‘Our 4+ Year Battle to Have Children and the Loneliness of Struggling with Fertility’: How Are You Today, Nadine Higgins?

In a brand new, emotional podcast – The Human Race – Nadine Higgins and her husband Dan are opening up about their own struggles to have children and their IVF journey. The podcast also sees them talk through all things fertility, with well-known and not-so well-known Kiwis sharing their experiences.

TW: Fertility, miscarriage

You’ll no doubt know Nadine Higgins’ face well. She became one of our most well-known Kiwis, thanks to her high-profile roles on the telly, particularly during a long stint as host of TVNZ’s Breakfast – back when her last name was Chalmers-Ross.

But, in recent years, she’s become known for a whole new reason – for so openly sharing, with unflinching honesty and generosity, her struggles with her husband Dan, to have children.

It’s a path the pair has been on for more than four years, and has been full of highs, lows, hope and dashed dreams. Along the way, Nadine and Dan have discovered just how lonely that journey can be – because, for something that affects so, so many New Zealanders, struggling to conceive (and keep a pregnancy) it is also a topic we still rarely talk about.

But Nadine and Dan are hoping to move the needle on that as much as they can, with a new podcast that is available now on Stuff, The Human Race.

In it Nadine – who wears many different hats, still appearing on the TV and radio, whilst also working as a Financial Adviser at enable-me financial strategy and coaching – and her husband share their own stories, as well as tales from well-known and not well-known Kiwis, on a range of different topics under the fertility banner.

I gave Nadine a call, only to find that her husband had recently tested positive for Covid, and she herself was starting to feel unwell. But, such is her resolve and determination to talk about his topic, she insisted we still go ahead with the chat! (We hope you’re feeling better Nadine!!)

Here, Nadine talks about her own very personal journey, including a heartbreaking miscarriage, what it’s like to be in the trenches, plus, what she wishes other Kiwis knew about what it’s really like to be struggling with fertility.

How are you today, Nadine?

Physically, not amazing – I’m laid up in bed! I feel as though my head is going to explode! But otherwise, I’m feeling really proud of us – me and my husband – for doing something that we thought about doing, and didn’t end up just thinking about it, but actually doing it. So, a real mixture of emotions today.

Gah, I can’t believe you have the threat of Covid now looming over you too after everything 2023 has thrown at us all. Also, just a few weeks ago the radio station you contributed to, Today FM, unexpectedly shut its doors. I was so sorry to see that news.

Yes, I feel like 2020 was a crazy year, 2021 wasn’t much different and neither was 2022. So it sort of just feels like more of the same! It was really sad to see Today FM go. I was loving doing that work and loving spending time with that team at the end of every day. I’m just so sad for all the team there.

But while one door seems to have closed recently for you, another has now been flung wide open with a new project – we’re very excited about your podcast, The Human Race, which is launching today! Can you tell us all a bit more about what it’s all about?

I’ve been reasonably open about our fertility journey, which has been going on for the past four years or so. And every time I do talk about it, I just get this overwhelming feedback from people that they are so grateful that I’m talking about it, because it’s so bloody lonely.

So, I kind of sat with it for a while, that maybe there was something we could do that would turn what has been an absolute shit sandwich, into something a bit more positive – even if that positive thing isn’t yet a baby.

I know every man and his dog has a podcast, but podcasts are a really intimate medium and you can speak directly to the people who might be on the same road and feeling alone. Even if they don’t want to talk about it with anybody, maybe they can get some solace from the fact that they can listen to other people talking about the path they’re on or have been on.  So, my husband and I approached Stuff and pitched it to them and they loved the idea. So we have been beavering away on that, since late last year.

You have been so generously open about your own story and struggles. How did that come about? Were you open about it from the get go of trying to have children, or was there a moment along the way where you thought, ‘I want to share this’?

It was actually my psychologist who suggested that I start keeping a journal and writing down my feelings. I found that incredibly cathartic and I suppose, because my background is as a journalist, it felt really natural to start writing my own story.

Initially it was just for me and then – I don’t know what the trigger was – but I just felt this urge to share it. I was having these deep conversations on (in my DMS on) Instagram with other people, but not publicly, and I knew there had to be other people out there that are like me, that are probably feeling like a failure or flawed, or just at the end of their tether.

At that time, the loneliness of it was compounded by the fact that what we were going through was also happening through lockdown. So just by its very nature, we were isolated.

So, I published a photo of doing my injections – and yes, that proved the concept that people just really do want to talk about it!! Then I published some of my writing and I guess it’s evolved from there.

The Image Nadine first shared about her IVF journey

I really want to commend you – and thank you for sharing your story Nadine. I think it’s incredible how generous you are with your story.

Whereas I don’t know that I would use the word generous! I think I was genuinely just reaching out for some human connection.

But, yes, now that’s the point of the podcast. it’s weird. You get asked everywhere you go: ‘Do you have children?’ And sometimes the answer to that is sensitive or complicated. And I started saying to people, ‘actually we’re struggling to have children’ and some people are amazing about it and others kind of recoil in horror.

My intention is never really to put them on the spot. I’m just being honest – and I know it’s only small talk and we’re never mean to be that honest. Like, when someone says, ‘how are you?’ and you’re meant to just say, ‘Oh, I’m good!’ But, actually just by doing that, and being more honest, it has opened up some conversations with other people who are like, ‘actually me too’. And if I hadn’t said that, we would have never had that conversation. And so sometimes, some really amazing things come from choosing to be vulnerable.

That’s incredible. Your vulnerability and generosity – I’m going to use that word again! – is so, so powerful. Because as you said, it is a lonely road, which is perhaps only compounded by the fact that often, people only share their stories once they have a living baby in their arms. I’ve often come across that when writing about these sort of stories for Capsule – women want to wait to tell their stories, and even with friends in my personal life! So, I think your voice, as someone who is currently going through it is so powerful, and so appreciated by so many people who now feel they have someone alongside them in the trenches.

Yeah, and I think when you’re in the midst of it, sometimes you think, ‘wow, that’s amazing that those people have had their happy endings, but will that happen for me?’ And I guess, to me, it’s important to also hear the stories that don’t end the way that you wanted them to as well as the ones that do. Because that’s life, right? And what I personally wanted to know is that there’s still satisfaction and contentment and joy on the other side, if it doesn’t pan out the way that you initially envisaged.

Are they stories you also delve into on the podcast? Who else have you spoken to and what have you learned along the way?

I’ve learned that there are so many wonderful people willing to be vulnerable! It’s a combination of well-known people and not well-known people. It’s hetero couples. It’s gay couples, it’s single women, it’s surrogates who have put their own body on the line to help somebody else realize the dream, because I think what we wanted to convey it’s fertility, it’s not just infertility. Striving to have a baby isn’t something that is just experienced by your classic mum and dad, married couple, family – there are all sorts of different ways, and a lot of those routes are really challenging journeys.

I’m quite nervous about it because it is vulnerable, and I don’t want people to think that it is just like sob story! It’s not! It’s surprisingly funny.

But also, it’s this intensely intimate thing that you go through – it puts you in all these weird situations. And there is actually a lot of humor to be found, so I definitely don’t want people to be put off listening because they think they’ll be in a puddle of tears the whole time. I’m not promising that there won’t be tears, but there’s definitely lighter moments as well!

Oh, I can’t wait to listen! What has sharing your own story so openly meant for you. I mean, do you now have people asking you quite intimate questions when they see you at the supermarket, or wherever? Does it ever feel intrusive or too much at times?
It depends on the day. It’s come with heaps of positives and the occasional negative. Like, I’m really into the gym. I’ve pulled back a bit recently, in the interest of trying to progress this fertility journey, but I put one story up one day, where I was doing handstands and a guy commented on it being like, ‘you shouldn’t be doing that in the middle of the IVF process’

Oh EFF OFF Internet Man! How dare he.
Yeah,he was quoting something off the internet, and I was just like, ‘F**k off!’ I mean, you have no idea what stage of the process I’m at, or anything.

For the most part, it’s very positive though. Sometimes people want to know details when you’re maybe maxxed out on the vulnerability you have, but for the most part, I just feel really strongly that there is much to be gained from sharing these things.

And, it does open you up for people coming at you with like, ‘have you tried this product or this massage or this witch doctor’ Andsometimes it is like, oh that is probably amazing to try, and sometimes I’m like, God, I just don’t want to be sold stuff anymore.

Oooooh I can imagine. I mean, I understand people feeling so helpless and wanting to do or say something positive but… I can only imagine how many times you’ve been told the old, ‘Just relax, take a holiday and stop thinking about it so much and it will happen’?!?

Oh God. THE WORST!

What would you love Kiwis to know about what it’s really like to struggle with fertility – whether that’s having a better understanding of the emotional toll or it, the financial toll of it, or how to just have some conversations with a bit more empathy in them (perhaps rather than just asking, ‘do you have kids’)?

There is an enormous emotional toll. And many of the people I’ve spoken to also talk about the strain that can put on their relationship. Everyone kind of processes and grieves in different ways and has different ideas about the best strategy to achieve that.

And of course, it has a financial toll. I think a lot of people assume there’s all this funding, that Chippy just gives us a couple of free rounds of IVF, but it’s not that straightforward. You actually have to have enough points to go on the waitlist and in our case, it took us three years before we got government funding, so we were very much self-funding because we didn’t want to just sit around and wait.

I don’t want people to censor themselves around me, but I know that there are people who find it really hard to be asked all the time, ‘Do you have kids?’ So, if you’re going to ask that question, just be prepared that the answer might not be straightforward. People might have had babies die or might have had multiple miscarriages and might have had a hysterectomy due to intense endometriosis. You just don’t know. It’s actually a deceptively personal question. It doesn’t really bother me, but I’m also not bothered if that person is uncomfortable with my answer either.

The other one is when some parents say things like, ‘oh you wouldn’t understand, you don’t have kids’. Yeah. That’s a bit shit. Because, you know what? You wouldn’t understand what it’s like to really want them and not be able to make it happen, when it seems to happen so easily for other people. And, of course, they’re things I really want to understand. And that’s the difference – do you want to understand what it’s like to be on the other side of this and on my journey?

When there are all these kind of conversations going on, how do you take care of yourself. What are you doing to protect your space and to look after you?

Well, I’ve been on a diet, like a prescribed health journey diet, where I’ve been cutting out gluten and dairy and alcohol and soy and those sorts of things. That helps me feel like I’m doing all I possibly can. But I suppose for my mental well-being, the writing has helped. I probably self-medicate by being really busy.

But also, Sertraline for my anxiety, because it really, really works and allows me to function with a much clearer head. You know, I was waking up in the night, having panic attacks and cold sweats and that’s just no way to live. And I also see a counselor every fortnight.  

Oh, and I have a sauna, which is the best money I think I’ve ever spent. It sounds real bougie but it’s so expensive to go somewhere else and have one that I was like, Hey, maybe I can bring this in house!

What about your relationship, what do you do to take care of that? Because, as you said, it can be really hard on a marriage.
I’ve been trying to convince my husband to talk a little bit more about his feelings, because I think he has always been a solutions focused guy and I’m the kind of thoughts and feelings sort of person. So, if I was telling him how I was feeling, he’d be like, ‘Oh, you need to do XYZ!’ I’d be like, I just want you to hear me out!’

So it sounds like a cliche, but communication is really important, as is taking some time out together. He will sometimes join me in the sauna.

And we share with all our close family and friends what is going on. I think that really helps because then they can individually check in on each of us. Sometimes, if we haven’t been completely honest with the other one with about how we’re feeling – often because we don’t want to make them feel burdened by our emotions –they help ensure we talk about our feelings.

I can imagine it can be very isolating for the men or partners during this process – particularly as it’s probably less likely to be something a guy brings up with his mates.
Totally and that’s why we wanted to do the podcast together. I think there’s normally an assumption that it’s somehow a female yearning, which is just not the case. You know, my husband wants to be a dad just as much, if not more.

 And even though a lot of things aren’t happening to his body, is still happening to him. So I think that the male perspective – particularly when we know what the male suicide rates are like – it’s really important, and any opportunity we have to encourage them to talk and feel heard is important to take.

Now, a topic we cover often at Capsule is the devastation of miscarriage – which is something that isn’t talked about that often, even though it’s how one in four pregnancies ends. I was so devastated for you when I read one of the articles you wrote about losing you first pregnancy.

Yes, it happened during lockdown in 2020 and I probably wasn’t super open about it in the moment. But I decided to be, because it felt like it was such a fleeting thing. After all of our years of trying, that was our first time ever being pregnant. We’d been given a 10% chance of the embryo we had, actually sticking and when it happened, I was floored.

But I had not prepared myself at all that I didn’t just need to get pregnant, but that I then I needed to stay pregnant!

So, I kind of went from this, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe it’ levels of joy, to finding all the hormone levels aren’t doubling the way that they’re supposed to be. And I’m like what does that mean? Frantically googling in my home office desk.

It was devastating. I think, some people tend to ask about how far along you were, but, it’s not just about losing a baby, it’s about losing the promise of a baby. Your mind skips ahead and you start thinking about their future and your future with them. So it’s the loss of the dreams and the hopes, not just what is probably just a clump of cells at that point.

It’s also taken me until basically January this year to have my period back post miscarriage, and there’s a lot I’ve had to do – I’ve had an operation, lots of healing on my uterus and whatnot, because it’s really hard to have a baby if you don’t have a period! So, miscarriages can be very complicated things. And sometimes the medical profession doesn’t have all the answers.

Yes! There seems to be such a vast amount we know about the human body and reproduction. But also, there seems to be a hell of a lot that is still one huge mystery.

One hundred percent. Do you know, they still haven’t been able to pinpoint why we are having problems?

Oh, my goodness, that must be so incredibly frustrating.

Yes, I’ve had multiple rounds of IVF where they kept having to abandon putting the embryo in because my body was just not responding to the drugs. And I found that devastating because I take all the drugs, three times a day, do the scans, get all puffy, have my brain all fuzzy, all for it not to happen. It’s often just disappointment after disappointment. I’ve also had plasma injections in my uterus, which is like – you know how they do vampire facials? It’s a bit like that, but for your uterus. It’s incredibly painful, but meant to help. And then it was actually going back to a holistic fertility specialist and focusing on healing the blood flow to my uterus, to get my period back and back to having a hope of conceiving.

Nadine – once again, thank you so much for your generosity and kindness in sharing your story and all this information! Now, where can go to listen to your podcast.

It’s on all streaming platforms – Apple, Spotify, as well as on www.stuff.co.nz/thehumanrace 

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