IVF: I Didn’t Understand Until I Went Through It

Growing up, maybe I watched way too many ABC Afterschool Specials. In one hour of teen-focused television, I was pretty convinced that any amount of sex would result in an insta-pregnancy.  

Sidebar on me, if you couldn’t already tell, I went to loads of Catholic school, and while my naivete was off the charts, I wasn’t a complete fool.  I knew that people didn’t get pregnant each and every time they had intercourse. Duh. I understood that as women got older, pregnancy could get trickier. There was the increased potential of chromosomal abnormalities, health concerns, aka, all of the scary boldface textbook words.  

But if I am being honest and owning my “ignocence” (a word I just invented combining ignorance and innocence), I truly assumed that as long as a woman had a period she would probably end up with a baby. As I type this, I can’t believe how dumb I was, or how terribly the school system failed me, but there it is. I knew how to avoid babies; I had zero clue on how to make them. So when my close friends shared with me that they were going through IVF, the seriousness of the situation was lost on me. I was Alicia Silverstone-level “Clueless” about what IVF was and what infertility really meant. Little did I know I was going to get a crash course on the whole horrible shebang when I went through IVF myself trying to become a single mother by choice.  

My friends, a couple, had been trying to get pregnant for a while when they decided it was time to speak to a fertility specialist. Since the day they got married, our friend group was all over them to make a baby. Like it was such a simple thing to do. We were in our 30s, getting closer to our 40s, but we were all vibrant, healthy, and younger than some of the celebrities making babies every day. Of course they are going to get pregnant! But they weren’t.  

What they were doing was getting their eggs and sperm tested, having blood draws, and waiting for results. The recommendation they received from their fertility specialist was to try IVF. When they shared this news with those of us not in the line of fire, we basically jumped on a pontoon boat and hung a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Of course, IVF is going to get the job done. It costs a ton of money and it’s pretty high tech, so surely it will work. Surely.  

As they prepared for their IVF cycle, the rest of us carried on with our lives. When we went to bars to watch sports, they didn’t show up. When we had dinner parties, they wouldn’t attend.  When we emailed each other funny memes, they sent no emojis. They were just quiet, and we were all frustrated. “What’s their deal?” we thought. While we were feeling abandoned by our non-communicative friends, they were feeling hopeless and devastated after undergoing multiple rounds of IVF.  

As much as my support system did to prop me up, there wasn’t much they could do to hold me together.

At the time, I didn’t understand why they just fell off the grid. In the moment, I couldn’t grasp why they weren’t leaning on us if they needed us. And that’s the part of infertility you don’t know until you have gone through it.  

I went through seven rounds of IUI. Each attempt more hopeful, expensive and devastating than the last. With each sad pregnancy test, I felt more isolated and disconnected from my friends and family. I talked to them about what was going on, but it didn’t make me feel any less alone or any more connected. As much as my support system did to prop me up, there wasn’t much they could do to hold me together. 

I was the one who had to worry about paying for the next cycle. I was the one who had to consider what my life would be like without children. I was the one who had to mourn the loss of something that was and wasn’t each month.  

Infertility doesn’t just leave you physically empty; it leaves you emotionally deserted.  

I didn’t want to watch games at bars. I didn’t want to have a dinner party. And I sure didn’t want to fiddle with memes. I wanted to be pregnant, and any beer I drank or lunch meat I ate was just a heartbreaking reminder that I wasn’t.  

When you are coping with infertility, nowhere is safe. You can’t get on social media without fear of a pregnancy announcement. You can’t go to Cracker Barrel without bumping into a pregnant belly. Every conversation eventually evolves into, “How’s the fertility stuff going?” I bargained with God every day. “Please help me get pregnant, and I will do this, that, or the other thing.”  I looked back on my life to see if I could pinpoint what I did to deserve this level of punishment. Infertility doesn’t just leave you physically empty; it leaves you emotionally deserted.  

But I didn’t know any of that when my friends were going through hell and back. I just knew that my friends weren’t sitting across from me in a booth at a bar.  

I could tell you how things ended for both me and my friends, but I am not. I know the unknowing is going to feel a bit annoying, and unfulfilling, but that’s just a small part of dealing with infertility. If you have friends battling infertility, my advice is you don’t know what it’s like until you have lived what it’s like. Try to remember that as best as you can, and be as understanding as you can. Love them when you miss them, and remind them that you will be there in the booth, or on the phone, or in their face whenever they are ready. That’s all you can do, and I hope that is more than you will ever need to know.