2 weeks in the special care nursery, and I will forever be grateful to the team who oversee that Unit as their assistance, expertise, help and knowledge were invaluable to such a daunting time of becoming a first-time parent, as well as being a parent to a NICU baby. I actually felt somewhat prepared to parent leaving the NICU/hospital after that 2 week period.

Part of my post-partum care involved a check-up with my gynaecologist/oncologist, where we discussed the possibility of having another baby before considering doing the hysterectomy (which has always been the end goal for me to help decrease the chances of a re-occurrence, something that is vitally important to me now that we have children and their futures to consider as well). I was elated to hear that he was happy for us to take the time to try for a second baby, and was confident that it would be another successful experience.

In May of 2022 I fell pregnant with our second miracle baby. From day dot the two pregnancies and experiences could not have been more different. With the first pregnancy I was overly aware of being pregnant and every little nuance. With the second pregnancy, I wasn’t even aware I was pregnant until I took a test due to my period being late a couple of days (which wasn’t that unusual for me). The journeys have also been different. With the first pregnancy, my life revolved around appointments, scans, results, as we needed to keep such close tabs on everything to ensure we knew what was happening with baby and me. With this second pregnancy, I am still having regular appointments and scans but the approach is different, and there is less emphasis on the factors that were of focus in the first pregnancy. I think all of those things have helped me to get to where I am today, which is 36 weeks (huge milestone).

All going to plan (perhaps famous last words), we are booked in for a planned c-section on 4 January 2023 to welcome our second miracle (a baby boy). Having had lived through that first pregnancy, I definitely believed it helped prepare me mentally for this second pregnancy, but I believe I am also physically stronger and have more faith and confidence that we will get to where we need to be. I have also come to the conclusion that a lot of what happens in life is out of our control. All we can do is follow the advice of the medical experts, and if things don’t go to plan (which happens so often in life, let alone pregnancy) then act accordingly, you can’t get too ahead of yourself (easier said than done I know though).

You may ask why I am sharing all of this? What do I have to gain? The main driving factor for me is I want to share my personal journey to show those in similar situations, or maybe just embarking on their journey to parenthood of what is possible with the assistance/support/guidance of a medical term whom you trust your life with, modern day medical science, and the sheer will and determination. There is hope, and there are medical practitioners out there such as my

gynaecologist/obstetrician (Dr Peta Skilbeck), gynaecologist/oncologist (Dr Ken Jaaback) and GP (Dr Karen Douglas) who are dedicated to the cause, and who I thank each and every day that they chose their professions to better help those like me to give me a chance I never thought I would have, twice over. Thank you to the beautiful ladies at Intuition Private as well, who have been nothing but a delight to deal with during both pregnancies. A smiling face can always make the difference and I am thankful that we could all share these journeys together.”

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