I am a 34 years old legal secretary from Farnborough, Hampshire England. This is my story, in my own words.
10 May 2013 was truly a beautiful day. I turned 30 and got married to the love of my life. I couldn’t wait to start our own family. The doctor said it was normal for a lady of 30 to struggle to conceive quickly. I was ovulating and told to ‘relax’, they were sure it would happen. Nothing happened. A year later I had a procedure to clear out my fallopian tubes; but still no luck so I was referred to the fertility clinic.
In the hospital, the IVF clinic was also the waiting room for the maternity ward so I had to endure happy couples with their bumps, excited for their scans, whilst we waited to see if we could even get IVF. This was the first time I felt truly saddened. Assessed and eligible for IVF on the NHS, we had to wait 2 years. This was devastating because we couldn’t afford the £6,000 for private treatment and my biological clock was ticking.
When we turned up for our first appointment you could tell the IVF clinic was posh. I didn’t know what to expect for I had only looked at IVF on the internet. With excited feelings we headed down a long corridor decorated with collages of babies conceived through IVF. There were several couples holding hands and several ladies on their own looking anxious.
The doctor said we had a very good chance, about 48% of becoming pregnant as long as the eggs were top quality. She said we probably wouldn’t conceive on our own. The news was a little hard to hear but we didn’t let it phase us.
I was issued with a huge bag of drugs which seemed extremely daunting, I was given instructions on how to administer the injections into my stomach up to twice a day and arrange weekly blood tests and internal exams to see how my eggs were doing. We went home scared but positive. We lived our lives by my drug regime and appointments. It was painful, exhausting, emotionally draining and isolating.
Finally, after 4 years of heartache, trauma and waiting, the big day came. Neither of us could sleep for excitement. At 7am I went to the bathroom and tried to compose myself. I couldn’t quite believe that this one stick would be determining our future. When I checked the result, I was completely numb. The worst outcome hit me in the face, the dreaded one pink line. My husband couldn’t believe it, he kept going back into the bathroom to check the stick. I kept telling him the result is accurate but he didn’t want to believe it either.
After another 10 minutes we looked at each other and just cuddled. That was it, our fight for a family was over just like that, in a flicker of a moment. All the months of waiting and anxiety and stress were over. At 9am I called the clinic to tell them the result; their answer: “I’m sorry to hear that, we understand it’s a difficult time. You will bleed in a day or 2”.
Over the next few days I didn’t think much about the failed IVF. I was now focused on having my other two frozen embryos put in. The doctor explained there was no reason it shouldn’t work. We could decide to put both back together but that meant a high risk of twins. We wanted our family so badly we opted for both. Again, I was given drugs to get my body ready to accept the eggs and went in for the transfer and then the dreaded 2 week wait.
The total feeling of indescribable loss came again when we had one pink line. The clinic said the same words. That was it. We were finally done, no more appointments, no more tests, no more eggs, no hope and no family. The clinic recommended we came in to see the doctor. I couldn’t face it, what were they going to tell me that I didn’t already know? They didn’t try and call anymore, they didn’t say I needed to have counselling, they just said it was available.
The next six months were a blur. I was a like a zombie, going to work and coming home in a state of shock. Everyone was getting on with their lives and seemed happy and completely cut off from the total devastation that I was going through, almost like it didn’t matter and we should just move on. I couldn’t understand or accept why this had happened to us.
Friends found out in the months following the failures and as much as they thought their words were helpful, they were hurtful and painful to hear; telling me about people they knew who had done IVF and it worked for them after 3 goes or suggesting adoption. I completely shut myself off from it all, I hid all my feelings about it and pretended to the world I was happy and that not having kids was not the end of the world. I couldn’t take going to the same job every day after the IVF failure, everyone at work knew so I got a new job closer to home. In my head it was a new start, a happier start, a place no one knew me or what I’d been through and I could carry on pretending I was happy. I knew in my heart I had run away but I didn’t care I wanted the pain to stop.
Over the next few months we started going to the pub a night a week but it crept up to 3 nights, drowning our sorrows, trying to justify our lives and decide what to do next. We argued, we were angry with life and took it out on each other. We filled our weekends surrounding ourselves with other people so we didn’t have to talk about it with each other. It was getting harder to hide my anger and sadness. Christmas 2016 was awful. My drinking was getting too much and I knew it but I didn’t know how to deal with it, I had no support from anyone and it seemed no one cared. I didn’t know how to deal with our loss.
January 2017 was a new start but the arguments continued at home. We were barely talking to each other. We were at breaking point. I went to work one day and just broke down at my desk. I’d been hiding it for months and suddenly I was blurting it all out. My colleagues suggested counselling. My husband was supportive of it, he said he loved me and wanted it to work. I called the clinic that ruined my dreams and they booked me in. I was dreading it, I was terrified!
The day of the counselling session I drove to the place I said I’d never go back to. I felt physically sick forcing myself back up the corridor past all the happy couples and collages of baby pictures. My heart beat faster I could feel myself welling up but I pushed my feelings aside for the sake of all the happy couples waiting their turn at IVF. I couldn’t help wondering: do they knew there is a potential ‘grieving’ process after this ‘happy’ process? I doubt it. I didn’t and I wasn’t told you will have to adjust your entire life and that this process will test your relationship beyond breaking point. I wish I had known beforehand.
I felt sad and hurt that the clinic put me in the same waiting room for grief counselling as the happy IVF couples. It was almost like they didn’t really understand the ‘after’ process and how difficult it is. The counselling was tough but I told her everything, including losing my best friend (my nan Betty) just before I was to start doing my IVF. She gave me leaflets to help me connect with others on websites and forums and explained that I was going through a massive amount of grief, a loss of a life not being lived and not grieving for my nan properly as well. It would all take time. She said to help let go, on the IVF anniversary either set a balloon off as a symbol of letting go or burn or bury our IVF paperwork. Whatever we thought would help, and also to spread the ashes I had for my nan to help say good bye. So, we lit the BBQ and burnt all our paperwork and it felt like a weight was lifted and we went down to Worthing and said good bye to Betty. I then went on to the websites and started to connect with groups to talk to likeminded women and this also helped but no one was close enough to go for a coffee.
I believe having gone through this process the IVF clinic should insist on counselling for couples at the beginning of the process to get you mentally ready for the outcome and the devastating effect it has on your entire life.
In the end the clinic got their money from the NHS and they were done, unless we paid another £6,000 they washed their hands of us.
We were now alone and sad. Two years on and I am still struggling and have my ‘off’ days often, I know this is a long, hard lonely road. At 34 my old group of friends are all connected through their kids and it’s difficult to go out with them without their children coming up in conversations which is painful and so I avoid seeing them, which is very hard. My husband and I are getting on a lot better now and my/our drinking is more under control but my life continues to be a struggle of overwhelming sadness even though I try to remain positive.
The one thing I have learnt over the last 2 years – and will continue to learn – is that going through this process changes you as a person and your outlook on life. I’ve learnt that you have to be kind to yourself and put yourself first. Getting rid of toxic people and keeping in touch with the people who support you fully helps you move on. I am learning not to worry about what family and friends think and to do what makes me/us happy and not do what makes them happy, even if this upsets them. It’s not their battle or life to live and they should make no judgement as I would not of them. They should support us in what we are dealing with and just support our decision.
“It’s your life. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for living it your way”
I’ve also learnt that not everyone accepts what you are going through, especially the people you think are close to you. Some feel I should just get on with life and in their eyes, they believe I still might have a chance and, ‘in the grand scheme of things’ it’s not the end of the world. They are the people who I have learnt to keep at a distance as they are not supportive or accepting of our situation and they do not understand how hurtful this type of expression of words is and how belittled this makes us feel, like somehow we are not allowed to feel sad or grieve. Some think we should have kept on trying but they have never asked how we are feeling or got involved in any of the process or been there through the toughest time in our entire life. It’s sad to accept but those are the people who I now know weren’t truly not there for me/us and I am learning to accept their actions and live my/our life without their acceptance. My motto now is:
“If you are struggling and your people are just sitting there, watching you struggle. They aren’t your people”
I now know it’s a lifelong process of adjusting in a society that isn’t the most accepting and friendly to the childless not be choice.
If you are experiencing any of the feelings that Lucy has talked about, please take a look at some of the support we can offer you. You are not alone.