Our journey to have a baby started in 2012. It began nonchalantly: we decided that we were ready to bring a child into the world and support them with all the love that we could muster. So we excitedly stopped the birth control pills and started talking about baby names and cute outfits. After a year of trying “naturally” with no success, the talk of baby names and onesies tapered off, and we became increasingly nervous that something was wrong. After consulting with our OB, we learned that the possibility of us getting pregnant naturally was virtually impossible, at least without medical intervention. Thus began our journey into in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
The first feeling I remember having after meeting with our IVF specialist was one of being hyper-aware of the stigma of not being able to get pregnant, as if that were our fault or something to be ashamed of. I’m grateful that we had a great care team and family/friend network to offer us support and assurances that difficulties with pregnancies were very common. Looking back on our experience, though, I find it sad that my first reaction was one of embarrassment, rather than excitement. Would you blame yourself if you had a blood platelet shortage that made it impossible to convert a protein to build muscles? Of course not! But for some reason, our society treats pregnancy issues differently, and it often elicits a variety of unhealthy and unnecessary emotions in people: shame, embarrassment, confusion, etc. Part of my motivation for this blog is to help eliminate the stigma surrounding pregnancy issues and miscarriages.
One thing I wish I had been more prepared for was the emotional, mental, and physical toll that IVF would take -- not just on my wife, who obviously was carrying 100% of the physical burden, but also on me. The IVF journey is incredibly exhausting, if nothing else; there are lots of highs and lows. We had to put all our hope, fears and excitement into the hands of our care providers and trust them to deliver us a successful IVF transfer. In our case, we endured two “unsuccessful attempts” (the embryo was transferred but it didn’t stick) and one successful attempt that ended in a miscarriage before we finally were successful and had our first child in 2018. Each stage of the IVF process requires significant emotional investment, but the emotional/mental weight of the process really reared its head during and after those unsuccessful attempts. Aside from the significant monetary cost, we were also investing a lot of emotional capital into each round, so when it didn’t work out, we inevitably had to ask ourselves “how much more of this can we take?”
There’s no playbook to know how much you can take, unfortunately. All you can do is be honest with yourself (for would-be single parents) and/or your partner (for couples) and check in about how you’re feeling during each step of the process, especially if/when it ends unsuccessfully, so that you can chart a course for the next round of IVF or pivot towards other options (e.g., fostering, adoption, etc.). You may confront financial roadblocks along the way; if so, have a sober discussion about what you’re willing to invest, always thinking about the best- and worst-case scenarios. You may encounter emotional mountains that you don’t think you can overcome. My advice would be to keep on going, but everyone has their own threshold for disappointment and loss. Even though we faced incredible lows, we are certainly happy that we didn’t stop after three attempts, but maybe you reach a point where enough is enough, and if you get there, that’s ok. You need to be true to yourself during this process, because it’s ultimately about raising a child, so if your heart or mind aren’t willing to go any further, stopping the IVF process may be the best thing to do for all involved.
Ultimately, I have three takeaways for anyone reading this who is thinking about IVF or currently immersed in it. 1) Don’t be self-conscious about pregnancy issues -- they’re far more prevalent than you could ever imagine. You’re trying to have a baby, and that’s a wonderful thing; don’t get down on yourself because you’re having challenges. 2) Treat yourself with respect -- this is an incredibly taxing process in every way possible, so take care of yourself with a healthy diet and lots of sleep, and throw in some fun things along the way to keep things light. 3) Be honest with yourself (and your partner, if you have one) about your fears, struggles and capacity for disappointment and pain. These can help ensure that you are level-headed during the process.