Procurement officer Phiona Nanozi Ngoga has broken the silence on a topic many Ugandans face but fear to talk about: infertility.
In an interview on NBS Chatroom with Karitas Karisimbi, Phiona candidly shared her struggle with infertility.
Unlike most girls, Phiona had never experienced regular periods from the time she started menstruating. Her periods only started when she was sixteen years old, already in high school.
In fact, many of her friends envied the irregularity of her periods. She recalls that unlike her peers, she would experience about four periods a year. A normal, healthy girl or woman who is not pregnant or menopausal is supposed to have periods at least once a month.
But as she matured and joined university, Phiona began to become concerned. She recalls, “After campus, I had started working and because now I have a bit of money I can go to the doctors ask without asking my parents. I had never told my parents about having irregular periods.“
With her first salary, Phiona seriously consulted a doctor. She was informed that she had hormonal imbalance. The doctor advised, “They told me to take the normal contraceptives to have a normal period.”
Although she was worried, Phiona would become alarmed when her first pregnancy with her partner ended in a miscarriage after two months.
She had wanted children as soon as she was married but her husband had wanted them even more. He had made this clear from the time they started dating.
Phiona says, “It then became a concern to him as well. He is older than I am and the pressure was there on him. He had been wanting to have kids then I started consulting my friends.”
Facing the reality together
A friend recommended a doctor who had been helping many women get pregnant. Phiona visited that doctor and once again she was informed that it was PCOS issue.
Medication was prescribed. This medicine would help her eggs grow out so she could become pregnant, the doctor explained.
Two weeks after she started the new medication, she was pregnant. In no time, however, the pregnancy terminated in what was described as a blighted ovum.
With this second failed pregnancy, Phiona was now truly desperate. She was afraid her largely happy relationship with her fiancé might end. To her surprise, he was fully supportive in her journey to discover why she had failed to have children so far.
He instead suggested they concentrate on plans and preparations to get married. This they did. But two years into the marriage, Phiona had still failed to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.
Her husband encouraged Phiona to give Bukoto Women’s hospital a chance to find out what could be the problem. Initial results suggested a hormonal imbalance, a diagnosis she was painfully familiar with. But then the doctors suggested she go further and conduct scans of her entire reproductive system.
Doctors discovered that her fallopian tubes were blocked, a blockage probably caused by the blighted ovum.
They could only recommend a six month treatment regimen before they could tell if unblocking her tubes was possible.
Those six months of treatment were the hardest, Phiona shares. She suffered a lot of mental distress and sometimes depressive episodes.
She says, “Today you’re happy, tomorrow you’re sad , you’re crawling, the next day you’re lashing out and all those things”.
She says she often felt alone though she had a supportive husband because she blamed herself for the inability to have children.
Her husband sometimes recalls episodes from that time, “My husband tells me about it and I think when I look back, I can see how I lashed out, how I acted towards him.”
The couple later opted for IVF therapy which she describes as uncomfortable and painful because of the monthly injections on her stomach that came with it.
She had to work and have this hanging over her, “I had to leave my office every day to have my injection and then you can’t directly explain to your boss that this is what I’m doing.”
After sometime, she had grown over 22 eggs which were frozen. She chose three embryos out of these. After so many failed trials, she was willing to carry three children. She adds since IVF is not 100% effective, she had to choose to carry as many embryos as she could.
This is when Phiona was especially grateful for the support of her husband, “He did whatever he could. He took me out for meals and to distract me. He made sure I was in the right frame of mind as much as possible.”
The many trials finally seemed to be paying off. Two of three embryos successfully grew to full term.
Like the unusual conception she had undergone, her pregnancy was never going to be ordinary.
At four months pregnant , the doctors discovered that her cervix was opening and said Phiona should begin bed rest. But she needed to work. This is when she finally had to gather her courage and inform her employer of the challenges she was undergoing.
Since she had been a stellar worker, her employer granted her the time for the bedrest she needed.
Giving life but almost losing her own
At 36 weeks, Phiona finally delivered twins (both boys) who were later put in the incubator.
But Phiona almost did not have a chance to look after them.
Shortly after giving birth, she suffered heavy bleeding, weakness and heart failure. She was moments away from dying. Listen to the video as she vividly recalls this time.
Her husband would later confess to her that after all they had been through, he was not ready to live without her. He told her that he felt suicidal and would have ended his life she had returned from the operating table alive.
Phiona says this is the moment that made her realise that overcoming infertility is not just a medical matter. There is the social aspect of offering support to families and people in this situation that is sorely needed.
Rainbow Hearts Foundation
With their twins now two and half years old, Phiona feels ready to reach out and help other people going through what she did.
Her experience has inspired her to start the Rainbow Hearts Foundation. The foundation aims to provide support and an environment where people who are going through infertility challenges can seek counsel and support.
The grateful mother of two says she never wants another person to go through what she did without understanding and and support.