A Mom Who Realized That Successful IVF Doesn’t Make Early Parenthood Any Easier

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Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

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Josie and her husband got married in their mid-30s and started trying for a family shortly after. To this day, Josie isn’t sure why she wasn’t able to conceive without assistance — the battery of tests and procedures she underwent provided no clear answers. After meeting the requirements for her insurance, Josie was able to begin the IVF process. She discusses how the experience of IVF differed for her and her husband, being grateful for the same technology she resented using, and how she overcame guilty feelings after the birth of her daughter.

On deciding when to have a family. My husband and I married — I wouldn’t say late, for New York City, but on the later side. Shortly after we got married, we started trying. I was 36. I’d gone to my OB/GYN and done the “we’re going to start trying” checkup. She said everything looked great. She did say that because I was a little older, we should try for only a few months and if that wasn’t successful, we should be a little more aggressive about figuring out why. Once you read more and more about fertility, age 35 is this magic number. Everything declines after that age, apparently.

On the process of trying to get pregnant. After six months, we started doing tests and trying to figure out why I wasn’t getting pregnant. There was one test in particular, where they wash your fallopian tubes with a blue dye, then look to see if anything’s blocked. I remember reading up on it on the internet — the internet can be a very wonderful and a very terrible thing when you’re trying to get pregnant. You can really go down a rabbit hole. Everything I’d read about this test was that it was horrible and very painful; I got myself totally freaked out. Then, in reality, it wasn’t that bad.

We tried everything. The way our insurance worked, we had to try a few different methods before we could get to IVF. Who makes that kind of determination? I have no idea. We had to try an IUI (intrauterine insemination) — basically, they stimulate your body into producing more eggs than you normally would, and then they inject your partner’s sperm directly into your uterus. No one I’d ever read about had had much success with that. We went through four cycles.

When that didn’t work, we moved on to IVF. The process is a lot more intense — you have to do injections, timing, dosage, needles. They give you instructions at the doctor, but basically send you home with what looks like a science experiment. We had different sizes and gauges of syringes, different medications — they send you home like, Good luck. It feels very strange to have that responsibility.

On the all-consuming nature of fertility. I was also doing everything I could on my end — reading books, changing my diet, going to acupuncture. That time was totally focused on my fertility. It felt like everything in my life was centered on the goal of having a baby. I eliminated caffeine, which was not fun. I eliminated alcohol, which was also not fun. Everything was on hold while we were doing this.

My husband and I had very different reactions to the whole process. Because so much of it was dependent on me and my body — I had to be so careful and make so many changes, it felt like a totally different experience. For him, he was always like, We’re doing the best we can, that’s all we can do. Even though we were doing this together, it felt so separate. I was the one who’d have to go in every other day to give blood and get sonograms. There’s no way for it not to be unbalanced. He wanted to help, but there wasn’t really a way for him to do that. It was a tough time, for us.

On the emotional aspect of infertility. With the internet, you hear about success rates, and success rates compared to age. You start to wonder whether it’s worth doing so much to your body, weighing that against the odds. It’s an impossible decision to make — What if it happens for us during the next cycle? What would it feel like to stop trying? How and when do you decide to quit?

Some of the hardest parts are the morning appointments, for blood draws and sonograms. Picture a waiting room full of women in various stages of trying. Everyone who works there is very kind and pleasant, but it feels a little bit like a factory. The other women waiting don’t really interact — you just never know what stage someone is at. There’s a mix of hopefulness and despair.

At this point, some of my closer friends knew we were trying. But as we progressed, I talked about it less and less. I felt like most of my friends couldn’t really understand. A lot of my friends from college already had children. For most of them, having children was something they could do without struggle — maybe they tried for a little bit, but they didn’t need assistance. Other friends, those without kids, didn’t understand because they just weren’t at the stage where they wanted children.

When we got to taking the final step of the assisted-reproductive process where we were moving on to IVF, I remember one of my friends saying, “That’s so exciting!” And I just burst into tears. It was anything but exciting, for me. That was how I felt through the whole process — I was so grateful there was technology that could help us, but I also felt so sad that we had to use it. Still, I know that if our situation had happened years before, it would have just been, Well, I guess it’s not going to happen for you. I’m sorry.

On the end of the two-week wait. I remember waking up that day and thinking, There’s no way, there’s no way. I just didn’t feel pregnant. It was May 1, right when New York starts to finally feel nice again. This was the first beautiful spring day. My husband and I made a plan: If it was negative, we were going to go down to the Village, find a sidewalk café, get a bottle of wine, and just enjoy the day.

I took a nap and told my husband to watch my phone — I wanted him to wake me up if they called. But I couldn’t really sleep, and I was watching my phone, filling up with dread when the call came in. The nurse said hello and then she told me, “Well done.” My husband was watching and couldn’t figure out what had happened. I was just silent. I said, “What?” And the nurse said, “You’re pregnant.” I put the phone down and told my husband. We just stood there, not believing it. After a minute, he said, “Well, there goes our plan.”

The effects of infertility during and after pregnancy. During the pregnancy, I felt super, super nervous. We told our families pretty early because they knew we were going through IVF. I don’t think we would have told them that early otherwise. I was walking around, holding my breath. A lot of people, I think, who get pregnant feel that way. But I wonder if there was another layer for me, because we’d worked so hard. Once we got past 36 weeks, I relaxed a little bit more.

Having a baby is a big adjustment, obviously. You’re so sleep-deprived. When I hit the newborn-baby blues, I just felt like, How could I be anything but thrilled? Why am I so depressed? We wanted this so badly — it should be all sunshine and rainbows. It was hard to get past a narrative along the lines of, You tried so hard and now it should be perfect. I struggled with that for a while.

My daughter was born in January. It was a very cold, very snowy winter; we spent a lot of time indoors. But this one moment stands out to me: My husband had gone back to work, so it was just her and me at home together. I had her on the changing table and was looking into her eyes. She looked back into mine and I just felt, You’re here. It’s a miracle you’re here. I felt completely right with everything. I knew that this was why we did everything we did.

On confronting the second-baby question. None of the embryos from our first round survived — we knew if we wanted another child, we’d have to start all the way over. It was a lot to think about, but we at least knew what the process was. On the other hand, we knew what the process was.

At first, we went back to our original clinic. But we didn’t have enough — they had to cancel the cycle because they wouldn’t do it for less than four eggs. We also realized they weren’t taking our insurance anymore. It was devastating — it felt like a dead end.

Through a recommendation from a friend, I found a place that preferred to do “low impact” IVF and work with your body. They didn’t do any injectable drugs — I just took Clomid, a pill to stimulate the ovaries. For the first clinic, I was put under for retrievals. For the second, I was awake — I watched them retrieve five of my eggs, on a screen. It really hurt, physically. After that, they decided to implant just one. We got incredibly lucky again: I got pregnant with my son on that first try.

Now that my daughter’s 6, I’m trying to be thoughtful about what the conversation will be like with our kids. She takes in everything, like kids do. If she overhears me talking, she has questions: “What do you mean, doctor?” I’m weighing what we might tell her someday.

On providing and receiving support. During the fertility process, I found this really wonderful acupuncturist. With her, I got everything I wasn’t getting at the clinic. I’d come in and she’d just sit and talk with me, for about 20 minutes, about how I was feeling physically and emotionally. Then she’d do the treatment and we’d talk again. The clinic was great, but it felt very medical and impersonal. She was the real thing that got me through. I was just so grateful for her. It helped me to remember that when we started the IVF process again. Though I will say, going to acupuncture every week isn’t exactly cheap (or covered at all by insurance). Still, it was completely worth it. I send her a holiday card every year.

It’s interesting — now that my friends know what we’ve been through, they’ll ask me to talk to a friend of theirs who’s having trouble conceiving. The more I talk about it, the easier it gets for me. You figure out that so many other people have been through it or are going through it. You don’t find that out until you start talking. Every time I tell my story, it’s like I’m giving other people permission to tell their story. Then it feels like we’re both a little less alone.

I know how lucky we were, and I try to be careful around that. I never want to use our story to say, “Hey, it happened for us, so it could happen for you!” Instead, I just tell other people how painful and joyful our experience was. But I can’t tell other people how it might turn out for them, or what their limit might be.

The friendships I’ve made with people who’ve had similar journeys or struggles to having their children, they just feel different. I can honestly say I’ve never felt like disclosing this part of our lives was a mistake or something I shouldn’t have talked about. At least for me, it’s been so helpful. There are so many different ways to have a family. I think the only way we’re going to make it feel less isolating is if we all talk about it.

Mom Who Realized Successful IVF Doesn’t Make Parenthood Easy