While IVF treatments have brought great joy not everyone who treads that path succeeds. Wish You Were Here Author Sheridan Jobbins shares her moving personal story: "When IVF Doesn't Work."
First, let me say this. ARGHHHHHH!
There are few things as gut wrenching as a failed IVF cycle. Literally. Those of us who know, know the horror of feeling all that expectation ebb away. So bottomly, bottom, bottom. I am so sorry this is happening to you.
I did IVF for twenty years after three ectopic pregnancies. (She said, offering her credentials to talk on the matter of heartbreak.) From 24 to 44, I produced around 200 eggs. The healthy little fellas all fertilised, divided into four, eight, twelve or more cells. They were then returned to my womb where they promptly died. During all that time I had not one single day of pregnancy. Not. One. Day.
Towards the end I felt like a tyrant sending kamikaze zygotes to their death.
Failure requires no preparation.
At first I was brittle with optimism; ‘Maybe next time?’ Then furtive – not telling family or friends that I was doing a cycle because I didn’t want to deal with their disappointment. Finally I sunk into a fugue of depression and resentment and wallowed there long enough to get thoroughly sick of myself.
The only thing I can say in favour of this – is feel your feelings.
When the hormones have run amok, you may as well run with them. Shout. Scream. Break something – but here’s a pro-tip: scream into cushions, shout at the waves, and break things you don’t like.
For me – IVF is the result of my body failing to deliver the babies. My fault. My guilt. My gratitude that my husband can love me through his own disappointment.
I know I just said it’s happening to you, but it’s also happening to you as a couple. As soon as you can, lift your gaze and see the one person who feels this loss as deeply as you do, because if you can focus on loving each other, then at least someone is looking out for you both.
Let them share your excitement and disappointment. Let them carry some of the load. Listen. Touch. Feel. There’s a weird intimacy which is caused by tragedy – sort of ‘That which does not kill you makes you stronger’ – to misquote both Nietzsche AND Conan the Barbarian.
This weird tragedy has brought my husband and me days of great happiness. There was the month we spent with Bizzy and Messy – two embryos so large we named them. Their cell division was so robust and joyful we felt sure they’d survive. They didn’t – but we were happy in the now.
Then there was the time we accidentally showed his parents pictures of us injecting in the car like a pair of junkies – we were so delighted by the absurdity of doing hormones on a road trip we captured the moment in all its nonsense.
Finally, there was the enormous love that blossomed out of my sister’s death, when we took care of my nephew and steered him through high school. Our boy. Our love. Our home.
“Denial is more than a river in Egypt”
The upshot is – there’s no right way of dealing with your grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross detailed a bunch of emotions you might experiences: anger, bargaining, denial, acceptance. Together they make a pretty good toolbox of options, but don’t ignore denial – there’s only so much real world pain one person can take.
My husband and I still have seven frozen embryos. I am so pathetic about them that I asked the embryologist to freeze them together, two by two, so they’d never be alone in the darkness.
The Only Way Out is Through. But my life is not in the freezer. There’s a life out there that isn’t child-safe. A grand adventure. Your life as an action movie – a wild ride that is simply not suitable for children.
And remember, not all our family are born to us. We all have the role-models from another generation who, without the choice of fertility treatments, created community out of the world around them. They fostered, and adopted, and raised the sons and daughters from different parents. They claimed the motherless and shared their loss. They proved that with a bit of denial and a lot of acceptance anything is possible.
Born in Melbourne, Sheridan Jobbins is a third generation Australian film maker. She kickstarted her career as one of the original celebrity chefs on Cooking with Sheri, earning a Guinness World Record as the youngest host of her own show at the age of nine.
She was presenter on numerous TV programs, including Simon Townsend’s Wonder World! and Good Morning Australia. She was a director of the film company Latent Image Productions which produced the award-winning film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Since 2000 she has co-written screenplays with director Stephan Elliott for Disney, Warner Bros, Working Title, Hopscotch and Ealing Studios.
She has published numerous short stories and articles, and mentors other screenwriters on her website www.scriptwhisperer.com.
Wish You Were Here is her first book. Her body’s in Switzerland, her heart’s in Australia – fortunately they get together quite regularly.