IVF: My pre-journey down this road

I’ve started telling people. “I start IVF next month.” It feels strange and foreign to say; because I have other friends who are currently experiencing IVF, it also feels weirdly inaccurate. Maybe that’s because I’m starting IVF with an IUD in my uterus. Or because my eggs will be used to create embryos which will be placed into the freezer, rather than into my uterus. Or because when we ultimately announce a pregnancy, it’ll be one that’s carried by another woman – a generous, selfless woman – with whom we’re connected by an agency.

I’ve watched friends lose wanted pregnancies, with and without IVF. I’ve seen friends struggle through IVF, only to remain un-pregnant. But I’ve also had so many friends get pregnant the old-fashioned way (what I’m trying to train myself to stop calling the “regular way,” as I’m sure it’s not good for my psyche to reinforce the idea that there’s any regular or non-regular way to stumble through this madness of pre-parenthood). I have friends whose bellies (and feet) are swollen, who are taking birthing classes, and who have embraced the fashionably questionable maternity clothing options. Their journeys won’t be my journey. 

I’ve told only a handful of people about my upcoming journey. Surprisingly, my single and childless friends have been the warmest, most inquisitive, and least judgmental. There are others who I’ve told and felt the chill steam off of them; those reactions have been cloaked with disdain or disagreement or judgment – and sometimes, with something I just can’t put my finger on. They’ve suggested that I must be grieving the experience of pregnancy, ultrasounds, breastfeeding, and other things I won’t get to do “with” my future baby. They’ve asked how my husband feels about this. They’ve asked if it’s literally impossible for me to physically carry a pregnancy. They’ve asked how I feel about another woman carrying my pregnancy for me (as if I’m outsourcing this task as flippantly as I hire housecleaners to do my mopping). “What kind of woman would do that?” “So… you’ll pay for this?” “I thought you guys were considering adoption…?” “But what will you do with your unused embryos?”

I haven’t yet received my first hormone injection, but I’ve cried my first IVF-related tears. I’ve seethed with anger. I’ve ranted to my husband: “Maybe she is the one with the bad judgment! She has carried all 3 of her children herself, and all she does is bitch about the toll it took on her body. Who is she to judge me?!” I’ve had enough therapy in my life to know that anger is usually masking something else, and I didn’t need my therapist to tell me that the same is true here. Behind the thinnest veil of anger is a well of fear, insecurity, and even some shame.

This has been a difficult thing to explain to my husband who, bless him, didn’t realize how judgey women can be about all things motherhood-related. “Who cares what she thinks?” he asked innocently, shrugging his shoulders. “We made this decision, and it’s what’s best for us.” I explained that I’m afraid people will think that if I don’t have the self-sacrificing instinct to carry a pregnancy myself, be damned what it does to my body, then I probably won’t be able to call upon that instinct when parenthood necessitates it either. Essentially: if I can’t or won’t suffer my way through the path to motherhood, do I even deserve to go there?

As you can guess, my husband and my therapist (and my fertility doctor, and my pelvic pain doctor, and my cool non-judgmental friends) all had a helluva lot to say about that tidy little episode of self-critique. My doctors have recommended that I not carry a pregnancy myself. My body endured so much trauma throughout years of pelvic pain, and there’s such a biopsychosocial element to chronic pain, that it’s impossible to predict how my body might respond to pregnancy.  It’s therefore possible that my body wouldn’t react well. That my brain would do the fear-of-pain-fueling-perceptions-of-pain thing that’s so hard to tamp down.

I would also be required to change certain things that have become instrumental to my continued health and recovery. I won’t go through the laundry list of them here, but suffice to say that my husband and I have discussed them ad nauseum. We’ve labored over this decision.  We’ve tried to imagine how we’ll feel having a woman we don’t know carrying around our baby-to-be.  We’ve discussed the strangeness of this bifurcated process we’re embarking on: I’ll do IVF next month, some of my eggs will be made into embryos, the embryos will grow out in the lab for a few days and then undergo some genetic testing, and then all biological material heads to the freezer. We then select a surrogacy agency (today, everyone calls surrogates “gestational carriers,” or GCs), which will then begin the process of matching us with a GC.  The match process takes about 6 to 9 months, depending upon our criteria (example: it’ll take longer if we want someone in close geographic proximity to us). Once we’re matched, things move quicker from there, and once the legal issues have been addressed, one of our embryos will be implanted into the GC’s uterus. We make all of the pregnancy-related decisions, and when the baby is born, our names go on the birth certificate. I’ve found some really cool children’s books that help explain the role that the surrogate played in that child’s creation, but I think we’re a few years away from that.

In explaining this decision to people, I’ve found that they’re often puzzled when I explain that I’m doing IVF without coming off birth control. Or that I’m doing IVF but don’t have fertility issues. Recently, someone loving told us: “but you do have fertility issues.” They didn’t mean that in a critical or harsh way – it was intended (and received) as a reassuring message. I interpreted it as: “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re not being selfish. You’re not trying to avoid the hard stuff, the morning sickness, the delivery process. The trauma inflicted by your medical history, whether its scars are physical or emotional, is an infertility condition. While your uterus is technically capable of housing a fetus, you, Erin, cannot carry a pregnancy.”

This journey is just beginning. I’m scared of the emotional and physical challenges that await me next month. I’m very squeamish about needles, and I’m going to see lots of them.  I have a sensitive body and system, and it’s going to get extra sensitive for a bit. I’m going to cry a lot. I don’t know how I’ll feel. I’ll need to go to lots of doctor appointments, which I generally avoid like the plague these days. I need to stop my weight training for a few weeks, lest I pop an ovarian follicle that’s been blown up to 10x its normal size at considerable expense. My currently walnut-sized ovaries will become the size of grapefruits. I’ll go under anesthesia, I’ll feel pain, I’ll feel fear.

It’s just beginning. Don’t judge.

(PS: The story behind the pomegranates in the post: My doctor kept referring to my ovaries turning into softballs or bowling balls. Not really a pleasant visual, so my brilliant and loving friend Devra suggested that I conceptualize it as fruit instead. So, we settled on pomegranates. Rather than softball ovaries, I’ll have pomegranate ovaries. :)