A family's fertility journey
Kylie Cooke and Brant Fraser overcame huge challenges to become parents. Here they open their hearts and their home to OHbaby!
Watching the sandy haired toddler building up and gleefully knocking over a set of blocks on the floor brings extra special pleasure to Kylie Cooke and Brant Fraser. The process of having him took a lot longer than they anticipated and the couple, who both work in the film and television industry, had to turn to an unexpected source for help. Kylie, 46 and Brant, 45, had three rounds of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) before making one of the biggest decisions of their lives – one that impacted not just them, but also Kylie’s niece Natalia.
After meeting on the set of a TV commercial (Kylie is a costume designer and stylist and Brant a film and TV production designer) the couple took the traditional route and got married, bought a house and settled down. Time flies though. “Suddenly I was 38,” laughs Kylie. “A lot of our friends were having children and I thought, ‘We’d better start!’”
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Sadly, the scarring from Kylie’s endometriosis prevented her from getting pregnant, so after trying unsuccessfully for almost two years, the couple were referred to a public fertility agency. However the system’s slow-turning wheels meant it wasn’t until just before Kylie’s 40th birthday that they actually started their first round of IVF. And so began the process: twice daily injections to stimulate her ovaries and blood tests to check how they’re working before the egg retrieval procedure, plus the sperm collection and fertilisation. “Then you cross your fingers for embryo development and transfer,” says Kylie, “and if that goes well, there’s the nerve-wracking wait to see if the embryo takes and you become pregnant.”
Kylie and Brant are honest about the toll the procedure took on them personally, and on their relationship.
“It was a stressful time because of all the injections and procedures, and I was constantly being told that the main issue was my age which created a lot of negative thought patterns,” says Kylie. “It was hard on our sex life too because we were trying and trying and the necessity of it takes all the fun away. And then every month when I got my period I knew that opportunity had gone and we had to start again.”
Meanwhile, “There was so much going on with Kylie that I couldn’t understand,” says Brant. “There were times when we just weren’t getting along with each other and we withdrew from each other. It was a really challenging time – we had people telling us stuff that was upsetting, about decisions we’d made or not made, and meanwhile babies were popping up all around amongst our friends.”
A HEARTBREAKING CHOICE
After their first round of IVF, the couple decided to try Fertility Associates, a private fertility agency, hoping to speed up the process. Despite their low odds of success (11% on the first round and just 3% on the second), they were still hopeful. However, a further two unsuccessful rounds, plus the news that none of Kylie’s eggs had fertilised therefore there was nothing to implant, saw them at a crossroads. Their spirits at an all-time low, Kylie and Brant realised that it was unlikely they’d have their own biological baby. Put simply, says Brant, the news was devastating.
For a much-needed change of scene they booked a short holiday in Bali, and it was in this idyllic setting that they discussed the possibility of using a donor egg, a process which would give them a greater chance of successful fertilisation.
They weren’t comfortable with the idea of using an anonymous egg, so, given they already had a close relationship with Kylie’s niece Natalia (then 25 and working in Australia), they decided to ask her if she would donate eggs to help them conceive.
An emotional Kylie says Natalia didn’t hesitate to say ‘Yes’.
“We told her there was no pressure, to come back when she’d had a chance to process it. But her natural instinct was to say ‘of course’.”
Kylie and Brant say it was probably easier for Natalia to agree than for them to ask, since they had already experienced the intensity of the process. Natalia needed a preliminary medical check-up and, because she was a family member, Brant, Kylie and Natalia all needed psyche assessments – separately and jointly – and their case had to be passed by the New Zealand Ethics Committee.
Natalia moved in with Kylie and Brant, and found a temporary job. She’d never had a medical procedure, and was afraid of needles, so Kylie administered the twice-daily injections over the approximately two-week period.
“Natalia was amazingly tolerant, especially near the end of the round where the effect of all the additional hormones and ovary stimulation made it quite uncomfortable for her,” says Kylie. “Physically, her recovery was quite fast but emotionally, it wasn’t until Foxy was born healthy that she felt she could finally relax. Then she shared with us how hard my pregnancy had been for her. She’d worried about whether there’d be anything wrong with him, and felt a deep sense of responsibility about that, something Brant and I had never considered.”
AND BABY MAKES THREE
Kylie had placenta praevia (when the placenta attaches inside the uterus near or over the cervical opening) so Foxy was born via Caesarean section at Auckland City Hospital. Natalia came to stay for his first weekend at home when he was a week old.
Two-and-a-half years on, Foxton, or Foxy to his whānau, is a playful toddler with a cheeky grin. He loves dancing and diggers, pulling up weeds in the backyard, and when playing outside you’ll find him happily digging in his sand pit. The day OHbaby! visited he was busily scrolling through photos of him and Natalia on Kylie’s phone. Kylie and Brant have a part-time nanny, and, since retiring, Kylie’s mum Carole also helps out with childcare. After Foxton was born, Kylie stayed home: “We didn’t want to put him in childcare because, after fighting for him for so long, why would you?”
Kylie describes the relationship between Natalia and Foxton as “amazing”. “When he was younger he wouldn’t crack a smile with a stranger, but Natalia would arrive and he would light up. It’s obvious there’s something special that connects them.” Natalia now lives across the ditch again and keeps in touch on social media, visiting when she can.
Kylie and Brant are frank about the challenges of parenting, especially the effects on their relationship. After being together for 16 years they concede it was hard to suddenly have someone else – even a longed-for baby – appear on the scene. Meanwhile, Kylie was exclusively breastfeeding and her world narrowed to Foxton and his needs, and, after taking two months off work, Brant’s high-pressure job often saw him away for up to two weeks at a time. They naturally split their roles into caregiver Kylie and breadwinner Brant, but in doing so, found they grew apart. Sleep deprivation and the intensity of being a new parent compounded the feelings of disconnection.
Brant is candid about the challenges of his role. “It’s hard for dads – you were number one and then… you’re not! Suddenly you’re just disregarded or your wife sees you as a pain in the ass! That’s just the way it is. I realised that all the things I’d been looking to Kylie to provide in our relationship I now had to provide for myself. So, every now and again after a big job I’d take a day for myself to go surfing before coming home. It sounds selfish, but it helped me regain a sense of balance. And Foxy needs parents who are getting on and happy.”
It took Kylie longer to rebalance, and she credits Brant with helping her realise that she actually needed to. “I threw myself into parenting so deeply that I lost myself. The challenge is to find the balance and I’m still working on that!”
They’ve also both learned to let go and let Foxton take the lead. “That doesn’t mean he has no bedtime,” Kylie laughs, “it’s more that we’re trying to parent with respect. We’ve always told him what we’re doing – changing his nappy or picking him up – so he’s aware of what’s going on, instead of just doing things to him. It feels like a nicer approach.
“By nature I want everything to be perfect, so it’s challenging to let that go. When you’re a new parent you don’t know what you’re doing, then you find your groove… but then something changes. You’re always having to be flexible. I’ve come to realise that when I let go and step back, everything falls into place more easily.”
To help balance themselves the couple do yoga and both surf. Free time is a luxury but when they get some Kylie hangs out with girlfriends and has regular acupuncture. When he’s at home Brant gets up early to draw or write, and he also plays guitar and keyboard.
Their mid-century West Auckland house went on the market the week before OHbaby! visited – they’re planning to move to Sydney, Australia, for Brant’s work but also the urban beach lifestyle. While they’re not planning to have more children, they also haven’t yet decided what to do with the remainder of Natalia’s donated embryos which are currently in storage at the fertility clinic. The standard embryo storage period is 10 years, so it’s a decision that Brant and Kylie don’t feel rushed to make.
For couples planning to do IVF, their advice is ‘don’t wait’. It’s also helpful to choose a few people to support you through the process, “People you can trust with your deepest, darkest and saddest moments,” says Kylie. The couple kept their network of those in the know to a small circle. “While you’re in that holding pattern of not knowing if it’ll work or not, you don’t share with too many people because that’s just more management,” she says. “It sounds harsh but the thought of having to deal with people regularly asking how it was going was too emotionally stressful.”
On the other hand, says Brant, there was the odd time they’d mention it to a friend or colleague and discover they had also been through IVF. “I had a few guy friends at work who I never realised had been through it. We only had quick conversations, but it was good to know we weren’t alone, that someone else understood what it was like.”
Brant adds that it’s also important to be at peace with potentially being unsuccessful. “You have to get to a place where you see yourself without a child and be okay with that, otherwise you’re carrying too much weight.”
HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
Like all parents, Kylie and Brant want to prepare Foxton for life in the world.
“We want to provide an environment where he learns to make good choices,” says Kylie. “We have quite a big responsibility for his generation – these kids are going to have to change the world, so we’ve got to help prepare them for that, to be kind and loving and have respect for each other and the environment.”
Brant encourages his already curious son to enjoy and learn from nature and to develop a sense of wonder about the world.
“I remember the joy of exploration – being in my backyard looking at ants, or making something. In this world that’s so full of technology and screens, we’ll be trying to hold on to and nurture his enjoyment of the simple things.”
Photography: sophie andreassend, heretodaystudio.com
Words: Christine Stride