What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before My Four Failed IVFs
by Risa Kerslake
Photograph by Twenty20
When I look back, it was the first failed IVF that was the hardest to understand. Barring the fact that it was my first and only pregnancy with my own eggs that ended in an early miscarriage, it was the emotional toll of failure that hit me the hardest. That all this state-of-the-art science still wasn’t enough to get me pregnant.
As each of the other three IVFs came and went without a pregnancy, I found myself growing more and more desperate. For a baby, of course. That’s the whole goal for those of us who struggle with infertility. But it was something more, and I didn’t realize it until that fourth negative pregnancy test was staring me right in the face.
There’s an enormous pressure for women in our society to become mothers and I was no exception. That, somehow, I felt my life could only be complete if I checked off the boxes for finding a great husband, developing a successful career and having children. And that drive was exhausting.
Our fifth and final fertility cycle brought us our daughter, after our second round of using an egg donor. Coming out of it, I was nothing but thankful for her. But that pressure I put on myself to bring her into the world—it scares me.
In the throes of infertility treatments, I knew my life wouldn’t be complete without a baby. That if I just worked hard enough, if we took out one more loan, if we tried one more clinic, if we did this last IVF cycle, if we worked really hard, it would happen for us and we could be a complete family.
It’s amazing, the amount of pressure women have to become mothers. That—if you don’t want children or don’t try hard enough with fertility treatments—there’s something wrong with you. And I didn’t understand that pressure other women feel, the ones outside the norm that either can’t have kids or don’t want them, until I had four IVF treatments fail.
Society had conditioned me to believe that without a baby, I wasn't complete.
In a child-centered society, it was hard being the couple without a child. Baby showers led to me locking myself in the bathroom in tears. Kids' birthday parties were awkward because we were forever dodging the questions of, “So, when are you two going to have a little one?” Events around the city that weren’t set up for kids were hard to come by unless we were looking to get drunk, which in our current situation, was looking more and more appealing.
The desperation at having a baby no matter the cost to my body, emotional health and bank account overpowered everything else in my life, including my marriage. I felt trapped, wanting a baby more than anything and being powerless to have one.
Sometimes I wonder if that desperation was made worse by the movies, social media and well-meaning friends and family. I wished I would have been OK with being a family of two, and that my failed IVFs didn’t mean I failed to do the one thing women were built to do.
And I get it. So much of this pressure to be a mother came from within me. I ached to feel that life inside me. My arms felt empty without a baby to hold close. Society had conditioned me to believe that without a baby, I wasn't complete. But they were wrong.
Here's what we should be teaching women instead: We are good enough. Whether we get married or not, whether we have children, or that successful career: We are good enough. Had I told myself that years ago—that I could still live a pretty amazing life without children—how much better could I have accepted those failed cycles?
I was one of the people experiencing infertility who came out with a baby. Even writing that makes me cringe, because I know I got extremely lucky. But my life has been forever changed by that drive to get her. I’m more humbled. And I’m more aware now of that pressure.