It's been so many years now since our fourth cycle of IVF. The embryos were of the poorest grade, we were both run ragged by the failures and miscarriage of previous cycles, and I shed quite a bit of blood. But this is the cycle that worked. I am one of the lucky ones, the ones who got there, and I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to shut the painful memories down. Back then, my IVF turmoil instantly paled against the wonder and toil of a new baby, while today I might occasionally catch sight of my ridged fingernails, the lingering effect of those drugs, and think simply, ah yes the IVF.
Yet, when my daughter was small I began to write a novel called Moondance. It was not my story, but it was oh so cathartic to churn out my experience and weave it in to the fiction of a woman unravelling as she endures IVF. The trauma of self-injecting, the indignity of hanging open for scan after scan, the anguish of the two-week, when time instead of marching forwards will only stand still and mock you. So many people know family and friends who have gone through IVF, but so few know anything about what is involved, emotionally or physically. I wanted to create an account which shunned euphemism, which pulled no visual punches about the tests or the treatment. Equally, I wanted to explore the strain IVF might place on a relationship, the contrasting physical experiences of man and woman, the differing ways in which each suffers emotionally, the blame, the guilt, and ultimately the testing of trust and love.
My husband Nick and I met late, married soon after, started trying for a baby somewhere in between. Within a couple of years we'd embarked on IVF and when one cycle failed, we went straight back in there. When it came to our fourth cycle we were both feeling defeated. I can still remember my distress, desperately throwing homeopathy and reflexology at myself (and I do believe they may have played a role). Nick, meanwhile, hung on my every word, my every sensation, cramp and smile. Standing alongside me, he was yearning just as much for a baby but impotent to offer anything but comfort.
Emotionally, there's no doubt that we were boosted during those dark days by the fact that we'd only recently met - and we were still smitten. We bonded together in the face of adversity, we shared our sadness and we savoured our hope, albeit hope that was fading with each cycle. Back then we had very few joint friends, and we barely mentioned our anguish to our own close friends, rarely even to our families. They all stood by, aware but restrained in their probing, while we closed ranks and battled on. I still feel blessed that we were successful and our daughter was born the following spring.
Moondance lay unfinished in the dark for nearly ten years until last year. Only then did I return to it, on a mission to delve further into its emotional depths. It tells the story of a professional couple who meet when young but leave it late to try for a baby. I chose a protagonist who is entitled, somewhat arrogant even. As an early review has said, "Cat is in control. Of everything. What better heroine to pit against the cruel and whimsical cycles of the moon."
My hope is that Moondance will raise awareness, that it will nurture understanding among family and friends of couples who have endured IVF. Perhaps, for some people, it may even enable that all-important feeling of being understood and having their experience put into words. I'm told that it is honest and authentic and emotionally raw - but no novel is complete without humour and there is also something to smile about along the way. And, of course, there is always hope. There has to be hope. This year my daughter became a teenager. And yes, there are still many days when my daughter walks into the room with a smile and I gaze at her in wonder.
Diane Chandler is an author who is supporting National Fertility Awareness Week in the UK from 31st October to 6th November
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