A few months ago, I did an Instagram takeover of DefiningMum’s account, run by the wonderful human & fellow donor egg (i.e., DEIVF) mama Becky (blog: DefiningMum.com). If you’re elderly (in spirit) like I am and don’t know what a ‘takeover’ is, basically Becky gave me her trust (i.e., Instagram password) for a day and allowed me to post on her stories.*
There, I recapped our long journey to parenthood and answered related questions submitted by followers, including: Did I ever question our decision to use donor eggs? Did I bond well with baby? What’s my relationship like with our egg donor?** For anyone who wants to check it out, my answers are saved as a story in DefiningMum’s Instagram Highlights reel.
One of the first questions I got is something that multiple other women have also asked me in private: How did I stay positive from one cycle to the next during our grueling, multi-year IVF & DEIVF journey? I answered as best as I could in a single story, but since this is a topic that so many people are clearly interested in, I want to expand on my answer a little more here.
How did I stay positive during IVF?
To jump straight to the punchline: I didn’t.
Seriously — I was never optimistic about any given cycle working, except maybe the very first one. That was the cycle I only grew a single follicle, but it miraculously fertilized and managed to grow into a ‘perfect’ (according to our doctor) 8-cell embryo by day 3. As my microscopic miracle continued to pass each hurdle with flying colors, I started to become more and more hopeful. Maybe we would be one of those rare IVF success stories that beat the odds. Maybe, just maybe… <cue romantic orchestral overture> …this one precious egg was meant to be our baby!
Of course, anyone who follows this blog knows that first cycle ultimately failed. Unfortunately, so did the one after that, and the one after that… and etc, etc. With each new failure, I developed the cynicism that’s pretty standard amongst long-time infertility veterans. Our dream of a baby was slipping further and further away, and even within the larger IVF community — the very people who should most relate to my struggles — I felt increasingly alone. Not only could I not get pregnant without IVF, but it seemed I couldn’t get pregnant with it either.
I’ll be honest — that was quite a dark time. I’ll spare you the painful details, but there was a good amount of ugly-crying with a fair share of social media blocking and a sizable dose of self pity. I definitely wouldn’t characterize my mental state during that time as ‘positive’ or ‘optimistic’, nor do I think that’s necessarily the right goal to strive for in the first place. When your infertility journey is full of so much loss, it’s important to let yourself grieve in whatever way you need to.
What kept me going?
If I wasn’t feeling positive from one cycle to the next, then how (and why??) did I keep going? Was it sheer willpower? Masochism?
It’s true that I was never particularly optimistic about any given cycle, but Mr. Bunless and I were both determined that — somehow, someway — we would end up with a kid to love eventually. One thing that helped with this was to always have the plan mapped out at least 1-2 steps ahead of where we currently were.
At the beginning, we decided that if IVF with my own eggs didn’t work, we would move on to egg donation. Later, we decided that if our known egg donor didn’t work out, we would try an anonymous egg donor in a country with an egg bank. In case none of that worked, we had already started researching adoption laws in various countries. Of course I recognize that we were very fortunate to be able to afford these options, which is not something everyone can say. (Or at least we thought we could probably figure something out once we got to that point, which is still a privilege.)
I also spent a lot or time — like, a LOT — visualizing what our announcement would say when something finally worked. Each time we’d embark on a new IVF cycle, I’d update the text in my head to reflect our new statistics (‘After 5 embryo transfers’ -> ‘After 6 embryo transfers…’). Each time, I’d imagine adding new needles to the picture, and how exactly I wanted it to look. I knew that each hurdle we had to overcome would just make our story that much more amazing, and I’d imagine how proud I’d be sharing it with everyone.
And speaking of sharing, we also got a lot of support once we started sharing our story with family and friends. Starting this blog, in fact, was one of the best things I ever did.*** In addition to gaining our own cheering squad, I discovered two additional benefits: 1) It allowed me to share the details of our story with family and friends in a way that felt open and yet simultaneously private (I could write it out alone in my room), and 2) It allowed me to own our story, taking back some control over a process which is littered with uncertainty. (One doesn’t have to start a blog to do this, of course, but for me it was the best vehicle.)
In short, I admire those people who can stay positive even while facing the soul-crushing despair of infertility, but I am not one of them. For me, it was less ‘I know this will work!’ and more ‘Let’s just get this over with so we can move on to the next thing.’
* Becky must have a lot more trust in people than I do. Thankfully, I turned out not to be a crazy internet weirdo.
** Clearly not everyone is an avid blog reader or they would know that our egg donor, Marie, is a close friend from high school.
*** Technically, the best decision I ever made was marrying Mr. Bunless, followed closely by switching to the flute from the glockenspiel in the 5th grade. But this blog is definitely in the top three.