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In the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, author Pema Chödrön states that “hope and fear is a feeling with two sides.”
I had the privilege of listening to one woman’s journey to conceiving, and this quote couldn’t be more true in her case.
When I spoke to Mdm Sholihah Rosli, a 40-year-old Indonesian resident and mother of one, I sensed that the tribulations of infertility involve more than just birthing itself.
On a deeper level, infertility is a harrowing mental journey as much as it is a physical one. It’s about the lasting emotional trauma faced by women who’ve supposedly failed to live up to society’s expectations.
It’s evident in the tears that welled up in Sholihah’s eyes as she recounts the darkest moments of her life — moments that involved repeated miscarriages and countless medical treatments.
“I’m so sorry,” she exclaims, as she pulls out a handkerchief. “Whenever I think back on those moments, tears start streaming down.”
The Roller Coaster Storm of Infertility
Heartache is a feeling that Sholihah knows too well. Her journey to pregnancy has been nothing short of pain on all fronts — mentally, emotionally, physically and financially.
Sholihah got married at 30. Back then, family planning was the last thing on her mind. Much of her focus was on running a business instead.
“Six years passed in a blink of an eye. I turned 36. One morning, it struck me — that if I started menopausing, then there would be no chance of us having a baby. My husband, Erwin, and I then decided to give it a shot.”
The couple frequently travel between countries for business — from Indonesia to Malaysia, to Singapore, Thailand and back again. To start a family meant restructuring their lifestyle priorities.
“We were so excited for a baby. Made arrangements, geared up and everything.”
“When the first pregnancy kit showed two lines, I naturally thought: Jackpot! We got it!”
But that happiness was short-lived.
“6 weeks later, I found out that I lost the baby. We tried again. I saw another positive pregnancy test. Same thing happened. After the third time, I started to become a little crazy.”
Then came a raging storm between 2018 and 2019 — trips to multiple fertility clinics brought a slew of unexpected diagnoses and treatments for the couple.
Within a short span of time, Sholihah underwent Timed Intercourse (TI), Hysterosalpingography (HSG), Intrauterine insemination (IUI), polypectomy, and cycles of Clomid — an oral medication that is often used to treat infertility in women.
Time passed, and still no baby.
Each new hurdle and failed attempt brought about uncontrollable tears. A noxious combination of disappointment and hormonal imbalances drove Sholihah to despair. Their last line of hope was In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), but even that didn’t come easy.
“Bad news just kept coming. On the day of my IVF treatment, the doctor found out that my husband was a beta-thalassemia carrier, just like I am.” This is a genetic blood condition that causes the body to produce fewer healthy red blood cells; it also risks the health of a baby.
She further explained. “When both parties are thalassemia carriers, a regular IVF procedure can’t be done. We needed to go through a special treatment named Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT). It’s more complex, and thus more expensive.”
While I may not understand the exact science, what I do know is that these elements come together to lower their chances of a successful pregnancy.
As our conversation moved on, Sholihah stressed the importance of choosing the right fertility clinic and specialist — one that not only provides effective treatment but a space where patients can feel safe and comfortable. She expressed frustration over expensive, drawn-out procedures that never worked.
“I wanted to ensure that money spent was well-worth; that whoever is treating me could help to soothe not only my body but my heart.”
Sholihah first learned about Malaysia Healthcare through an in-flight magazine. It made a world of a difference after she learned more about the available treatment options.
Malaysia is known to be The Fertility Hub of Asia and a leading global destination for reproductive healthcare. Naturally, Sholihah looked forward to the quality care and peace of mind she could find there.
“Malaysia Healthcare provided comprehensive information which we felt was very useful,” she recalls. “We decided to proceed with Sunfert International Fertility Centre. Not only was the treatment cost within our budget, so was the hotel, airport transfer and food.”
“The doctors were also compassionate and listened to all our concerns. They’ve helped to craft a seamless healthcare journey for us. It was hard since our jobs require us to travel often.”
The Lonely Battle Against Expectations and Emotional Turmoil
Growing up, girls have been warned about the repercussions of pregnancy: Don’t even think of a relationship! You might get pregnant! One mistake and your life is ruined!
While that is an important conversation to have with adolescent girls, so is the conversation about the realities of conceiving.
Truth is, getting pregnant is harder than it seems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 12 percent of women aged 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Women aged 35 and above are also recommended to see a health care provider after 6 months of trying for a baby unsuccessfully.
Back when Sholihah was trying to conceive, “crazy” was the word she repeatedly used to describe her state of mind. She had no one else to turn to except for her husband. Other lines of support include two precious diaries and a pet cat.
Such feelings of isolation and stress are not uncommon. Research has shown that women dealing with infertility face elevated levels of depression and anxiety. They’re also more likely to stay isolated as a response to deeply held expectations of women and childbirth. In the long run, this can manifest in insidious ways.
While all of that was happening, Sholihah still had to function like a normal human being. “Outside, I seemed normal. But I was a complete mess inside,” she confessed.
“I started to blame myself and felt so much guilt.”
This turmoil extends to a larger cultural notion as well — some traditional Asian households, for instance, still believe in carrying on the family’s lineage.
The despair is evident in the way Sholihah recalls avoidance of family gatherings and how she chose to bury herself in work just so that no questions about conceiving needed to be answered. It came to a point where the sight of baby clothes, nieces and nephews were enough to drive her to tears.
In fact, none of her distant relatives knew of her struggles. They simply thought her to be “the wife who’s obsessed with work”.
“I dreaded family visits during Hari Raya. The emotional pain was too overwhelming, so I shut everyone out.”
For many women like Sholihah, the stigma attached to infertility pressures them to remain silent. Even the most well-intentioned folks struggled to deliver constructive words of encouragement.
Sholihah believed that no one truly grasped the enormity of what she was going through. How can they, when she could barely wrap her head around the situation herself?
Holding on to a Spectrum of Hope
During the entire process, Sholihah wondered if she was simply not destined to have a child. As a woman of faith, she questioned if it was all a test from God, seeking lessons behind the tribulations.
“I don’t even have my first diary with me anymore. I threw it away when I felt that all hope was lost.”
The couple had exhausted many options and were left with one — IVF. It was never the plan, but the couple were in uncharted territory.
“We’ve tried everything. What if we fail again? What if it’s all a waste of money? What if we need multiple cycles of IVFs?”
In spite of these doubts, Sholihah took a final leap of faith with Malaysia Healthcare.
Undergoing IVF meant an intensive period of blood draws, appointments and shots administered to one’s lower abdomen and back. Sholihah had read about the emotional upheaval that comes with IVF through online blogs, but it wasn’t enough to prepare her for the real deal.
Injections used to be a dreadful affair, one that’s riddled with fear. But as awful as the routine shots were, Sholihah told me that the ordeal had helped bring her closer to her husband.
“I don’t know what I’d do without my husband. He’s been the most patient and selfless person. He grew to become just like my personal nurse.”
Uncertainty clouded the future. How many embryos were growing? Would the transfer be successful? Nobody really knew. Through it all, the couple was constantly assured by medical experts who understood their anxiety.
One day, the doctor told Sholihah that she had 6 fertilised embryos. Miraculously, only one was free from thalassemia.
Their baby is a result of science and faith, conceived through IVF — where eggs are combined with sperms in a petri dish, then tested for abnormalities before being frozen and implanted in one’s uterus. After trying for so long, the couple suddenly found themselves parents to a newborn.
Their journey, along with many other success stories, is a testament to the top-notch technology and expertise of doctors from Malaysia Healthcare.
The Aftermath of a Pain-Riddled Storm
When Sholihah first heard the news of her successful pregnancy, she dared not believe it. Past experiences had taught her not to let her guard down.
Seven months into motherhood today, she still struggles to grapple with the fact that a beautiful, healthy baby named Fath-Ar-Rahman is growing right before her eyes.
Looking at little Fath today, Sholihah marvels at the child he has become. After experiencing such trials, she’s learned to never take things for granted. Being able to see Fath through each milestone is one of the biggest joys of being a parent — something Sholihah once thought impossible.
What had kept her going was the belief that things happen for a reason; that everything has its time and place.
Sholihah is more than thrilled to be having her own miracle baby today, but she’s also emboldened to help others in her shoes. She’ll always remember the Herculean effort it takes to survive such agony.
We may be miles apart, separated by a digital screen; yet these struggles are universal. In society, women are often expected to rise up to motherhood.
“There are many who are still suffering in silence. I know how hard it can be. And I want them to know that they’re not alone. Through it all, there is always hope,” she concludes.
A running joke my friends and I have is one about never wanting kids. But I now know that pregnancy is a privilege — something that some women may long for but can never attain.
This story is published in partnership with Malaysia Healthcare.
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