My Infertility Story
My fertility journey began almost 12 years ago now, long before the creation of fertility-related Instagram accounts that can now be used as a source of support and community.
Unbeknown to me, the issues at the root of my infertility started way before I’d even thought about having a child. During my teenage years, I experienced dreadful pain during menstruation – pain which intensified as time went on. For 15 years the symptoms I experienced were ignored by medical professionals – at one point, they were even written off as being psychological. It was only when I couldn’t conceive naturally that my pain was taken seriously (as a woman it’s not surprising that my reproductive health was valued above my personal wellbeing) and I was referred to a hospital that specialised in fertility.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in various locations throughout the body. Doctors unanimously agreed that if I pursued IVF, my chances of a successful pregnancy would be much greater than trying naturally. The next ten years were dominated by surgeries to remove endometriosis, more than 11 unsuccessful attempts at IVF including one IUI and four miscarriages. After all of this, I left the process without a baby.
What “Just Do IVF” Really Means
People say, “just do IVF” all the time, but they don’t understand the huge implications associated with the treatment. When going through IVF, you desperately want to be on the right side of statistics – when you’re not, it’s devastating and it takes huge emotional strength to pick yourself up. Constantly living between hope and fear throughout the process is a very difficult space to be in. The constant knock backs and disappointments really take their toll on you, and you begin to question everything when IVF fails. What did I do wrong? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? Did I take the medication correctly? It’s soul destroying! On top of that, you are constantly exposed to triggers, from insensitive questioning about when you’re going to have a baby, pregnancy announcements to baby bumps – while you are happy to hear others’ good news, you are left wondering, ‘when will it be my turn?’.
I really struggled with being on hormones during IVF and some of the medications heavily impacted my mental health. Back when I was injecting progesterone, the solution was oil based so the needle was very thick. I had to ice pack that part on my body in order to numb the area before inserting the needle – it left me heavily bruised and in pain for months. Thankfully, advancements in technology means that those taking this medication no longer have to endure such pain! Even the embryo transfers (a process during IVF in which a fertilised egg is placed into the uterus) were excruciatingly painful for me because of where my endometriosis was situated (in my bowel and rectum).
Given the current status of my medical conditions, IVF wouldn’t be an option for me today – my body is rampant with endometriosis and adenomyosis.
My Decision to Stop Fertility Treatment
There are many reasons why I stopped fertility treatment, the first being the impact that the medication had on my mental health. For a better chance of pregnancy success, the hormones I endured became more intense as the years went on and they started causing me severe anxiety. In the final three years of my tying-to-conceive journey, I was at an all-time low. My physical health had deteriorated massively, and endometriosis had spread to further locations in my body. I was also diagnosed with a second chronic illness, adenomyosis, and I began to wonder how feasible it was to undergo further treatment given how widespread my conditions and their associated inflammation were.
In addition, the financial hits were becoming harder to bear – IVF is expensive for anyone who is self-funding and paying for consultations, medications, treatments, procedures and scans was financially draining on me and my husband, especially because of how many rounds we had and how complicated my health situation was.
I had undergone fertility treatments for ten-years and it began affecting my personality, relationships, career and social life – there wasn’t a single aspect of my life that wasn’t impacted. The final straw came when I realised that the ‘pain of trying’ became harder than the ‘pain of stopping’. When I decided that I could no longer live this way, I stopped pursuing IVF and made the difficult decision to embrace a life without children.
My Thoughts on Jennifer Aniston’s Unsuccessful IVF
I experienced many emotions when I read Jennifer’s story. I felt extremely sad for her knowing that we’d shared a similar experience but, equally, I was so grateful that someone as well known as her had bravely revealed a small part of themselves and shinned a light on what it’s like living in my ‘childless shoes’ after failed IVF. Not only does her journey validate my lived experience, but even more so, those in the community who are single and childless.
Infertility is commonly viewed as the ‘only’ route to childlessness, even though a person’s circumstances, (being single during fertile years or having an illness, for example) are the main reason why most people end up without children. We don’t know whether Jennifer tried IVF as a single or married person – regardless, her childlessness has resonated with many of us in some way.
The media tends to amplify the stories of celebrities who’ve undergone IVF and ended up with a ‘miracle baby’. It’s so important not to erase our childless voices from the infertility narrative. With Jennifer bravely speaking about her fertility journey, it will help to shift the narrative by providing a more truthful account of what really transpires for the majority of people who try IVF – it’s not always successful!
As I predicted, the morning after the article was published, the “why don’t you just adopt?” comments flooded social media. What people need to understand is that adoption is complex – it isn’t a substitute or a quick fix for childlessness. Adoption deserves space for its own merits.
Jennifer generously shared a difficult part of her life, and her decision not to pursue other paths to parenthood and to live without children must be respected. What’s so reassuring is that Jennifer’s life is still one of happiness, even though it doesn’t include a child or partner.
What Others Really Need to Know About IVF
There’s a huge misconception that IVF ‘guarantees’ pregnancy success and the outcome is determined by the effort you put in. Wrong! You can throw as much money and effort at it as you want and it can still be unsuccessful. I wish more people understood that IVF is not a magic wand and that fertility treatments only give you a ‘chance’ of becoming pregnant. Most people walk away from IVF without a baby because the odds of becoming, and staying pregnant are typically low. There was nothing I hadn’t tried, including freezing my eggs and genetically screening my embryos before transferring them into my womb.
Perhaps if clinics, fertility specialists and the media talked more openly about IVF success rates, I would have started IVF with realistic expectations and been more inclined to accept my reality – that severe, deep-infiltrated endometriosis would greatly decrease my chances of having a baby.
There’s an assumption that everyone can or wants to pursue IVF. It’s ablest to think everyone’s bodies are capable of undergoing such a gruelling process. IVF success rates are lower for certain groups and in some instances, (being born without a uterus, for example) IVF isn’t an option to begin with.
IVF shouldn’t be a privilege, but it is. Same sex couples, single people, those with a chronic illness or disability, as well as individuals from lower-income households don’t always have the same privileges or access to IVF. So, “just do IVF”, (a commonly used phrase we all hear) isn’t an option for everyone who’s infertile or childless by circumstance.
Being a Mum Isn’t the Only Route to Happiness
Pronatalism has us believing that the only way to have a happy and fulfilling life is to become a mother, and that’s why there’s huge pressure to keep going until it happens. Many of us are living proof that it doesn’t always happen – no matter what you do or how much you try!
Infertility is incredibly lonely, more so when your journey ends without a ‘miracle baby’. All infertile people want to hear when sharing their struggle is, ‘I’m so sorry for your horrible situation’. They want their loved ones to sit with them in the ache and listen, without offering unsolicited advice or platitudes. There are ‘varietiesof a happy life’andhaving a baby shouldn’t be the ONLY acceptable outcome when you’re infertile!
Join our Community
“I feel the best in who I am today, better than I ever did in my 20s or 30s even, or mid-40s,” – these were the words that resonated with me most when reading Jennifer’s article in Allure magazine. Living a life you love is possible, even if you don’t have a child, just like myself and Jennifer. We’re filling our cups with the many things we love. For me, this includes coaching, writing, creating community on Instagram, travelling, cat cuddles, and spending time with loved ones. I want those who end up without a baby, for whatever reason to know they’re not alone. There’s a growing community on Instagram of people without children, for all sorts of reasons. Search the hashtag #embracingchildless to find us and make connections.
Aisha Balesaria is a certified Coach and the founder of mindbodyrevival_coach she began supporting others going through a similar journey of infertility, childlessness and chronic illness. Aisha has written numerous blogs and spoken at several events and on podcasts about her experiences. To connect with Aisha follow her on Instagram @mindbodyrevival_coach or visit www.mindbodyrevivalcoach.com