For those of you who know my story, you know how difficult the last three years have been, both for me and for my husband.
Getting married in June 2017, we had no idea of the difficulties we’d face in bringing a child into our family. The initial excitement of our first pregnancy was soon replaced with miscarriage, recovery, infertility, anxious pregnancies and finally, IVF.
Starting our TTC journey at age 38 seemed do-able – maybe not ideal, but at least not a pipe dream either. But it so quickly nose-dived and became problematic, stressful and filled with heartache. It felt like we were spending our lives on a rollercoaster, with no time to get off and rest between rides. It was nausea-inducing (literally) and disorientating.
We knew that the time would come when a decision would have to be made. We couldn’t continue getting pregnant and miscarrying forever. We kept on trying for as long as we could but eventually…the time came.
Failed IVF cycle
We had our one NHS-funded IVF cycle last month in early October. My AMH results the year before had been pretty average for a woman of 40. At age 41, I hoped that was still the case.
Going through the process of a short IVF protocol had felt anti-climactic. After waiting for so long, the whole process came down to 12 days of stimulation meds and an egg retrieval. The day after the procedure was the phone call from the embryologist. It wasn’t good news. And just like that, the cycle was over.
Of the five eggs collected at retrieval, only three were mature. One of those eggs had disintegrated when they tried to inject the sperm. Another hadn’t fertilised. The third had fertilised but had too much genetic information and so couldn’t grow into a normal embryo.
That was a very difficult phone call for me. I hadn’t let myself think about what would happen if IVF didn’t work. I needed to believe it would, because we’d agreed that this would be our last attempt at having a child that was biologically ‘ours’.
What comes next after miscarriages and failed IVF?
We talked in the days following our abandoned IVF cycle about what might come next, but at that point, I think we were both too shell-shocked to make any decisions. I looked back over the first 3 years of our marriage and considered the four miscarriages we’d had accompanied by a whole lot of grief and disappointment. It’s not what I wanted the early years of our marriage to be.
As I’d read my vows to my husband on our wedding day, I’d thought what a great father he’d be. I couldn’t wait for that chapter of our lives to begin. We both knew, getting together in our mid-30s, that we didn’t have time to waste, so starting a family was a priority. We’d assumed, as I think most first time parents-to-be do, that it would be maybe a year, 18 months tops, before we met our baby. But it didn’t work out like that.
We could have carried on trying naturally, but what would that do to our relationship? We’ve been lucky because dealing with our grief as a couple has been more of a bonding experience than an isolating one. But despite that, we’ve still been aware of our frayed nerves and our short tempers, and that’s not a healthy way to live for too long. It felt dangerous to keep pushing and pushing, risking reaching a point where irreparable damage had been done to our relationship.
So we made the conscious decision to stop trying and instead to focus on ‘us’.
Coming to terms with living childless
A few weeks down the line, and after talking a lot about what our future life might look like, we’re beginning to accept that it will be undeniably shaped by not having children. We’re not finding the transition easy. It’s very much a grieving process. And even more than grieving our pregnancy losses, where we’d still have hope for ‘next time’, now the grief is permeating, it’s there in every imagination of our future selves. We know this grief will likely span the rest of our lives.
But at least we know now that we can begin to plan. Moving away from those years of putting everything on hold, waiting for the ‘what if’ and ‘maybe’ every month. We have freed ourselves from the uncertainty of trying for a baby, and for me at least, that feels liberating.
For now, we are in the early stages of acceptance around being childless, and we are prepared for some difficult times. Looking ahead to Christmas, we know that living sandwiched between two families with young children, there will be moments when we hear family traditions being played out, squeals of excitement, lots of laughter. Our house will feel quiet and empty in comparison. And this will hurt. We know that at Easter or Halloween, on those days when special family moments are shared, that we may sigh and wish things had turned out differently.
But I am also trying to focus on the positives of being childless. Although COVID-19 is restricting everyones’ lives for now, when that is under control, we’ll be able to forge a new path. We’ll be able to travel. We’ll be financially better off. We’ll have the freedom to plan, and to change plans, as we want. We’ll be able to dedicate time to hobbies and pursuits that would otherwise be closed off to us. And yes, we’ll be able to enjoy lay-ins.
There are lots of great times to come in our lives going forward. And hopefully the grief will fade as we get caught up in living them.