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  • Writer's pictureRachel Chan

IVF? YouVF....

My feelings about IVF are complicated. On the one hand I know it’s a chance and a privilege that wasn’t afforded to women of my grandmother’s generation. On the other, it’s a pressure, and a hugely stressful undertaking that’s difficult to go through. In addition, personally I feel I can trace what feels like the unravelling of my life, back to the moment I stepped foot into the fertility clinic.

I think IVF is often thought of as the start of a fertility journey. The reality is that usually, people have tried many other remedies first, as was the case for us. When we started our IVF journey six years ago, we’d already been trying to have a baby for two years. I’d had surgery for my endometriosis (a condition where extra uterine tissue is found outside the uterus, most commonly in the pelvis and attached to internal organs), and had taken at least three months of clomid therapy, (a medication to encourage ovulation). As well as that, we’d tried various old wives’ tales such as my husband wearing loose fitting underwear, cutting certain foods out of our diet, taking certain supplements, and giving up cosmetics containing certain ingredients. I’d also tracked my ovulation by using the urine testing sticks and taking my temperature each morning. We waited patiently for all these things to work. As my mood sunk lower and lower with every pregnancy announcement I heard, my husband would say,

‘Don’t’ worry, it’ll be our turn soon.’

But our turn never came. Finally feeling that we needed some expert help, we approached our local fertility clinic for tests. After everything we’d been through, we arrived nervously at the fertility clinic to be told:

‘Ok, so your tests aren’t normal. You need IVF. Are you ready for it?’.

Just like that. As if it was nothing. As you can imagine, this did not go down well with me in my already heightened emotional state.

I told my husband I didn’t want to do the IVF, but after one summer, I changed my mind. I call it the summer of five weddings in ten weeks. I love weddings, probably more than the average person, but this was a particularly gruelling schedule, even for the most seasoned wedding guest. They weren’t all church weddings, but I repeatedly heard the vows:

‘With my body I honour you. All that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you’.

By the end of the summer, I felt compelled to reconsider my earlier stance on the matter. I thought back to the moment I’d said those vows to my own husband, some short years earlier. I realised that if he wanted to try everything to have his own biological children, as his wife, it was up to me to give him that opportunity. I don’t believe that those vows entitle my husband to ask me to do anything I’m not comfortable with, but I do believe in honouring the promises I make. So, still somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to the IVF.

We promptly changed doctors and things started to get going. I found it really difficult at first just to accept that we even needed fertility treatment. Prior to my endometriosis surgery, it had taken me eight years to get a confirmed diagnosis (average for the UK) and some effective treatment. I would tell every specialist I saw that my main concern was fertility, and each time, I was told not to worry. This made it particularly difficult to accept that we were going to need help.

Looking back, I was very naïve about my own health but also about what the IVF entailed and how effective it could be. For some reason I had such a difficult time squaring in my head the idea of freezing embryos. I couldn’t deal with the fact that my children would be in the laboratory freezer! It sounds so stupid to me now, but at the time, I had a very real fear that we would end up with hordes of frozen embryos that we couldn’t use, and then have to make difficult decisions about what to do with them. The truth is that you’re lucky to get any embryos in a cycle, and I needn’t have worried. The other thing I was totally naïve about was my thinking that once we had an embryo, we were pretty much already pregnant. Wrong again. I was so excited when we created just the one embryo. The freezing problem had disappeared, and we only needed one embryo to have a baby, right?! Little did I know that for my age group, the chance of an embryo implanting once you’ve made it is 45%.

After the embryo is returned from the laboratory to your body, you’re asked to live as if you’re pregnant, in case it works and the embryo implants. You have to wait two weeks before you can test to see if that will turn out to be true or not. So that’s two weeks of thinking you could be pregnant, only to find (in my case), that I wasn’t. It was devastating. I remember being so angry after getting a negative test result that I threw my cardboard box of leftover fertility drugs across the room, tearing up all the paper and cardboard inside. I don’t remember anyone really saying anything comforting to me immediately afterwards about it. I suppose people don’t really know what to say and we hadn’t told many people that we were even doing the IVF, seeing it as extra pressure and extra people to disappoint if it didn’t work. I didn’t take any unscheduled leave from work, and I didn’t give myself any time to grieve. As it happened, I was to have even less time to process it than I thought. I found out I’d become pregnant naturally around five weeks after the failed IVF cycle, something which is apparently common after certain types of IVF. What followed after that though was emergency surgery and nine weeks of intermittent haemorrhaging, with a miscarriage somewhere in between. I’ve heard it’s also common for a natural pregnancy so close to an IVF cycle to miscarry. No wonder I suppose, as the body must be confused as to what’s going on.

About a year after the miscarriage, a few weeks after I’d missed out on a promotion at work and decided to leave my job to have some more IVF, I had a steep decline in my mental health and realised I was suffering from severe PTSD from the whole experience. One of the reasons I didn’t want to do the IVF in the first place was because I feared for my mental health. As it happens, my fears turned out to be very much founded.

When the IVF didn’t work and I realised the extent of the damage to my mental health, I blamed my husband for forcing me into it. I also resented him for seemingly going through it all without any changes to his life, when I felt I had sacrificed so much. In actuality, as described above, he hadn’t put any pressure on me at all, it was ultimately my decision. What I didn’t consider at the time was how difficult it must have been for him to have a wife who’d failed at so much, and who was disappearing into despair in front of his very eyes. What is not often talked about is the incredible strain a cycle of IVF can put on your life, your relationships, your career, your mental health and every other part of your life. I believe there should be more information about this before the process and much more support afterwards.

It’s hard to know how to end this particular blog, which is fitting really considering I’m still on this fertility journey and I’ve no idea how it will end. After much therapy and a considerable amount of time, I finally feel ready for more IVF, but I can’t imagine at this point what the outcome will be. I find it hard to look at photos of myself from six years ago, knowing what I know now about everything that was to come.

Thank goodness the future’s not ours to see.

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1 Comment

Lesley Dolben
Lesley Dolben
Dec 16, 2021

It’s so hard to offer words of comfort as you travel this path again, it must take huge courage to share something so personal. fertility is taken for granted by so many of us. I hope this journey brings you peace in whatever transpires. I pray that you both find love and understanding from all those who support your endeavours. Wishing you every success xx

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