Author and IVF Babble Ambassador Kirsten McLennan shares an extract from her book ‘This is Infertility’
An extract from Chapter 2 where Kirsten talks candidly about IVF and what it means to her.
There’s no sugar coating it, IVF is hard. It can be gruelling and demanding. It can take multiple cycles, sometimes years, for it to work. You often need to be in it for the long haul. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” one friend had warned me early on.
If you are one of the lucky ones, you’ll get success within one or two transfer cycles. But I doubt you’ll feel lucky at the time. Relieved maybe but not lucky. If you’re undertaking IVF, you have most likely fought infertility for a while. So, whether your treatment takes you a couple of months or several years, it can all be incredibly difficult.
Chances are most people know someone who is going through fertility treatment: a friend, family member or work colleague. Today, it’s estimated that one in six couples worldwide battle infertility. One in six! According to the World Health Organisation, “Infertility is a disease” and “…between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals have infertility globally”.
And yet, it’s often a silent heartbreak. Silence is perhaps one of the reasons that research has shown women dealing with infertility suffer high depression and anxiety levels. One study by Kristin L. Rooney and Alice D. Domar showed that infertile women experience psychological symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, at the same level as cancer and cardiac rehabilitation patients. The study concluded by calling women undergoing treatment “infertility survivors”.
Reflecting on my own experience and talking to others who have struggled with infertility, the findings don’t surprise me. The old truisms of, “the more you put in, the more you get out” and “the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get” just don’t apply.
I had always been taught that if you work hard for something, you’re more likely to get it. Hard work equals reward. Then along came infertility. It doesn’t matter how hard you ‘work’ at it. So much of it is outside your control.
Looking back, the only thing in my control was being my own advocate. During the second half of our journey, I realised the importance of speaking up and challenging specialists when I needed to. It was my body, after all. So, I started to make sure I was always prepared for appointments and brought a checklist of questions. Besides being prepared, I also think it’s important to get a second and third opinion if you feel you need it. I regret not advocating from the start but better late than never.
The other thing I always grappled with is that there are no guarantees. Fertility treatment only guarantees the chance of having a baby. Knowing this can often make it impossible to stay positive and continue treatment.
And finally, IVF is a roller coaster of emotions. You can feel despair, anger and guilt. You’re often bracing yourself for something to go wrong. I seemed to have a permanently clenched jaw during our treatment. Somewhere along the way, my dentist gave me a mouthguard to stop me grinding my teeth at night. It didn’t really work. But you can also feel optimistic and full of elation. You can experience highs of adrenalin. Whenever we received positive news, such as having a high egg collection cycle, I always had a rush of adrenalin. Because it was hope. And hope is so powerful. It’s intoxicating.
But excitement one week and dread the next—working through those contrasting emotions, often for years—is mentally and physically exhausting.
You can follow Kirsten on Instagram at @straight.up.infertility
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