The Unexpected Side Effects of IVF




"Mother nature doesn't want you to have children, and we need to make sure there isn't a reason why." 

I remember those words, delivered matter-factly in the warm room of the Ottawa Fertility Clinic almost 9 years ago. It was not a shock. Having spent countless hours lost to the power of google, I knew the situation we were in was precarious and just waiting to spill over from the possible to the impossible. That was a place I didn't fully allow my mind to go; the dark chance that we would never be able to make a baby together. It was hard enough to swallow the situation we found ourselves in. We were in our mid 20s, eager to start making babies, and being told that it simply wasn't going to happen on our own.

One of the things I learned quickly back then was it was less about what we couldn't do on our own and more about whether we could do it at all. Ever. The thought that I might never carry Andrew's biological child was terrifying. Friends would suggest we could just adopt. While I believe there are many ways of building a family, I was after a certain kind of way. Every time I looked at Andrew, I wanted his baby. I longed to be pregnant, to carry what was part of both myself and my husband.

IVF with ICSI, we were told, was our only path to pregnancy. At first I worried about the needles, I stressed about all of the drugs I would be introducing into my body and I feared the procedures involved in the process. But I was also angry. Not because it was anyones fault, because infertility is as much a disease as any other, but what I couldn't get past was that there were no answers. When it comes to male infertility, it seems the research just isn't there. On Instagram there seems to be a flood of female fertility aides - monitors, devices and support. Apparently in NYC there's a fertility clinic on wheels, just for women... And I'm not here to be angry, but I do wonder why more isn't said about male factor infertility when the facts say that infertility is split 1/3 female, 1/3 male and 1/3 unexplained. But anger isn't the side effect I am here to discuss. No, what I want to talk about is the gaping void inside of me that aches at the thought of ever being done, ever carrying our last baby, ever birthing our last child.

And I wonder if this ache is here because we simply can't have a baby by just having sex. Although dammit if I don't cross my fingers and toes, and will mother nature to do us another miracle every month. 

Last month I went for a routine physical and of course she asked me the question...

"Are you on the pill?' Her one hand was hovering above the field that must surely instruct her to push birth control on the monitor.

"No, we can't have children on our own." I say since she's a resident and likely hasn't read my history

"Things can happen," She pushes

"Believe me, every single month I hope that I will be pregnant, I want that to happen." I answer

"Okay." She types away furiously and drops it

And right now, as I type these words, I know my desire to keep procreating does not adhere to reason. We are so very fortunate and blessed while so many still suffer from infertility. IVF twins and then a FET singleton six years later make my heart full. I still feel a wave of emotion hit me whenever I tell their story, our story of how our family came to be. Yet, whenever I do get my period, I feel the sting, the longing and the ugh.

And I think I have it figured out now. The ache is one part pure biology- the need to keep procreating- and the other part is simply wanting what I cannot have.

How can I stop wanting more children, when I know how impossible the road to having any more would be? Is it not human nature to crave what we know to be next to impossible?

I could never do IVF again. A fresh round of IVF could result in extra embryos. I now know that I couldn't not try those embryos. I couldn't leave them frozen with a whole bunch more of what ifs and I couldn't necessarily have all of them. So no, IVF is never in the cards for us again.

So, although this ache isn't a medical side effect of IVF, it is a life one, something that sits on my heart and presses down ever so slightly just when I think we are all okay, that we are full enough. Today I chose to recognize that wanting and to not feel upset by it. I understand why it is there. I know how to navigate these conflicted feelings. But back then, almost a decade ago, when I said we wanted two children, I had no idea that I would keep having them as long as I could, if we could.

Right after having our twin daughters, Alice and Isla, I was an emotional puddle, not because I was exhausted or overwhelmed (because honestly, I was on the biggest euphoric high). No, I was a mess because the thought of not having another baby just killed me. I remember walking around the block, one baby strapped to each of our chests and just being sad about the birth being over, about the idea of never having another. Eventually that sadness eased up and years later I had even convinced myself that we were done having children.

Then Benjamin came. Well first the idea of Benjamin arrived and then it immediately wasn't an idea, it was a desire so strong that I knew it had to be our path. I thought that having our third baby, our only frozen embryo, would exempt me from feeling that same urgent sense of sadness post birth. It didn't. This time I was so caught off guard about how sad I was about Ben's birth being over, about never being able to do it again. At one of my postpartum midwife appointments, I admitted to her how hard it was - this idea that he would be our last baby, my last birth. And her words really stuck with me.

"I still feel that way," she said while she suspended Ben in the little baby hammock scale.

Suddenly I wasn't alone and what I was feeling wasn't strange. And it helped. It took the desperate ache back just a tiny bit and it filled me with an unexpected warmth at community. It is hard for me to distance myself from the infertility and to admit that maybe I would feel this way regardless of how our family came to be. I see the posts about how to know when you are done having children but I always counted myself out from that group. The people that don't require $15K, a team of doctors and a whole shitload of luck to make a baby. But maybe I am just a mother, wanting to always be a mother, like so many others.



So maybe it's not just a side effect of IVF, maybe it's a side effect of carrying a baby for (almost) 9 months, for birthing a baby and for wanting to do it all over again. Maybe parents who conceive without infertility share this longing?


Thank you for reading. I would love if you'd take the time to leave your take - from one uncertain mama heart to another.

Comments

  1. As a mother of 3 I long for a 4th, my rubber armed husband does not. He is done, never been more certain of anything, done. I often wonder if it’s the babe I long for or the fear of letting go of this phase in life, this identity that I hold so dearly- pregnant, nursing, babe in arms, Mumma. For now I say it’s the babe, and maybe it always will be ��

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    1. It's so hard. My husband was done for a long time and i convinced myself that I was even done for a while but time changes things sometimes. I know it did in our case. I didn't want to have to "sell" my husband on having another baby so I hear you. But when I had the change of heart, he listened and we had some heated talks and then he agreed to try.

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  2. I also struggled with infertility but ours was unknown. After all the tests, supplements,accupuncture etc. and 2 years of monthly disappointments we got pregnant naturally! I suffered through HG 8.5 months of my pregnancy as well as really bad antenatal depression. I elt like I was drowning. My labour was long and complicated. The birth did not go as planned. I felt traumatized. My daughter is amazing and she the easiest baby and so so worth it but I still somehow cannot imagine doing it all over again. The thought currently terrifies me whenever I consider it. It makes me feel so guilty. I'm really really hoping it passes.

    I guess you could say I don't know how you know when you're done, but for the opposite reasons. I hope you find a little more peace in your heart as time goes on

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    1. Oh Jamie so sorry this reply took so long! So sorry to hear about your difficult pregnancy and traumatic birth. I can understand how a traumatizing experience would make you pause when considering another child. I think waiting is the best course of action. Time will hopefully provide clarity. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  3. We have three children - ages 6,4 and 1. We discussed a fourth at length before deciding our family was complete. We both have and will likely always have the ache for more. However, with busy careers and family in another province we worried about stretching ourselves even more thin. I do feel in my heart that a fourth wouldn’t really be difficult in some respects - after all everyone needs to be fed, clothed etc.... but a fourth is another human with distinct needs and I want to ensure that I can be there for all of my children as they enter into more complex times as they get older. For us... three feels like the magic number where that will be possible. Who knows though?! If we had more support and in diff jobs - maybe! Though I am also happy to move on to another phase of life - in a few years we will be able to enjoy travelling together, ditch the diapers and naps. I’ll miss these days but I feel like great things are on the horizon too! I’m just counting on siblings and other family members to hand over some fresh babies for auntie snuggles in the coming years.

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    1. Stephanie, this sounds like such a great outlook. I am just now beginning to see how three could be our number (I know it has to be because as much as I debate not being sure, I know we will not do IVF again). It is nice to have other things to celebrate in life also.

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  4. We have not had to struggle with infertility, but I can definitely say that I totally feel that ache + probably always will. What your midwife said pierces my heart...because I was hoping at some point this longing would go away and we would know we were “done.” But then something has told me since I was a little girl that I would grieve being done. ��❤️

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    1. Oh Hannah I know. When she said that I felt good in a way because I was no longer alone but I can definitely understand feeling scared by that comment. Of course we don't always want to be mourning the end of something but hopefully the mourning can evolve into something like a slight ache and appreciation over time.

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  5. Old anonymous high school friend here. It's strange but I feel the opposite. I was someone that always wanted at least 2 children. Then, we had 1 and I felt done. It's an odd feeling. Makes me feel inadequate as a mother..or almost greedy. But, I know in my heart that we are not the type of family that would thrive on parenting 2+ kids. So when I read this and read of your struggles, I almost want to be a surrogate. Thanks a million for continuing to share all that You and Andrew have been through.

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    1. Oh hello old anonymous high school friend. I am racking my brain over here trying to figure out who you are. I don't think having one is greedy at all, but of course it doesn't matter what someone else thinks - it's our inner monologue that takes over isn't it?! Oddly enough, I sometimes think about being a surrogate just so I could carry a baby again. But I know I could never give it back. Thank you for your encouragement even though I have no clue who you are.

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