Getting Pregnant the Hard Way: Surviving Subfertility & IVF

by Hannah Machluf

Here is an account of one woman’s fertility journey, and without wanting to spoil it for you, it does have a happy ending (are there any of this genre that don’t?). What made this book so readable for me was the honesty of the author, and the way she addressed the dilemmas and unfairness thrown up by fertility treatment.

From reading the synopsis of the book I had expected a lot of parallels between Hannah’s story and my own: multiple rounds of IVF culminating in twins, but that’s cutting a long story very short. The reader follows Hannah and her husband Ashar on a journey spanning the years from her initial fertility concerns in 2003 to the birth of her daughters in 2010, through multiple procedures and disappointments. Hannah intersperses her personal story with informative sections about the drugs and procedures. As a veteran IVFer I only skim-read them, but for someone preparing for or undergoing fertility treatment, they would be very useful (with the usual caveat that every clinic, every patient and every cycle is different, a point which Hannah makes herself).

There were two parts to Hannah’s story that I found most interesting. The first was her honest recollection of her feelings about undergoing such intimate procedures. Naturally shy and self-conscious about gynaecological examinations and treatments she describes how tense and nervous she would be when faced with having to remove her trousers and underwear, especially for male doctors, sometimes even avoiding or postponing appointments. This isn’t an admission I’ve heard often in people undergoing fertility treatment. Perhaps we feel we just have to accept all the discomfort, mental as well as physical, in our pursuit of motherhood.

The other interesting examination in the book is about the decisions and moral dilemmas of fertility treatment: to transfer one embryo or two, to freeze the unused embryos or to discard them, and supplementary to that, the point at which life begins – fertilisation, conception, viability, birth – whether to tell friends or family about your treatment, and so on. None of which a fertile couple have to deal with.

Having had to cope with her frozen embryos not surviving thawing very well, Hannah and Ashar then have to decide after their second fresh cycle what to do: “There are many choices to make if you choose the IVF path and this is one of the big ones. What to do with your left over embryos. You can choose to freeze them and some people leave them on ice for years, not knowing what to do with them, unable to face destroying them, I didn’t want to leave embryos in limbo, neither here nor there.”

Because this book covers so many different treatments at different clinics and in different circumstances, it illustrates well how your decisions and thought processes change over time, and the issue of frozen embryos is a good example of this.

I enjoyed reading “Getting Pregnant The Hard Way”. It was both informative and thought provoking, and I’m sure it would be of interest no matter what stage of your fertility journey you are currently at.

Hannah