Saturday marks the beginning of National Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility affects one-in-six Australian couples and its causes are varied. Three south-west couples have shared their stories and some of the challenges in their bid to become parents, to help raise awareness for others in a similar situation.
Garvoc mum Lillianna Philp was in excruciating pain and knew something was seriously wrong.
She'd had pain and bleeding for a few weeks and despite repeated gynecologist visits, she was told it was normal but they'd keep an eye on it.
Mrs Philp and husband Josh were trying to conceive their second baby while under a Victorian specialist's care.
"She said 'well women bleed, don't worry about it'. I trusted her and I continued to bleed for quite a few weeks," Mrs Philp said.
Her condition progressively worsened. Mrs Philp said she felt like she was dying but was too sick to attend the clinic.
"I got extremely unwell. I got really weak and was in excruciating pain. The pain was becoming really unbearable and I didn't know what it was. I rang them because I was feeling so unwell.
"I rang reception and said 'I need to speak to someone, something's not right' and the woman behind the desk said 'look gastro's going around. It's probably just gastro'."
Mrs Philp, 30, is still pained by the lack of response she received, wishing she'd done more, urging other women in pain to trust their intuition and to speak up.
The next day, her mum took her to the Terang hospital where they asked if she could be pregnant. After bleeding for so long she thought it was impossible.
"I said 'No I've been at the gynecologist trying to fall pregnant. If I was pregnant I would know I was pregnant'."
In Warrnambool, an ultrasound revealed an ectopic pregnancy which is a pregnancy that develops outside the uterus, often in one of the fallopian tubes.
"I was rushed in for emergency surgery because my fallopian tube had burst," she said.
"The baby had grown to a certain size and burst my fallopian tube. All the bleeding I'd been having was actually internal bleeding so I was bleeding out. Once I got out of surgery they said 'if you had waited 24 more hours you wouldn't have made it'.
"I think I was so shocked because I didn't realise I was pregnant. Then all of a sudden I was pregnant and I'd lost the baby and I'd also nearly lost myself in a space of 12 hours. It was horrible. I never knew what an ectopic pregnancy was. I was so lost."
Her fallopian tube was removed and a couple of months later she felt the familiar excruciating pain again. Ultrasounds revealed a second ectopic pregnancy.
"I had to have surgery to remove it," she said. "They said it might be early enough that we can take the baby out and you can keep your tube but we won't know until you go into surgery. You'll find out at the end.
"One thing I found really hard was that after I had those losses I was put on the maternity ward, which is really hard.
"That's really hard to know you're there without your baby. You're so happy for the other women and their babies. But it's a really hard place to be after just coming out of what you've been through."
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She said aftercare for women was lacking and there needed to be more focus and conversations around women's health and mental health.
She said the couple was sad for the babies they'd lost and she was still angry about how she was treated.
"Whether you've had a stillborn baby, whether you've had an ectopic pregnancy or whether you can't fall pregnant there's no aftercare. It's just 'how do we fix it?'"
She said the enormity of what she went through more than two years ago was only now sinking in. "I feel like I rushed everything to cope and now I'm like 'oh my gosh, now it's hit me'.
As a result of the ectopic pregnancies and subsequent removal of both fallopian tubes, Mrs Philp's eggs could no longer travel from her ovary to her uterus, with the couple using IVF to conceive their now two-year-old.
"There's a lot of stigma around infertility or loss that certain people believe you need to be a certain way along for it to count," she said.
"Whether you've lost your baby at three weeks, three months or at birth - even the sheer fact people think you need to be 12 weeks along to announce a pregnancy."
She said she realised that after 12 weeks the pregnancy was more safe or secure "but it doesn't make you any less pregnant".
"I understand and I respect that, but if you don't make it to 12 weeks it's like it never existed, or it doesn't matter as much because you didn't announce it, so it's not real in a way."
She has also been diagnosed with adenomyosis, where cells from the uterus lining grow into the uterus muscle, and was given the option of a hysterectomy at the age of 28 which she refused. It has some similarities to endometriosis but is a separate condition.
"When I was going through it all I felt less than," Mrs Philp said. "It was 'I am a woman, I was put on this earth to do one thing and I can't do that' and it's still a really hard thing to grasp."
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