My IVF Treatments Failed: What I Wish Others Struggling With Fertility Knew
In our Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
Fertility treatments did not work for my husband and me. Unlike other families, we don't have a long list of years of trying and endless procedures.
Financially, all we could afford was one round of in vitro fertilization (IVF.) And when it didn't work, and we lost our two babies, we took a loan out the next day to try again. In the end, we lost three.
When the money was gone and our hearts were broken, we stopped treatments before we were able to hold our babies in our arms. We also are not choosing adoption, despite the vast majority of people who think that this is the natural next step to failed fertility treatments.
Comparing my two rounds of IVF with someone’s eight left me feeling not good enough and like my grief wasn’t as bad.
My story does not end how we wanted it to end, and we did not get the two kids. My story may not look exactly like yours, yet I'm sure there are a lot of similarities. Because whose life—especially their journey to build their family–looks exactly how they had hoped?
And yet I speak in an attempt to change the unhealthy messages in the pregnancy loss and infant loss worlds. I speak loudly because it has helped me to define my own happy ending and fight to thrive again after failed fertility treatments.
As an advocate for people struggling with fertility and a mental health therapist working with people through the journey, I see what it leaves behind for many of us—even if it does end with children.
And so, in honor of my babies who never took a breath of air, I work to advocate for healthier messages in the fertility world. Here's what I wish others knew:
1. The silence around fertility is not helping us.
The silence that surrounds this journey, often suffocated in shame, makes us feel alone despite the staggering numbers of how many of us there are.
We must educate our loved ones. This will be the only way we will get empathy, and not only sympathy. Telling my story throughout our journey and forever thereafter is the only way I have not only survived but am thriving.
Being open about our struggles to make our family meant some judgment and some frustration about how uneducated the average person is regarding fertility struggles. But whatever judgment we received was drowned by the love and support — love and the support we only received because we spoke up and asked for it.
2. We must stop living in comparison.
Comparing how long we’ve tried to get pregnant keeps us in scarcity. When we compare, instead of being fellow warriors who are all struggling, we are even more alone.
Throughout my journey, I found myself reading many other women’s stories and comparing, which left me feeling even more alone in it all. And we already feel alone in this journey. Comparing my couple of IVF rounds with someone’s eight rounds only left me feeling not good enough or like my grief wasn’t as bad.
Loss is loss, and when we compare our losses, we are only alone in them.
3. Only we know our limits.
There are many factors that play into how long we can try to have children and how many treatments we can afford. The decision of when enough is enough, and when you've tried "everything," is only between you and your partner.
Talk about it, decide together, turn toward one another and don’t feel the need to explain it to the world.
4. We must be more than the quest to have a baby.
As a couple, we must remember what brought us together in the first place and remind ourselves of who we are and want to be besides a mother or father. If we don't do this, making a baby becomes everything, and this doesn't make for healthy relationships or parents.
For my husband and me, we did more of the hard work of what it takes to have a healthy marriage. For example, together we pre-plan a whole year of dates, one date a month to remind ourselves of the hope, the laughter, and the love that brought us together in the first place.
5. We need to practice active acceptance (with a healthy amount of hope).
There are some things that cannot be changed and so we must practice active acceptance. And yet, this acceptance must also be balanced with a healthy hope.
The "never give up" message is not healthy for many of us. Instead, it's about never giving up on yourself — which for some of us may mean having to let go.
For us, healthy hope has meant redefining our dream of family, accepting that we will never have children, and yet doing the work to always have children in our lives. We have the house with the toy room, we go to games and concerts and birthday parties, and we ask to be involved in our friends’ children’s lives. And yet, we also allow ourselves to be happy about being able to sleep in on the weekend or enjoy the occasional Netflix binge.
6. There are many happy endings.
We must accept many different versions of the happy ending to the journey. Define your own happy ending; realize and do the work to fight for and choose your happiness.
For us, this is in living a child-full life and finding ways to parent in honor of our babies who we don't get to hold. We are parenting them on this side of eternity.
7. We have to give ourselves permission to feel it all.
With the fertility journey you will feel it all: the joy with the sadness, the grief with the acceptance, the anger with the peace. When we give ourselves permission to feel it all, at the same time, we can find our clarity again. In the complicated gray of life, we can awaken to life in color again.
What I know for sure is that this journey has the potential to destroy us — or to help us become the best versions of ourselves. When we fight for these healthier messages, we can find ourselves again.
Justine Brooks Froelker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown) working in private practice. She is the author of her book and blog, Ever Upward, and an advocate for breaking the shamed silence of infertility and loss and fighting to recovery thereafter. Justine lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with her husband Chad and their three dogs. She enjoys her childfull life by spending time with friends and family, practicing creative self-care, laughing (sometimes at herself) and building butterfly gardens on her acre of land, which has made her an accidental monarch butterfly farmer.