In her Anon column, Liadán Hynes speaks to a woman about what it feels like when IVF doesn’t work…[restrict]
We would have started trying when I was about 25; five years ago. I had been doing ovulation tests at home, and they were showing that I wasn’t ovulating. I was put on Clomid to see if it would kick start things, and with that then the ovulation tests became positive. But we still weren’t getting pregnant.
Nearly a year later, we were referred to a fertility clinic. At that stage I won’t lie, I was starting to panic. ‘What are we facing?’ was the first thing I was thinking. Your whole life, you never think you’re going to have any problems getting pregnant. In fact in your earlier life, you’re doing everything to avoid getting pregnant.
The semen analysis showed that my husband’s sperm motility was very low. They were actually swimming in circles. I think at the beginning he was more upset about it for me. Then, as he said, it was more his fault we weren’t getting pregnant; he was blaming himself. I always say to him, there’s both of us in it. My left tube, there’s a slight blockage there, so it’s not straightforward for me either.
I think that’s really important for couples not to blame each other. It’s very easy to turn around and say ‘well it’s your fault that we can’t get pregnant’. And sometimes in the midst of all the stress and devastation from it all, you can take it out on them. What we have done from day one was said we would never take it out on each other. We’d always support each other. And thankfully we have.
When we decided to start IVF, I didn’t really let myself grieve for the fact that it wasn’t going to be a natural process. Which in hindsight is something I should have taken the time just to deal with. I look back now and think ‘God I was so naïve’. To think it was just going to be very straightforward.
I suppose in my head I was just thinking ‘ok we’ll go for IVF and IVF is going to work’.
Everyone kept saying to us ‘you’re so young. Age is with ye’.
At egg collection we had four eggs. I remember being so upset, thinking ‘for my age we should have an awful lot more’. So in the end we were only left with two embryos. The quality was very bad, which we only found out later. So initially I thought everything was going to be fine.
I started bleeding five days after transfer. It continued on for that week. I remember being so nervous, thinking that was it. I ended up in hospital, because I was in so much pain, and there was such heavy bleeding.
That was heartbreaking. I was taken for a scan in the antenatal clinic, and there were women with bumps everywhere. Going into the scan the doctor said ‘oh it’s a failed pregnancy and that’s what’s causing the bleeding’. Afterwards I had to sit in the waiting room with bumps all around me. That was soul destroying. I just thought at that time, looking around, ‘when is it going to be our turn?’
I found out my sister was pregnant two days before our first transfer. I remember I just broke down. I cried and cried. And then I went to the house to congratulate her. She told me she had got pregnant the first month trying. It was like somebody stabbed me. I was thinking ‘why can’t that be us? Why do we have to fight so hard for this?’
At that stage we were nearly four years down the line, and somebody else can get pregnant first time trying?
I was delighted for her. But also so upset inside too. You have this range of emotions. I found I couldn’t be around her for the first few months of her pregnancy. I don’t think she understood at the beginning. She was annoyed that I wasn’t there for her; it did put a strain on our relationship. After the first scan, I texted her, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a picture.
As it got to the end of her pregnancy, I told myself I had to cop on and pull myself out of it. I got stuck in and organised her baby shower. That helped, and now our relationship is mended. I’m godmother to my niece.
I find some of the things people say hard to deal with. ‘Don’t worry, it’ll happen, you won’t even need to go for IVF again. You just need to relax. You’re probably not relaxed enough’. ‘I just got drunk and went out and it happened’. ‘You’re probably thinking about it all the time, try and switch off.’
They’re trying to help, but it’s the opposite. Because it’s like they’re putting the blame on you. That it’s your fault, that you’re doing something wrong. And that gets you down even more.
How can you switch off from the one thing you want the most?
We don’t bother actively trying now.
Before I would have done ovulation tests. And pregnancy tests. And then when we had to go for IVF I stopped all that. There was no point. But I was still doing pregnancy tests every month, thinking ‘this might be the month it will happen’.
Earlier this year after a cycle of IVF, it ended in a very early miscarriage. I found that so hard. The two lines on the test. And then the two lines disappeared. And then I started bleeding. I thought ‘did I imagine that?’ Luckily my husband was there beside me.
My doctor said the levels might not have been high enough for the two lines to have stayed. But I just remember that feeling when I first saw those two lines. That excitement. And going ‘oh my God, it’s finally happened’. And then for it to disappear as quickly, I found that the hardest part to deal with. I doubted myself. I couldn’t even bring myself to say I’d had a miscarriage, because in my head it was like ‘no, other women have had miscarriages who might have seen two lines for a couple of weeks’. Or who had seen the scan. I was thinking ‘if I say this am I taking away from that loss?’ I was all over the place from it.
For so many years I’ve wanted to be a mother. Since I was a child, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be was a mother. Growing up, and going to college, it was the same thing. I thought I’d get a career, get a house, get married, so you can provide; do what you’re supposed to do.
You think it’s going to happen.
And then it doesn’t.
And every month you’re still trying, still taking that pregnancy test and hoping it’s going to be a positive. When you have that for five years every month, and your hopes are dashed every month when it’s negative, it is so hard. It’s soul destroying. And I think people don’t see that side of it.
People don’t think ‘oh god, that’s five years of every month taking a pregnancy test’. Five years of every month hoping that that test will be positive.
I have just stopped taking pregnancy tests every month. Because it’s very hard to put yourself though that. Sometimes you just have to mind yourself. Mentally switch off from it.
We have considered giving up. After the miscarriage, it destroyed me. I ended up on anti-depressants, I had to take time off work. I was in work and couldn’t stop crying. Everything had finally gotten on top of me. I turned around to my husband a good few times and said ‘that’s it, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t go through this again, I give up. I can’t face it’.
My husband said ‘look, whatever you want to do I’ll support you’. He said if you can’t go again, if you’re happy with that decision, that’s fine. But he said ‘don’t decide anything right now, wait until you’re a bit stronger, and then make the decision. Because the way you’re feeling, you might regret making that decision’.
I’m glad he said that. He gave me the time to grieve. And for him to grieve. A lot of the times when you go through things like this, the partners, or husbands, are left out. They’re also going through the same thing. They’re finding it hard. They’re seeing you in emotional and physical pain. So we took time as a couple to talk. I said to him I wanted him to tell me how he was feeling, and not hide it from me.
The more we spoke about it, I felt maybe we should go again. I’m not ready to give up just yet. I’ve wanted this for so long, I think it would actually be so much harder to give up. If it ever came to that stage, I don’t know how I’d cope.
I can’t walk away from it just yet.
Counselling, for me, has been a huge help. Having the support of your partner, to be able to talk about it with each other, is a huge help. Because at the end of the day, they know exactly how it feels. He’s the best one for me to talk to about it, because he feels the same way.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we’ve had arguments because of the emotional stress both of us are feeling. That’s only natural, tensions are high. It could be very easy in those circumstances for me to turn around to him and say ‘it’s all your fault’. Or him, likewise, to say it me. But we always make that mindful effort of how it would affect the other person. If it was said to you, if you heard those words, it’s your fault, how would you feel? Even if it was in the heat of an argument. It would be soul destroying.
Instead if emotions are running high, he would sit me down and say ‘what’s bothering you? What are you feeling now?’ And I’d be the same with him. I think it’s huge to just check in with each other.
The other thing is that we have to think how many times can we actually go financially. I know that discussion is going to have to happen soon. Last year, in two months we spent the guts of €11,000. It’s huge. How can you keep doing that?
We’re renting at the moment. We’re hoping to buy a house. What we would use for a deposit for a house would get us two full rounds of IVF. You have to make the choices. I said look, we’ll buy a house at any stage. We won’t always have the chance to do IVF. You only have a certain time frame. Financially we can’t afford both. If it was brought in with the state helping out, it would take that pressure off couples.
I’m working part-time. It’s very hard to juggle IVF and working full time. Your employer might not be agreeable to taking days, that kind of thing. That’s another big factor that a lot of people don’t think about.
At the moment I’m trying to be hopeful. I had lost hope completely earlier this year. Now, it goes up and down. there are days when I am positive, and think it’s going to work. Other times the doubt creeps in.