The Insights I've Gained From 3 Unsuccessful IVF Attempts
What I hoped would be my third time lucky turned out to be my third strike.
I went into this IVF cycle thinking, “Surely, it’ll work this time.”
After taking a break from IVF over the summer, I felt more relaxed than during previous attempts. I had put on some (much-needed) weight and I had got back in to acupuncture and regular exercise. All things that I hoped would have a positive impact.
Most importantly, I had a fleet of people behind me offering love, support and encouragement to help me through the process. Since going public with my story earlier in the year, so many people from all corners of my life have reached out to help me along this IVF journey. It has been a much-needed reminder – after perhaps losing a little faith in humanity last year (heartbreak can leave you jaded) – that I have an amazing number of compassionate, genuine and loyal people in my world.
And, whilst I was hesitant to have everyone find out about my IVF, it subsequently felt like I let go of a huge secret I was carrying around. That relief made this attempt easier.
At the start of the year, I spent a considerable amount of time looking at my life – where it is now and where I wanted it to be. I started working hard at improving my mental state after a rocky start to January (I am all-too familiar how slippery a slope anxiety and depression can be).
I had to seriously consider my priorities for 2017 and it became clear that my priority was IVF. That may sound simple enough, but it came with some sad, hard decisions. It’s not easy to let some things in your life go to create more mental space for something potentially bigger. I knew I had to make some sacrifices now, so that, at the end my IVF journey, I could rest easy knowing I had put everything I could into it and come out of it with no regrets.
The third one wasn’t an easy cycle. I was back on intense hormone treatment. In slightly less than a fortnight, I’d injected myself in the stomach and thighs 23 times, had three internal ultrasounds, four blood tests, visited the IVF clinic six times, swallowed God knows how many vitamins, had hours of acupuncture, and inserted two vaginal pessaries. Sorry, I can see you face screwing up as you read that.
To top it all off, I had surgery with light anesthesia (hello, old friend) to retrieve the eggs. And that’s the easy stuff for me!
Certainly, the physical side effects from hormones are hard – the tiredness, the consequent sugar and caffeine cravings (which I caved to on a number of occasions, subsequently apologizing to colleagues who endured my speedy, constant chatter more than usual), the moody blues, the bloating (no, I am not pregnant yet, nor have I overeaten), the zits and self-consciousness (please just ignore them when talking to me; pretend they aren’t there), the headaches, and the dehydration (which timed in nicely with that heatwave Sydney already wasn’t coping with).
But the hardest part – and anyone who has gone thought IVF might agree – is the waiting. An IVF cycle can certainly give you a lesson in patience. There are so many steps along the way, from the day your period arrives until that day you take the pregnancy test. Which sadly, I didn’t make it to.
I have a severely low egg count, you see. And the eggs that are left, according to my specialist, aren’t great quality. Even with hormones being pumped into my system like a battery hen, I don’t produce many follicles compared with other women my age.
This cycle saw me develop four follicles. A follicle is the little house in which an egg lives, so let’s call them “egg houses.” On the scan, the egg houses looked good, nice and big, which is what you want. But, when they were surgically removed and inspected under a microscope (I imagine them taking the roof off to look inside), three were empty. No eggs were living in their follicle homes.
There was one egg, though – go you good thing! – and off it went to the lab to meet its new roommate, a vial of anonymous donor sperm. I imagined the little petri-dish, with the egg and sperm meeting for the first time. An awkward first encounter, sure, but neither can imagine being without the other when their time together comes to an end.
But, this time, they imagined it.
I waited 24 hours to get the call. I knew straight away. It was one of those times where you answer and when you hear the voice on the other end, you can just tell it’s bad news. In fact, I gestured to Mum (who was standing in front of me when I answered) that it wasn’t good by making a thumbs-down before the nurse on the other end of the line had even finished speaking. I remember the start of the call: “Unfortunately…” – but I don’t recall much else other than the fact that it ended with the caller saying, “All the best with this going forward.”
I didn’t even cry. Not straight away, anyway. Instead, I went straight into transaction mode: there was nothing to talk about, my egg hadn’t fertilized. It simply didn’t work.
It wasn’t until I later hugged my mum and said goodbye that I could hear her tearing up as she said, “Sorry it didn’t work, sweetie” that I started to cry. Why isn’t it working for me? Why did my life go down this path? Why can’t I just be like everyone else? In an emotional moment, it’s easy to generalize, knowing full well that not everyone close to me is coupled-up with kids.
But, as I said, emotions kick in before logic does.
Mum told me it was OK to cry. I snapped back with, “It’s all I did last year, I’m sick of it,” and told her to go. Why do we always take things out on the people who love and care about us the most? It’s such bizarre, and often cruel behavior, isn’t it?
As I shut the door behind me, I let out a huge, whaling cry. The kind where you slide down the door or wall that you’re propped up against, and hit the ground in an “I give up” position. Know the one? My third attempt at trying to conceive a baby had ended. Just like that. All that money spent, all that waiting, that physical and mental burden, the hope of imminent motherhood, snuffed out.
So, I did what any hormonal and emotional woman would do and enjoyed the sweet treats my friend had brought over to cheer me up. I took myself for a massage (I heard seven cracks go in my back alone. That’s one stressed out body!). I bought chocolate. And a new bag (it was on sale, it would be rude not to!).
But the thing that helped the most with my grief was the outpouring of support. There were so many people who contacted me to say how genuinely sorry they were to find out that this IVF cycle didn’t offer the outcome I was hoping for. The love and encouragement from everyone – even people I have never met, nor seen in a long time – was amazing. It truly does help me get back on my feet and remain positive. It reminds me that I am focused and strong enough to keep trying.
Although I feel incredibly saddened by this failed attempt, and the intense loneliness that tends to follow days after feels overwhelming at times, all is not lost.
As I reflect on this last IVF cycle and, in fact, the last three, I can appreciate that while I have not yet gained what I want – a baby – I have still gained so much. My journey has led me to reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and has deepened some relationships I already had.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have gained insight into myself that I may never have otherwise had. Going through IVF without a partner has made me see what I can endure. It has made me tap into a strength, a determination, a resilience, and a level of patience I never knew existed in me.
Sometimes in life, even when you don’t get what you want, you often gain other things that you weren’t expecting to. And that silver lining can be a really nice surprise.
A version of this story was originally published on honey.nine.com.au.
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