So much has happened in the past two years, both personally and globally. But the one thing that has yet to happen for me is motherhood. Two years ago today, on Mother’s Day, I published my very first blog post about our miscarriage and two subsequent failed IVF cycles. Since then, we’ve experienced two further unsuccessful cycles and are now pursuing donor conception.
How has it been 5 years?
That 68-word introduction summarises a five-year fertility journey. Five years of hoping and having our hearts broken. Of trying to rebuild ourselves and find the strength to keep going somehow. Of seeing siblings, cousins, friends and colleagues bring babies into the world while our attempts to do so result in repeated failure.
I often wonder how we got here. Sometimes, I unintentionally torture myself by thinking how different our lives would’ve been if I hadn’t miscarried in 2016. A bit like the key scene in the film Sliding Doors. Would we have had a boy or a girl? How would our individual preferences for Indian vs French names have played out? Which physical attributes and personality traits would they have inherited from us? What kind of parents would we have been back then, untarnished by the pain, sadness, grief, anger and powerlessness of infertility?
Mother’s Day triggers
All I have is questions, no answers, all of which are amplified as Mother’s Day approaches. Each advert, social media post, pregnancy announcement, cute toddler in a snowsuit and photo shared in a WhatsApp group is a reminder of what we don’t have. It’s like I have a wound that has been slowly healing, but then the scab gets caught on something, is ripped off and the intense pain returns.
I don’t expect anyone to dampen their parental joy to spare my feelings, but some sensitivity is always welcome. I’m happy for them – I don’t wish infertility on anyone – but I’m sad for us. If brands like Bloom & Wild can create compassionate ‘Opt-out’ and ‘Opt-in’ marketing campaigns, the former to support those who find Mother’s Day difficult and the latter to offer advice to people wanting to comfort them, surely those close to us can find a way to be more empathetic?
Being more supportive
I appreciate the awkwardness of it all, I really do. Despite publicly documenting my ongoing personal experience and being a fertility advocate, I too struggle to find the right words when people share their painful stories with me. My reflex is to reach for the same platitudes that I hate hearing myself, but I catch them before they escape, knowing how much it hurts because they minimise our complex emotions. Among the best messages I’ve received are the simplest: “I’m sorry you have to go through this. I don’t know what it feels like or what to say, but I wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you.”
Maybe we’ll never be parents. Whenever I say this out loud, I’m always advised to keep the faith, stay strong, never give up. Or told success stories about someone who refused accept defeat and eventually hit the jackpot. The subtle implication is that maybe I don’t want it enough because I’m considering calling time. But it doesn’t work out for everyone, no matter how much you want it. As Jessica Hepburn mentions in her book ’21 Miles: Swimming in Search of The Meaning of Motherhood’, “while the world may be full of IVF babies, it’s also full of people who have given it a shot and been disappointed.”
Deciding when to call it a day
Deciding when enough is enough is a personal choice; it could be before or after a single cycle, or after ten. Judging the former for being weak and hailing the latter as a hero is extremely damaging. Each cycle is exhausting and all-consuming: your mind, body and finances get completely battered.
During the aftermath of our fourth failed cycle, when I was filled with rage at the unfairness of it all instead of the usual stinging disappointment, I set my personal cut-off date. I told myself that we’ll do everything we can, explore all the relevant options until then, but if we’re still childless on that day, I’m done. No more hanging onto hope, planning around possibilities or putting our lives on hold. I have no idea how we’d begin to come to terms with childlessness, but I know this journey can’t last forever. Even if it could, I wouldn’t want it to. Part of reason why we moved to Berlin in late 2020 was because we needed to remind ourselves that our infertility doesn’t define us or restrict us. Physically distancing ourselves from London has given us some much-needed space and time for ourselves.
Donor conception journey
This distance has created additional challenges for our donor conception journey, though: inflated flight prices, multiple costly Covid tests and potential quarantines. The emotional impact has also been overwhelming. When we found out that our first donor egg IVF (DEIVF) cycle had resulted in 15 unviable eggs, we were floored.
In the weeks that followed, I threw myself a proper pity party and rehashed every recent decision we’d made. Why didn’t we proceed with DEVIF after the third failed cycle instead of putting ourselves through another one when our chances were so slim? If we had, would we have had a baby by now? What if we’d gone abroad for treatment? Should I have seriously considered using an anonymous donor instead of immediately ruling it out in favour of a non-anonymous donor? Maybe I should’ve stayed in London so that I could’ve had a transfer sooner?
Will we get lucky?
Ultimately, I tamed these destructive thoughts by constantly telling myself that what’s done is done. For now, by creating three frozen embryos using another UK donor (which was a sheer stroke of luck), we’ve kept ourselves in the game and scored a small win. Hopefully our newfound lucky streak will continue; it’s reassuring to have some hope on ice.
If today is difficult for you for any reason, particularly if you’re also struggling to conceive or have lost a child, I’ve shared some of my previous blog posts and links to resources that I hope will be helpful. You can also DM me on social media if you want to talk privately (@SavlaFaire). You don’t have to do this alone.
Useful posts and links
Me, Myself & IVF, Third Time Unlucky, What not to say to someone struggling with infertility, How it feels to be Indian and infertile, Lisa Faulkner interview, Tommy’s, Fertility Help Hub, Fertility Network UK, Donor Conception Network, Miscarriage Association, The Dovecote: Childless Support Organisation, Paths to Parenthub, Bloom & Wild Thoughtful Marketing