'I isolated myself. I was hard work to live with': One woman shares her emotional IVF journey

One in six women in Ireland will experience fertility issues. To mark Infertility Awareness Week, one woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares her journey from finding out IVF was her only option, to seeking help from a support group, to finally conceiving her miracle baby, and what the future lies ahead for her, her husband and her daughter. 


I have known my husband for 100 years! When eventually we decided to start a family we really just expected it to happen, just like that. Due to our ages (late 30s) we went to my GP after six months of no success. She didn’t hesitate in referring us for testing.

We did preliminary testing and we were told we had unknown infertility. We were told our only option was IVF as time wasn’t on our side. Hearing those words I felt I was sucker punched.

How could this be happening? I honestly felt like a complete failure -- isn’t having a baby meant to be the most natural thing in the world? I blamed myself for not being able to get pregnant. My husband tried to explain that it was not my fault, but I just couldn’t listen. I was so cross. It wasn’t like I was waiting to meet Mr Right or I was chasing a career. We just never knew we would have a problem.

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In a way when you get over the initial shock of having to create a baby in an ‘unnatural’ matter, you feel you are at least being proactive. While the doctors can tell you all the medical facts it really is up to yourself to do the research and make sure you have covered every angle, asked every question, are happy with the answers and feel confident in the doctor and clinic prior to proceeding with treatment.

I think we really spend so much time on the medical side of things we can forget to be mindful of the emotional toll infertility can take. And I do believe this emotional toll can impact our cycles.

Support

I decided pretty early into our process that I needed support outside of my husband. I took action and Mr Google led me to a support group run by NISIG, (National Infertility Support & Information Group). I registered for a meeting locally.

I think we can have a preconceived notion of support groups generated from TV, so I was apprehensive about it but I found myself in a room of people who just got me. It was a revelation, I wasn’t alone anymore.

At this point I had spoken to family and friends and they were kind, but just didn’t get it. At the meeting, everyone understood. While all of our stories were different, there was a mutual understanding of how you were really feeling. I have never met as many resilient people in my life who just keep putting one foot forward when life is constantly throwing all sorts of stuff at them. They were a real lifeline through the years of knock-backs, they were the people that helped us keep going.

In a bid to help myself through this time, I tried to control other factors in my life. In hindsight I gave up things I loved and needed. I tried a lot of things, as with each failed IVF cycle you work harder prior to commencing the next cycle.

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In total we had four fresh cycles, two frozen transfers, two miscarriages and we were extremely lucky to get pregnant on our first donor egg cycle. Thirteen embryos were transferred and one spontaneous pregnancy later, we eventually hit the jackpot.

Self-help

Some of the things I tried to control were my health, by changing my diet and taking supplements. I did more gentle exercise. I didn’t go out, I was no fun anymore. I isolated myself, in the guise I was protecting myself, while really I was avoiding friends who had what I wanted. I focused on work and put myself under pressure to prove to myself that I wasn’t a failure in my whole life, as I counted myself as such a failure in relation to my fertility.

The one great thing I did was give my nieces and nephews all the love that I had in my heart, however by doing that I distanced myself from the adult family members in my life. I used them for the support I needed but didn’t give support back to them. I avoided key people in my life who would have really been a great help to me and me to them, as we are all going through stuff, different stories, but the emotions are similar. I didn’t even explain to them while I basically cut ties with them. I felt the world was moving on and I was being left behind.

I was feeling such terrible emotions of anger, jealously, selfishness, shame, hopelessness, fear, I most likely was depressed but didn’t see that as I was caught in a trap of thinking that I wasn’t listening to any great advice I got from family and friends. I was hard work to live with.

I tried counselling, meditation, acupuncture and other alternate approaches, anything that might help. Some worked, I found others were more a drain mentally and financially on me. But when you are down in a big dark hole you will try anything to get out.

What does the future hold for us? We are the luckiest people to have a really amazing baby. To watch her grow is such a privilege. We still have frozen embryos in storage in our clinic but I can’t mentally even think about transferring them yet.

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Infertility is such a rollercoaster I fear about jumping back onboard again as we had been on that rollercoaster for too long. We decided we were not going to try naturally and the frozen embryos are our one last shot of another baby. I think I am afraid if it worked out I would be pregnant in my mid-40s with a toddler and what if I couldn’t cope?

Also, how could I share my heart with another baby? And if it doesn’t work that is it, am I ready to deal with that? So I try to live in the moment with my daughter and enjoy watching her grow, I relish every moment.

Sharing our story

Our daughter is donor-conceived. So we will have to figure out how we will share that story with her. I do worry how that will impact her when she gets older. We went for anonymous donation. Why? Because I felt if I had any input into the selection of the donor in any way, if the cycle failed it would be all my fault. Plus, we kind of figure with advances in genetic testing she can trace the donor down the line if she so wishes. I am hoping she won’t want to.

It’s my belief that that one cell -- which we more that appreciate getting -- does not define our daughter. Through epigenetics my body would have influenced some of the genes that were expressed during her development. I sometimes even see some of my mother’s side of the family in her.

We haven’t been open with our family about egg donation. I think fear of what they would think, would they feel different about our baby? Would they think we meddled with nature? I know the answer is 'no' to all of those questions and they really are my own fears and mine alone. I am hoping I will feel brave enough one day to tell them. As it really is not a secret. I just feel it’s our daughter's story. So we need to share the story with her first.

NISIG also really help people who have struggles around donor conception on how to tell their children and really do encourage telling as early as possibly to normalise it and not make it a big secret. This is done through family days out with families of donor conceived children and an event called Family Conversations where donor parents and a donor-conceived adult tell their stories and explain how they address their fears. We will therefore be staying connected with NISIG to help us along this road.

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NISIG is a registered Irish charity providing support and information for those struggling with fertility issues. The organisation has been in existence for almost 25 years. The group provides a 24-hour telephone support service, peer to peer mentoring and nationwide support meetings for people struggling with their fertility,
for those going through and who have been through donor conception and surrogacy.

While also providing advocacy on behalf of patients struggling to create their own families. For further details of the services NISIG provide please go to www.nisig.com or @nisig_ireland on Instagram.


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