21/12/2017 9:08 PM IST | Updated 21/12/2017 10:54 PM IST

How A Miscarriage Gave One Woman Hope On Her Infertility Journey

As a family doctor, Sheila Wijayasinghe was well aware of all the challenges.

Alisa Arbuckle
Family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe (shown) and her husband struggled to get pregnant.

Name and partner's name: Sheila Wijayasinghe and Corey Tucker

Occupation: Family doctor

Age: 39

City: Toronto, Ont.

Years trying to have a baby: Four

When the "mom gene" kicked in: I'm an only child and I'm very grateful for the close bond I have with my parents. They have shown me unconditional love and provided so much support throughout my life, and I've always wanted to do this for my own child as well. Soon after meeting my husband 10 years ago, I knew I wanted to start a family with him and share in the incredible experience of parenthood.

Sheila Wijayasinghe
Sheila Wijayasinghe and her husband Corey Tucker.

The infertility diagnosis: Initially, when it was taking us longer than expected to get pregnant, we thought that we were still within the normal timeframe and that pregnancy would eventually happen. As a family doctor, I always counselled my patients around how long it can actually take and as such, I initially tried to reassure both of us that our time would come. When we came up to 6+ months of trying, given our age, we were referred to a fertility clinic. All our tests were normal and as such, we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility in November 2013.

The reaction: It wasn't so much a surprise as it was a frustration, as we did not have a specific reason for why we were infertile. It was the first time we had to come to the realization that getting pregnant would likely not happen naturally.

It was quite upsetting as it felt like we were running out of time rapidly and that it was due to my own body failing us.

When we went to our second clinic in 2016, we had retesting done which showed that my ovarian reserve was decreasing. We finally had an answer, but it was quite upsetting as it felt like we were running out of time rapidly and that it was due to my own body failing us. [I] felt worried, devastated and a loss of hope.

Sheila Wijayasinghe
Tucker taking a selfie their embryo.

The plan B: We have done four cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI) and two rounds of in vitro fertilization. In addition to these treatments, we also sought out support from traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and naturopaths for supplements, meditation and acupuncture.

The biggest challenges: Despite having a wonderful circle of family and friends, we still felt very alone at times during our infertility experience. We didn't know how to ask for help, and some of our closest friends didn't know how to give us the support we needed.

Investing in fertility treatment is huge from an emotional, physical, social and financial perspective without any guarantee of a return. This constant uncertainty and the feeling of putting our life on hold during treatment was also incredibly challenging.

Sheila Wijayasinghe
Wijayasinghe and Tucker with their dog, Bella.

The high points: We decided a year into our journey that we wanted to grow our family in some way. We adopted our puppy, Bella, who has been our saving grace. She helped us laugh when we were at our lowest, got us out of our house when we had bad news, and was a constant cuddle buddy.

We also had a glimmer of hope when we were first able to get pregnant after our first round of IVF. Sadly, we miscarried eight weeks into the pregnancy. It was incredibly sad, but it was also the first time that we had ever been able to get pregnant and it gave us a sense of hope that it was possible.

Finally, the biggest highlight for us was when we gave birth to our daughter Layla in August 2017 after a successful second round of IVF.

Sheila Wijayasinghe
The couple with their baby's ultrasound photo.

Reaction to conceiving their daughter: We were in shock and were very, very cautiously optimistic when we first found out. Because we had gone through several years of fertility treatments and [a] miscarriage earlier in the year, we struggled initially to feel fully excited in order to protect ourselves from potential sadness and disappointment if it didn't work out. Once we were able to see her heartbeat on our ultrasound at 12 weeks, we felt more confident and secure and allowed ourselves to feel the joy that we had been waiting to feel for years.

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Meeting their daughter for the first time: It was really beautiful. She was put right on my chest directly after delivery for some skin-to-skin time and I remember feeling her soft skin and weight sink into me — and my heart felt like it was about to burst. Afterwards, when she was being measured and changed with my husband and mom, I recall looking over and feeling very grateful and calm (it may have been my sheer exhaustion!), but it was a beautiful and surreal moment.

Sheila Wijayasinghe
Wijayasinghe, her mother, and her baby girl, Layla.

Unexpected feelings: Now that we have had our little one, I feel some survivor's guilt. We got to know the other people in the waiting room [while undergoing fertility treatments], not necessarily by name, but we were all there at the same time, every morning going through the same journey.

I remember seeing people being congratulated when they had positive results while we were waiting and feeling very happy for them, but also wishing it was us. When it did happen for us and we were the ones being congratulated, there was a feeling of guilt that we were so fortunate knowing fully that not everyone has this positive result.

Despite the physical, emotional, relationship and financial investments people make, not everyone has the outcome that we all wish for and we feel very grateful that we were lucky to able to do this.

Amy Brathwaite
The couple's daughter, Layla.

How their relationship changed: We have been fortunate in that we became closer over the last several years. Fertility treatments can really take its toll on relationships, but we made a commitment that we would have each other's backs, give continuous love and support, and did regular check-ins to ensure that we were doing OK as a couple.

It wasn't always easy — especially when I was in the throes of high-dose hormonal treatments and my sleep and mood were at their lowest — but we approached each other with kindness and understanding. We were in this together as a team and thankfully got through it.

How they coped: When we had negative outcomes early on, we would allow ourselves a few days to grieve. We would usually find solace in taking our puppy out for a walk or doing something enjoyable like a movie, seeing our friends, going to our favourite restaurant and opening a bottle of wine. Within a few days, we would feel a renewed sense of hope and try to move forward to our next cycle.

Alisa Arbuckle
The couple and their dog during Wijayasinghe's pregnancy photo shoot.

Talking about infertility: I always appreciated when people would check in with us. Several friends kept track of key days of our cycle monitoring and would check in on these days to see how we were doing. There wasn't anything specific that they said, but their thoughtfulness and love made a huge difference to us.

[However], while people were well-intentioned with their advice, it was often unsolicited and could be hurtful. The one that always bothered us was the advice to "just relax" and "it'll happen," which made us do anything but relax! Also, everyone has a story about a couple they know who had success when they just "stopped trying," which also was at odds with what our experience was and just caused further stress.

Sheila Wijayasinghe
Layla and her dad.

What she wants other couples to know: Know [you] are not alone despite often feeling that way. If things get overwhelming (which is also very common), I would recommend getting help early for the individual or the couple either through group or online support or individual counselling.

I also suggest creating a circle of support of individuals and to not be afraid to call upon them when you need it. We should have done this earlier because we felt quite alone in the first couple of years. When we eventually did reach out, we were met with beautiful love, which helped us through and made our journey much smoother.

Ferdinand Maingat
Wijayasinghe and Tucker's family photo with their baby girl.

Try to keep things as normal as possible even when everything feels out of your control. Often with fertility treatment, life can feel like it's been put on hold, but it's important to not lose sight of who you were before this journey. Keep up exercise, see your friends, go on holiday if you can. Those moments of self-care will help get you through the harder days.

And finally, build your family in whatever way you can. For us it was our puppy and building our circle of trusted friends. It can look like whatever you'd like — a plant even! Having something that you can nurture and care for in your home can also help you get through your treatment.

Final thoughts: Fertility treatment is tax deductible, but the Canada Revenue Agency will need to see your receipts — so keep them all to submit! It's not a huge amount, but every little bit helps.

[And] if having children is a wish, talk to your doctor earlier than later. I now counsel my patients who are at childbearing age to think about fertility and how it [declines] with age so that they can better plan ahead. It's a very personal decision and discussion, but an important one to have.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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