The I.V.F Dilemma

In the last 18 months, consultants have stopped talking to me encouragingly about 'the next pregnancy' and 'miscarriage prevention' but instead have switched to talking to me sympathetically about 'sub-fertility', 'low ovarian reserves' and 'recommendations for IVF treatment'.

So I said I wasn't going to write about any of this yet. I said I was going to let it play out for real first before I brought it to the page. But nonetheless, here I am. Oversharing, as usual. In the hope that it might be helpful, or an interesting perspective for someone else...

So, remember those five miscarriages I had in the space of two years? Well, the last one was in April 2015. That's well over a year ago now. And since then... not a sausage! Sorry, maybe sausage isn't the right idiom to use in this circumstance, but you catch my drift.

Talk about all or nothing. Five pregnancies in two years and then absolutely zilch in twelve months. Who knew pregnancies could come over all feast and famine on you like that - like buses, men, and inspiration to visit the gym. But, not only can it happen, it's actually more common than you'd think. Especially - pause for dramatic effect - at my age.

If I hear another well-meaning consultant saying 'at your age' in that ever so slightly sympathetic way, I think I might shove that speculum somewhere else the sun don't shine. "Yes doctor, I know I've just turned 40. And yes, I know that since my late 30s the quality of my eggs have been nose-diving more than the Red Arrows. Well, no doctor, I didn't plan it like this. What do you think I've been doing the last few years? Spending all that time working my way through the entire Sopranos box set?... oh, shit, hang on a minute"

In the last 18 months, consultants have stopped talking to me encouragingly about 'the next pregnancy' and 'miscarriage prevention' but instead have switched to talking to me sympathetically about 'sub-fertility', 'low ovarian reserves' and 'recommendations for IVF treatment'. What the hell happened? How did my fertility go from hyper to hypo in a blink of an eye?!

So here we are. Considering I.V.F. And do you know the most bottom-clenching part? Now that I'm just over 40, we have to pay for it. Had we got to this stage last year, two years ago, three years ago (back when I was too busy getting pregnant for the first time), not only would we have got it on the NHS, but the statistics would have been so much more in our favour. But we didn't need it then. On average I was conceiving faster than Katie Price. It wasn't help with conceiving I needed. It was holding on to the slippery little buggers.

So, no, I never in a million years imagined that we'd ever be looking at IVF. Sure, we'd talked about it. Semi-discussed the possibility. But it still never felt like something we'd need to do. But the other week, we took a giant step. We held our breath. We coughed up 200 quid and we went for an initial consultation.

For want of a better word to explain how the whole thing felt: W.E.I.R.D. Not very eloquent I know. Especially for someone who claims to be a writer. But it's complicated. You see, choosing to undergo in-vitro fertilisation treatment, it feels like a whole other level of wanting a kid.

It reminds me a bit of being back at drama school. We had a director once who told us that we should only be actors if it was the only one thing we could ever imagine doing with our lives. I remember thinking at the time, 'that's a bit sad... why would I want to limit myself to just one thing when I have so much to offer and so many ideas?' It seemed a bit ridiculous to me. Unsurprisingly, I fell out of love with acting a few years later. It's a bit like that with IVF. It feels so hard-core, only the true diehard baby-makers should do it... and I'm just not 100% sure if that's us.

I'd always thought of getting pregnant as something that 'just happens'. I now realise it's not always that simple. But in truth - even after five miscarriages, tracking temperatures, monitoring ovulation days, even gauging cervical mucus and other such ridiculousness - even then it still felt, to a certain degree, like it 'just happens'. But with IVF - hell! It's a whole different ball game. You've got to really know you want it. Just like that acting career.

The statistics on having IVF at my age - 40 - show there's somewhere around a 16% chance of having a live birth from one cycle of IVF. The cost is around £7k. And I know, I know... it's not about the money. But that's without the pumping yourself full of chemicals to artificially stimulate your system into doing some wholly unnatural things... including, at one point, mimicking the menopause.

All in all - you'd think that someone was pretty damn sure about wanting a kid to do that. And do you know what? I. Just. Don't. Know. I realise that may sound a tad crazy when I've been harping on and on about my recurrent miscarriages. Surely it's obvious I want a baby, right? But sometimes, the little voices in my head question whether the reason I think I want a baby so much is because I've had five miscarriages. After all, its human nature to want what you can't have... and I have always been a stubborn, pig-headed, bad loser. Wanting a kid just because I've not been able to have one - surely that doesn't seem the best of reasons to become a parent...

And then - once I start entertaining those little voices in my head - the other ones chime in too:

"Is it right to be bringing children into this world where there is so much hatred, violence and unrest?"

"Isn't the world overpopulated and under-resourced enough already?"

"Maybe it's your ego craving someone to love you unconditionally?"

"Aren't you just being selfish, wanting someone to take care of you when you're old? Is it right to put that responsibility onto a child, especially when you're already no spring chicken..."

And yeah yeah, I know what some of you are shouting at the screen right now: "Enough with the overthinking, sunshine!" But shouldn't I be thinking seriously about this decision? It seems quite a pivotal one to me; a pretty important life step that requires some genuine contemplation. I mean, I'm not nipping down to Lakeland for a spiralizer. This is another human life being brought into the world we're talking about. Surely I ought to be clear about my motives first...

Yes, I'm flooded with the sensation that I really want children. But I am equally as flooded with the sensation that I love my life just the way it is. I love the freedom my husband and I have from not having a child. I don't feel that my life is any less fulfilled, rewarding or meaningful from not having one. Neither do I have the sense - and I hope this is already obvious - that my role as a woman is under any sort of threat.

Most of all, I love having a life of real independence and choice. Do I really want to replace our dreams of location-independent living and a future of impromptu adventures, with the daily school pick up routine and the incessantly dull conversations about nursery, potty training and sleeping habits? Hmm, when you put it like that...

It's tricky. Especially for someone who's never been very good at making decisions. And I guess that's what it boils down to. This situation of facing IVF treatment, it doesn't 'just happen'. It's a conscious and calculated choice, which requires conscious and calculated deliberation. And that is what I find so strange and unnatural. Having to ask myself if I really want children enough to do this. To question the reasons why. I don't expect many people have stopped to really do that. To interrogate themselves. To look deep and ask the unasked questions. I didn't expect I would have to. If given the choice I'm sure I would have passed.

But I'm kind of glad I've had the chance now. I don't want to go through life as a 'floater'. I like the idea of choosing how my life pans out, consciously. And I guess this is an example - albeit a particularly exaggerated one - of that.

The big question remains though. Do we want a sprog enough to try I.V.F? I'm still not sure. But since that daunting and rather overwhelming initial consultation, I've started to feel the cogs of my subconscious grind into action - beginning to process the next steps, maybe even a little beyond... so something's going on. Time will tell quite what though.

Whatever route we decide, there's something heartening about facing such a decision with consciousness and clarity, with eyes wide open. And that - at least - makes me feel a little proud.

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