Something I’ve struggled with over the last few months is feeling as though I couldn’t be honest with my blog readers. Having had IVF for almost two years, we fell pregnant at the end of May and, naturally, we didn’t want to share our news until a lot later on. During the summer, I wrote on my social media channels about how I hadn’t felt connected to blogging – this was mostly due to the fact that I had changed, and though I wanted to express this, I was afraid of being too honest, too soon.
However, as each week passes, I relax a little more. IVF is an emotionally draining process and it consumed my life and my brain every day for a such long time, to the extent that I believe it’s changed me as a person. In some ways for the better (I’m happier than I’ve ever been; I feel comfortable in myself and with my age, and my relationship with my husband is absolutely at its best), but in some ways the change hasn’t been great (I’m less social, resistant to being away from the safety of home). It has taken a long time to get to this point, where I feel at ease and at peace. Every day I fear the happiness will come crashing down around us, but every day the fear fades a little bit more.
It may be that you’re reading this and understand exactly where I’m coming from. It may be that you’re reading this, having been through the same process without the pregnancy or baby to show for it. (To those women, to those couples, I salute you – your strength knows no bounds.) It may be, though, that you’ve had no experience at all of IVF and I hope that this post gives you an insight into what is a brilliant but exhausting experience.
It’s an experience that, to me, seems taboo; no one really talks about it and, if they do, it’s rarely to the people actually involved. I don’t think this is the fault of any one group of people. I know that while I was having IVF I didn’t want to be seen at the hospital, nor did I want to talk openly about it in the tea room at work. It felt private, and yet I was happy to talk about it – in fact, I wanted to talk about it – to individuals who I knew were genuine in their curiosity, who asked questions but who I knew truly cared about my answers. So part of the problem was me, though I was never ashamed. On the other hand, it made some people uncomfortable; they know it’s a sensitive subject and so, inevitably, they tip-toe around on invisible eggshells. These people are usually the ones who appear to, now that I’m pregnant, feel more at ease when I bring it up – but they’re also the ones who immediately start to tell the story of the friend-of-a-friend who had IVF, asking if you’re having twins, because it’s more likely up in IVF. (This is no longer the case – our clinic explained that they now advise against transferring two embryos.)
During my treatment, I also got the feeling that some people didn’t understand the depth of IVF, nor did they really care to learn about it. They asked questions, wanted answers, and probably passed them, diluted, on to the next person. I wanted to talk about IVF to people I knew I could trust – not to keep a secret, but to treat the information with the respect it deserved – and when it became clear someone wasn’t genuine, I would crumble inside and try awkwardly to remove myself from their company, and sadly everyone else’s too.
For those that were (and are) genuine, thank you. To my dear friend Cassie, who asked just a few weeks ago, “Did you have sex?”, thank you. You are always a breath of fresh air. Yes, we did, but that’s not how we conceived; that was done in the lab, with his sperm (donated in a charming hospital room that can only be described as a cupboard), and my eggs (collected more than a year earlier under sedative). Sometimes IVF uses the patients’ own sperm and/or eggs (most cases of IVF are carried out because the lack of pregnancy is ‘unexplained’ and couples simply need a little help to get started), and sometimes they’re donated, for a number of reasons, such as cancer, or an injury. But let me tell you this: wherever those genes come from, the little miracle baby is as precious as gold dust on a windy day, and every bit as loved as a child conceived and born naturally.
So, though in many ways it makes me uncomfortable to share this experience so publicly, I want to talk about IVF. I want to encourage other women (and men, though they experience IVF in an altogether different way) to talk about it and feel safe when they do. I want to make sure people know that even though IVF is a wonderful and exciting opportunity, it’s hard, it hurts, and it takes its toll on your entire human being, both physically and emotionally. The effects can run deeper than anyone on the outside looking in might realise. IVF tests relationships at the very time when a couple needs to be more together than ever. It leaves bruises on skin, and scars on minds. IVF can last less than a year, or it can last ten years. It can produce miracles, but sometimes it doesn’t, and I want to help contribute to a world without the stigma that surrounds IVF.
I like to think of IVF as a piece of delicate lace, peeking out from beneath a warm knit; personal, but so special that it should be shared, just a little. The protective shell should be optional; if it slips, it’s no big deal – but it’s there, a comfort, just in case.
I’m Wearing: lace bralet and knickers, Freya Fancies by Freya; wrap jumper, Next.
Images: Kris Miller