To get my beautiful twin boys my husband and I underwent thirteen goes on IVF. I think that gives me the right to consider myself something of an expert when it comes to coping with the highs and lows of the in-vitro world.
After my disastrous appearance on the TV show Millionaire Hot Seat, I was contacted by an old friend I hadn’t seen in over twenty years (he had unfortunately caught the show). He and his partner were just beginning their IVF campaign and he asked me for some advice. I sent him my top ten rules for surviving IVF.
Don’t tell people. That way you can enjoy every man and his dog – and your mother – asking you whether you’re gonna have kids.
Do tell people. That way they can ask you, every time they see you… ‘So….. how’s it all going?’ This eventually becomes as annoying as the first question and makes you wish you hadn’t told anyone. Once word is out there however, there is no retracting. Believe me, I tried. Almost every phone call I made after each failed attempt or miscarriage ended up with a promise that this was the last time so everyone could relax and stop worrying/talking/asking about me.
Get a hobby to keep you distracted. HA! I read this advice somewhere early on in my attempts and dutifully complied. So, after my first miscarriage I painted an outdoor table setting green and blue. Stripes, I think. After my second miscarriage I re-planted the entire garden with drought friendly shrubs (doing something for the environment, not focussing on self). After my third miscarriage I demanded my husband get me a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of wine. After my fourth miscarriage I drank Sambucca shots all the way up the Hume Highway on a three day long ‘recovery’ weekend. And so on. You will have to take my word for it that each subsequent failure required an escalation of recovery methods. I can’t elaborate. My mother might read this.
Do not read ‘IVF Friends”. This is the perky little newsletter put out through the IVF clinics. In it, people tell the story of their personal IVF journey. They say things like, ‘After we got the negative result it just made us even more determined so we decided to go straight ahead with our fifth cycle.’ Bullshit (see Rule 3 for how they really coped – surely)!
Accept that your life is on hold. Basically, the shape of your life is so different depending on the outcome of the whole process. Life with children and life without children are polar extremes and there is very little middle ground (other than fostering, adoption or step-parenting, of course). Go with the unknown, try to enjoy where you are and dream about what your life might look like both with and out without kids.
Get a dollar from every person who offers you advice and the name and number of a naturopath, acupuncturist, faith healer, medical intuitive, fish slapper who can help you. Seriously, get the dollar.
You will hear stories from everyone around you about their friend, second cousin, or mother’s best friend’s daughter who was just about to start IVF when she fell pregnant on a holiday to Hayman Island/Ko Samui/Fiji. This is just dandy for them, but you won’t be in any position to holiday while you are doing IVF because, despite the generous government subsidies, it is expensive! Relax about this and stay focused on your goal. Long weekends up the Hume are all you need during this period and are fine when viewed through the bottom of a shot glass.
Find a way to cope as a couple (see rule 3 – my husband drank with me every step of the way, and we actually had some pretty good times). It will probably make or break your relationship but if you want to have a fighting chance you need to respond to the highs and lows together.
It is the jealousy that almost kills you I think. And the unfairness. And the humiliation of being so crap at something everyone else seems to do so effortlessly. My husband tried not telling me when news came through that yet another friend was pregnant. This was well intended but invariably led to him hissing at me on the doorstep as we were entering a party: ‘Jaci and Andrew, and Marisa and Steve are pregnant, and Dave and Fiona have just had triplets’. Try not to examine your conduct too closely throughout the journey. These will never be your finest hours.
You will know when it is time to stop trying. An old friend who had survived many unsuccessful attempts at IVF gave me this advice early on, and she was right. I realise this is easy for me to say when I have two babies as an end product, but come what may, the thirteenth go was definitely my last. I had reached a place where I knew that I would survive (and possibly even manage to be happy) without children of my own. You will eventually reach this place too and you’ll find plenty of others there when you arrive!
About the Author
Jane French is a psychologist, stepmother and the mother of twin baby boys and somehow she actually manages to find time to write.