There are a few elephants in the room when trying to conceive. One elephant is miscarriage. Another elephant stands silently for embryos. The other elephant is secrecy.
Having a baby is so natural. A right of passage for billions of humans. Yet for some the passage is dark, long, cold and fraught with pain. Pregnancy with my older children came to me so easily that it was a shocking turn of events to find the boot on the other foot when I tried for number four. I can honestly say it humbled me. Hindsight is useful, but sadly time has no rewind. Being super fertile when I was younger left me feeling confident, even conceited when I started the journey to finish my family.
My previous pregnancies were health disasters and I had been told that my dream for a fourth child was not one I would ever be safe to realise. Yet each year passed and the want never left. I tried to bury that innate desire but inside there was a gaping hole. The hole was shaped like a child. It was like carrying around death as my dream for a child had been taken from me and I grieved silently. Secretly holding that child in my heart for nearly fifteen years before deciding that I would at least ask for a definitive answer as to whether I could realise my heart’s dream or let it go forever.
The first elephant was secrecy. I dare not even tell people what my heart longed for. It was too long, the gap too large, my age too old and the dream too far away to be a real dream. Truthfully, I didn’t want the feedback. I didn’t want people to squash my hopes before they even began. So began a long silent journey down a tunnel that nearly broke my spirit.
The mouth of the tunnel seemed innocent enough. Before we even started on our IVF journey I was on a rose coloured peak, with my high fertility in the past I would be simply ducking into the tunnel, picking up my baby and leaving. Smugly.
Oh how wrong I was. It was a labyrinth of unexpected turns which saw me delving deeper and deeper into parts of the underground where even the air is thin. The path forward so black that you can but step gingerly forward inch by inch. Hoping that the direction is forward. That the prize is near.
Meanwhile on the surface of your life you have endless needles, procedures and blood works in the earliest hours of the morning before heading off to work smiling and sharing tales of the weekend.
The first elephant of miscarriage came quickly. I remember the specialist telling me I was pregnant. Well, “sort of”. Sort of? How can I be sort of pregnant? I came to learn that pregnant isn’t just pregnant. It’s a numbers game. A game I can’t control. A game I had to play. A game I lost. The magical Hcg rose just enough to give hope. My heart was fluttering with a sense of hope mixed with dread for days. In those few precious days I was pregnant. My long held heart dream was true. A tiny life was attached into my belly. I prayed. I swallowed my heart when the phone rang with the latest numbers. The numbers that would tell me if this tiny baby would stay or leave too soon. After fifteen years it was rather ironic that I was finally pregnant but lost the baby. To say a piece of my heart died that day is an understatement.
Yet I went to work. Silent in my devastation. In my misery. The next embryo died half an hour before we were due to do the transfer. That poor little one didn’t even get a chance to be in my body. To hear my heart beat the tune of love only a mother can. Right now that sound was a slow sad one. We tried again. Then again and again.
Right before Christmas we took our first risk. We transferred two, twins would be hard. Twins would be a risk for me. Twins would be a risk for them. But you start to get desperate. Pregnant! At long last. But then those numbers told another story. Those little guys were in bad shape. They weren’t happy in there. Ultimately, just as we woke to celebrate Christmas I greeted the day with the news that they were dying. That my twins were not going to be my Christmas miracle. But I smiled. I greeted my guests. Through heavy heart I thanked people generously for soap and socks while inside my head was flooding. The blood rushed through my ears and deafened me with the roar of lost hope.
Who were these lost children? Were they boys? Girls? I imagined the first to be a girl. My heart had always somehow thought that a fourth child would be a girl, with curls. Yet the Christmas twins, they were boys. Sure they might not have been, but in my mind they were brothers racing around the park on bicycles, wrestling in the mud and angelically smiling at me through mischief. One day I will be able to name them. Let them be as real as the hole left in my heart. One day.
The cavern threw me a skylight then. It said “Climb out here”. It said, maybe you should give up. It said, how can you keep facing this pain? Climb out. Let this dream go. Leave the dream to die too. But I am made of tougher stuff. I am a chaser of follies. I took a deep breath and tried again. For two years I cycled every time I was able. Often back to back. I lost so many embryos through transfers that I lost count of how many I lost. More than 10, less than twenty. Unless you count the souls who didn’t even make it out of the lab.
The other elephant. Embryos. Day 1 is full of hope when you get your fertilisation rate. They are ALIVE. But anyone who has IVF will tell you this is not a number to become attached to. That number is but a starting point. A point from which nature takes over from the best intentions and efforts of embryologists. Gradually they die off, sometimes one at a time, sometimes a few, sometimes most of them. “The call” from the clinic tells you of the ones who are still alive. There is no mention of those that died. They were but cells. I often wonder who those cells would have become under different circumstances. Who were they? What would they have become? What would have made them laugh? What did they look like? IVF is a cruel business. Infertile baby making is an elephant in the room that few will ever comprehend. Luckily for them.
You sit in that waiting area and see women masking tears, you don’t ask why, you don’t make eye contact. If you accidently do you might nod a knowing sad nod to them as they hurry out the door to go and cry alone in the car. Alone. Before picking up their mask and soldiering on.
The next pregnancy lasted longer. The magic numbers were great and my little baby was at last stuck. I had triumphed. My dream was realised. I could now at long last think about a future outside this quagmire of endless darkness lost in the caverns. Then the baby was gone. Nothing could stop the loss. Not hope. Not prayer. Not wishing. Nothing.
Through utter despair I made a choice. I would not let this cavern own my soul. I would not let these losses be for naught. I would not let this pain leave me with empty arms. I am a stubborn woman. I am foolish. I am a dreamer. I am a Pisces. So we monitored my cycle, statistically your chance of a successful pregnancy is higher after a miscarriage so how could I let this chance go?
BOOM pregnant. Wow, this little baby was a strong one. A little further along I again started to lose blood. The ultrasound saw my baby snuggled tightly in me. I wept. The tiny heart fluttered a dance like a butterfly. This was my miracle. Through the losses of siblings and now this threat this tiny one was right there on the screen. Those are the few brief moments I got to see my baby alive. Moments I will never forget. The next time I saw him he was in my hand, tiny and motionless. My heart felt motionless too. It felt as if when the life was taken from my body and it took my happiness with it. As my body shed it shed away hope. Shed away my trust, blind trust, that all would be well in the end. I have not named him yet. I try not to think about him or those emotions flood back into my heart. One day, when the time is right I will know his name. I will allow myself to grieve.
Then the bittersweet finale. My mammoth in the room. You see Miss Bee was a twin. She was the survivor. Our other little girl was lost to us. I try not to overthink it. I did not see her heart beating. I knew that just as with the other losses the pregnancy was showing all signs of being doomed. Yet there was Miss Bee, strong and solid. Shrek Girl was tougher than tough. I often think that must be why she is a whirlwind. She had to be made of something special just to survive. Though her temporary room disintegrated around her she clung on with ferocity. I went on insane doses of progesterone and as they say the rest is history.
People often flippantly ask if I’m having another baby any time soon. “As a playmate for Miss Bee”. I usually say “She has three older siblings.” I sometimes wish I had the candour to tell them the truth. That my heart cannot take losing another baby. That my high risk pregnancy left me physically unable to carry a child again. That she has five frozen siblings in the clinic freezer. That she actually has siblings who didn’t make it. But I doubt they’d understand.
As an afternote. I met many amazing women along the way, some realised their dreams others did not. This is an article which I read during my journey that had a profound impact on me. The question I was often asked was “When do you draw the line in the sand and give up?” My answer was always “When the pain of continuing outweighs the pain of not realising the dream.” There are many paths to motherhood, some take all sorts of unexpected paths, some walk away content that they tried.