Exercise-induced endorphins aside I think it’s safe to say that I’m getting much more comfortable in my barren skin, glowing now thanks to the Lifecyle 9100 recumbent bike. I’ve had more than a few “infertility impact tests” the past few weeks on days when I didn’t exercise and yet I still managed a passing grade. One of the hardest came in planning a surprise party for my better half. It was a milestone birthday and deserved a look back at his many achievements.
Once he was safely out of the house for his basketball game I rifled through photos of his growing up years. I found shots of an adorable little boy seated between his parents, playing four square, dressed in a cowboy outfit, a letter man sweater, and then as a young naval officer. It was bittersweet to wonder whether his cowlick, big brown eyes or easy smile might have been passed along to our child.
Sight unseen I scanned a set of photos into a digital archive and created buttons of his face through the years for guests to wear as well as a huge photo collage celebrating his life. There were moments during the party when guests read toasts and tributes that I found my mind wander. Thought bubbles formed about how nice it would have been if we had had children to add to the funny stories but they were swept away by the laughter and knowledge of what a great partner, friend, spouse I have.
I was reminded of this again when I found an article in my online news reader. (Note: You’ll have to get to the end to see what I mean.)
I have a news alert set for “involuntarily childless” — the term of art for people in my shoes. The alert surfaced a piece in The Times from earlier this summer that caught my eye titled How Do Couples Cope When IVF Fails. It highlights the lack of support that couples find available when infertility treatments don’t succeed. There are a few noteworthy facts contained within. Apparently some 25,000 women (I’m guessing that’s UK only) each year face “fruitless” outcomes where fertility treatment is concerned.
The story also quotes Jacky Boivin, a researcher at Cardiff University’s School of
Psychology. She has followed more than 100 women undertaking IVF over
seven years, and is running a five-year study of 818 couples in
Denmark. Here’s what she had to say:
“Data indicates that about 40 percent of couples are highly
distressed at having to stop. [I totally hear you Jacky]. After they have made the decision, around
5 to 10 percent remain stuck in that state. People who come to the end
of the IVF treatment are often seized
with resentment. You have to reinvent a life that is not about
having a family,” she stresses. “You have to look for the positive
while acknowledging the negative. People have to regain a sense of
control over their lives. And they need to look
at the experience as an opportunity to renew life interests. [I hear you, sister!]
Fortunately the story ended up a high note and brings me back to my guy:
“… the divorce rate is much lower among couples whose fertility treatment failed than for the general population: 10 percent versus 50 percent. We don’t know why. There is life after infertility treatment. Not always an easy one, but most people will go on to find contentment, though the experience will always carry a sting.”
So very true, and all the more reason to treasure Mr. PJ. He has been more than instrumental in helping me move forward.
September 26, 2008 7:23 pm
Excellent article, Pamela, thanks for sharing! I find the British media seem to cover CF issues (whether by choice or not) much more frequently & openly than we do here in North America. I was particularly struck by (& totally agree with) this sentence: “There is a strong need to prepare women better for treatment failure and to ensure that counseling is available when further treatment is no longer appropriate.”
Happy birthday to Mr. PJ! Glad you celebrated, even if it did dredge up some old feelings. Dh & I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in two years — & my (grandchildless) parents will celebrate their 50th two weeks after ours. I’ve been thinking about whether we should have a party for ourselves. Usually it’s the kids who host (even if it’s Mom & Dad who foot the actual bill). 🙁
September 26, 2008 11:31 pm
I have to agree with you when you say that you never realized just how lasting the consequences of failed IVF are. The depression, the shame, the guilt, marriage troubles. Like other women in this position, I continue to struggle to reinvent myself. Even with adoption, I continued to endure invasion of my privacy, more marital discord, and now we have to wait and see if someone decides if we will be the perfect parents.
It hasn’t been an easy road, and though I am not looking for pity, it would have been nice if support had been offered.
September 27, 2008 12:07 am
PJ, Mr. PJ, Jacky: I thank you for making me feel less alone tonight. 🙂 I can see how surviving *this* will make us stronger and wiser. The happiness, I trust, will come with time. Although I can already see the duality of life’s outcomes will always linger. But I wonder, doesn’t everyone feel that to some degree, at least at some moments.
September 27, 2008 2:42 am
Fascinating tidbit about the lower divorce rate – perhaps the old cliche, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” applies to relationships as well. Or, a more depressing theory: we become more dependent on each other because we have no one else. Everyone else is busy with their own growing families. No wait, there’s one more: we could think of it as enjoying each other’s company instead of fighting about the kids. 🙂
September 27, 2008 8:00 am
wow, photo buttons — that is too cute!
interesting study, thanks for sharing it. I do feel like the only silver lining in any of this has been how M and I have banded together through our ordeal. maybe I’d rather be ignorant, yes. but it’s nice to appreciate what we’ve got right now.
I think the constant focus and priorities of children and the stress that accompanies that can easily take a toll on any couple. of course I don’t want to be told by the parents of newborns/children how lucky we are. but I like that we can feel it ourselves.
September 28, 2008 3:15 am
Happy birthday to Mr. PJ!
I’m glad to see research affirming the lower divorce rate — I am not surprised, except at the extent of the difference (10% vs 50%). That’s huge! How many more couples would seriously consider resolving IF without children if they knew that statistic? It’s not one that the extremely pronatalist US media is likely to promote, I’m afraid…
September 29, 2008 2:53 am
I came to your site from the NYT article and I wanted you to know that you have totally changed my understanding of infertility. I don’t have children but hope to some day, I have no idea if I am able to have them or not. When I read the NYT piece I was with the commentators who said ‘just adopt’, especially since my husband and sister are adopted. What changed my mind? Reading your writings and the questions they made me ask myself such as: ‘So why aren’t I adopting? Why do you want your own birth children but don’t want these people to hope for the same thing?’. I would like to adopt but also hope for birth children.
I am sorry more people didn’t come to your panel at the blogging event, it has opened my mind to another point of view and I hope made me a more sympathetic person.
Another big help in changing my thinking has been the sheer number of people asking me ‘so when are you going to have children?’ since my wedding last year. I’ve started tallying this query and have been asked 14 times in the last month, including one outstanding 24 hour period when I was asked 3 times. I think this is a very rude question that I have never asked anyone in my life (these are the same people who used to ask when I was going to get a boyfriend, my standard answer was ‘Tuesday’). Now I realise that what is annoying and intrusive for me is agony for the infertile so I am doing my best to educate people not to ask it, letting them know how often it is asked “You are the 15th person to ask me that, you owe me $15′ and adding ‘I can’t believe you asked that! How do you know we can even have children?’ I think it is part of a weird cultural change in thinking we are entitled to children. My friends are announcing pregnancies at 7 weeks and buying baby clothes. As the daughter of a midwife I raise an eyebrow and hope for the best for them.
Thank you again for opening my mind and, hopefully, making me a slightly more thoughtful person.
October 5, 2008 12:32 pm
Thanks for helping us educate the world around us-one person at a time. I hope after your conversation with them, some got the message.
September 29, 2008 1:15 pm
I’m so happy and grateful for the man in my life, too. Yes, we’ve had to lean on each other to get through these trials, but we’ve become stronger through the experience. I’m also happy to say that it’s also made us more sensitive and supportive of others — not just those going through infertility, but for those going through any kind of loss. I understand more, because of my experience, about the anger and all of the other ‘stages’ one goes through with loss. Anyway, getting back to the hubby — in a very whiney, melodramatic moment when I first found out that I couldn’t give him children, I told my husband that he should leave me to find someone who could have his children. (Stupid, I know, but I was very upset and apparently off my rocker as well.) His response was that he could envision his life without children, but he couldn’t see his life without me. Yep, he’s a keeper.
September 29, 2008 4:52 pm
Your journey, your happiness at that moment you were honoring your husband, just filled me with pride. I just admire your ability to turn this lead into gold.
Thanks for your wise and kind comments the other day. It means so much to get someone else’s perspective.
September 30, 2008 12:38 am
What a great way to celebrate your hubby’s b-day!
That is very interesting about the divorce rate. I wonder if it is the trying times that cement the relationship or the lack of kids who may erode it.
September 30, 2008 2:54 am
I just stumbled upon your blog. I’m a 40 something and never really had an opportunity to “try” treatments. My only hope of becoming a parent is probably through foster/adopt and we aren’t even close to that….DH has been exposed to that idea in tiny bits, but not totally 100% involved in this idea. Then I wonder if I should just say it’ll be him and me and the pets, move on and enjoy life or hold out for hope?!
September 30, 2008 3:09 am
This post made me smile. A lot. A smile I needed. Yay!
September 30, 2008 11:59 am
Thanks for sharing this.
I do believe that surviving infertility, whatever the outcome, either makes or breaks a marriage. It’s good to know most make it. I know it has made C. and I stronger as a couple.
September 30, 2008 11:59 am
Thanks for flagging up the article in The Times, PJ – I missed it first time round.
I think that infertility has ultimately strengthened my relationship with my husband… but it hasn’t always been the case: there have been times when it has stretched us almost to breaking point. I am glad that you and Mr PJ are finding a way to move forward together, and that you’re able to celebrate your love for each other – even if planning that birthday party did bring up some painful feelings.
September 30, 2008 8:49 pm
Hi there – Happy Birthday Mr. PJ! I’m glad to hear you are getting “more comfortable” in your skin.. it took me a long time to do that myself.. on the journey I read a helpful book called “Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again” by Jean W. Carter, Michael Carter. I would recommend this to anyone who is at this crossroads in their journey.
Yes, we can be happy without children in our lives. Yes, we can have happy marriages and be a “family” without children of our own. And yes, we can feel “whole” again, even after infertility. It takes time and hard work and lots and lots of tears.. but I have lived it and have come out on the other side. I’m not saying there are never any “what if” thoughts.. of course there are.. but I have been able to move beyond the heart-wrenching life crisis of infertility.
You can too!
October 2, 2008 7:35 am
I really enjoy your blog. I’d like to link it to my own. I hope that’s okay.
October 2, 2008 4:24 pm
Both you and Mr. PJ are remarkable people who give so much to each other and the world. Thanks for sharing this article because I think there are a lot of distressed couples dealing with infertility who will benefit from this knowledge.
October 9, 2008 2:46 am
Much happiness to both of you. I think as for the divorce, it’s this: either you can make those sorts of decisions, and go through those sorts of changes together, or you can’t. I think it’s self-selective. The success stories? They got lucky and didn’t have to soul-search to the same extent. Hoping you two reap many rewards for your relationship together.