How Did We Know We Were Done?

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CaptureSometimes I’m asked why we stopped pursuing fertility treatment. For those looking for easy answers you won’t find them here. There was no epiphany, no dramatic denouement. We were not driven there by a deadline or a master plan or even an entirely drained bank account.  (Even today, resisting the ever-beckoning siren song of the fertility industry’s latest advancements has not been particularly easy.)

Our move away from treatment was a long, slow often circuitous process that sometimes led us back like a junkie in need of a fix to the reproductive endocrinology clinic for one more attempt. A little voice in my head kept egging me on (no pun intended): just one more IUI; one more round of acupuncture; one more laparoscopy; one more blood test to determine if there’s a new factor we hadn’t considered or addressed — all the while the doctors scratched their heads with no clear explanation for our infertility, dampening our hopes further that we’d ever succeed.

Strung-out and wondering how we would possibly cope with another failed cycle, I started to allow myself to imagine a life not driven by 28-day cycles and endless associated vigils. With the benefit of lots of exhaustive and exhausting conversations, and after consuming huge amounts of reading material on coping with infertility, my husband and I finally began to loosen the tight grip we had on our increasingly fragile dream.

As I look back on that difficult period, there were many emotional and practical considerations that led to our acknowledging that it was time for us to find a way to move on. We had seen other people go through double or more the number of IVF rounds without success. We weren’t getting any younger.

But perhaps the greatest  consideration was the realization that the heartbreak of losing more IVF “offspring” was just too much to bear — especially when the rest of the world — minus my immediate family and a handful of close friends — didn’t recognize our loss or offer any of the copious support reserved for legitimate grief.

(To any parent reading this post, imagine burying your children and all the dreams you had for them all the while the world continues on around you completely oblivious to your grieving or emotional difficulty. Not a pretty picture is it?)

In the wake of hopeful signs that my ovaries were pumping out eggs, learning those eggs were successfully fertilizing, that beautiful embryos were growing, we allowed ourselves to dream, and I mean dream BIG about finally holding our own child in our arms only to have that dream shattered. When our new (and last) RE was busy lining us up in his queue for yet another IVF round, it became evident to my husband and me that facing the excruciating emotional pain associated with the loss of another set of embryos would actually be harder to manage than the idea that our family might only number two. We cancelled the IVF procedure.

Until recently I did a good job of suppressing my grief. I realize now (some 78 posts later) that it’s far healthier to address it. Some days are clearly easier than others.  I jealously guard the memories of our plans for the future and what might have been, the sacrifices my husband and I made in pursuit of those plans. I cherish the closeness we share as a result of the trials we’ve faced together.

And still I bristle — okay, become downright apoplectic — when I hear people diminish the pain of infertility, primary infertility in particular.  If you really want to see me get unglued, watch what happens when new acquaintances or strangers say things like: “Aren’t you glad you never had the hassle of raising kids, it’s so expensive!” or “See? it’s not so bad that you didn’t have kids, look at all the travel or shopping you get to do!” or “I’m so jealous of your freedom — must be nice not to have all the responsibility of kids.”

Must be nice not to have to contemplate the alternative is what I want to say in return, especially when they’re basking in the adoration or pride of their children.

Why the sharpened tone you wonder? This is the anniversary of my first IVF egg harvest. It was once a day of great promise. That’s something I know I’ll never forget.

26 comments

  • Hi PJ. Thanks for sharing that with us, it was something I was wondering for a while. I know its a sad and difficult time for you remembering what could have been and I’m so sorry. For the record, I think you’re brave and strong for making the difficult decision that you did and for the way you handle it every day, especially when you hear awful and inconsiderate comments like those. x

  • AS always, you write so beautifully and express deep and complex feelings so clearly.

  • Deathstar

    Hi there Pamela,
    This afternoon we spent some time with one of our best friends who had a baby boy 3 days ago. We couldn’t avoid this one any longer. The new dad is one of my husband’s oldest and dearest friends.

    We went on a shopping frenzy and filled a huge basket of clothes and gifts. My husband went crazy over the little baby soccer booties and Nike outfit and just about everthing we saw in the store.

    And when the dizzily happy new mother put the newborn baby boy in my arms and he rooted around my breast, my heart just about broke in two. We are so happy for them and yet at the same time, we were reminded of what we didn’t have, what we had so yearned for. My husband posed for a picture with the newborn and then asked me if I wanted to get in the picture. At first I said no, but then I reluctantly agreed. I didn’t want to see a picture of both of us with a child that could have been ours. They’re a biracial couple just like us, and we had been given an up close and personal peek of what the two of us could have produced.

    As bittersweet as it was, I know that today was progress for us. Life goes on. We’re talking adoption now, our journey for our own child is over. No more injections, 2 week waits, no more fertilized embryos not sticking around to grow inside of my crappy uterus.

    We will start another journey.

  • Bea

    Thanks for this post. But I would absolutely say that to people who try to tell you you’ve been lucky to end your road this way. I mean, I hope you yourself feel you’ve been lucky – one day – but those comments really show how little they’ve thought things through.

    Bea

  • Great post, Pamela.

    We never got farther than the IVF consult, but all of the reading I had done, coupled with our disappointment (rapidly turning into full-fledged grief) at the failure of other attempts, made us realize that we shouldn’t attempt the very likely heartbreak of a failed IVF cycle. Every bit of reading and all of my intuition told me that IVF would be much more intense and invasive that either of us wished to handle.

  • Ah, Pamela, so sorry to hear that yesterday was that anniversary. Some dates just won’t let us go.

  • DD

    This post is reminder to me of how many times I wish I could discuss this in a one-on-one conversation to see the nuances, the body language of the topic. Yes, it’s clear that this time is painful, but what I don’t know how to address is whether or not it’s resolved, or even if it can be resolved.

    You say to imagine parents burying their children, and I don’t have to imagine.

    Do you think if your family and friends were more supportive that you would feel more resolution? Or do you think they would have encouraged you to continue to try?

    I’m sorry that you have this annivesary and many other similar to it to remember. I really wish it wasn’t so for you and for the thousands of women/couples like you.

  • JJ

    Im sorry it was a hard anniversary day…it is a beautiful post, and I am very humbled by everything you have been through. Thank you for continuing to share your life and life’s lessons with us!

  • Pamela, please don’t shoot me for asking a question that you’ve probably answered in the past. If your eggs and embryos were really good, as you’ve said, how come you never pursued gestational surrogacy to have the biological child that you’ve craved? My friend Tara (http://toplanb.blogspot.com) made that choice after numerous failed IVFs and now has her new son Charlie in her life.

    I don’t mean this to be assvice. I’m just curious since you have thought out everything so well along your journey. I know that you’ve considered this as well.

  • Ann

    I am a firm believer in trusting your “gut instinct.” And if both of your guts were telling you it was a huge mistake to continue moving forward with ART, then of course you had to quit. But man, isn’t it terrible when our gut is telling us something we don’t want to hear? It’s a heartbreak.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your story with us.

  • I’m so sorry about this anniversary and for the loss of all your IVF offspring. I wish there was more acknowledgement of this loss and less of the “oh you are so lucky you can travel” comment.

    And thanks for the offer of a drink, a big gin and tonic sounds super. Let’s have two.

  • Thanks PJ, you said it so well. I’m in the midst of making some of these realizations and it’s HARD. So hard to listen to your gut when your heart just won’t let go.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is tremendously helpful to me and many others.

    Wishing you peace.

  • Hi PJ – you say it so well. IF is so difficult and when people downplay it it is terrible. No one would say, gee don’t you love having cancer, you don’t have to go to work on chemo days. I appreciate your honesty so much.

  • Sorry you are having this unfortunate anniversary. After going at it so long, you must have many reminders throughout the year of your frustrations.

    Thank you for expressing your feelings about this difficult road.

  • “Must be nice not to have to contemplate the alternative is what I want to say in return, especially when they’re basking in the adoration or pride of their children.”

    This is brilliant. Simply brilliant.

    I have come to believe that grief and heartache unacknowledged only festers. I am sorry to hear of your anniversary… what seems to have been a loss of the idealism or hope that you had. But I am glad to hear that addressing your grief has been helpful.

    Thank you for sharing all of this with us.

  • I’m sorry about your anniversary. Truly…I get a lot of this, I have no idea how anyone tells if they are done.

  • I had the exact same sentence as Schatzi highlighted and copied and when I scrolled down her comment echoed my sentiments perfectly. I am going to make a point of remembering that EXCELLENT answer as a handy reply for all the thoughtless people telling me not having children is actually fun.

    I’m sorry about the pain of this anniversary. Here is a virtual hug for you!

  • Sully

    I found this entry to be profound, and very appreciated.

    I thought we were “done” and had come to terms…but like you we went back to the RE for that last “fix” I know this was a hard day for you (belated)…but I so very much appreciate you sharing it with us.

  • Thank you for sharing. I have wondered how you came to make that decision and continue to wonder if I will be there someday. It is nice to know that I might “just know” that it is time to give up. I’m sorry about the anniversary. It is difficult to remember how innocent and hopeful we once were.

    I just read this post to my husband and, upon reading it again, remembered how failing to get pregnant is more than just painful. Each failure leaves another scar on our psyche. It helped me reaffirm our current choice to not try to cycle with my own eggs again. Why should I wear myself out emotionally on a cycle so much less likely to work than a donor cycle (not that there are any guarantees). Thank you for giving me a little more peace tonight.

  • Geohde

    Hi there, I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog and having such nice things to say about insensitive remarks people make. Reading this post, I guess we’ve all suffered that brunt. Sometimes I wonder if the fact that infertility is one of those private pains somehow permits people to reduce it to a convenient lifestyle choice and not THINK about what it must be like.

  • What another great post Pamela Jeanne. I so relate to your words so much because every failed IVF, I felt the same way. When we got the news of fertilization, it was start of hope for me as well and when it led to failure, I never realized why I was in so much pain and why I was so sad. I realized now I had to grieve because for us each embryo was in fact a loss of a child that never had a chance. I’m so sorry for all you’ve had to endure. I still wonder if I gave my eggs one last shot, maybe next time it will work. Giving up on my own eggs (and walking away) was so incredibly hard so I do relate. I can not believe those incredbily insensitive comments you continue to get from people. Those ignorant and insensitive people through out my IF has actually made this painful journey so much harder some times. I wish we had some way we could avoid people like that – life would just be a little easier that way.

  • I found this via Creme de la Creme. It’s just so lovely. My husband and I recently decided that we were not going to go forward with any sort of assisted techniques, at least not now. And though I blogged about our reasons for deciding to keep half trying without using an RE, the real, unwritten reason was a lot like yours. I just can’t handle the heartbreak of knowing that this is another thing I’m failing at, and that IVF would seriously raise my hopes, and I’m very, very bad at dealing with things that do not go the way I’d like them to.

    Thank you for writing this. I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Kathy V

    I came via the creme. I really enjoyed your post. I haven’t thought much about how it is less painful to stay a family of two rather than pursue more ART possibilities but it makes so much sense. I was devastated when I miscarried. I never really thought about what the M word meant before I experienced it but then it happened. It is devastating and painful. Experiencing loss whether it is due to failed treatments or pregnancy loss is very painful. Thanks again for this post. It really made my heart ache for you in the decision that you and your husband came to terms with. Every aspect of this journey is so hard to make decisions about and come to terms with.

  • Oh, jeeze. *sigh* You know, my husband and I have never attempted to have children, and yet, I still read all these wonderful and insightful and heartbreaking infertility blogs and want to scoop you all up and hug you and stroke your hair because these things are awful; and then I feel guilty because I’ve never gone through any of these things. But I don’t care.

    It is amazing, to me, that anyone would treat you the same as Jack and I – i.e., that there wouldn’t be a very clear distinction made between “Women Who Do Not -Have- Children Because They Do Not -Want- Children,” and “Women Who Want Children So Very Much, and Are Unable To Have Them.”

    I think that’s what it is – that’s what people are subconsciously doing. Because otherwise, when would these comments (like “Aren’t you glad you never had the hassle of raising kids, it’s so expensive!”) ever be appropriate to a woman -unable- to have children? This comment is perfectly acceptable to me (for my answer would be, “Yes, I am; you are correct”) and completely inappropriate for you or anyone else in similar circumstances. How is it that society at-large always groups all childless women together and then shoves us under the rug?