Jacqui Cooper was on top of the world, as in, literally. As Australia’s most successful aerial skier, her sporting career spanned two glorious decades and became the first woman in Olympic history, summer or winter, to represent Australia at five Olympic Games.
She was simply unstoppable, winning five world titles, 39 World Cup medals, 24 World Cup wins and three World Championship medals. She had a cabinet full of medals to showcase her athletic prowess. By her own words, she has “unstoppable”, but there would be one major hurdle in her life that she never saw coming. It would question all her achievements to that end – motherhood.
“I started thinking after the 2006 Olympics, “I have the man, (husband Mario Volpe), a house, the world titles, and I was at a crossroad in my life. Do I continue in sport, or finish up now and start a family’.”
Retiring from the sport where she has conquered every conceivable challenge, Jacqui could hardly have foreseen what challenges lay ahead.
Sure, she was 37 years old at that point, not a spring chicken by fertility standards, but she was in peak physical condition.
“I was fit, I didn’t drink, I was so healthy, but I tried to fall pregnant and, nothing happened. I had a dormant uterus, which just sat there and grumbled away. It had been conditioned for 20 years to do nothing. I had wrapped up the competitions and allowed my body to become less muscly and more womanly, but still, nothing,” she says.
“I thought, ‘Hang on a minute’, I have always managed to set a goal and achieve it, so, why isn’t this working right now? For me, it was a strange situation to be in.”
The battle begins
Most women who have fertility issues, might have one or two problems. Jacqui has six, including polycystic ovaries at an advanced maternal age, cysts and scar tissue inside the uterus and a twisted fallopian tube that had to come out.
Her fertility team were less than confident she would become a mother, estimating she had a measly 4-to-6 per cent chance of falling pregnant.
“They called me into a meeting, and I thought they were going to tell me not to bother with IVF, that I was a hopeless cause. But a four per cent chance, that’s amazing! I’ll take that.”
“When they tell you at 16 you have a small chance of being a world champion on day, you think, ‘that’s awesome’. A small chance is still a chance.”
Among other things, Jacqui would have to take the drug Clomiphene Citrate, better known as Clomid. Most women fear this heavy drug because of the long list of potential side effects, then there’s the inevitable scheduling of sex, throwing romance out the window.
“Urgh! The scheduling of sex, it becomes a necessary function, rather than something intimate between two people.”
Jacqui and Mario started on the IVF journey in October 2010, and after two failed rounds, were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Madeline, in September 2012.
Jacqui had stunned doctors with her determination to become a mother, which realistically did not look possible on paper.
With renewed vigor, she soon returned to IVF to try and give Madeline a sibling, but again she would have to face insurmountable odds.
“I had my first miscarriage when I was presenting to 1500 women on stage. I went to toilet to do a nervous pee and I saw blood. I had to be on stage in three minutes and I just wasn’t prepared for what was happening.”
She courageously took to the stage, “because I had made a commitment,” all the while blood was seeping down her black pants, unbeknownst to the crowd below.
A second miscarriage would follow, this time at the MCG during a quarter time break watching the football.
“People were banging on the door asking, ‘How long are you going to be in there?’ I was told there was a really low chance you can have a miscarriage back to back, but it happened to me.”
“I kept looking at Madeline. The pressure was off, I had a little girl. How much can you put yourself through, you have to be happy with what you’ve got.”
Despite double guessing herself, she had one last crack at it, with a third pregnancy resulted in the joyous birth of twins Thomas and Grace, now 3.
For Jacqui and Mario, the IVF journey was incredibly difficult, but who could fault the outcome? Three beautiful, healthy children. Jacqui has written a book, Frozen Hope (Nero, $29.99) as a warts-and-all companion for women who are experiencing the challenges of infertility. She doesn’t hold back talking about the things she had wished she has known going into IVF and the things she wished she had prepared for.
“When I started IVF, I didn’t have anyone who I could talk to. I had lived overseas for 20 years and I either had friends who were still competing or friends who had had children 10 years earlier. I went looking for answers and I came across the book, IVF For Dummies. I can understand IVF for Excel, but IVF For Dummies! I was insulted and horrified, so I thought, when all this over, I’m going to do something about that.”
As a final note, while Jacqui acknowledges that not everyone will be successful through IVF, she remains hopeful.
“I do have a couple of important pieces of advice. Getting a referral to go to an IVF clinic is just the first step. Do you homework, different clinics have experience with different issues, one might be more experienced with older mum, whatever it may be. Don’t feel you need to be locked in with a clinic if you’re not getting anywhere. You can take your frozen embryos and start fresh with a new doctor. It’s your body and your eggs.”
Frozen Hope, $29.99