We have just passed a year since our first attempt at IVF failed, and it got me thinking about the emotional (and physical) rollercoaster we have been on. I get asked often how I’m coping, where we’re up to and how I deal with it in my day to day life… so here’s an update.
We are currently having a break from all things fertility in terms of treatments, hospitals and all of that shabang. My poor body was an absolute wreck after a fresh cycle and two frozen embryo transfers in the relatively short space of 9 months. My body and mind did not feel like my own anymore, having been under the control of doctors’ schedules and artifical hormones for a lot of this time, followed by the inevitable natural hormone crash and disorder after it failed each time. My face was aching with huge cystic acne, I’ve put on 1.5st in weight and my anxiety had also really spiked. I have a fairly high pain threshold and am OK with hospitals and medical procedures (I’ve had rather a flipping lot of them, I have been put under general anaesthetic for surgery 7 times) but I found IVF incredibly intrusive and sometimes traumatic because of the intimate nature of it.
So after our final failed transfer of our first cycle back in May, I said “enough”. I wanted so badly just to feel like me again. I would say it’s only been the last 4-6 weeks that my skin has started to resemble anything like it used to pre-IVF, only it’s now full of scars and hyperpigmentation from all the acne. My weight is still up, as I’ve not had the strength or willpower to motivate myself to lose it yet (I think because I know there’s little point when round 2 is looming on the horizon). I definitely don’t look like the me I used to know, which still upsets me a little; but at least with make up on my skin looks pretty much clear and that is a HUGE relief!
Mentally I am feeling much better and in quite a good place right now. Working part time allows me to keep everything on an even keel, and although this feels arrogant and bullish to admit… I am doing pretty well at work and have received some great feedback, which has given me a little confidence boost and diminished those anxious mornings somewhat. The lack of control over my body was a huge anxiety trigger for me; the hormones played havoc with my panic attacks and even gave me depression afterwards for a while (which I don’t suffer with usually).
Our plan is to attack round two at some point in the next 12 months… whenever we are ready. The only issue is that our NHS funding could be pulled at any point and we won’t even know about it until we try to arrange the first consultation. So with that in mind, we took ourselves off for a lovely Spanish holiday over the summer, have been spending time getting some work done to the house and made a few lifestyle changes in preparation for round 2 whenever I feel ready. Fingers crossed the funding is still there.
How do I cope with infertility?
This is a tough one. It’s one of those things that I don’t think about every second of the day, but it does pop into my head at some point most days. It’s hard not to; I am in my mid-30s and the we are the only people in my close circle of friends and family who don’t have children.
I find the feeling of not being in the ‘club’ the hardest. That makes it sound like a clique and that the people around me are exclusive with it, which couldn’t be further from the truth… but the reality is that all of my best friends and my family have all got something that I haven’t. I can’t wear the “Mama” or the “Winging It” jumpers, I can’t go to the events for mums in business, I can’t join in the gin and tiredness camaraderie. They have all been through the biggest life change we ever face as humans, and they all have one thing that they love more fiercely than anything or anyone on this Earth. I have no idea how that feels, and it makes me feel a million miles away from the people around me.
I can empathise with toddler and child behaviour issues, constant illness and funny anecdotes thanks to my six years as a primary school teacher, but I can’t offer my friends any support or practical advice when they struggle with mum guilt, sleep deprivation, tough decisions etc. I can offer empathy from the perspective of similar things I’ve faced in my life, but it’s never quite the same and my silence on those things sometimes feels deafening to me.
My friends need other friends with babies for support, and I am so glad they all have that. They have NCT friends, school mum friends, dance/swimming/football/extra curricular mum friends, and friends they already had who have babies at a similar age. God knows they need the support from people who are going through the same thing, we all do. I have my online IVF support groups because I also need to talk to people who have walked this path. But there is always a tiny sad part of me that all my close friends have these connections with other women based on this womanly, primal thing that I just can’t seem to be able to achieve. It’s like there’s a little part of all of my friends that isn’t available to me, but is available to others. I do get a little pang and an ache when I see my friends all off out doing family things together with other friends and their kids, because even though we have been invited in the past there is no place for us there (our choice by the way, not theirs! It just feels too weird!). I just want to be able to be a part of it all.
My friends, by the way, are amazing. Nobody ever tells me I should borrow their kid for a night and soon change my mind, or dominates our conversations with topics they know I find tricky. They were, at first, very hesitant to even talk about their children or tell me about pregnancies – but upon reassurances from me that I do truly love all of my adopted nieces and nephews (you know, that mate your mum had that you had to call Auntie even though she wasn’t!) and as a lover of children I do genuinely want to hear all about them. And, as a lover of my friends, I want to hear all about their lives and the things they need help with. It’s just… well, it’s hard sometimes. I never ever want them to stop talking to me about that stuff though – because when they stop, I will feel further and further away on my own little infertile island. I just wish there wasn’t a tiny bit of everyone around me that feels like a big secret I don’t have the code for yet. And bless them, they constantly ask how they can help or how they can take that feeling away… and the truth is, they can’t. It just is.
Michael and I find the world a strange place to be as childless people at our age. Saturdays are the weirdest. Whatever we do or wherever we go, we are either the youngest or oldest by far! We figured out a while ago that everyone else our age is either hanging out at home with their kids, or out doing family activities at places we wouldn’t go to with no kids. I find the times of the day and weekend I am able to do things usually finds me amongst women much younger than me (exercise classes, shopping) or older (when we go to the pub or a cafe in the early afternoon). It’s a strange little bubble to be in.
This sometimes leads me to a feeling of not fitting in. I scroll through Instagram, and most people I follow are sharing their daily family lives. A lot of the ladies with accounts like mine still have their fashion, style and interior focus; but with smatterings of lovely family outings to pumpkin patches and golden fields, or hot chocolates in front of a Disney film (side note: I do know full well it’s curated and a showreel, and I know the hell they face sometimes!) I find targeted ads to be incredibly off piste as they often assume I am in need of new mum gadgets or family days out, obviously given my demographic.
Above all, even after all of this, I’m still scared of being a mum. It seems so HARD! Being the only non-mother I know means I have had years and years of absorbing everybody else’s struggles, tough pregnancies, traumatic births and parenting meltdowns… and I have to admit I am flipping terrified. How the hell will I cope with it all? Our life right now, though a little emptier than we’d like, is pretty nice. I have all the same fears about pregnancy and parenting as I did before we knew we had any issues, which is a very odd combination of factors to have to process.
I know that if the time ever comes to be pregnant, I would like to make it my own journey as much as possible. I am a big huge sponge for other people’s anxieties, so if people start to tell me their horror stories in order to ‘prepare’ me I will definitely need to cut that short. I torture myself enough in my own anxious mind; I don’t need any more fear adding to the pile! I especially don’t want to tell people the things I plan to do to help myself in various situations for fear of the “oh yeah, I thought that would work too, pffft, hahahah!” response. I sometimes do romanticise things because it’s the easiest way to get through this, to get through the pain and anguish of IVF. To imagine the possible rewards that could be at the end. I know it isn’t all pumpkin patches and family movie nights, and I know pregnancy isn’t all baby showers and swishy hair and cute outfits. I choose to focus on possible cute maternity outfits, nursery decorating ideas and names purely to give myself a not so terrifying end goal after all of this. The thing with getting pregnant after IVF is that if it doesn’t go to plan or you find it horrific, you know that you did something very purposeful to make it happen… there’s no element of blaming it on chance or an act of the Gods. I find that quite hard to process sometimes. I am probably overthinking it, but after tentative questions in the IVF support group it seems I am not alone! If I thought about all of the horrors that could possibly lie ahead, I would never be able to stick another needle in my tummy again.
When we first got married and first started trying, I absolutely freaked out about the whole thing. I was absolutely terrified of actually getting pregnant and of how I would deal with it all, and I was fairly relieved at each negative test at first. Yesssss, I can still have Friday prosecco and Saturday lie ins and I don’t need to worry about being on my own in a classroom and needing to throw up! I remember that a few months in, Michael encouraged me to do something that would make me feel excited about pregnancy rather than focus on the negatives. I went straight to ASOS maternity and started to look at the cute outfits, and I found the most beautiful blue chambray spotted pinafore dress. It was in the sale and there was low stock left in my size. I was cooing over it and lamenting that by the time I got pregnant it would probably be sold out. Michael ordered it for me to keep in the wardrobe “just in case” and to give me something positive to focus on.
It sits in a Cath Kidston storage bag on top of my wardrobe, along with my wedding hair accessories and garter, still with its tags on. I worry sometimes that it will be completely out of fashion if I ever get to wear it… but I also don’t care, and I think it will be the first piece of maternity clothing I wear if I am ever lucky enough to need it.