While no two IVF journeys are the same, almost all will have their challenges. Whether those challenges are emotional, physical, financial or otherwise will depend on your unique circumstances. But just as you would prepare for other challenges in your life, preparing for IVF can help you cope with what you might face on your journey. To help you, we spoke to ‘Emma’, whose two children were a result of IVF treatment (we’ve changed her real name as she’d prefer to stay anonymous). Here, she shares her unspoken truth – her raw and heartfelt story – so that you can hear the challenges she faced.
Before IVF: The expectation
I’d wanted children for a very long time, and to be honest, I’d assumed that David and I would conceive naturally without a problem. When, after a few months, that didn’t seem to happen, it took it hard. It was an awful feeling, like somehow I had failed. That as a woman, I was built to have children, and that I wasn’t able to do the thing I was here to do.
Our NHS IVF experience
David and I both have a medical background, so we were keen to be practical and address the issue with a doctor sooner rather than later. We went for testing at our local hospital, at a clinic adjoining the maternity ward. I don’t think the people planning the hospital really thought about how that layout might affect the actual patients coming for fertility investigations and treatments. It hurt every time to have to walk past expectant mums and newborns with every visit.
When I told my sister that we were pursuing IVF, her response was “oh brilliant, you’ll have your baby in no time, I’m sure”.
Just like her, we weren’t prepared at all for the stark reality of hearing our consultant tell us we had no chance at all for it to be a success, and that we would not be eligible for treatment.
A second opinion
We were desperate to have a child, and so we were keen for a second opinion on our options. We chose to speak to Lister Fertility Clinic, a private clinic in London. From the outset they were so helpful – nothing was a problem. It wasn’t about misleading us with false hope, but more that they were very good at calmly reassuring us throughout the process.
I found the first stage – the egg harvesting – such a scary experience. Aside from it being far from the most dignified procedure you’ll ever go through, it’s also a numbers game that is out of your control. I learned quickly that although they might harvest twelve eggs, it would be quite normal for perhaps only eight to fertilise, for two days later that to be four and then to only be left with two. You see your odds plummet and it’s like sand slipping through your fingers. You can’t control that situation, but being forewarned is forearmed, and if you at least understand the probability, then you can manage your expectations a bit better.
Uncertainty becomes the new normal
Once the eggs are implanted, whether fresh or frozen, the real uncertainty kicks in. As someone who likes to be in control, that level of uncertainty can be really hard to deal with. People will tell you throughout your IVF journey to avoid being anxious, and to stay calm, but the reality is rather more difficult when you have so much riding on the outcome.
THAT two week wait
You’re generally advised to wait two weeks after implantation before testing to see if you’re pregnant. I think most women who’ve been through that experience will tell you – it’s a very long wait. The cruel thing is, the side-effects of the medication you’ll take can create similar symptoms to pregnancy. My boobs would swell and feel sore, and I’d be so bloated.
I know lots of women struggle to wait the full weeks to take a test, and that can create another problem if it’s too early and you get a false result. For me, I was the opposite. I couldn’t bear the thought of looking at a negative pregnancy test, and usually left it as late as possible to take one. There is very little that can distract you during this time, I think you just have to find your own survival mode and make it work for you.
Having undergone five rounds of IVF before we had my son, and another three before we had my daughter, I am familiar with the immense feeling of loss that comes when the pregnancy test is negative. The few friends and family who were aware we were undertaking iVF would make empty platitudes like ‘oh well, you can try again’, which I found extremely hurtful. For me, that embryo was a tiny form of my child, for whom I had already imagined a whole personality and life ahead. I couldn’t help it – from the moment of implantation my mind would wander ahead to the date they’d arrive. That negative pregnancy test was a baby lost, it stayed with me each time, and I was really quite shocked by the lack of after-care following an unsuccessful round of IVF.
Coping with others’ pregnancies and babies
At my age, I’m surrounded by others who are trying to start a family of their own. As we struggled to make our dream come true, I found it so painful when others seemed to create theirs so easily. I never wanted to be the person who would shut themselves away, or not show happiness for their good news – I was genuinely happy for them. But afterwards, I’d cry in the car on the way home – it just hurt so much.
Success at last
I was very fortunate that my husband was supportive of us trying IVF time and again until we were successful. I can’t deny, it put pressure on our relationship. David felt helpless as the physical and emotional burden largely fell on my shoulders. Meanwhile he was working all the hours he could to help us afford the treatment.
At last, we had our good news moment. We were pregnant with our son, who arrived safely into the world after a very long wait.
We knew from the outset we wanted our son to have a sibling. Naively, I had assumed that we would pick up where we had left off with our IVF. The nurse explained that in the two years that had past since our son’s birth, a lot had changed. Our chances of success were far slimmer, and we’d need a different approach.
I panicked. I so desperately wanted another child, and once again had that sense of failure – this time that I was going to fail our son by not giving him a sibling. When we had an embryo that was assessed as the same quality as our son’s had been, we were sure it would be successful. Sadly, one experience just doesn’t match the other, and it would take two more attempts before we were pregnant with our daughter.
How I wish I’d prepared for IVF
IVF is a really tough ride – emotionally and physically. I think a lot more could be done to support women through the experience, which is why I wanted to share my experience here. Seek out other people’s stories and equip yourself with the information you need to prepare for your own IVF journey. There is a lot of misinformation out there – getting support from your clinic and the advisors at Access Fertility is important so you have the real advice you need.