Our pain is so hard to conceive
The biggest thing I’ve learned from the journey I’m currently on is that I do not have control.
That’s incredibly hard for me. My whole life I’ve created environments where I have had control. I set a goal, I put processes in place in order to achieve it, I work hard towards it and normally it works out. It certainly did in my career as a professional basketballer and Olympian.
But, so far, my goal of becoming a mother hasn’t worked out.
I do all the extra things, like when I was an athlete at the top of my game. I eat properly, I try and put on weight, I try not to exercise too much – things I find difficult to adhere to considering the majority of my life has been based around maintaining a certain healthy lifestyle.
I have acupuncture regularly. I take all the vitamins and supplements. I do yoga and I meditate. I’ve seen a healer. I’ve eaten walnuts and pineapple, cut out gluten, stopped drinking. Google anything related to trying to fall pregnant and I have probably done it. I guess that’s the control freak in me trying to eliminate any ‘what if’ thoughts and give us the best possible chance of conceiving.
But, the further we walk this path, the more you realise it’s the luck of the draw – not the bloody pineapples – and ours hasn’t come yet.
My husband, Neil Mottram, is my best friend and partner of over 18 years. We have been through four failed IVF cycles and six unsuccessful transfers over the past three years.
‘I’LL PROVE YOU WRONG’
I retired from basketball internationally in 2014, then professionally at the end of the 2015-16 WNBL season. I look back now and think how quickly the time has gone, considering we’ve had the Rio Olympics come and go since then and Tokyo less than two years away.
I got my first fulltime job as head of high performance at a youth development centre in Melbourne during my last season of playing, which meant I was working in Melbourne then flying back to Adelaide to play for the Lightning during the back end of the season.
I never really had a chance to reflect. It was off with one pair of shoes and into another.
My whole life I’ve created environments where I have had control. I set a goal, I put processes in place in order to achieve it, I work hard towards it and normally it works out… But, so far, my goal of becoming a mother hasn’t worked out.
I don’t miss playing, the nerves, the anxiety or the pain. Now I train because I want to and because I can, not because I have to.
Mostly I miss my teammates, the joys of seeing them every day and going through everything together. I was a fierce competitor on the court and I definitely still am off court in my everyday life. I’m always looking for a competition, the chance to compete and win. That hasn’t left me.
I was fortunate, through hard work and timing, to play for Australia for as long as I did.
I had the opportunity to play – and, more importantly, become great friends – with some of the best to have ever played the game. The Opals are one of the best national sporting teams Australia has ever had. They have an incredible history and culture, paved long before I arrived. Hopefully, in some small way, I continued that.
Now I am just a proud spectator who looks on fondly as the future generations of fine capable young women continue writing the chapters of women’s basketball in Australia.
In 2010, I was told to consider retirement. I was returning from what would be my last season in Italy with a pretty banged-up right knee. I remember having scans and the Australian doctor asking me if I’d considered starting a family.
I hadn’t. I was 30. I thought I had plenty of time left.
We started to try for a baby soon after this news but my knee started to improve with the right care and rehabilitation and, before I knew it, it was 2012 and I was selected for my second Olympics in London.
After London, we started trying again. Deep down I knew, after 18 years together and not one whoopsie daisy in that time, that it wasn’t going to come naturally for us. But I chose to ignore it and kept telling myself, ‘It’ll happen, it’ll happen’.
I remember clear as day the sex ed class in year eight and being told about protection and the ease of falling pregnant. As a woman, you can spend a lot of your young adulthood trying not to get pregnant.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised there’s only a small window of time each month where you can fall pregnant and depending on the situation and circumstance, it can be even more minuscule.
It was in 2015, when we realised things weren’t going to happen naturally for us, that we decided to go down the path of IVF.
After extensive tests, we learned of our complications. Both Neil and I have contributing factors, which meant the process would become more extensive than IVF.
I will never forget when the IVF specialist told us we have less than one per cent chance of having children naturally. I laughed awkwardly and then the tears welled up in my eyes. I remember trying so hard to keep my shit together, saying to myself, ‘Pull yourself together woman’.
My whole life I’ve been told, ‘You can’t do this,’ or, ‘You’ll never be that,’ and I’ve always thought, ‘Well fuck you, I’ll prove you wrong’.
Now that I’ve been told we practically can’t have a baby naturally, no matter how bad the odds are, a part of me wants to prove the specialists and experts wrong and have a child.
Things haven’t gone to plan. We are about to start our fifth cycle now and it’s taken its toll on us – emotionally, mentally, physically and financially – over the last couple of years. Like many couples, the dollars add up and, while I do not know the exact number, we have spent close to $50,000 trying to conceive.
The crazy thing is that this pales into insignificance with other couples and their stories.
I had laparoscopic surgery about six weeks ago. The surgeon discovered I have Stage Four endometriosis. That was quite a shock because, unlike most women who have this condition, I never thought I was symptomatic. I look back now and think maybe things like the sporadic intense period pain weren’t normal, but I thought that was what all women experienced. As an athlete, when you have pain on a daily basis, you just find a way to deal with it and move on.
I had to actually do research on endometriosis. I was very naïve to the condition. It staggered me that approximately one-in-10 Australian women have some form of endometriosis. I am not alone.
Things haven’t gone to plan. We are about to start our fifth cycle now and it’s taken its toll on us – emotionally, mentally, physically and financially.
I’ve always been a very open person. I played sport fiercely and always wore my heart on my sleeve. That’s the same with the infertility journey we’re on.
We are not ashamed of it. It is what it is. I think the struggle of infertility is a lot more common than we realise. I chose to share our IVF path on my Instagram account because I believe my own imperfections are perfect for someone else on their own journey. Additionally, being open and honest has kept me going and allowed me to find energy and hope through others’ words and support.
People from all walks of life – whether it be through sport or school or even those I have not even met – have reached out. They have been through similar journeys, or have thanked me for having the courage to speak out. I’ve realised that so many women are going through a similar thing to me. We’re all in this together.
The physical component of IVF hasn’t been as difficult for me. The injections and ultrasounds just become part of your daily schedule, but it’s been the emotional and mental rollercoaster of hope that has been the toughest.
You get yourself up on every cycle thinking, ‘This is going to be the one’, or, ‘Oh, we had a biochemical pregnancy on this one’, so we’ll go another round thinking we are one step closer. But you are just let down and left disappointed over and over.
I’m lucky I have Neil. He is my best friend. My rock. We’ve been together nearly 20 years and married for 11. We get each other through. It is just as hard for him as it is for me. We’ve always said we’ll try, we’ll go down this path, but if at any time it overtakes our relationship and consumes us then we will stop, it will never be worth what we already have.
You never know how many times you will try. You just take it as it comes and try to do what feels right in the moment. We’ve obviously looked at adoption, which is not an easy task at all and can take years to come to fruition. Now we’re exploring options around fostering children as well.
Deep down, I’d love to see what Neil and I could create, the two of us. That would be pretty special. But equally, there are a lot of children in the world who need a loving home. So if this path doesn’t work for us, we know there are other options out there.
it’s not all about me
Right now, home is Melbourne and where I’m following my passion as a coach and a teacher. One and the same, really. I work across many platforms, including coaching at the Victorian Police Academy and teaching in the undergraduate sports science degree at Deakin University. I’m starting to get back involved with basketball and work at Rowville Secondary College and also head up the senior women’s basketball team at Haileybury College.
In addition to this, I also am commentating with Fox Sports in the WNBL and have recently started my own little business, STRYVE365, which is evolving organically. It helps to assist people, especially young women to strive and reach their value every day.
I’m also an ambassador for Charity Bounce, which gives employment opportunities to young, diverse groups in Australia, specifically in NSW at the moment.
Check out @JenniScreen interview with WNBL and Basketball Australia! She is doing an amazing job and we are thankful to have her as a coach and ambassador for Charity Bounce! https://t.co/Ifw7LNPlDT pic.twitter.com/7GpHfN0Rj1
— Charity Bounce (@charitybounce) July 20, 2018
The program uses basketball as the common denominator to get people involved, then Bounce sets up infrastructure around young people to transition them into employment opportunities and the workforce. Charity Bounce has provided great perspective and a reality check for me, especially when at times I can get into a ‘feeling sorry for myself’ mentality.
Ultimately, I think all my working endeavours do the same thing. They allow me to assist and help others. There’s nothing more rewarding for me than seeing someone smile because they’ve realised they can do something or have achieved a goal. That’s what I love and why I do what I do now.
Some will say I am too busy, you must slow down, but to me busy is good. It stops me from being consumed by our personal infertility journey. Nothing is ever monotonous and I am always challenged to learn and grow on a daily basis. Who knows where it will all lead?
I just hope we get to share it all with a little human.