This is the post I never thought I’d write. The one that I’d have screamed at you for even suggesting could have been a possibility 4 years ago. But here it is.
I’m aware that many of you reading this will not have followed our fertility journey – you may not have even know that we’ve been on one – so much about our lives has changed in the last couple of years since this was a regular blog with updates about our progress towards trying for a baby (Toby), and then trying for baby #2. Toby has been at school for over two years now, our friendship circles have changed, we’ve changed churches, moved jobs, started businesses. There has been a global pandemic. A lot has changed in that time. And I’m not going to catch you up in this post – the past posts are there if you want to see what we’ve been through. But here is an executive summary:
Since then things have been quiet on here. I haven’t had much to report really. But for those of you who were following our story, it perhaps will have seemed like everything just went silent. The truth of it is that I was broken. Really quite broken. Three miscarriages in such quick succession and the emotional turmoil of the IVF had taken its toll on us at the beginning of 2019, and instead of ploughing on with that final embryo waiting on ice, we booked a holiday to America. There were a couple of times that year that I thought I might have somehow gotten pregnant naturally despite the odds, but no. And by August 2019 I was no closer to my goal weight for the final round. I had started speaking to a therapist on a weekly basis to help me process everything, and John and I had a conversation that went like this:
“Let’s do our final embryo next year – 2020”
“And if that doesn’t work we can try ovarian diathermy and clomid one more time – if we’re not pregnant by the end of 2020 we will stop.”
“Yes, I fully support this and I love you and this is hard” (I have, of course, paraphrased)
But ultimately we were on the home stretch. We had a game plan, which took into account our fears over our aging, incorporated giving it one last shot, and ultimately had a clear endpoint.
Then 2020 happened.
It wasn’t possible, and then didn’t feel safe or wise to go through, a highly medicalised process in the middle of a pandemic where the effect of the disease on babies and pregnant women was largely unknown. So we did what everyone else did last year – whatever we could to survive the turmoil, mental health issues, financial burdens, and general sense of angst and uncertainty.
And so without planning to, and without a great deal of control over the situation, we have inadvertently taken a 2 year “break” from fertility treatment. And in that time we’ve all aged, including Toby. He is 7 this year. We began trying for a sibling for him when he was 14 months old. I have started and grown my own cake business. John has sold the business he started years ago, and set up two more. We don’t do toddler groups anymore. Our friends have mostly finished growing their families now, so we are no longer surrounded by babies. Our kid wipes his own bum. I carry a small bag when I go out. Toby sleeps through (it only took him 4.5 years!), and all of his baby and toddler things – 6 years worth of things – are piled up in our attic bedroom, still waiting for that second use I promised them.
But it has always been there – this shadow. This question mark over our future. This tiny little vial of frozen cells without a name or a home. The blog has been quiet, but the process has never stopped. Through my weekly therapy sessions I have moved from the assumption that we will use our final chance, to entertaining the idea of what life might look like with just the three of us, to allowing the thought in that perhaps we won’t use it. I’ve passed through fear and grief too many times to count, and finally, I am now feeling the words in my mouth that I never thought I’d say: “We are going to stop trying for a second baby. We are not going to use our final embryo.”
That is such a drastic change from how I felt just 2 years ago that when I step back and look at the journey I feel like I have whiplash. But when I carefully examine the bridge between that stance and today’s, I can see that every plank is firm, every decision was taken with the best knowledge we had at the time, and was ultimately what was right for us at each juncture. Anyone who has had therapy will know that this is not a quick thing, this dismantling and reassessing and questioning, and to come to such a huge decision has taken a lot of time and thought.
I’ve learnt a lot over this time in my life. We have been under the care of fertility doctors for 8 years now – it has been a huge and significant part of our lives. I have learnt that faith, hope and love all cast a painful shadow. To embrace them means to open yourself up to the possibility of those shadows falling across your path – to permit that risk of doubt, disappointment or rejection. All require faith in something outside of yourself – be it in others, doctors, a future you can’t control, a God you can’t see, or a chaotic world with no certainties. (I feel like this last year we have all become more familiar with that sense of grief and disappointment and out-of-control-ness.) And there is a significant part of me that is ready to move on from this painful and prolonged time.
When someone dies, they have had a life. They have taken up space in the world, and their funeral is a celebration at the end for the life they lived. This is different. It is something that never quite got to be – it never quite came into the world and took up space. And yet the process itself has had a life. This blog is evidence of that, and the space it has taken up in our lives. And it deserves a proper grieving and acknowledgement of the enormity of what has occurred. So, true to style, I wanted to write one last post to mark the end of that process.
Will we regret this decision? Will I ever find peace in the knowledge that the last embryo could have worked? The honest answer is I don’t know. As with all of our decisions, all I have to go on is what is true right now – I do not believe it would have worked, as nothing significant has changed between the failed cycles and now; Our lives have moved on and neither of us really want to go back to the newborn stage; I honestly am not sure I could go through another miscarriage and maintain my mental integrity; We like our lives now as a three; And genuinely the world is already overpopulated. (This last point sounds glib, but the climate crisis is something that genuinely has been a contributing factor for me, albeit a smaller one than the preceding points.)
We are incredibly fortunate to have Toby. The longer this has gone on, the more and more we have realised that fact – felt it in our bones. He has made me a mother, and for this I will always be thankful beyond measure. We are a three, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. He gets all of our love and attention and has a happy and balanced life, full of friendships and brotherhood at school and beyond. I no longer hold the fears I had for him as an only child, and I believe that more widely the stigma attached to only children is changing on a societal level, as more and more families chose this family model for reasons as varied as lifestyle, financial and environmental.
I have made the call to the clinic and we have signed a form directing them as to what to do with our last embryo. Our choices are to leave it to perish, use it in research, or to train new embryologists, or to donate it to another couple. The hardest thing about this decision is that there is no inactive option. We cannot simply chose to not have unprotected sex. This embryo exists, and therefore some action must be taken – it is unavoidable. And so we have chosen to donate it to research, in the hope that the more that is known about embryo development and the field of IVF, the closer we will be to a day where couples, women in particular, do not have to go through the emotional and physical torture and turmoil that is current fertility treatment. As a scientist, this seems fitting.
I know that many people who used to read this blog were on fertility journeys of their own, and I sincerely hope that you have found or will soon find success. In the event that you find yourself in a similar position of questioning when it is the ‘right’ time to stop trying for a child and move on with your lives however they look, I found the below article helpful:
And I cannot recommend enough that you invest in yourself and honour all that you’ve been through by seeking professional support from a trained therapist.
I feel like good things are ahead. As we move on from this chapter of our lives that has shaped us in so many ways, I am excited for the future – be that adoption, fostering, or world-wide travel in 11 years when Toby’s at University and we get to live our second youth! Who knows? But I am choosing now to look forwards, carrying the scars like a badge of honour, hard-won and deep-rooted.
Finally I want to thank you all for your support and love over the last 8 years. This blog has been a pivotal part of processing my thoughts and feelings, and I am always touched when someone writes to tell me how helpful they’ve found it. We have felt loved and supported throughout this whole process, and for that we are eternally grateful. x