No shame in the pain of a difficult pregnancy

Kelly Yang says turning to medicine for help to conceive or safeguard a pregnancy takes courage, and should not be a matter of shame

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 3:33am

My butt cheeks throb in pain, bruised from too many shots over far too long. Today, as I take the little hormone-filled syringe and inject it into my muscles one last time, I won't wince or grimace. All I'll think about is the goal.

I've been giving myself daily progesterone intramuscular injections for the past six months. The purpose of these shots is to aid my pregnancy. Because I have previously had premature labour, my doctor put me on these shots early on. I'm not sure whether they will help, but I am deathly afraid of having a premature baby again and would do anything to avoid the neonatal intensive care unit.

As anyone who has ever had progesterone shots - or any kind of oil-based intramuscular injections - will tell you, they are no walk in the park. I often wake up in agonising pain. It feels like someone has punched me a million times in the same place and keeps punching me there.

Nevertheless, I soldier on because I want a normal delivery this time. I want my baby to be of normal weight, not the size of an iPad. I want to hold her in my arms, rather than wave at her from outside a plastic box. In my pursuit of the normal, I do what's not normal - shooting a foreign substance into my body every day.

A friend recently remarked that it was too bad my pregnancies have been so difficult. When I told her I was on daily progesterone shots, she looked at me with both pity and disgust. "How can you have babies this way? It's just … unnatural," she said.

Suddenly, I felt like Lance Armstrong. I instantly put my head down. With all these hormones, am I cheating in the baby race?

If I'm cheating, so are a lot of other people. According to the Hong Kong Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility, defined as when a couple fails to conceive naturally after one year of trying, affects one in six couples in the city. Stress, advancing age, lifestyle problems, and environmental impact all seem to be factors. Whatever the reason, many of these couples are turning to in vitro fertilisation for help in conceiving a baby. People like me who can conceive naturally are finding it harder to carry a pregnancy to term and are turning to drugs for help.

"So what?" my obstetrician, one of the city's leading doctors in IVF, said. "Do you want a baby or not?"

He's right, of course. Ultimately, I have to preserve the little miracle growing inside me. I know that in the baby race, people can be brutal. Mums keep score. Go to any park and it's hard to miss those superior looks they give each other when they talk about so and so who has recently had IVF or a problematic pregnancy.

Those looks are powerful and impossible to ignore. But we can't let them win. The only way we can combat them, and get serious about infertility, is if we each stand up to them. And so, today, I will gladly shout from my rooftop, yes I cheated. I took progesterone, I have really problematic pregnancies, and I'm proud of it.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.