Coming to Terms with IVF

I’ll admit it: I used to say that I’d never do IVF if I couldn’t get pregnant. I used to tell myself I’d accept that pregnancy wasn’t in the cards for me and I’d stop pursuing it.

But then again, I never imagined that I would actually have any difficulty getting pregnant, and I never imagined that I would lose a pregnancy either. I used to assume that I would be able to get pregnant easily, naturally, and when I wanted, and further, that every baby of mine would come home with me alive and well.

However, life doesn’t always unfold the way we think it’s going to, and I’ve learned just how naive I used to be. Since I never truly expected to be infertile, I think it was easy for me to pretend like I knew exactly what I would do if I were. But I was wrong. Back then I knew nothing about infertility. I knew nothing about all of the reasons why someone might pursue IVF or other fertility treatments. And I knew nothing about the deep love that’s possible for a child who doesn’t even exist yet.

As it turns out, it’s a lot harder to make decisions when it’s your reality instead of a hypothetical situation. At every step of the way during our infertility journey I’ve had to let go of expectations, and at times re-examine old opinions. Infertility has reminded me how important it is to try to keep an open mind, and to be more accepting of my own decisions and others’ decisions too… because it’s quite hard to know what we would do in a certain situation until we’re actually in it ourselves, facing the facts and handling our emotions.

There are many things I didn’t know about infertility until we were infertile, and learning them has definitely given me a new perspective on fertility treatments. To start: infertility is random bad luck. No one I know deserves their infertility — it just happens. And it sucks. On top of that, infertility can strike in so many different ways. In our case, I have some problems, Matt has some problems, and our infertility is also a bit unexplained… which leads me to another thing that I’ve learned: there are many things about infertility that the medical community has yet to understand.

But just because we have some medical problems, maybe even some undiagnosed ones, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a biological child “isn’t in the cards” for us. Like we would do with most diseases, we are attempting to treat the disease of infertility. At this point in our journey, treating our infertility and doing what we can to attempt a pregnancy still feels like the right choice. Doctors and scientists have worked hard to come up with some ways to correct reproductive problems or work around them, and luckily for us, there is still a treatment that we’re good candidates for trying: IVF.

While this may not be the right choice for everyone, right now IVF is the right choice for us, so we’re moving forward with it. It definitely took a lot of thought and preparation to get there, but it feels right. We’re hopeful that IVF will help to bypass some of the problems that are preventing us from conceiving, and bring us the good news we’ve been waiting so long to hear.

I’ve also come to realize through infertility that my old self didn’t fully appreciate all of the ways in which people can enter into parenthood. For most people, their route is through natural conception. For others it is adoption. For some it is through assisted reproductive technologies like IUI or IVF, and may also include third party sperm donors, egg donors, and/or gestational carriers. There are so many ways to build a family, and all of them are valid and beautiful… And as long as Matt and I attempt to build our family out of love, I think we’re headed in the right direction. Sure, this particular direction may not have been in our original plan, but directional changes in life are expected… after all, isn’t that what happens when we live and learn, and love?

From where I’m standing now, I can see that IVF provides us an opportunity for a chance at conception that we might not otherwise have. We’ve explored other options. We’ve tried other methods of conceiving. Now we’re to the point where our best chance for bringing home a baby lies in pursuing IVF. So we’re all in. We’re going to embrace the science, hope for the best, and continuing loving each other and the child we’re trying so hard to bring to our lives.

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I started scrapbooking when I was in high school. My mom has scrapbooked for years, and ever since I started my own albums, it’s something we love to do together. We like to go shopping and find fun stickers and paper that will coordinate with photos and mementos. When possible we like to work on our pages together too — but this is a rare treat now since I live across the country. Now we like to sit together with tea and look through each other’s albums that we’ve worked on since our last visit. We look at the pictures, read journal entries and letters, and share memories.

But, like so many other things, infertility and loss have affected my relationship with my scrapbooks, and I have really struggled with scrapbooking since my pregnancy ended. And I think the reasons for this are complicated and tough. It’s been hard to admit to myself the reasons for my disconnect with scrapbooking…

To start, like with my lettering practice and other creative endeavors, I no longer feel inspired. On days when I feel like I might want to scrapbook, I go sit at my desk and look at my pictures and papers, and I have no inspiration, no vision of a completed page, no desire to arrange them nicely and write down thoughts or notes. I look at the completed pages and sometimes it feels like someone else must have completed those ones because I can’t imagine having the inspiration to put that all together. In the last six months, I have scrapbooked only two single-sided pages. My materials have sat out for months with no forward movement.

But it goes so much deeper than *just* a lack of inspiration.

When I look at older pictures, I see myself before infertility, innocent and happy, with no idea of what’s in store for my future with infertility. I’m reminded of the dreams and expectations my former self held close, and then I think of my present state, heartbroken and disappointed… In those moments I struggle with acceptance of what’s happened. (“This wasn’t how it was *supposed* to be!”) I feel like I look different now too, and I struggle with acceptance of those changes — whether they are physical or psychological. Sometimes it’s hard to even look at pictures of myself because it reminds me of all of the innocence, hopes, and dreams that I’ve lost since the photo was taken.

And to be quite honest, I’ve really struggled with the thought that if I do not have children, who even cares if I’ve preserved our memories in scrapbooks? Who cares about our photos, our travel journals and mementos, or our progress on house projects and landscaping? Who cares about the silly things our cats do or the presents Matt received on his birthday? What does any of it matter?

I admitted this to Matt recently and I think he was pretty horrified… But seriously, my mind goes there and I think it’s important that I’m honest with myself about it. Because scrapbooking is (or was…) a favorite hobby of mine and if I’m going to be able to continue doing it, I need to make peace with the things holding me back. Inspiration is one thing — I’m ok with waiting for inspiration and exploring other ways to be creative in the meantime. However, accepting my situation and facing my concerns about preserving memories without children to pass them to definitely need to be addressed if I want to continue scrapbooking.

Accepting this disappointment and the gap between what I *thought* family building would be like for us, and what it is *actually* like is a constant practice, a work in progress. I’m working on accepting what’s happened and what continues to happen. I’m working on accepting this new me, scarred — both physically and emotionally — by my experience. But acceptance is a lot harder than it might seem. In time I hope that when I look at old pictures, it won’t hurt so much, but right now it does. So in the meantime, I’m trying to be patient while I give myself space for acceptance.

When I asked Matt, “Who even cares if I scrapbook if we don’t have children?” after the initial shock subsided, he responded that *we* care if our memories are recorded; that we like having our photos printed and journaled; that it’s for us. And I suppose he’s right…

After all, I didn’t start scrapbooking as a highschooler years ago with the intent of passing them down to my children — I scrapbooked for me. Because I liked it. Because it was fun. Because I enjoyed revisiting my photos, writing down reflections, and sharing the finished product with friends and family. We like having our finished albums on the shelf, ready to look over together. Not everyday, but sometimes. And I’ve enjoyed showing albums to friends and family who are featured in them, or to someone who is soon to be visiting a place we’ve traveled to previously.

But at the same time, there was always a part of me that was excited and proud to have our photo albums ready to share with future generations… and not knowing if I will have children to pass our memories to is hard for me. So I’m working on letting go of that and reclaiming scrapbooking for myself. Like accepting my situation, letting go of the desire to preserve our memories for children is a work in progress. I’m trying to be patient and give myself space to feel these things and let them go; to acknowledge that this is holding me back; to accept that whether or not we have kids doesn’t matter for my photo preservation — if I like scrapbooking I should do it for me.

However, it’s easy for me to sit here and type out the list of what I need to do. Knowing that I need to accept these things is different from actually doing them. But I’m working on it.

One of these days I’ll get back upstairs and I’ll finish scrapbooking that trip I’m working on. I’ll tackle the next year, and revisit all of the things we did that year and memorialize the loved ones we lost. I’ll work through our photos and record memories so that Matt and I can revisit them when we want. I’ll finish pages so that my mom and I can drink tea and look through my albums. I’ll work on my scrapbooks because it’s something that used to bring me joy, and I believe it still can — when I’m ready.

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Support Group

About a year ago a friend suggested I find an infertility support group. She thought it might be helpful… I hadn’t thought of a support group until then, and I was glad she had suggested it. That said, at that time I wasn’t ready for one, but I did keep it in mind. Shortly after that conversation with my friend, we scheduled my laparoscopy. With the treatment of my endometriosis and the thoughts from the doctor that he was optimistic my fertility would improve, we carried on for a few more months alone. However, when that train ran out of track and Dr. 1 sent me away to Dr. 2, we were ready for a support group. Being told that he was out of options for me and that I needed to go see someone else was hard to swallow. Plus, time was ticking away. We had been trying for over a year and half by that time and infertility was taking its toll on us.

I had found the website for Resolve months earlier and remembered that they had a section of their website for support groups. I went back there and quickly found what I was looking for: a support group right here in town. After some phone calls and a face-to-face meeting with the group facilitator who is a therapist, Matt and I were invited to join in at next meeting.

The meetings are probably a little bit like you’d imagine. I had never been to a support group before, so I only had movies and TV to guide my expectations… but they weren’t too far off. I’d say the big differences are that we meet in the living room of an old house that’s used for therapists’ offices, not a church basement or community center; we sit on couches and comfy chairs, not folding chairs; we don’t have a podium, we speak from our seats; and we don’t respond with monotone voices… But we do go around the circle giving updates about how we’re doing, developments in our journey since our last meeting, and what we’d like to talk about that night. We share tips on how to handle an upcoming procedure or what can be done to help our sore injection sites on our tummies and hips. We talk about tough situations with family and friends. We talk about how hard it can be to see other people’s babies and pregnant bellies. We share our fears, our frustrations, our disappointments. We share our anger. We share our grief. We share silence. Sometimes there is no perfect thing to say and just listening, being present, and accepting each other is the comfort we need. Many times we cry together. We hope for each other. We understand each other and support each other.

surround_yourselfUntil I went to support group I felt very alone. None of my close friends or family have been through this, so no one seemed to get it. At my support group though… they get it. They understand. All of our stories are different — no one’s journey is exactly the same, but the underlying love, hopes, and dreams are similar. The fear, frustration, and grief are similar. Because we are all familiar with the roller coaster of infertility, we can support one another and validate each other’s experiences on a deeper level. And the power of validation is enormous. Feeling understood, feeling accepted, and feeling that my emotions and reactions are normal has been so meaningful. Meeting others face-to-face, hearing their stories, and sharing with them has been so healing for me. I know for sure now that I am not alone — at group I feel surrounded with love and support from people who *get it*.

Reading about infertility has been helpful for me, yes, and I know it will continue to be helpful, but joining our support group and being in the presence of people who understand has been one of the very best things Matt and I have done for ourselves during our infertility journey. It connected us with people who understand what this journey is like, and for that I am so grateful. I am so thankful for our facilitator who guides us with understanding, wisdom, kindness, and love. And I am full of gratitude and love for the brave souls in our support group who open their hearts and share with us their stories. Thank you.

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