Infertility and the sunset on the possibility of starting our own family

Sunset - Infertility and the sunset on the possibility of starting our own family

Our journey with infertility goes back about 10 years. In around 2006 my wife and I had been married for a few years and were both comfortable with the idea of starting a family so we started trying to conceive. You can never expect these things to happen straight away, and after about a year my wife starting getting anxious on why it was taking so long although I was more optimistic and felt we just needed to be patient.

Another year went by and it was difficult to ignore the increased concerns of my wife on why things were taking so long so we decided to find a specialist to have some tests done and get checked out to see if there was any issues we need to address. So in 2008 we had some tests done as it seemed like the logical next steps. I won’t go into details on what our medical issues were (although largely unexplained anyway), but we were disheartened to find out that given our history and test results our chances of conceiving naturally were very low and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) was recommended.

Although not completely unexpected as we had been trying with no success for two years, the results and recommendation was like a slap across the face. My wife perhaps expecting some minor problems we could work through and me even more optimistic at expecting the all clear with some recommendations on being more patient. Instead the recommendation of IVF was a lot to take in. So we started trying to process all of this, working through the details of what undertaking IVF would actually involve, how much it would cost and if we were prepared to undertake such a journey.

“Although not completely unexpected as we had been trying with no success for two years, the results and recommendation was like a slap across the face.”

After some time we started getting more comfortable with the idea and worked through the logistics of how it could work. There was a lot to consider. It would be disruptive – for each cycle there would be numerous appointments for blood tests, along with the day surgery to extract the eggs, then later implant the fertilised eggs (and our clinic was a good 50 minute drive away). Through all this there was various medication, including hormone injections, all with a range of different side affects. We were warned it was an intensive process which could be both physically and emotionally draining. But still we remained positive with rumour of many optimistic stories of couples who successfully achieve pregnancy with IVF after a short number of cycles. I guess personally I was still in some level of denial and thought it might have been overkill and with all the expert attention of IVF we shouldn’t have too much problems.

So our time for our first IVF cycle approached and we were ready. I did my best to support my wife in any way I could, driving her to all the appointments and assisting her with the medication. I think both of us were secretly optimistic that while this would be painful it would be worthwhile and it wouldn’t be an issue for long. The first cycle was pretty rough, I really struggled to see how much my wife had to go through as well but continued to do the best I could to support her. A few days after the extraction we were advised that they were unable to achieve fertilisation with any of the eggs and sperm collected. This was hard to take, after so much pain to have such a negative result so early on in the process it was very disheartening.

A few weeks went by and we had a debrief appointment with our doctor. She went into detail around the positives and the negatives of the cycle so far and learning from the failure so far recommended a different regiment of medication to try for the next cycle. It did seem encouraging to us that despite the negative result, they were able to get lots of information from the failure and adjust it for the next attempt so our optimism returned and we prepared ourselves for the next cycle.

The second cycle was a little different. Firstly the schedule of medication was adjusted from the first attempt. However mostly it was different as we now had some better understanding of what to expect and how to prepare. In some ways this made it easier, in other ways it did not – as we were aware of the dreaded expected side-effects from the medication and the pain from the various medical procedures. The second IVF cycle proceeded more smoothly than the first attempt. Things were tracking well and the time approached for the blood test to see if there were any indications of pregnancy. The result was negative.

Again this was disheartening and hard to take. However, we had got further than the first cycle so we were optimistic by how things were improving. We could see the adjustments to medication and other timings had allowed for some better progress in this cycle and expected the next cycle to be even better, so again prepared ourselves for the next cycle. For cycle number 3 we again had good expectations on the kind of disruption and pain to be expected. Because of the number of tests and appointments it was always time consuming but it started to become a bit of a routine. This does not mean it became any easier or less painful but by supporting each other we were able to get through it. However the emotional stress for every time we had to wait for results or receive a negative result just seemed to get harder and harder. Every time my wife was devastated and understandably it was really hard to take. For me it was difficult as well but what I struggled with most was seeing the pain my wife was going through in yearning for a family and feeling helpless in being able to “fix” that problem. All I could do is walk beside her as best I could.

“… what I struggled with most was seeing the pain my wife was going through in yearning for a family and feeling helpless in being able to “fix” that problem”

Every time we continued to focus on the positives as much as we could, focusing on the limited things we had control over and supporting each other as best as we could. So we started cycle 4 but again it was a negative result. Cycle 5 was also negative.

Cycle 6, negative. Cycle 7, negative. Cycle 8, negative. Cycle 9, negative. Cycle 10, negative. Cycle 11, negative.

Every cycle was incredibly demanding both physically and emotionally. Not to mention feeling like leading double lives as throughout this incredibly trying journey we still had our lives to live, our jobs to go to and our family and friends to interact with. Every family kids birthday we needed to attend and every pregnancy announcement by friends just came with it a wave of emotions: failure, worthlessness, sadness, anger. Not to mention those innocently placed comments said in passing by well meaning family and friends that knew no better “so when are you having kids?”, “it must be your turn next?”, “you’re lucky it’s just the two of you and you don’t have noisy kids around”, “you don’t understand how hard it is to be a parent”. I still have those moments seared into my memory, the comments, the flood of embarrassment and shame and confusion on how to respond gracefully and not in anger or sadness, just wanting to sink into the ground and be anywhere but here.

Through the last couple of cycles we had maintained the attitude of “well we have come this far let’s try one more time”. But 11 cycles, 11 failures, when do we stop? Going into IVF all you hear about is the positives and the success stories, people don’t tell you about the couples that try many times and have to give up. Those stories aren’t told so they don’t seem like a reality or a possibility, but it was turning into our reality. My wife was struggling physically as the medication and side effects were taking their toll. We were both emotionally and mentally exhausted. In 2009 we came to the conclusion of taking a short break for an undefined amount of time (at the time thinking maybe 3-6 months) and when we felt ready we would embark on another cycle.

It was around the tail end of our IVF journey my thinking changed from “we just have to be patient and it will happen eventually” to “maybe this will never happen”. This was hard to process and I struggled. There is something ingrained within a mans DNA that desires for them to have their own children from their own flesh and blood and coming to terms with this not being a possibility made me question my purpose and value in life like I never had before. If my purpose and value would not be to raise children was it enough to be a husband, or fulfil my purpose in my work, or the service I did in my church? Was any of this enough of a purpose to fill the hole not having children might leave?

… my thinking changed from “we just have to be patient and it will happen eventually” to “maybe this will never happen”

There were countless low times for me and I will share two personal moments with you. There was a time in church where one of the worship leaders was giving thanks for their children and the opportunity to be a parent (there is nothing wrong with that and how great it is for a parent to be so publicly thankful for it). But I just couldn’t take it that I wouldn’t have that, I quietly left the service maintaining composure, walked around to the back of the building, collapsed on the ground and wept. Thankfully no one noticed. Another vivid memory was during a public event where there was a Lego building pit for kids to play in and as I walked past I noticed a couple of dads in there with their young kids in the pit building some stuff together and the thought hit me “that will never be me, I’ll never have that.” It took me to a very sad place where essentially I was mourning the loss of a family that would never be.

My wife and I supported each other greatly through this time. It wasn’t all depressing, you have good days and bad days and infertility is just something that sits with you underneath all the daily things in life. But as the months went by we both unanimously came to terms with the fact that this break from IVF was not a break. We were done. We would keep trying naturally but not stress ourselves about it (with so many IVF failures we both held little hope we would fall pregnant naturally). It was an incredibly difficult time and we just wanted to move on from here and focus on what life would look like without a family for us.

 

This is post is Part One of a two part series on infertility, Part Two can be found here: Infertility and the sunrise on becoming stronger through personal struggles. If you would like an email notification when my latest posts are published you can subscribe here. Thank you for sharing my journey.

Image: iStockPhoto

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