Content warning: Infertility, miscarriage, anxiety, mental health, bushfire & climate. Also some four letter words.
More info: This article is part of a series about my experience with IVF/Infertility as a man. All the articles can be found here along with a note about feedback.
The end of IVF
Back in August 2019 our doctor talked about doing one last IVF cycle as a last ditch effort to conceive our second child. That was at the moment that I’d, well snapped, and decided I was done with this. I was worried that by focusing too much on trying to conceive we’d not be "present" enough with the child we do have, and each-other.
Later that year we got pregnant naturally, which ended in miscarriage over Christmas. At the time I wrote how 2019 Sucked. 2020 wasn’t easy, we had it easier than a lot of people and I’m very thankful. Mostly 2020 was better since I felt like my marriage has been stronger, but 2020 had its own challenges, same as for anyone.
Our IVF story in 2020 was filled with delays. First medical delays while my wife’s body reacted to the last pregnancy and miscarriage with a hyperactive thyroid; which we had to wait to stabilise itself. Then COVID-19 shut down all elective surgery and we couldn’t proceed until September.
Our "one last cycle" had turned to "two last cycles" but I’m not sure where. Did I misremember something our doctor said or was something changed?
Our penultimate cycle (September-October) ended with no blastocysts developing far enough to be viable for transfer.
Our ultimate cycle (December) ended the same. 2 eggs were collected (lower dose hormones meant fewer developed, an attempt not to "overcook" them). One fertilised but developed abnormally, and the other wasn’t successfully fertilised. We got the news the day after egg collection.
We went into this knowing it would be the last time we take these steps, the last time I have to "produce a semen sample" into a sample container. The last time my wife may have post surgery Tim-tams (But the hospital took those away because 2020 sucks). We also went into this knowing the chance of success was very low.
Despite knowing this, it still hurts. I’m feeling a mix of relief and disappointment. I’ve mostly already processed this and I accepted that this is our family, we just aren’t able to extend it further. I think that I’m disappointed for my wife and our son, who both wanted to extend our family.
For my wife, well each time this fails she is hurt. And at some point after the bad news there’s an evening where I sit with her and listen. (2013-me would have been surprised to learn that that’s all it takes, and would even accuse 2020-me of not being supportive enough.) This time it’s different, this time it’s worse. This has hurt her so much worse, even though we knew the chance was low, it’s still heartbreaking for her. This was our last chance to use IVF, and the odds really are against us to conceive naturally.
I was going to describe some of her grief. But grief is different and specific to each person. It’s not necessarily going to help anyone. I knew it’d be different this time, and it is. After the other cycles I had learnt the pattern of grief, and come to understand the needs of my wife on different days "okay, this is the time when she needs me nearby to listen" etc. This isn’t following the pattern and I’m learning again like I had to at the beginning of our IVF journey.
Not together - the metaphor
The disappointing thing for me is that because I’m at a different stage myself, we’re not doing this together. I’ve found my way out of the jungle and I’m waiting by the beach for her to join me. I won’t proceed without her, I can’t pull her through (rushing it doesn’t work). I can support her of course, but it’s like I’m coaching her over the radio. I can’t properly be there with her and experience it because I’m not at that stage.
One question I had a couple of days ago is does she hate/resent me? I’m part of the reason why this was the last attempt because I said no-more, the other is the doctors just don’t know what to do/try. Does she resent me for putting an end to this? I don’t think so: each day we’ve had better interaction, it was just her mood, hopefully not how she feels about me.
Either way, it hurts me to see her hurt, but this is the way it is. This will always hurt in some ways, but we know it won’t hurt like this forever. It will be part of our history.
Where to from here
We’re going to keep trying naturally. With the knowledge that the chance of conception is low. I’m looking towards the future, having emerged from the jungle and looking at the beach wondering "what next". What does a family do at this stage? Plan more holidays?
Our son is now five and we still have a lot of the things from when he was a baby. We’ve lent things like the bassinet to other families, but kind-of don’t care if they ever get returned since we’re very unlikely to need them. But there’s clothes, wraps, toys etc that have been stored and some are sentimental. We may wish to reduce how much we have since we probably wont need them; but it’s not going to be easy, and there’s no rush.
I’ll wait here, out of the jungle, but I must be patient. And like all metaphors this metaphor is unsuitable, I may find that I am back in the jungle, or it has overgrown me.
I intend to write on this blog occasionally. Both as things come up, but also I have a backlog of ideas and thoughts that I’d like to share.