karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt

[Guest Editor] Maxine Stokes: Breaking stigma around miscarriage and infertility

In Features, Guest Editors, Motherhood, Pregnancy + Birth, Stories by Nicole Fuge

The Block’s Karstan and Max may be prepping for baby #2, but as so many parents learn, it isn’t always an easy road to parenthood. Here, they share their journey – smashing through the stigma surrounding miscarriage and infertility.

By Maxine Stokes

It’s time to share our imperfect, challenging and completely common journey to becoming parents.

That’s right, I said common. Because one-in-five of us are affected by miscarriage and infertility.

So the more we all talk about it, the less alone women will feel when they go through the heartbreak of trying to become a mum.

Because you are NOT alone. And I’m here to tell you that there is HOPE.


karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Trying to have a baby

Karstan and I started thinking about having kids back in 2016. So I went off the pill to get my body ready for pregnancy and we decided to just ‘see what happens’. Which is something sooo many couples say to themselves before they start trying.

We waited months. And everyone kept reassuring us that it could take some time. But there was still no sign of my period. So our GP sent me for an ultrasound.

During the internal ultrasound I was told I had lots of polyps, which most likely meant I had some form of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). My tummy dropped – is something wrong with me?

My GP put me on medication for PCOS, to help bring on my period. And said because my body is healthy, she would be surprised if I wasn’t successfully pregnant by the end of the year.

I stayed on the medication for three months, which made me feel horribly sea sick and made work a challenge. Especially because no one knew what I was going through.

Still nothing.

So we then went to a fertility specialist, who did some blood tests. Which showed that both Karstan and I were not only perfectly healthy, I had been misdiagnosed with PCOS.

The specialist put me on two types of medication. One to bring on my period, and the other to make me super fertile.

We were fine with the idea of having twins or more. In fact, the idea of it actually really excited us. We just wanted to become parents –  we were ready.

The medication kicked in very quickly (YAY) and my period came within two weeks. I then started the fertility medication and had blood tests to see if I ovulated, and I had (YESSSS!) By this point it had taken 12 looong months to get my body to the point of being ready.

Then the moment we had been waiting for … I was pregnant!

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Our first miscarriage was heartbreaking

We went in to hear our baby’s heartbeat. But as the scan started, the sonographer had a strange look on his face.

It was twins! We were so excited.

But we could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong. He tried to find some form of life for what felt like forever, but there was no heartbeat to be found.

In that one moment, we went from over the moon to completely numb.

The next 24 hours was a blur.

I had to go to hospital and have a curette (also known as a D&C), and I balled my eyes out as I was rolled away to go into the theatre. Karstan and I do everything together. But this surgery was something I had to do alone. He stayed so strong for me and it makes me very emotional thinking back to that moment. The journey to parenthood takes its toll on both partners.

That first miscarriage was the hardest. We ended up going through this process three times. Each time becoming more numb, but still keeping positive.

It was a mixture between, being realistic, protecting ourselves, but also not giving up hope. On the third time that we fell pregnant it ended up being ectopic. We were told, ‘You’re pregnant, but the baby is not going to survive as it is not in the right location to form a viable life’.

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Exhausted physically and mentally

I’ve lost count of the amount of blood tests I’ve had. And every pregnancy was compared to the one prior; from the way I felt to the way I looked and of course with my blood results.

It’s crazy how something that you envisage to be so smooth, loving and natural becomes so consuming and exhausting – physically and mentally.

The hardest part was being told, ‘You’re both healthy, we can’t find anything wrong with either of you. It’s just really bad luck’.

The whole idea that we will ‘just see what happens’ was no longer an option, because by that point we had the fertility apps and we knew when the ‘window was open’.

For a couple who likes to just go with the flow, this was a really challenging time. Laughter certainly got us through. And our adventures away in our Kombi helped us to reset, refocus and appreciate all the good in our life.

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Miscarriage and infertility affects both partners

Whether it’s pregnancy, miscarriage, fertility or infertility, there is so much focus put on the mother’s body [or the person who is carrying the baby].

But this affected Karstan just as much as it affected me.

“I focused on being strong for Max. I didn’t want to show emotion. Max was going through so much physically and because of the curettes I felt like I had to be the rock, so I would bury my emotions. That put me into a dark place and I couldn’t show it – but I was open about it. I just tried to stay positive so that Max didn’t worry.

“This brought on massive anxiety for me because you’re always ready to be let down over and over, and I couldn’t help but remember the past experiences. And because I over analysed everything – the test results and online forums – I turned to alcohol a lot to cope.

“I really wish that more people spoke openly about it.”

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Our rainbow baby

When we fell pregnant with Zuri, I had no pregnancy symptoms, but Karstan made me do a test. Even though I had assured him I wasn’t pregnant. It is so crazy how every pregnancy felt so different.

The pregnancy scans started straight away and everything was looking good. But we struggled to believe it. Because once you go through numerous miscarriages, the trauma sustained makes you protect yourself. It’s hard to accept that you could actually have a successful pregnancy.

During this pregnancy, as a precaution, I had to inject myself twice a day with a blood thinner. In case clotting was the cause of the previous miscarriages. I also had to insert progesterone into my vagina (yep!). We were open to trying anything to make this pregnancy stick.

Aside from the needles and progesterone, we had a beautifully smooth and enjoyable pregnancy.

Zuri was a journey of blood, tears and heartbreak. She’s our unbelievably perfect Rainbow Child.

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Breaking the stigma

I think most people think having a baby will be so easy, because that’s all they see and hear. But that is just not the case for so many people.

So when it doesn’t happen like you had envisaged, you go into a bit of shock. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and really difficult to speak about.

We are all so good at sharing our happy news. And then when times get tough we often bottle it up inside and try to stay strong.

Social media can be a killer for this. I remember seeing my social feeds and feeling like it was flooded with pregnancy announcements, babies being born and cute family pics. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to us.

It wasn’t until we started sharing our journey that we realised that we weren’t alone. Many of our friends and family had been through or were going through a very similar situation. It felt so good to be able to talk to people who we could relate to.

I really think the best way to kick this stigma to the curb is by normalising the topic and having more open conversations.

I know so many people who go through these experiences are desperate to talk about what they are going through. And on the other hand, there are some who would prefer to keep it private, and that’s fine too.

It’s a very emotional time and often people are reluctant to speak up because of how others may react. I think there needs to be more education and awareness so that these conversations can happen and the walls can be torn down.

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Know that you are not alone

Going through miscarriage and infertility is so shit. And I know that it gets said a lot, but you have totally got this. Just know that some days will be harder than others, but every day is a new day.

And you are entitled to feel everything you are feeling, don’t compare yourself to others, because this is your journey.

You ARE stronger than you will ever know, and there are so many amazing things to be grateful for right now. Even if it can be hard to see it sometimes. Just focus on the things that make you feel good and stay connected to the people who feel like sunshine. It will help get you through these times.

And please don’t lose sight of doing the things that bring you happiness. Don’t stop dreaming, plan that trip, watch the sunrise, be spontaneous. This is a chapter in your book that you will never forget, it will shape you, change you and you will come out stronger than before.

karstan and max, the block, infertility, mama disrupt
Our journey to parenthood changed the way I look at motherhood

This journey will always be with me, it changed ME and made me realise just how resilient and capable I am mentally and physically.

As soon as I had Zu, I was just like ‘I have totally got this’ and have always taken each day at a time without any expectations.

I am also very mindful of making sure I am kind to myself and being in the present moment, this time is so precious.

My approach is – what will be will be and every day is a new day.

Motherhood really is a continuous journey, and it’s one that I will happily do for the rest of my life. Words can’t describe just how grateful I am to have become a Mama.

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly mama goodness delivered straight to your inbox, like the VIP that you are.