You Just Never Know: The Journey of IVF

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Negative pregnancy test with little cute baby booties in the background.

By Aviva Cohen, LCSW

Jennie stood in line at the Gap waiting to check out. The woman in front of her was overwhelmed with her 18 month old climbing out of the stroller. She was waving a diaper around and yelling at her little boy, and began to try and wrestle him down to change him right then and there. Jennie snapped. She could not believe that the woman could not get control of her baby, and that she would actually change him in public. She heard herself verbally attacking the woman. The woman was offended and clearly hurt by Jennie’s aggressiveness and harsh words. She huffed out of the store. Jennie went to her car and sobbed in the front seat. You see, Jennie had received the call minutes earlier that IVF had not worked-Jennie was not pregnant-AGAIN.

When I was a little girl IVF was not something I knew much about. No one wanted to talk about. It was a huge secret! People went to the doctor, her egg and his sperm were combined in a dish and walah! Instant baby.  Oh, how wrong I was! People go the IVF route for a myriad of reasons. She may have a low egg reserve, he may have a low sperm count, one of them may have a condition or a gene for a condition they do not want to pass on to their offspring, and the reasons can go on and on.  The biggest misconception in the general population is that IVF is fool proof. People think it always works and it is easy. But in reality, people don’t often realizes the time, money, and effort that go into the process. IVF is a big deal with no guarantees.

Molly had her first child, and was ready to have another one. After months of trying it became apparent that there was an issue. Annie went to the RE (Reproductive Endocrinologist) that her OB recommended. After much testing it was determined that Molly had unexplained secondary infertility. That means they had NO idea why she was not becoming pregnant.  She did multiple rounds of IVF. What exactly does that mean? She had her eggs retrieved, later combined with her husband’s sperm, had the embryos tested and then went on to the transfer phase to try and conceive. I have simplified this, but this involves lots of injections, regular monitoring, and months of being pumped up on hormones, and trying to be patient. Thousands of dollars later, she had no baby. It had failed.

Month after month Molly came into my office devastated. Another transfer was cancelled because the lining in her uterus was too thin. Her older daughter was almost 2. Her dream was always to have 2 kids that were 2 years apart. She was being invited to play groups, birthday parties, barbeques, and it seemed all of her friends were pregnant again with their second child. No one knew she was struggling to conceive again. No one knew that she had 90 min before she had to get home for another timed painful injection.  She cried all the time, obsessed about becoming pregnant, and had to leave her mask on when in public. She had to play the part of the perfectly happy and content mother of an almost 2-year -old.

Sophie was a hugely successful investment banker. She found the love of her life when she was 40. They tried to become pregnant for 4 years. 7 IVF cycles later, 3 clinic switches after that, she was not pregnant.

Rebecca had it all. A great husband, amazing career, and the desire to be a mom. She had a low egg reserve. After a year of trying and conceiving for 4 weeks and then losing the pregnancy she went to the reproductive endocrinologist. They decided that she was running out of time at 30 and needed to do as many months of egg retrievals as they could afford. Once they retrieved batches of eggs from 4 months of treatment, they combined them with her husband’s sperm, and then were going to test the embryos and transfer.  Eight months later, and lots of out of pocket costs later she was still not pregnant.

These are 4 women who I have spent countless hours with. They cry, they’re bitter and resentful. “Why me?” they ask.  People ask them with regularity when they will have a baby. “What are you waiting for?” “No time like the present!” Everywhere they turn, a sister, a colleague, a neighbor, a best friend are getting pregnant with seemingly little effort, and creating their families.

No one can fully understand the IVF process unless they have lived it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it is ALWAYS hard and painful to live through. You never know what someone else is living through during their reproductive journey. The best thing to do is never to ask prying and intrusive questions. She will discuss it with you if and when she is ready. If you know she is in the process of IVF, don’t keep asking if she is pregnant yet. Buy her a nice tea, take her out for coffee, nurture her!! She needs your love and support –not your questions.

Jennie ended up trying the IVF process 3 more times. She is now the proud mother of 2 little boys. Molly just had her second daughter. It took three years, but she is finally here. Stacey ended up not using her own egg. She was blessed to be given a donated embryo. She does not know the donors, but is in her 9th month of pregnancy with her daughter, and more excited than I have ever seen her. Sophie adopted twin girls last fall. She is beyond grateful! Rebecca is 5 weeks pregnant now. We are cautiously optimistic. We shall see…because you just never know…

Aviva Cohen received her master’s degree in social work from Loyola University. Her specific area of focus is perinatal loss, fertility, Postpartum Depression, and work/life balance issues. Through her own personal struggles, Aviva has a depth of perspective in the area of pregnancy and loss that many do not. Aviva co-founded The Blossom Method in 2013 as a center for moms to connect and share their struggles and private pain.

The Blossom Method is a therapy practice in the heart of Chicago offering support, encouragement and hope to women and couples facing challenges as they start or grow their families. We provide a unique combination of therapeutic and counseling services, as well as education seminars, events, and one-on-one or group support.