One of the biggest issues for women going through IVF (or at least the ones I know) is how isolating it all feels. You struggle with feeling like a failure as a woman and human being. You view the “you had one job” memes differently when you’re can’t fulfill your basic biological destiny. You’re stuck in a liminal space – no longer “child-free”, but not a mother. It doesn’t matter if you’re one in eight or one in six – you’re simply the ONE. It’s a horrible, lonely place, especially when as all your friends move beyond the diapering stages and start talking about primary schools and teenage angst.
Some of your closest friendships fall victim to this. Once the enthusiastic aunt who happily allows friends to offload their toddlers and has a BA in diaper rash, you suddenly don’t want to stare at your own failure all day. Nor do you want to hit the clubs with the gal pals and drown your issues with a stiff whiskey. You just don’t belong. Anywhere.
It’s isolating even within the confines of the infertile marriage. The shots, the scans, the hormonal hot flashes, nausea, the symptoms (or lack thereof) disproportionately affect just half a couple. Sure, some husbands participate more than others – partners do the shots together, attend all the scans. I spare mine that (whether rightly or wrongly). Cycle 1 was a little bit more participative (or as participative as it can be for a couple with demanding full-time jobs and extended families to look after). We googled everything. His left-brain pulled up statistics and probabilities, his right-brain dreamt up names. Failure crushed us both. And then after the ectopic in cycle 2, he completely fell apart. Having been here this many times (I’m on cycle 6, an upcoming FET with the only frostie from my third fresh cycle), I now try and keep things at home as normal as possible. I work out my hormonal blimps at the gym, and quietly do my shots at lunchtime. I keep him updated on things like follicle growth and he attends retrievals and transfers, of course. But, for the most part, I try and make IVF less of a presence in everyday life. Call it self-preservation.
I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, is your mantra. You have a small support network of cheerleaders. They keep you sane.
But every now and then, you suddenly aren’t. You fill with dread and self-doubt. The air around you gets heavier and the world starts to close in on itself. You grieve every failed cycle over and over again, thinking about the souls that were cruelly snatched away. You wonder about getting to 50/60/70 and being childless. What would your life have amounted to? Why were you working so hard to earn, save, invest, when you had no way of ensuring this had any worth when you moved on to the next place? Who would bury you? Who would remember you? I mean, I have nephews and nieces, but they aren’t obliged to look after me in my later years (even if I know one or two of them love me enough to offer). With each failure, something inside you permanently crumples. You don’t feel like a woman. You don’t even feel like a functioning member of the species. You lack body confidence, sex doesn’t appeal. Your body and you – you’re not friends.
This isn’t an illness with a clear cure. You don’t always get better. You can pop a million pills and take a gazillion shots and remain barren. Then you start seeing the world around you through that lens. Mildly irritating marital habits claw at you. You start wondering who might be more to blame. You retrace old steps, rewriting history along the way. How could you have missed this not working?
Infertility is not like any other disease.
Yes, I know. This is depression flirting with me. But no amount of therapy is going to fill the hole in my heart (and if I had a couple of grand to blow on a therapist, I would just do another cycle. Just saying).
I also know now is not the time to be musing about this. I’m supposed to be all unicorns and rainbows as I go into a cycle. But this is the reality of infertility and life as I know it. There is nothing linear about IVF’s psychological and emotional timeline. You don’t get to choose how you feel on any given day.
I’ll get out of it. I always do. Old hat and all that 😉
But till then…