I always hoped that the day I wrote a post announcing that we had been undergoing IVF treatment, I would actually be announcing a pregnancy at the same time. Despite being so open about our fertility journey, when it came to our first round of treatment, my husband and I had decided to keep a tight lid on the process. We wanted to keep it a secret. We hoped by doing so, if we had a positive result, we would be able to surprise our families on Christmas Day with news we had spent almost 5 long years pining for.
The day of our transfer – Friday 15th November – was one we felt both apprehensive and excited about. Our entire IVF journey had been full of set backs from the start; nothing was going exactly “smoothly”. From a late period, to a slow growing womb lining, to a hidden ovary and a delayed transfer, it was disappointment after disappointment. Despite this, our positivity did not waiver. We had got on the train that morning with embers in our bellies, ready to progress to the next stage: pregnant until proven otherwise. We sat on the train feeling so hopeful, with our superstitions in tow – fluffy socks, a pineapple in the fruit bowl and a plan for McDonald’s fries on the way home. The phone rings; we are 5 minutes into our journey. We knew immediately… our embryos had stopped growing and there wasn’t going to be a transfer. The next 15 minutes as we approached the next stop were horrific. Tears rolling down my face, my husband sat in silence. We were in a carriage full of people; I felt like if I took a breath I would break down, so I sat holding my breath until we could get off the train. The slowest 15 minutes of my life.
The next 4 days were days I do not ever want to relive. We had to tell our families, our friends; we had been going through this alone in the hope we would bring them joy. Instead, we went through it alone to only have to deliver them our heartbreak. Getting dressed was a challenge. I spent 4 days crying, angry, sad, empty. I went through all the motions. It is a grief that barely anyone you know understands.
On the Friday night we decided to go for dinner; we knew if we sat in the house we would only be feeling sorry for ourselves. So, we got dressed and we went to our favourite Chinese restaurant. It was lovely, except it wasn’t; it didn’t take our minds off it at all. In fact, I spent the entire 90 minutes crying. The table of four behind us were talking about their friend’s newborn baby, one of their pregnancies and play dates. It was just our luck. Everywhere we looked I felt everyone was staring, everyone knew that I was broken. Nothing my husband could say made it better. He felt sad too; he had been so positive and hopeful, and yet here we were, drowning our sorrows in sweet and sour sauce.
3 days later, the Monday, I forced myself to get up, get dressed and go buy myself something nice. I went for a certain Pukka tea I had grown to love throughout this caffeine free process. I walked in and from the entrance of the shopping centre, to the other end of the store where Holland and Barrett is, I saw 9 babies. 9. I used to get panic attacks quite badly when I was in my early 20’s, and yet I hadn’t had one for a good two years. I was stood in the shop and the cashier was taking forever to find my name on the system for their loyalty card. Behind me was a woman with a cooing baby. I felt my ears becoming muffled, my body starting to sweat and my breath becoming shorter. I knew I was about to cry and I was refusing to let that happen, so in that moment the anxiety was simply taking over and I had to go. I didn’t buy myself anything pretty, instead I sat in my car and cried before driving home and reverting back into my pyjamas. I felt safe.
I had until the Tuesday before I went back to work, but the thought of going back made me sick to the stomach. Everyone said it would be a distraction, it would take my mind off things and be a way to get back to ‘normal’. Tell me this, what is normal? Forgetting it ever happened? Moving on and ‘just trying again’? I felt like it was perceived to be a job I hadn’t got, a house sale that had fallen through. I didn’t want to move on, I didn’t want to be distracted. I wanted to grieve the embryos we no longer had. I wanted to make sure everyone knew the existed, if only in a petri dish, and I wanted to be allowed to sob uncontrollably until I decided it was okay. You feel once again you are trapped in a bubble, a bubble only you and those who have experienced this understands. Nobody can even imagine how it feels because they don’t have anything to compare it to, and for that reason you feel as if everyone expects you just to pick yourself up and carry on. Weeks of injections, hormones and gross internal pessaries, with nothing to show but a bloated belly.
Every day I would imagine what these embryos would have become. A boy, a girl, a trouble maker or a sweet, shy child? In truth, I know that the fact they didn’t even make it to transfer means they likely wouldn’t have made it to a positive test, let alone a born child. They wouldn’t have become anything, but, they were mine and my husband’s DNA combined. They were a piece of us both together and I felt robbed of the fact I didn’t get to hold a piece of him inside me, again.
It does get easier. 18 days later and we are looking forward to round 2, but this time with much more apprehension. This time with less positivity and a hope that has shifted more towards desperation. “You can try again”, yes, but there is only so much the bank account allows. This is not an easy process by any stretch of the imagination. This is physically and emotionally the hardest thing we have ever put ourselves through. I don’t know how many times I can put my body through this; we don’t know how many failures we can emotionally take.
One day, about a week after the failure, I woke up and I didn’t feel my heart was so heavy. Time was going on. I felt like there was a next time, there was still a bit of hope and it would still happen for us; our journey just wasn’t over yet. Still now there are days, hours, minutes, sometimes even seconds where my heart beats slower and I feel the weight of it all creeps in. I see a baby or a pregnant woman and it takes everything I have not to stare, not to burst into tears in the middle of the shopping centre. I sit with my father-in-law and we talk about Christmas; I think about the fact it’s another Christmas without a bambino to join in, knowing how despite the fact he no longer says it, he can’t wait for the day he feels excited about putting up the gold tacky paper-chains and pretending ‘Santa’ has been to visit. I still look in the mirror and feel empty, barren and broken.
I have my health. I have my husband, I have my family and my dogs, and I have realised over the last few weeks how I truly have friends that other people would not be wrong to envy. In my grief I have truly felt the beauty in what I already have. I might not have the one thing a lot of people have without any kind of struggle, the fertility or the child you see people taking for granted, but, I have what a lot of people really want, especially at Christmas: health, a roof over my head and people around me that love me. I am trying to keep that at the forefront of my mind and enjoy the fact I can spend my Christmas drinking wine with the people I love, eating soft cheeses and pâté. Our time just isn’t yet, but our time will be here eventually… and if not, well then we’re on a different path that we will need to learn to love. Somehow.