Anger: An IVF Story
There are moments in life that are seared into memory, some joyous, others tragic. The feel of the sun's warmth, a lilting breeze, the look on a loved one's face, an emotion stirred.
What I remember most is the anger I felt when my fertility doctor calmly delivered the news. Sitting behind her desk on that warm June day, she was obviously pregnant. "Your FSH is very high, which means you're peri-menopausal. There's no point in doing IUI and your best chance is to use donor eggs."
What? What? My husband and I sat there dumfounded, not fully understanding the words she was speaking. Surely one FSH test was no indication that my fertility was compromised, I was only 31? I've been working hard, not sleeping, traveling too much etc etc.
We'd been trying for over a year, with no success and we were fully prepared to be told we'd need IVF, but donor eggs? I didn't even know that using a donor egg was possible, let alone a certainty for me if I wanted to have a child.
We left, me with an appointment to see the clinic's therapist, my husband to go back to work. We said a brief goodbye, each of us alone with our thoughts on the news, not really sure what it meant, what to do or where to turn.
I remember walking back to work on that sunny early summer afternoon, sidewalk cafes bustling with people out enjoying the sunshine. I bumped into a group of my husband's male friends having coffee, and immediately burst into tears when asked 'hey, how are you'. I was embarrassed that I couldn't control my emotions, that I wasn't prepared with the language to explain something so deeply personal.
The anger set in fairly quickly after that. During the one therapy session offered to me by the clinic, the therapist's only remark was 'you seem very angry'. Reflecting back now I realize that she was probably trying to unpack that anger and give me some tools to deal with it. The clinic was within an NHS hospital and only one session was offered, not enough time to really connect with that therapist, nor the unexpected vulnerability I was feeling. My husband wasn't offered any counseling at all, an indication that fertility back then was considered a 'female' problem.
I started scouring the internet for information to support my theory that I was much too young to need an egg donor. I found a cacophony of opinion telling me to cut out coffee, increase my magnesium levels, 'just relax'. I devoured the posts on Fertile Thoughts, a place that seemed safe and somewhere I could anonymously share stories with others going through fertility treatment. But it felt that there was no one in 'real life' who I could turn to - no in person support groups, therapists who specialized in helping fertility patients, and least of all, friends with whom I felt comfortable sharing our troubles. I'm sure those resources were out there somewhere but I didn't find them, despite being a journalist trained in research and fact finding.
Friends would talk about their sister/aunt/college roommate who went through IVF but ended up adopting, or 'just got pregnant naturally after they stopped trying'. Talking about our infertility struggles felt wrong. As our IVF treatment started, I got tired of having to explain why things didn't work - it felt like my ovaries had become public property. With every negative test, I felt enormous guilt in letting people down who had been trying to encourage us to keep positive. The anger kept resurfacing; with every failed transfer, I'd feel anger toward the mothers pushing their strollers through the park, the embryologist who told me that only two viable embryos resulted from the cycle. I felt that with every failure, I learned more about the process and wonder why the doctor didn't pull out all the stops, all the tests, all the manipulations right from day one.
Fast forward 18 years, one IUI, 3 IVFs, 2 frozen embryo transfers, weekly acupuncture, 'relaxing holidays', regular massage and $40k later (because that's how fertility treatment is plotted by most of us - numbers, transfers, shots, money spent), and I now work in the fertility field. Our final frozen embryo cycle, created surprisingly from my own eggs, resulted in the handsome young man who just left for swim practice, shouting back that he might be late because they were going out for burritos afterwards.
I bumped into my fertiliy doctor recently at a fertility conference and I was surprised to find her warm, friendly and thrilled to see me. The anger I'd felt, while it had dissipated over the years, had continued to lurk in my experiential memory, a lasting effect of years of ivf treatment, and subsequent years of healing from the emotional rollercoaster that we endured. I realize now the anger was misplaced - she was giving me her honest opinion on my chances of conceiving naturally and I respect her for that.
I'm happy to see that since I had IVF, talking about the pain of infertility has become more acceptable. There are a lot more mental health resources for infertility patients, and clinics and doctors are much more aware now of the mind-body link and how important it is for fertility patients to have a support network. There are fertility coaches, support groups, online facebook groups and therapists.
For those who are going through the pain of infertility, reach out, talk, listen and share your story. It's okay to be angry and vulnerable and emotional. You're not alone.
Michelle Laurie is the Director of Marketing & Business Development for Donor Concierge.
Where to turn to for support:
Find a therapist on the Donor Concierge Partners and Resources List
The Donor Concierge private facebook support group