It’s Monday morning-Groundhog Day. I walk into my IVF clinic for monitoring, just like I’ve done countless identical mornings in the past two years. I wonder what they think of me when I show up. I feel like a DMV customer who has failed the road test 15 times, but keeps showing up for one more shot. Does anyone actually think I will succeed, or am I like I the beloved but hopeless case that has just become part of the fabric of their practice? It makes me wonder, when do we say enough is enough? When do we move on to the next alternative?
I think a lot has to do with the stages of grief and where we are. Elisabeth Kubler Ross developed a framework for helping understand the process we go through when we experience loss. Although most people think of loss as the death of a loved one, with infertility loss is a constant part of our story. We are always letting go. First we have to let go of the idea of getting pregnant quickly and easily. This may lead to losing our dream of being pregnant with all our friends, of joyful pregnancy announcements, of family gatherings with our baby in tow. Some of us have to say goodbye to having a child who is genetically linked to us. Some of us have to say goodbye to having the family size we dreamed of, or perfectly spaced siblings who will be the best of friends. Maybe we end up saying goodbye to the experience of carrying a child inside of us. Some of us will say goodbye to the idea of being parents at all. Some are grieving babies lost during gestation or after birth. Each loss is a little death, and all of us are moving through these stages of grief in response. The only way out is through, so instead of fighting these stages, let’s understand and embrace them so that we can heal and move on.
I've gone through these 5 stages so many different times with each disappointment and loss. I've been in denial about my diagnoses and convinced myself that I would be the 1% of women in my situation who ended up with a successful OE pregnancy. When I hit the anger stage, I seem to feel angry at the whole world. I get angry at the women in the news stories who mistreat their kids when all I want is to love one. I get angry at my husband for having poor morphology. I get angry at the doctors for not having a miracle cure. I get angry at medical insurance in America for not covering endless cycles until this works. I get angry at God for abandoning me, I get angry at myself for every choice I ever made that I think got in the way of my dream of motherhood. This is an exhausting phase for me- it's hard to hold onto anger. The next phrase is tiring for me too. Bargaining. I'm a master at this. In my mind I'm always promising that if I could just, just have this baby I would (insert grandiose goals). I promise unrealistic things like never complaining about anything ever again, or starting a community service organization. I promise anything I think will earn me this baby I'm longing for. Depression hits when I realize that it's not going to work. That I have to say goodbye to whatever I was hoping for this time. Then I retreat to warm pijamas, long cries, and lots of cookies. I allow myself to grieve, and then finally arrive at acceptance. Of course though, whenever one fertility dream is lost, there is always a new one that pops right up to take its place, so cycling through these stages is never really done. Right now, after several cancelled cycles due to poor response, I am in the process of grieving the loss of my own eggs. I'm working towards accepting that loss so I can get excited about using donor eggs, but I'm not quite there yet. Some days I feel fine about it, and other days I'm right back to denial, anger, or bargaining. Its comforting to me to know that these feelings are normal, that they are part of our greater human experience, and that eventually I will reach a place of peace and acceptance with however this turns out. We all will. We grieve, but we hope. We fall, but we rise again. We push on through the tears, because our babies are waiting for us.