On 1 October, model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen announced the tragic loss of her baby at around 20 to 24 weeks. She and her husband, musician John Legend, have always been open about their fertility struggles and IVF journey (failed cycles, two pregnancies, postpartum depression). In loss they were just as honest, opening the doors for others to share their own stories.
Struggles with fertility and pregnancy losses are not uncommon. Impaired fertility affects approximately 80 million people globally, while around one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage. Infertility in women of childbearing age is estimated to be at least 15 per cent with 40.5 million women around the world seeking treatment. Over the past 40 years, eight million children have been born thanks to IVF (in vitro fertilisation, where an egg is combined with sperm outside the body).
Despite this, fertility issues often carry a stigma that discourages sufferers from talking about it. Staying positive can be difficult as you navigate treatment options, anxiety, anger, hope and disappointment, not to mention the expense—a single round of IVF, for example, can cost up to $15,000 per cycle in Singapore’s public hospitals, and up to $20,000 per cycle at a private facility.
Here, 7 women open up about their fertility journeys and reflect on what kept them positive throughout the challenges.
1. Nismalia Md Noor, 38, Singapore
“My first attempt in 2012 was unsuccessful, I was so sad and depressed. In 2016 and in to my second marriage, my husband, Fauzi and I tried many avenues and nothing seemed to be work. We talked about IVF—I felt hopeless when it did not work the first time. The decision was tough, but somehow I had the courage to try again.
“In 2019 and in my second round of IVF, it was different. Due to age and other health factors, I was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension which increased the risk of pregnancy and birth complications. We were referred to a high-risk obstetrician. The first step in preparing for pregnancy was changing medications that were safer for pregnancy. I started focusing on managing my blood sugar and my diet changed drastically to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices. In order to proceed with IVF, I had to check my blood sugar levels before and after food daily. After a few months, I was finally given the green light for pregnancy.
“IVF is a long, painful, and expensive process. As this is was my second round of IVF, I was entitled to co-funding from the government. That said, couples should be financially stable to be able to pay for expenses. I was fortunate to be attended by a doctor who is passionate and caring, that too is important as you need a doctor whom you can trust and feel comfortable with. After the embryo transfer day, I was very cautious about my daily activities. At 9 to 12 days, you’ll be back to have a blood test checking your pregnancy hormone levels.
And here we are, parents to a four month old baby boy, Adam! IVF is a roller coaster ride. Every path is unique, always remind yourself that you’re doing everything you can, and no matter what the outcome, you’ll be okay—just take it all one day at a time.”
2. Brittany Williams, 30, US
“I was diagnosed with PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] in 2016 and my fertility journey started in 2018. First we tried the drug Clomid, and in 2019 I was put on Letrozole, but we were unsuccessful. Great numbers all around, egg quality, semen analysis, but still no pregnancy. Our last attempt resulted in a chemical pregnancy [very early pregnancy loss]. We haven’t decided what to do next, if anything.
“I knew it was going to be trial and error, which caused me a lot of anxiety and there have been moments when I’ve lost all hope. There were days that I did nothing but cry — prayers, therapy and a great support system kept me going, though. My husband has been my backbone through this journey.
“One of the best things I’ve done was to join two support groups. One is for Black women with PCOS online and the other is an infertility group via my therapist. It makes a world of difference to feel understood and that someone knows exactly what you’re going through. It helps with the shame and isolation.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that there is a quick fix. Sometimes it’s multiple things causing someone to not get pregnant. Not to mention fertility treatments in the US are very expensive. The reality is that some women never end up having kids. It’s okay if a woman decides that fertility treatments and other options, such as adoption, are too much whether financially or emotionally. We need to stop putting the burden on women that they must have children.”
3. Gemma Rolls-Bentely, 36, UK
“Even though I have good fertility, I’ve had a lot of challenges because I’m in a same sex relationship. With my first baby it took three years, if you include all the research, saving up the money, consultations, testing, finding the sperm, and some failed attempts.
“Sperm is very expensive if you’re doing it via a sperm bank. After it didn’t work with the first donor, we took a long break while we saved up again. The idea that it might not work again was really hard. My wife and I are lucky that we both have good salaries so that we were able to save. I worry about our fellows in the queer community who aren’t as privileged and how they would navigate this.
“We eventually tried with a new sperm donor and it worked. I had my baby in 2019. We always knew we wanted two children so as soon as the first baby was born, I batch-bought sperm and put it on a credit card. We are now pregnant again.
“Through all the challenges my wife and I took real strength from each other and I tried to find real-life examples of lesbian mums, so that I could get their perspectives, and find out the pros and cons of the different options.
“There’s a lack of awareness and education around the topic of same-sex parenting. It’s amazing how many people feel the need to ask you about it. I will tell them because I feel like I want to educate people, but it does become a little exhausting. The first time I was pregnant, a close friend said to me, ‘Gem, who’s the father?’ She didn’t know she was saying anything wrong, but I was so upset. There isn’t a father, there’s a donor and two mothers. We’ve had a really happy ending and I’m so grateful.”
4. Cristina Ferrer, 38, Spain
“My husband and I decided to have a baby in 2017, when I was 34. After six months with no luck, we decided to undergo medical tests. It turned out we both had issues and the doctors told us that artificial insemination would not be effective and that we should plan on IVF.
“In total we had five treatments. The final one, I had decided, was going to be our last try. I could not face any more emotional disappointments. My husband would have kept going, but he wasn’t the one who was having all the hormones and suffering their effects.
“We had some very hard moments, especially after a negative attempt. My advice for people who are struggling with fertility issues is to remember it is a long-distance race, but it’s the race of your life. After three years of struggling with fertility, I now have my baby with me.”
5. Samantha Schulz, 54, Austria
“[My husband and I] tried to conceive ‘naturally’ for about five years. Then I changed gynaecologists, and told her about symptoms I had been experiencing for years, which included irregular periods — when they did come, they left me crippled with pain and discomfort during intercourse. After tests, I was diagnosed with endometriosis [where small pieces of the womb lining are found outside the womb].
“I was operated on and the cysts were removed. We then began IVF. We were told that it was our only hope and that because of my age, 32, and because the endometriosis had been so widespread, there was only a 25 per cent chance of conceiving.
“One of the biggest challenges was the daily hormone injections. We decided not to tell family or friends in case it wasn’t a success. Going through such a significant thing and not talking about it to anyone, apart from my husband, was really difficult because even he didn’t understand the pressure I felt.
“I’m naturally a positive person and I knew that would give me the best chance for success, but IVF challenged it to the maximum. While we were waiting to find out if it had been successful, I remember thinking that I couldn’t go through this again.
“One thing that helped was getting a dog. Now we had something to love and care for. A year later, we were pregnant with triplets. I lost one of the babies at 25 weeks and so I have twins. It was traumatic, but it’s important to know that even in such a dark place, there is light at the end.
“I would say the most important thing is to find a good doctor you trust and who you feel listens to you.”
6. Kristyn Hodgdon, 31, US
“I decided to come off the birth-control pill at 27. A few months later, I still hadn’t got my menstrual cycle back. I was then diagnosed with PCOS. My gynaecologist then referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist who prescribed Clomid to help me ovulate.
“Looking back, I had no clue about the physical and emotional toll that countless failed IUIs [Intrauterine insemination, when sperm is directly inserted into a woman’s womb]—and then ultimately IVF—would take on me. The next year of my life was a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, blood tests, ultrasounds, hormones, injections, tears and failed cycles. It was all-consuming.
“I leaned on my husband, my mother and my best friends more than ever before. But I became tired of talking about it with people who didn’t get it, no matter how well-meaning they were. My husband’s cousin, who had been through IVF a few years before, became my lifeline.
“After I got pregnant with my twins, I created The Fertility Tribe, a lifestyle brand and online community giving a voice to every unique path to parenthood—something I wish had existed when I was going through treatments.”
7. Mary Jane Rabier, 35, US
“We lost our son, Luca, after he was born via C-section at 25 weeks. He was just too small to survive. This loss, coupled with my difficult pregnancy—I had hyperemesis gravidarum [severe morning sickness]—lead to our decision to use a surrogate.
“We decided to use an agency. They charge, on average, $22,000 in the US to match you with a surrogate, which does not include surrogate compensation. It’s an astronomical fee.
“My husband and I love our surrogate and the journey that we are on. What she is doing for us is so rare and beautiful. I think many intended parents feel the same way we do about their own surrogate.
“My advice to others struggling would be to join infertility-related Instagram accounts, follow people on Instagram who are struggling like you. Unfollow accounts that make you sad. Get used to the fact that you aren’t alone in your fertility struggle and focus on your blessings.”
If you need support through this difficult time or need someone to talk to, speak to your local GP or visit one of many online support groups such as Kristyn Hodgdon’s The Fertility Tribe for advice from someone who has been through the same struggles