Dublin, Ireland, July 2010
Gina talks candidly about her struggle with infertility. A lawyer by training and a convert to the Church, Gina overcame a fear of doctors and hospitals to complete IVF treatments, resulting in the birth of her daughter Ella. Gina reveals a deep gratitude for her supportive husband, although not a member of the Church himself, and their precious daughter.
I am the fifth of seven children, and I grew up in a little seaside village in North County Dublin, Ireland. My mother raised us to be a close family. She didn’t work, so she was there for the seven of us all the time from the minute we woke up until we went to bed. She always tried to keep things nice and calm and make us happy, and I think that drew us together. I was always content at home, and my siblings and I all have a very strong sense of family. In fact, when I was investigating the Church, the thing that attracted me the most and that still does today was the whole family focus. I not only loved the eternal aspect of it but the emphasis that it is the most important thing, and not only with your immediate family but your extended and your ward family.
Can you share more about your conversion?
It started with two Mormon missionaries calling to the door, who were very nice boys. When they gave me their introductory spiel, I said to them that it was terribly fascinating, but that I was not remotely interested. However, I genuinely thought my flatmate (and best friend) would be curious, so I invited the missionaries to come back and talk to her. They came back on the Sunday night, and after that they kept calling and, while it was very nice, I really didn’t feel that it was for me. I did like the spirit that they brought to the house. I didn’t recognise it as that but I knew that I liked it. Then I became the “eternal investigator” and spent two years tormenting and questioning poor missionaries who would take my questions off to the mission president and then arrive back the next day with the answers. It took me those two years to join the Church, but I am really glad that it did because I had asked every question, looked at every angle and I was fully committed to it. It wasn’t just a spur of the moment of, “I feel the Spirit, I have to join.” By the time I joined, I really was comfortable with it. I was living the way that would be required of me, so it was just a natural progression and the right time.
What helped you make the leap from “eternal investigator” to baptised member after two years?
I know that there is a perception that people join the Church because there’s something missing in their lives. But there was nothing missing in my life. I was perfectly content. I was doing everything I wanted to do, I was happy with the way my life was going, and there were no gaps or holes. Church was something completely different and I remember thinking of joining the Church as being the most illogical decision I’ve ever made, because it was just so out of character. Everything else was so predictable – I did a diploma in law, then I got my degree, then I worked in a law firm. It was all kind of planned, whereas my conversion to the Church was so right of centre. The response from people who knew me was almost, “She’s done what?!” And yet it was the best decision I ever made in my life. I felt strongly it was right for me, but I couldn’t logically work out why. It took two years for it to become that strong of a feeling and, in the end, I just couldn’t ignore it and I had to go with it. It was as simple as that.
When did you meet you husband, Peppe?
We were in the same class at college. I started my course in October and then I joined the Church in December. All in one year I went to college full-time, switched to working at night in the law firm where I worked, met Peppe, and changed my religion! I think everyone around me was shell-shocked!
Was there ever a question that because Peppe was not a member of the Church that you would not marry him?
I never had a boyfriend from the Church: no one from Church asked me out and there wasn’t much opportunity to meet anyone, so my best chance of a serious relationship was with men outside of the Church. Peppe and I were friends for years before we started dating, so I was very much used to him and his ways. Once Peppe and I started dating, we knew quite quickly that it was serious and then we knew quite quickly that we wanted to get married.
I was concerned because I knew I couldn’t have a temple marriage with that choice, and I did have doubts and I did say many prayers about it because it was not the ideal. But it was my reality and I felt that he was the right man for me. There wasn’t anybody else I wanted to marry. I don’t have any regrets about choosing him for a partner even though he is not a member of the Church. For me it was not enough that someone was a priesthood holder; they had to be right for me as well. Of course I would absolutely love for him to be a member of the Church, it would be a lie to say otherwise! But I just didn’t meet anybody inside or outside of the Church who was as nice as he is.
How have you balanced living the gospel in your marriage, and supporting each other in your different beliefs?
Honestly, I think he supports me more for sure. He has always supported me in my callings. While he likes to drink his coffee and his wine, morally we have very similar beliefs and that was most important to me. I consider him to be a very Christian person and one of his most attractive qualities is that he is very thoughtful and caring for people less fortunate than he is.
He is very spiritual, as well, and we can pray together and share a lot of aspects of the gospel together. We have family home evening and he is perfectly happy to participate, and he likes that, but there are certain things he has no testimony of whatsoever and I don’t expect him to.
When did you realize that you might struggle to have children?
We didn’t plan to have children immediately after marrying because we wanted to have a couple of years together alone. When we did start trying for children and it didn’t happen straight away, I went to the doctor to have my hormone levels checked along with my iron levels because I’m vegetarian. To me, it was just a project that had to be managed properly, quickly, simply and that was it. I never expected there to be any real problem.
Peppe got tested too, and I just thought this was a box to be ticked in the process. But when he went to his doctor to receive his results, the doctor told him he had azoospermia. He picked me up after work and as we were driving home and he said, “Now, you’re going to get a bit of a shock here but the doctor said I have a zero sperm count” and I just started to laugh. I thought he was joking.
I spent that weekend crying and he was worried as well, and we just clung to each other. In amongst that though was the feeling that we didn’t get married just to have children; we had married because we loved each other and we wanted to be together and we still had that and we would deal with whatever this turned out to be. At that point we were confronted with the very real prospect that we would never have children. We didn’t know anybody for whom IVF had worked so it wasn’t even an option in our minds. We had a weekend of shock and trying to take in this kind of “sentence”.
What happened next?
Peppe had an appointment with the doctor quite quickly after that and we were told he was perfectly healthy and this was obviously just some blockage. His hormone levels were fine; he was creating sperm but it was just not getting through. The doctor suggested we try ICSI, which is the next stage after IVF. We looked at it, but I was not keen on the process because I was incredibly nervous of doctors and anything medical so it didn’t seem like a real option for me. I think at that stage I just felt that we weren’t going to have children or that maybe we would adopt.
We had almost a year of tests for Peppe to make sure he was okay. Then in Ireland you have to attend a meeting at the clinic before you can even be put on the list to meet with a consultant for the possibility of IVF treatment. They only hold these open nights twice a year and we had missed the first one, so there was another gap before we got to the meeting. I cried through the whole thing as they described the process and what it would involve to a room full of poor couples in exactly the same position as we were. When we left that evening I did not know how I was going to do it. I was so nervous about all the time we were going to spend with doctors and in hospitals, managing drugs and doing procedures. But if we had been in this situation even ten years previously, we would have been told to put our names on the adoption list as IVF would not have been an option (ICSI as a process only really developed in Ireland in the mid-1990s). So I felt a responsibility to make use of the technology and knowledge that had been developed in that time for our good.
How did you support each other through this time, and what was the impact of this treatment on your marriage?
Once we had found out it was a male fertility problem, the doctors had to do an operation where they put him under general anaesthetic and then extracted sperm so that we could freeze it. He was really quite relaxed about it. I think a lot of men would have great difficulty with this and they might feel that this in some way affects their manhood, but Peppe just felt that he was healthy and fit and lucky to be able to try the treatment. He was really positive. I didn’t have to be sensitive around him about the issue and we would actually laugh or joke about it. I think the reality of it was that this was either going to really upset us, or it was going to bring us closer together, and I do think it brought us closer together.
One of the challenges of infertility on couples is that by the time you get pregnant you have been through an awful lot, so you are already tired before you even have a baby. I was committed to the idea that this was the man I had married and I was glad I had married him irrespective of whether or not we could have children. I think Peppe knew that and it helped him relax.
What was the next part of the process for you?
I had to start taking various drugs to stimulate my ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible. Then the doctors harvest the eggs and try to fertilise them and, when they are fertilised, the doctors put them back in the mother’s body. It was a case of balancing the drugs and having my hormone levels checked every couple of days and then adjusting the dosage to make sure I was feeling comfortable while the doctors were still getting the eggs that they needed. The drugs worked well for me, and I produced 20-something eggs, which was a bit ridiculous – I felt like a battery hen! I was really, really lucky that I had produced so many because a high number gives you a better chance of fertilisation.
The only problem was that I got hyper-stimulation after they took the eggs, and that meant that when they went to transfer the fertilised eggs back, I was already sick and in terrible discomfort. I ended up in hospital from the sickness, and I lost those fertilised eggs in the process. Originally I had said that I would only do the procedure once, and if it didn’t work we would not try again. But because I had been sick, we felt we should go through the process again when I was healthy. On our second attempt (a cycle involving frozen zygotes), I became pregnant.
What were your emotions during this time?
It was a combination of excitement and anxiety because we went through so much to get to this stage of pregnancy. It is an incredibly emotional roller coaster, but of course we were absolutely delighted and we just felt really, really blessed because we didn’t know anybody for whom this had worked.
My pregnancy was hard, but that had nothing to do with the IVF. I happened to contract sinusitis when I was three months pregnant and I had it for the rest of the pregnancy. I think my body was a bit in shock after all that it had been through to get to that stage – the pre-pregnancy drugs, the IVF treatment, the whole mental stress a year beforehand.
Being from a big family, it feels strange to me to only have one child, but we know we are really blessed to have the one we do have and we both feel very lucky to have Ella in particular. We definitely feel she is ours and that she was given to us for a reason.
How did the gospel help you through the IVF process?
I felt there was something bigger than me, that I am only a little part of the bigger plan, and that if I was meant to have children, I would. I didn’t feel the same level of desperation that perhaps somebody who doesn’t have the gospel in their life might feel. Of course, it is a desperate time for all couples, and I think for women in particular. To have the possibility of having children taken away from them is very despairing. But with the gospel I absolutely felt a strength. I started out so terrified of anything to do with doctors and hospitals and medical procedures, and I absolutely feel that I got the courage to go through it all from prayer – my own and those of others – because I don’t know of anyone who was as afraid as I was! I definitely received inner strength from my faith. I felt it would be okay, whatever the result. I never felt absolutely confident that we were going to end up with a baby, but I did know we were going to come out of the situation intact. I didn’t try to judge the outcome; I just tried to make the best decisions that I could in the circumstances.
My sister, who is not a member of our faith, asked me if I felt that I was being punished for something, and I never felt that. I wouldn’t like anyone else to have to go through what we did, but I didn’t feel it was anything other than a trial I needed to experience. I do feel confident that it was for a reason, and having gone through it, I am glad that I did. I thought it was very hard but I didn’t feel angry about it.
What is your advice to other women in similar circumstances?
By trying the IVF process, even though I was so nervous about it, I felt that I showed Heavenly Father that I had done my best and everything I felt I could do, knowing that He could help me as His will allowed. I think some women can try IVF only once and some women can do ten cycles and maybe get pregnant on the tenth one. It depends on the woman, and it is a very personal thing as to how many attempts you can mentally and personally deal with. I don’t think anyone should feel forced into doing something that isn’t right for them.
Throughout the process I think women should try and make time for themselves as well. I don’t think I made enough time for myself the first time. I was still trying to carry on a busy career and go through the process, and I did not slow down enough. You need to do something that makes you feel confident that you can make the situation work for you so you can endure it. Do whatever it is that you feel you need, just so you don’t have any regrets.
I think women push themselves so much; they feel they have to be mothers, career women, wives, daughters, sisters, and they try to juggle so many different roles in their lives. While struggling with infertility, women just need to put themselves and their own physical and mental health first.
How has your faith grown since having Ella?
Oh, it’s grown immeasurably. She is such a blessing, she really is, and I just know beyond any doubt that she was sent specifically to help us, for this little baby has taught me so much. She has been great at bringing Peppe and me closer together as a family. I would never say a couple isn’t a complete family without a child, but I feel that she helps us be a better family and I think we are better as a couple for having her.
She is the best little missionary. She has made Peppe so much more tolerant of and in tune with the Church. Before we had Ella, there was no real need for him to be in church with me on Sundays, but every Sunday for eighteen months he attended nursery with her because she refused to stay in there alone. If he hadn’t done that, then I couldn’t have served in Primary. That’s a great indicator of what a support he is to me. When she moved up to Primary, everyone was teasing him that he had been released! He comes to sacrament meeting with us, and then he goes home and we go to our classes. A little while ago she asked him why he didn’t go to the Daddies class, and so the following week Peppe went to the first Priesthood class that he had ever been to! He is fully supportive of raising Ella in the gospel.
How has becoming a mother now changed who you are?
I think that you are more aware of the wonder of life when you have gone through the IVF because it is such a miracle. This whole medical intervention to help us have a child is nothing short of miraculous. But even though the doctors do exactly the same thing to each couple, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I really do feel that it’s a miracle that it worked for us. I think it has made me very overprotective and very cautious as a mother, but I don’t take things for granted anymore either. People say, “I’m going to get married, I’m going to have children,” and those are normal expectations in life. but once that is interrupted or taken away, when those expectations have changed, you can’t take anything for granted ever again.
At A Glance
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Marital status: Married
Children: One little girl, Ella, age 5
Occupation: Lawyer (but currently a stay at home Mam!)
Convert to Church: December 1993
Schools Attended: Primary and secondary school in Skerries, Co. Dublin,
Law school UCD, Dublin and The Law Society of Ireland.
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “I Lived In Heaven” (primary song!)
Current Church Calling: Primary president
Interview by Louise Elder. Photos used with permission.