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Maria of Crooked Timber: Things She Has Learned from IVF


Things I have learnt from and about IVF: Encouraged by Belle & Tedra’s recent posts, and just loving Jim Henley’s recent comment:

I’d just like to say that all the ladyblogging about ladyparts and ladyissues only of interest to ladies around here lately has been awesome. I’m learning a lot from it

I’m going to share some observations as I near the end of my third round of IVF.

Embryos are not babies: You might think someone so eager to have children as to undergo months of difficult and expensive treatment would have a hard-core view on embryos and babies. You’d be right. Twice now, I’ve had two embryos placed in my uterus. I have pictures of the precise moment they were ‘put back’. None of them stuck. The fact is, most don’t. Despite what we went through to create these embryos, I am left with the cold conviction that they were opening gambits, and no more. Certainly, I would have loved them if they’d turned into babies and mourned them if I’d lost them farther along, and I was very, very sad to not get pregnant. But I felt as if the embryos were simply sets of ultimately flawed operating instructions that de-compiled within hours or days. Most embryos are only that. They may succeed, or they may not. They may be carried to term, or they may not. Human agency may intervene in any of these moments, or it may not. This makes me a bad Catholic, but I find it strangely comforting nonetheless. I believe more firmly now that an embryo is a step along the way to becoming a human, but it’s not a human. It’s a possibility….

Trans-vaginal ultrasounds are really quite invasive: This is a live issue in the US, where legislators are trying to force women who want abortions to undergo ‘just an ultrasound’ to see their babies…. Religious conservatives can’t seem to conceive that a woman can understand her pregnancy is real and still choose to end it…. I have them two or three times a week. It was a big deal for me when I started as it’s basically a dildo with a camera in it, wrapped in a condom, smeared with very cold lubricant, pushing quite hard against the cervix…. I want to have these scans. They are getting me somewhere I want to be, and they are administered by professionals I know and trust…. I believe this invasive scan being forced on pregnant women seeking an abortion would be a violation of their bodies….

Most people are statistically illiterate – probably by choice The odds in my case are 70 – 80% for failure. That’s unfortunate but normal for my age. Most people I talk to are irrationally optimistic….

Women receive an endless stream of unsolicited advice – largely from other women – that amounts to an implicit and unintentional blaming when assisted conception doesn’t work…. There is only one thing a woman on IVF can do to improve her chances of getting pregnant: be born with a lot of good quality eggs and don’t spit them out too soon…. Take your shots at the right time, and get enough food and sleep. That’s it….

Everyone has a story: Many, many people have had tricky or unhappy times, not just with infertility, but with miscarriage, and the moment you hint you might be one of them, stories just come tumbling out. Infertility is a great leveler, and another lens through which to see that the reality of life is unpredictable, painful but also richer than the happily ever after I would have chosen for myself….

IVF is not all that bad: I won’t generalize my own, relatively easy, experience to those of all women undergoing IVF. But I will share that, even with the bone-tired exhaustion, endless appointments, and recovery from minor surgery every couple of months, I’ve found it all surprisingly ok…. IVF is a lot of things. It’s highly political, as I’ve tried to illustrate. It’s unpleasant, tiring and time-consuming. It’s bloody expensive…. But if I had to sum up all I’ve learnt, particularly for those considering it, I’d say ‘It’s actually not all that bad, considering. And at least it gives us a chance.’