Category Archives: Mind

Loss and Recovery

My first embryo transfer didn’t take. After a million shots, two egg retrievals, three fibroid surgeries and one transfer, I am not pregnant. It was a boy and he didn’t stay with me. I learned on October 1 that the pregnancy test was negative. Then the ground fell out from under me for a couple of weeks.

That first weekend there was wailing. Sounds came out of me that I didn’t know I could make. There was grief that I haven’t felt before in my life. That embryo had become a child in my mind, and I didn’t even know that had happened until he was gone. I thought that I was internally preparing myself for the possibility that the transfer wouldn’t work, but I was surprised. Shocked. I didn’t realize how certain I had been that everything would work out and that I would be birthing all three embryos that I have. He was a person to me, and his loss was crushing; despite having never met him; despite the distance I thought I was keeping. Now there are just two left.

That first weekend there was also writhing. There was moving the grief through our bodies (my husband was there, too). There was fatigue. And then there was numbing. In the following days and weeks, after each wave of grief receded, we called people to let them know that this part of the story was over. We had decided from the beginning to be open about our IVF process. It involved so much time away from people that we felt it would be hard to hide it. Also, we hoped for support. We got it, too – so much true empathy and so many people rooting for us. We had to let them know what had happened. Some sent us food and cards and texts and other comforts, and several of them cried with us. We are so grateful for that.

We have also absorbed a lot of passive judgment. We have people in our lives who don’t believe in fertility treatment, because they think pregnancy is God’s will (casually implying that I don’t have children because God doesn’t want me to have them). Related to “god’s will” are a healthy portion of people who respond with platitudes along the lines of “everything happens for a reason.” There are some people that respond with advice (as if they had been through this when they haven’t). Then there are a few “manifestors” (people who believe their thoughts can literally impact physical reality, ie. magical thinkers) who can’t accept that this is all happening to us for no reason, and that sometimes, most times, terrible things are just random. I understand that those responses are coping mechanisms. It’s a defense against feeling one’s own feelings, or engaging with someone else’s feelings, or acknowledging that the world, the universe, is not actually under anyone’s control. If things can happen to others for no reason, then they can happen to you, too.

I do understand now that the responses people have to our situation are usually more about them than they are about me. I know that people aren’t conscious of what is in the blank spaces of what they’re saying, and they don’t mean to be hurtful. They don’t realize that to me these statements sound like “you are not enough. You are not doing enough. You are not trying hard enough. You don’t deserve.” I get it, but it can be difficult for me to get past that, especially since I already feel so alone in this experience and am already very challenged not to believe those things myself. I am trying my best not to take it personally.

In the meantime, I am rebuilding my reserves of resilience and self-love for the next round. I have a new working model for what faith might look like to me going forward: things don’t happen for a reason, but we are responsible for giving them meaning. I could assign a self-critical reason for why I lost the first baby and beat the shit out of myself to “fix it.” Instead, I choose to give him meaning as part of my story and reaching, with loving kindness, for motherhood and the life I want.

Fertility Warrior

It has been one year, one month, and fourteen days since I learned that my infertility treatment was going to be longer and more difficult than I expected. One pandemic, two egg retrievals, three surgeries, and a shitload of hormones later, I finally arrived at embryo transfer day. Last Tuesday, hopefully, at age 42, I finally became a mother. After waiting for so long it seems completely surreal, and after so many steps and distractions, it is also getting real.

In the spirit of self-preservation, I have had to take the whole fertility process one step at a time. I have had to focus on each day of drugs, each ultrasound, each surgery, each recovery as singular events to get through them without losing it. Meanwhile, I’ve had people reaching out to me about taking their baby hand-me-downs and a lot of well-meaning certainty from family members that this transfer is going to be successful. I would have loved to get excited, but I have been navigating the steps with a walled-off heart thanks to a long, difficult path (including the 10+ years before going to an infertility clinic) and some early disappointment.  However, even in my current state of spiritual ambiguity, I can still acknowledge that closing your heart to pain also closes it to joy. So, for the last two weeks I have been slowly lowering the drawbridge on the possibility of joy.

One of the things to unfold this week is an examination of how I actually felt about the big day finally being here. I have been so process-oriented since my disappointing first egg retrieval that I actually didn’t know. I know I have vaguely judged myself for not being more obsessed with the outcome of the process. So many women that I see on fertility online groups and message boards, fertility warriors as they sometimes call themselvs, are absolutely humming with baby fervor. Every waking moment appears to be full of nothing but baby and fertility obsession. That has not been my experience. I have rarely thought about the outcome of all of this. I haven’t gotten bent out of shape or all hyped up about every appointment and every step. I haven’t had much impulse to photo-document (there has been some, which maybe I will share some day). It’s basically just been a thing I’ve been doing. I have wondered at times if that meant that I didn’t want it as much as I used to; didn’t want it as much as my fellow fertility warriors. I might not know how bad I still want this if it hadn’t been for the sharp grief after every setback and the fact that I kept going, despite how hard it’s been.

Now that I’m on the other side of the hardest physical parts (I can’t say I’m past the hardest emotional parts yet), I know that some of my passiveness has been about self-protection, some has been about experience, and some might just have to do with my age. I think that the self-protection piece is pretty self-explanatory: if you don’t put a lot of energy into it it’s less likely to disappoint you. In terms of experience, I was a woo-woo girl. I have learned the hard way, and the intellectual way, that obsessing and desperation don’t actually change outcomes. Spending every waking minute thinking about whether or not I’m going to have a baby is not going to manifest a baby. It’s just going to stress me out and give me anxiety. Consciously trying to manifest a baby with my thoughts isn’t going magically bring a baby into being, and actually sets me up to blame myself for things that I can’t control (ie., no baby for any number of physical reasons).

Finally, I am 42. My clock stopped ticking awhile ago. When I was in my late-twenties to mid-thirties I was baby crazy, just like all the ladies that I see online. I won’t pretend to understand the hormonal motivators behind some of that (though I know there are some). But I do understand that you can’t maintain that level of highly emotional obsession forever without crashing. I was baby crazy for about 8 years, and here’s what the crash looks like for me: acceptance. At some point in my late thirties I began to accept that it might never happen for me. I was able to start picturing a life where I didn’t have children, and I had some time to come to terms with the fact that if it didn’t happen, I would be O.K. That doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t crack open and make me cry every single time I think about actually having and holding a baby of my own. It doesn’t diminish my “fertility warrior” status.  

Now that I potentially have a little passenger, I am in the much-dreaded two week wait, when it is so easy to spin out. My dreams of having a baby feel so close, and I am trying to balance letting my heart open a bit more while still having reasonable expectations. Journaling, time with girlfriends, self-care, (mostly) good food, distraction, and A LOT of sleep are in order. And maybe some prayers and positive visualization…what can it hurt? There are no atheists in foxholes.