Accepting IVF

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It may sound crazy to the fertile ear, but deciding to start reproductive treatment was a massive decision for us. Our first IVF cycle was a full three years after we sat hand-in-hand on the couch and decided to try and bring new life into the world.

It seems almost crazy to look back on. If you get diagnosed with practically any other disease you just suck it up and start treatment. But, as usual, infertility seems to work differently.

Of course there were massive financial connotations, but that wasn’t the major thing that held us back – having a child was worth more than money could buy. No, deciding to start treatment meant conceding that something was very, very wrong. Beginning IVF meant swallowing the thought that we weren’t special enough for a random, unexpected miracle, unlike your cousin’s neighbour’s cat’s friend who fell pregnant despite all the odds.

There were also moral issues. We desperately wanted Egg and Sperm to work things out and meet somewhere in the middle, but what if we ended up with 10 embryos shivering in storage?

How could something so precious and longed for suddenly become disposable? We asked around. Some people told us that IVF was a sin; others suggested that it was forcing God’s hand to do something unnatural. Others were beautifully and wholeheartedly supportive.

We were young, conflicted, tired and broken.

The doctors laughed at us when we asked to attempt the more ‘ethical’ GIFT program. GIFT will never work for you, they sneered. I counted nine friends who were first time preggars around me. It all felt like a cruel joke.

Eventually we came to what we thought was an ethical compromise: we would just get a few embryos made up at the one time and freeze the rest of the eggs. It seemed perfect; eggs are disposable, embryos are not. We settled on the number 6 because it left room for a reasonable amount of failure, but also an adequate likelihood of success.

The doctors responded to us like we were mental patients (probably because they foresaw us throwing a lot of money down the drain) but they eventually obliged. One Doctor told us that she couldn’t tell us what our chances were because there were no statistics for couples under 25. Another remarked that our chance of naturally conceiving was so low Woman’s Day would publish a story about it. We got used to being the youngest people in the waiting room.

The decision to fertilise only 6 eggs – if 6 were even collected – seemed so wise at the time, but in hindsight it was yet another decision made with rose-coloured, youthful, ignorant optimism.

For our first cycle they suctioned a massive 19 eggs out of me, and while my friends enjoyed an Australia Day BBQ, I, at 23 years old, lay in bed with hyper stimulation fears and unbridled hope in my heart.

Today is not the day to go into the nitty gritty of what happened for us and why it didn’t work, today I just wanted to show that it’s often not as easy as ‘just go and do IVF.’

There are financial, moral and relational issues to work through. You have to decide whether your workplace will be understanding or not – I had to quit my job to start treatment. You have to work out who to tell and who not to. There are needles and prodding and, quite possibly, pessaries. Your inconsolable and erratic baby hormones are exacerbated a hundred- fold. Friends will tell you that they accidentally fell pregnant after – wait for it – having sex! Sex will become associated with failure. Doctors will treat you like incompetent cattle. You will have to get a police check and counselling to be allowed to do something that heroin addicts can do thoughtlessly.

But…You will survive. You will get through it. You will become stronger. You may even be rewarded with a miraculous gift. Countless women have gone before you and survived. You will too.

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Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

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In the UK this week it’s National Infertility Awareness Week (I think our one is in April), so I thought it would be a good time to continue ‘breaking the silence.’

In Australia, it’s estimated that one in six couples suffer from infertility, which is a heck-load when you think about it, yet no one really wants to talk about it. And trust me – I completely understand why. When you first decide you would like to bring a bundle of joy into the world you tend to keep it fairly private. You imagine breaking the news to your elated parents and friends, and there being hugs and kisses and joy and rainbows all round.

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Image courtesy of Giphy http://gph.is/XL2weq

If the people around you already know that you’re trying some of that magic will just disappear.

So what happens when it doesn’t happen? This is where it gets tricky. As you get slammed down each month (rather inhumanely by a Carrie-style blood bath) your anxiety and depression levels grow. I remember I spent our entire first year wedding anniversary sobbing. We had been trying for six months and I had hoped it would be a day to celebrate the new life our love had created. It wasn’t. It was a day where a new, unperceived darkening reality was beginning to envelop us.

There are so many misconceptions about infertility it’s hard to know where to start. The reality is if someone shares with you their struggle to conceive they have probably already been trying for quite some time, and they’ve probably read every solution Google has to offer.

While (most) people don’t have bad intentions – trust me, there are some that just love to stick the knife in – many of the things that people say reinforce messages of blame or shame back to the couple who are already heavy with feelings of failure.

I was planning on including a big list of all the comments I find hurtful but then I came across an article that did it a lot more sensitively than I ever could. The “Infertility Etiquette” guide on the National Infertility Association’s website is a really helpful tool if you are struggling to know how to respond to a friend’s infertility. It spells out what not to say, but also explains why not in great detail.

Believe it or not people do actually feel entitled to say things like: “Maybe you are just not meant to be parents” to which my response would be more likely to involve slapping the fertile, smugness off their self-righteous faces than the well-reasoned response given in the article, so I do really encourage reading it.

In the meantime I guess I’ll get back to “Just relaxing until it happens.”

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Image courtesy of Giphy http://giphy.com/gifs/AFjfPUJ0mjWJG/

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Reality Hits You Hard

Well after the last heavy post I thought it might be good to backtrack a bit and share a little snippet of our story. If you can’t be bothered reading you could just watch the clip from ‘Up’ which basically tells the first half of our story in heart-wrenchingly beautiful detail.

Mr. Lady Breaks (who coincidentally doesn’t exactly like being referred to as “Mr. Lady Breaks” because apparently it a) “sounds like he’s a lady-man”; and b) “sounds like he breaks ladies”) started dating me back in 1999. I was 14 and he had just turned 15. I’m not going to bore you with too many soppy recollections of high-school romance, but to say it felt like the most normal and natural thing in the world.

So we dated and dreamed about our future. There was going to be retro cars, murals on the walls, and two studios (one for music and the other for art, obviously). We would own a weatherboard cottage and a café and together we would change the world. We picked out songs for our wedding and names for our children. We couldn’t wait for our adult life to begin.

At my 16th Birthday in 2001

At my 16th Birthday in 2001

Needless to say, most of these things didn’t happen (well, my first car was a 1967 HR Holden but we – ironically – sold it to buy a “family car” when we started trying). We did get married, but finance and reality limited life and dreams – as it seems to do to everyone.

Man, I loved that car

Man, I loved that car

What was never expected though was infertility. We were young, really young, and healthy. In fact the doctors refused to even test us at first. Then, after eighteen months of trying, we were referred to reproductive specialists who told us that there would be a very long ladder of options available to us before we would need to consider something as serious as IVF. They were wrong. After the results came back it was clear that IVF would be our only option to ever conceive.

I realise at this point of the story it might be handy to say what the problem actually is, but I’m choosing not to. It’s not that it’s a closely guarded secret at all; it’s just that it doesn’t really matter. The thing about struggling with infertility as a couple is that you struggle as a couple. Infertility is a shared disease – if one person is diagnosed, both are diagnosed. Yes, one may be technically fully able to procreate, but, as we know, it takes two to tango. Also, there is a big, burdensome load of blame and inadequacy that comes with being The Infertile One (read: the reason behind all the pain and sadness), which I’m sure I will discuss some other day. So suffice it to say that “we are infertile.”

Anyway, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of deciding to do IVF today either, as it was quite a huge decision that took over us a year, but just know for now that we tried and failed. Of course it’s something that we could keep trying but for that damn ‘finance and reality’ thing again.

The thing I really wanted to share today was how brutally unfair the whole thing felt/ feels. Having grown up in a broken home, I really longed for that stable family unit. Part of the reason I loved Mr. Lady Breaks so much was that I knew he would make a great dad, and I doubted he would ever walk out on his children. I could give my children something I never had, and I could finally experience the much-lauded nuclear family thing. But, of course, life had other plans.

Mr. Lady Breaks (the name is sticking, so get over it) and my story isn’t over, but we just have no idea the direction it will go. We have come to so many closed doors and dead-ends after almost eight years of fighting and struggling that we hardly know how to dream anymore.

But the story isn’t over, and we have to keep dreaming. We need to fill our own Adventure Book (‘Up’ reference) and I love the fact that you are now along for the ride. Thank you.

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How Does it Feel?

I am so very hesitant to post this.

I’ve been weighing it up all weekend, trying to decide whether now is the right time or not. I think I’ve decided that there will never be a perfect time and I just have to trust that it reaches the right people.

Basically it’s something I angrily scrawled down late one night just before we started IVF. I want to be clear that time has softened the severity of pain I feel – yes, the pain still twinges and burns, but it is no longer agonising. I have had to learn to accept what has happened, and derive my happiness from other things. Some days I do better than others, but overall I am much, much, much happier.

When I read what I wrote five years ago, I almost can’t believe that it was me. There is so much resentment, pain, anger, disappointment and jealousy. It’s really not pretty! But I’m sharing something so personal and so raw in the hope that it helps articulate what failing to conceive for years feels like. Well, even more basic than that, I’m sharing what grieving can feel like.

It is my hope that this story is able to voice the pain that other couples are silently enduring right now.

It’s probably an uncomfortable read, especially if you’ve never seen this side of me before, and for that I apologise. Also, beware of the over-abundance of adjectives and melodrama; I was in the middle of a Literature degree at the time!

Ok – Brace yourselves!

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27th December 2008

IVF.  So this is how it begins.  We have spent the last three years trying to come to terms with the whole thing.  Infertility.  That dirty, rotten, seldom-spoken, sympathy-ridden, gut-wrenchingly painful word.  That word that consumes every breath, every thought, every growing belly, or rolling pram or playground or commercial or waking or sleeping.

Infertility.  It is the demon child that grows within you, but only grows and grows and threatens to burst you apart from the womb to the heart.  It is the devil inside that mocks, taunts, burns, throbs and feasts upon any moments of happiness.  And, as each month slithers past that beast takes even more of you, even though you were quite sure there is nothing – no dream, want, need, or yearning – that it hasn’t already devoured.  But, as surely as winter follows autumn, the pain can deepen.  Suddenly, sharply and with increasingly regular intensity, the infertility tumour within you bursts forth like a volcano, spitting and spewing hate and hurt into the faces of all those around you.  It takes all.  It destroys the truest parts of you.

But, most of all, that awful monster within scrapes.  Day and night.  Long lazy summer afternoons and bone-chilling mornings.  It writhes inside, grating its sharp yellowed claws along your insides.  Dragging itself down your spine then tearing back up through your stomach, trying to fight its way out of your barren cage.  But you know it can never be born.  No.  That gnawing pain, those tears that are only seconds from your eyes, they are yours alone to own, yours alone to carry.

How has three years passed?  Three Christmases, three Easters, six birthdays, countless dreams.

“Don’t worry- you can have mine!” Well-meaning, insensitive friends tease.  Or, “Are you sure you’re doing it right?”  Oh, for goodness sake, sometimes I just want to hit people. And for the countless people that find it fit to remind me that, “Once I’ve got them, I’ll long for the days without them” – Thanks – but I think I would sacrifice any asset, any career, perky breasts or quiet nights for a touch of flesh I’ve made, tiny fingers reaching for me, cries of trust and longing, need and urgency, a toothless smile and those chubby, ticklish thighs that are mine.  Mine.

But even as you think those greedy, guilty thoughts you can almost hear all those “real-life mothers” chuckling quietly with nostalgic sympathy for you.  If only she knew, they tut.  Those nappies, those screams, those rotten loud toys, the spoiled Pumpkin Patch jumpsuit that was just washed, those sexless screaming nights, every shopping trip, every girlfriend visit, every loss of liberty, every wanting hand, everything.  If only she knew.

And, yes I agree, if only I did.

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Phew! You made it through that roller-coaster of anguish! And so did I, thank God. And that’s what I really want to reiterate if you are grieving right now – you can make it through. I’m definitely not at the end of my journey yet, and I doubt I ever will be, but the intensity of the pain has decreased, and my strength has increased ten-fold.

Again, I thank you for being brave and open enough to walk alongside me and many other couples.
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