By Rebecca Atkinson, the Fertility Fact Checker
The IVF closet is real. It is full of women who, for their own reasons, ranging from privacy to shame and depression, don’t share with the world their struggles with fertility and the need to use IVF
But with one in six couples experiencing difficulties with conceiving and more than 250,000 IVF cycles completed in just one year in the US alone, the closet is getting a little cramped.
Straight up, in this time of social media oversharing, I’m not saying it’s a shameful thing to be in the IVF closet. For some, it is a valid coping strategy as any. I myself was in the IVF closet for nearly five years. It was easier to just share my journey with very few people than to share it with the world (in fact only my husband, for obvious reasons, and one other friend who I knew was also doing IVF). It is only now – three IUI’s, three IVFs one FET, one amazing IVF baby, a natural miracle, five years and an IVF blog to help women increase their success rates later that I am starting to come out.
To be fair, a lot has changed in those five years for IVF. It seems a lot more socially acceptable to be open and honest about infertility, as well as some of the pitfalls that go along with it. These include the pain of invasive procedures, the anxiety and depression, the emotional cost and to get down to brass tacks, the financial cost – just to name a few. The feelings and experiencing these things doesn’t make you a weaker person, it’s quite the opposite, you become stronger because of it.
There are many reasons that women choose to stay in the IVF closet
For me, when I had just started IVF I chose the comfort of the closet mainly as a coping mechanism to hide those feelings of inferiority and weakness. People were popping out babies left right and center and as someone who was more or less succeeding in the game of life, I didn’t want the world to see I was struggling to achieve something so ‘simple’.
When two years went by it was pride. I didn’t need pity. I didn’t want to be the subject of idle chit chat. And I didn’t want to have to receive any uninformed or naively inquisitive questions, no matter how well intentioned I now know they were.
When three years went by it was self preservation. It was easier to deflect well-meaning enquiries with a ‘we’ll start to try one day’ than to have to explain that this cycle was another bust.
I then hit jackpot and welcomed my little girl into the world
Even then though, in many social circles I stayed in the closet, so when four years went by it was my irrational fear that my daughter would be judged to different standards than non-IVF babies. I did say it was irrational, right? Plus by then I was in a whole new world full of fertile people who I thought just wouldn’t understand.
Now that five years have gone by, I still feel a little ridiculous and a little ashamed.
I’m not ashamed that I have used IVF, I am ashamed that I didn’t speak up earlier and share my experiences and knowledge
IVF can change you and even though my time queueing for morning bloods has finished I still spend hours researching evidence based ways for women to become empowered and informed when trying to increase their chances of IVF success.
Since I’ve started to come out I’ve found so many women that have been on the journey and those that still are. Women who have had successes, women who haven’t and are still trying, women who need to take a break and women who have realised that life is going to be far different to what they had envisioned for themselves.
It’s clearer now that it is rare that anyone gets out of this fertility game unscathed. Us ‘infertiles’ have it tough, we all know that. But the fertiles can also have it tough too. Those friends who got pregnant easy the first time are now experiencing secondary infertility. The cousin that appears to have no problems has actually had several heart breaking miscarriages, she keeps quiet about. The work friend that has always wanted a big family has the brakes put on by her partner who only wants one child. We all have our crosses to bear, regardless of the size.
I also now realise that the world isn’t judging those that do IVF
In fact, for the most part, they don’t even care. For better or worse, they are too busy dealing with their own problems. They don’t feel sorry for you, they just want you to be able to experience the same joys that having children can bring. I get it now because I feel it for women who are still waiting to hopefully get their IVF miracles.
Although I was lost in the back of my IVF closet, ironically, when doing IVF I found amazing friendship with someone who was always so incredibly brave, open and honest about her fertility struggles. We weren’t great friends to begin with, but knowing that she would ‘get it’ she was the first one I got in touch with when that diagnosis first appeared. She was there on the good days, the bad and the worse and without a doubt I will always be thankful for our friendship. If she was in the IVF closet I would have never had that comfort and support that was so needed. And she wouldn’t have had my support either. So if you are in the IVF closet, for whatever reason that might be, when you are ready, don’t forget to reach out, you never know who has been waiting to hear from you.
To find out more about Rebecca Atkinson visit her blog here