Monday, September 24, 2007

Q.35a Stress And Infertility. Discuss.

I feel like that time in Primary School when we had to do folk dancing for sport and the boys had to ask the girls to dance. And one by one, all my friends were chosen and got up to take their place for the Convulsing Weasel or whatever the name of the stupid dance was, and I just sat there, smiling uneasily and picking invisible threads off my skirt.
p.39 Legs Up And Laughing

Thanks to the book, this week I am speaking on an ABC Radio National show (Life Matters) about Infertility and Stress.
Cue wild hysterical laughter.
Stress? And Infertility?
Surely everyone knows that the two go together like a blocked fallopian tube and a crippled sperm.

I imagine a time, way off in the future, when I look back and smile, and perhaps even chuckle gently at the bitterness surrounding my attempted journey from nothingness to babyness. I won’t remember that today, for instance, I lay on the couch blubbering and saying pathetically, “I don’t understand…why is this happening…why do we have to have so many things wrong with us?”

For me, infertility and IVF related stress is a bit like the old boiling frog story. You jump into the baby making bath, it’s tepid to start off with, time passes, temperatures rise and one day you realize you’ve turned a bright lobster red, your eyeballs are melting and Life is making soup out of your ovaries.

I’m partly stunned at how doggedly we keep going, step by step, dollar by dollar, blood test by blood test, drug by drug. Friends and family ask about how we are coping and say that we’re doing amazingly well, but I don’t feel like we’re doing well, I don’t feel like we’re doing anything. We’re locked in our little carriage on the Great Big Fertility Ride, hair on end, hands gripped over the rails, knuckles white, rocketing forward. We’re not doing anything, it’s all being done to us.
And driving us, dragging us, forward and ever forward, is this urgency, this desperate need and want.
This desire.


To this day I still wonder how my relationship survived, how my friendships survived – particularly with the friends who had babies during those years, how we stayed sane.

It was killing me that our previously sexy lives had been so completely upturned by thhe fight for our fertility. Bit by bit, the routine, the alternate hope and disappointments, the practical, clinical, mechanical nature of each seemingly futile attempt was wearing us thin. And how long before we start to rip at the seams?

How does anyone manage to cope with infertility? I have friends who have had multiple unsuccessful IVF attempts, others who attempted just the one with everything riding on it, still others who have not tried IVF at all, not tried any form of alternative fertility treatment, just wanted and hoped and wished for years.

I was almost numb with despair. With the unfairness. With-the-why-does-it-have-to-be-so-difficult? And with the waste. Along with everything else, I suddenly felt that I had spent all this year and more, working and focusing and yes, obsessing, on trying to fall pregnant. The IVF cycle had, each day post-transfer, wound this thread still tighter with each injection, each unit of lucrin or puregon, until finally it came crashing down with that first drop of blood on a cotton pad.

It was as if this was all I was, a woman tying to fall pregnant, and I had failed. I had lost not just a pregnancy but a year of my life and part of all the years of my life when I had wondered: will this be the year?.

There is stress when you attempt treatment and stress when you don’t. There is the stress of seeing your life suddenly reduced to monthly cycles, that weird moment when you realize you don’t have a clue what day or date it is but you know for a fact it’s Day 11, the waves of alternating hope and despair and sheer bloody minded anger; at your specialists, your friends and family who seemingly conceive with ease, well meaning people who advise you to Just Relax, randomly pregnant women who cross your path, your partner and above all, with yourself, your stupid, hopeless, unforgivably non-fertile body.

As she administers yet another blood test, the fertility sister asks if I’m feeling any side effects from the Lucrin injections.

'Like what?' I ask. I wonder if I should mention the incredible Room Clearing Farts I seem to be managing these days.

'Feelings of worthlessness,' she says.

In my head a little movie plays at about a billion miles an hour of this whole heartbreaking, soul sucking, humiliating, dehumanizing, infuriating experience. This crappy bullshit babymaking routine spanning over the last five years, wrenching at every fibre of our courage, humour, creativity and love.

‘I feel sad,’ I tell her. ‘Having to inject all that stuff into my body. Every time I pull the needle out I have a little moment of sadness.’

Christopher picks up the showbag and we say goodbye and head for the lifts. We don’t say anything for a while, we just stand side by side, letting our fingertips touch.

Do I feel worthless?Oh yes. But I also feel angry, excluded, weary and generally lost.

The thing is, I know my husband feels like this too. And I don’t think I can blame that on the Lucrin.


If some of this strikes a chord with you, would you consider leaving a comment?

How did stress manifest for you? How did you cope? Or not.

I would really like to hear your thoughts on the stress surrounding infertility.


Urban Chick said...

avoided pregnant and newly-babied friends - spent a lot of time in the company of childless and gay friends!

(attempted) to plan an existence on this planet without babies

cried A LOT

it's terrible but i can't remember...however, everything you said above chimes with me completely


Evil Stepmonster said...

I find the stress of infertility overwhelming. It permeates into all areas of my life. I have had to significantly reduce the hours I work because I can't cope with any additional stress. There are times when I just can't bring myself to socialise with friends or family who have children, and I also find it stressful when they don't know how to deal with me.

The constant waiting is terrible, if you're not waiting for an appointment or test, then you are waiting for the result. The 2ww is the worst - the negative/positive see-saw of thoughts is debilitating. I hate that I can't move on in any other facet of my life while this part is unresolved.

The stress on our relationship is hard to cope with too. My husband is a fixer, and it took a lot of time and discussion for him to be able to accept that he alone could not fix this problem. He still struggles with my emotions - I hate that he doesn't understand that 6 months after a miscarriage the pain is still raw for me and some days I still cry about it.

The most stressful thing for me at the moment is the anxious knot in the pit of my stomach that I can't bring myself to look at - "what if I never have a baby" [see, tears in my eyes just writing that].

I cope with the love of my husband, and the sharing of experiences through internet support groups and from blogs like yours. Sorry if I've raved on too long. I'm sure the interview will go well. Cheers.

Stephanie said...

You're a lovely writer and I'm happy to share my experience if it's helpful. It was a miserable time (now with a happy ending in the form of twins napping upstairs) but what I remember most was the Putting on a Brave Face. I felt like I lived a double life with everyone but my husband -- to the outside world I was Fine, because I couldn't stand the idea of being pitied or gossiped about, while at home I cried at least once every single day.

Oh, and struggling to fit my life around monthly cycles and trips to the fertility clinic; that was fun too. "No, sorry, I can't go on that business trip. It's cycle day 12!" only I couldn't actually say that so had to come up with creative excuses, which added to my stress. Some people "come out" to their bosses and colleagues in order to explain their absence from work and erratic moods; for a variety of reasons I wasn't able to do that.

P'tit Boo said...

I don't have anything to contribute to this question... (35 and still no child envy ...) but ...will the book be out in the US ? and if yes, when ?
Congratulations !
You have always been one of my favorite bloggers !!!

Anonymous said...

Everything you've written above, I have felt 10 fold. Sometimes, I don't know how I manage to hold it together.
The infertility cycle has permeated my entire life. I have intentionally lost touch with many friends with babies, and each time another one falls pregnant, I cross them off my "friend" list.
My career, which used to be the central focus of my life, has taken a backseat to the point that I can no longer concentrate on a daily basis.

I don't go to social activities where there will be many couples with kids. I don't even talk to anyone about our troubles (only my husband). So, all in all, there is an enormous sens of loneliness that accompanies the stress.

It's probably the hardest time of my life.

hopeful mommy-in-waiting said...

When will your book be available in the US?

Nico said...

For those of you looking for the book in the US, you can pre-order it from It's a little pricey with the shipping and exchange rate (damn those brits!), but well worth it, methinks!

Bumble said...

Just wanted to say... Today I saw two articles about your book, one in Woman's Day (I felt so proud of you!) and the other in Bayside magazine (your interview made me cry!). Well done, you're doing it for all of us. x

Anonymous said...

Just emailed this to you, but here it is again:

I tried to cope with stress by having weekly acupuncture, reflexology and, later, something called the Bowen Technique. Also by taking Bach's Rescue Remedy as often as possible; talking to family and friends a lot, a number of whom have had similar experiences to me; and doing everything I could to keep the ugly panic gnome squashed away behind my ribs, who would rise up when I wasn't paying attention and scream that I had missed the boat, was too old, too unworthy, would disappoint my husband and make him divorce me (all pressures I was putting on myself, none came from him). We were very fortunate to have a successful IVF procedure and a delicious, now-13-month-old son, and we are currently embarking on another attempt at IVF in the hopes of getting lucky twice. This time, I am having weekly Reiki and/or reflexology sessions, and still quaffing Rescue Remedy by the bucket-load.

Looking forward enormously to your book.

Jen A said...

I handled my stress with overloads of information. I scoured the internet for cures, new research and tricks of the fertility trade. For the first two or three years I dabbled a bit on chat boards of fellow infertiles. But then that got too depressing also...everyone got pregnant it seemed, but me. I was in no mood to encourage others anymore. I became so bitter towards families. I think Mother's Day was the hardest day of the year. Yes, I had an incredible mother, but I would never BE one. I ached and cried when it became overwhelming. The up and down of each treatment was just as you described, some horrible roller coaster that you just couldn't bring yourself to get off of. I would cry and wallow and then climb in, strap up and click, click, click...up we'd go again. Six years later...I became pregnant with my son. They don't tell you that the stress doesn't go away with that positive test. It begins again with new intensity. Every trip to the bathroom brought a pleading prayer and a racing heartbeat. And the joy that my son has brought me only seems sometimes to verify my previous pain. I knew I would be missing something so incredible words could not describe it. The stress of infertility is as justifiable as it is painful. Somehow we as women just KNOW we are meant to mother. No well meaning advice, companionship and commiseration took away the stress for me. I had moments (Usually between day 12 and 13)where I could take a few deep breaths and picture myself in the future, playing with my children. But they were fleeting. Sometimes I tried to imagine the life of luxury and travel my husband and I would have without children. Basking on a beach in a faraway land, blue drink in hand. But by day 25 daydreaming was over and little could console me. I have my miracle today. I know that I am one of the scorned by those that are still in year two or three or five of their ride. But I will always carry the scar of that stress in my heart. And I have a special place in my heart for all of those who will follow us onto this ride. After spending years trying for number two, I did finally find the exit from the ride. It began slowly, a nagging desire to be "normal" mentally. The desire to want to NOT know what cycle day I was in. It took my husband longer to get off the ride than me. But I had had enough. I wanted to enjoy what I had and not feel that sense of wasting time anymore. One day I got off the ride. During that last IVF I found this website. I followed it for months. Then you became pregnant. I went away for awhile, but then I tested myself. I came back. I read about your success and stress and cried. But I kept reading. I wasn't bitter anymore. I was so happy for you. I felt your joy, I relived my own and I knew that I would be OK. I had learned to live with who I'd become in this process. Someone who would never take for granted the amazing gift that life is. That shaped me, and today, it keeps all my other stresses in perspective. There is no stress like infertility.

Lou said...

The stress is unbelievable, exactly as everyone has confirmed. It is fantastic that someone like you who has such an amazing gift for describing it will be going on air to discuss it. I am reading your post today and having a little cry as all the memories of being infertile return (technically as the mother of 2 I am no longer).....but I can't put it into words like that.

Anonymous said...

I did not cope well with the stress during infertility treatment. I went into self-preservation and did all I could to avoid coming in contact with children and parents. I became isolated.

When I gave up infertility treatment I started to seek people who were childless, or who had older, teenage children. I wanted to surround myself with people who did not have a young family. My mindset was that someday I might be able to be around children, but I wasn't ready -- I avoided children and families for over a year before my alternative treatment worked for me.

I stopped praying. I also was almost belligerent to people who told me not to give up hope.

No... I didn't cope well at all, but at least I didn't snatch a baby, or murder anyone who told me not to give up hope.

OvaGirl said...

Thankyou everyone for leaving comments on this issue. It's been helpful and in many cases heartbreaking to read your stories. For Australian listeners the radio program is Life Matters on ABC Radio National at 9am on friday 28th. The two main guests are a counsellor from an Australian IVF clinic and an American woman who runs a mind Body clinic attached to an IVF clinic. Both will be talking about coping with IF related stress and particularly with IVF.
I will be speaking briefly at around 9.15 but they will then invite people to phone in and talk about their own experiences.

For overseas readers who asked about getting the book, I asked the publishers about this and the book is available in the UK from October (ask at your bookshop!). And Nico is right, otherwise you need to buy through
(I'm sorry about that, it seems pretty sucky to me too.)

Mony said...

I'll get back to you on that....just as soon as the tears stop racing down my cheeks. Here I sit, heavily pregnant, but still haunted by those feelings of worthlessness & sorrow. Infertility brings pain in such's hard to expel. Even after success.

seepi said...

There is stress in relationships too.

I avoided complaining too much about my ivf treatment symptoms, cos I thought hubby would just suggest giving up.

It is a very private pain - about an issue that is very public for most people. So you get the endless questions about why you don't have kids.

The medical part is a pain in the neck - trips for blood tests every second day for over two weeks of the month etc. And having to fit that into full time work, and come up with excuses when they ahve to be done in work hours.

But all that pales next to the emotional stress, waiting, hoping,l thinking positively, hopes dashed, again, again and again.

I'm working tomorrow, otherwise I'd be listening to every word.

Don't sugar coat it.

ovagirl said...

well... the 'american' was canadian, i had less time then i thought and i actually found the whole thing fairly nerve wracking but i think overall the show was pretty interesting and hopefully many of the above (and more) were covered over the hour.

thankyou again.


Anonymous said...

An issue which has not been raised in discussions as yet is exactly how one manages the stress (short term and life long) involved in deciding what to do with surplus frozen embryos? Destroy or donate?

Vanessa said...

I have just finished reading your book,purchased yesterday. You so easily put into words the pain and emotions I felt during my childless years. I nursed in a neonatal intensive care nursery and treasured each gift I was privelaged to care for. I screamed inside every time I was told to relax and it will happen, when I witnessed drug addicted, emaciated women birth daily.
I was fortunate to conceive on my first IVF treatment and had the most beautiful birthing experience in a birth centre. I also had a fence sitter - my darling Isobel was introduced to us as HCG of 3.
I cried for the embryo who didn't make it, I cried for the next two who didn't "stay behind the fence" and held my breath again for 9 months waiting to hold my second precious daughter. I was angry that there were no streamers and celebrations or prgnancy test lines - ever. Only the sense that another hurdle had been jumped but more waiting and praying.
I experienced guilt when trying for a second child. Had I not been blessed already? Was I greedy? My second pregnancy also saw me take on the Powers That Be who had decided conceiving through IVF now made me high risk and not able to birth in the Birth Centre. My lawyer husband and I fought them and I won the right to have this decision reversed. Again my birth was magical and for the second time our newborn chiuld slept their first night in our home.
We struggled with the dilemna of having frozen embryos left over. I wanted to give each the chance to be a beautiful and cherished child of mine. Two more returned to me and one more pregnancy. I felt cheated when I phoned for my 2 daily blood test to be told "You are going to miscarry in the next few days." Does everything have to be so damned clinical? Can't I miscarry on my own terms? We had shared the joy with our daughters only to see their pain when our baby was dying. Last two embryos and I decided the possible joy outweighed the pain. Pregnant again, this time the spotting started early. Confusion as daily blood tests kept doubling but bleeding persisted. At eight weeks bleeding too much to bear. Sit in obstetrician's office with all the beautiful pregnant people. Ectopic pregnancy, emergency surgery. We had tried to protect our girls this time and the sadness in my 6 year olds eyes seeing her mummy in hospital and another baby had died, was too much to bear. The emotional exhaustion as your friend with three daughters decides to fall pregnant at same time to try and conceive elusive boy. She has blood tests, has sex and nine months later sobs into her baby daughter's downy head. Retained product leaves me feeling pregnant for many months later. I scream finally when Registrar tells me I need to relax, a HCG of 311 means nothing! My first miracle began as a 3.
I have the most beautiful and cherished girls, now 8 and 6. I still feel pain at not having the right to choose a larger family. I still can't laugh at jokes about money saved on contraception nor can I listen to everyone's story of the couple they know who eventually fell pregnant themselves. I feel compassion and a sisterhood with the women I know who take that same Fertility ride we took. I rejoice for the women who never have to feel the blackness of the loss of fertility, or pregnancy.
I am a scrapbooker, not a journaller and I have meade a note to my daughters to read your book and learn my story which so closely identifies.
Thank you, from another Vanessa

Anonymous said...

Hi Ovagirl,
Have been meaning to write for sooo long. A while back I asked you for the name of the clinic and Dr you used and you kindly emailed me. Well, I saw him and was utterly BLESSED to be successful on the first go. Have a gorgeous 6mth old girl. Tears fall as I write this. Its been such a journey. So much heartache. When I thought about the stress of infertility I remembered being in a constant state of low grade panic. The lack of control over the whole issue was like living a nightmare. No one could tell you if ,eventually you would be successful. Or if years of failed attempted would leave you broken and childless. Yes, it was a panic I felt. So very painful and a pain that had to be hidden, for my own self preservation. I could so relate to your story. It was a liflene for me. Well done for getting it published, you have such a talent.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ovagirl,
In 1.5 hrs time I find out the result of my 4th round of IVF. We have never had any successful frozen embryos so have had to do the whole soul-sucking cycle everytime. We have been trying in one way or another to become parents for 4 years. I feel like I have lost all sense of who I am. Like so many others on this blog I feel forced to keep a public face but the reality is that I keep wanting to scream how unfair this is. And I DESPERATELY want the world to understand just how tormenting inferility is. In an effort to just keep on "getting on with it" (life) I have always swerved away from reading too much about other womens experiences in this horrendous ride. Mainly as self preservation as so many publish the "happy ending" stories and I am terrified that will never happen for us. However for some reason I saw your book yesterday and bought it. Have just finished reading it (in one sitting) with tears of relief pouring down my face still. Because I have finally found something I can give to my well meaning (but terrified to discuss the topic)friends and family to read that is real and can help them understand what my husband and I have been going through. It seems I seem unable to do that without sounding hormonal/ sentimental/irrational/depressive/self indulgent etc. These are just some of the things we become terrified of being labelled with and so strive so intensely to put on a "brave public face" so others don't (god forbid) become embarrassed or uncomfortable. I lost my mum to cancer when I was 24 (she 47). This book feels like my autobiography - regardless of this afternoon's results I have found a tool I can give to people to help them understand and to hopefully reduce the sense of isolation. No amount of hearing about other people's infertility lessens the pain of your own. I am hoping though that by breaking down the "taboo" nature of the subject amongst my family/friends that we can feel less alone in our pain. Thanks for that lifeline.

Jo said...

I know how you feel and your words resonate. We've been trying for 3 years, 1 miscarriage, 1 surgery and thousands of dollars later only to find out I have severe endometriosis. I've change my diet, life style, exercise regime, sex regime, tried yoga, accupuncture, Chinese medicine and massages to relax and still not pregnant. Meanwhile, yes, the world still goes on and here we remain; stuck. I think the final level of Dante's Hell is Ice and sometimes it feels like you are stuck in that dimension; frozen in time while you watch all of your friends and family members get pregnant and have babies.

I've decided that those who have had babies will never understand. I've even found that those who have had infertility problems and had babies loose or forget what it was like. I had a woman in my office who tried for several years only to come and complain to me about how miserable she was pregnant; knowing we were still not pregnant.

The anger part is tuff. I've sworn off all baby showers, 1st baby birthdays, etc. I've been upfront and honest w/ people and I'm trying not to wear that mask of joy and happiness anymore and just trying to keep it real. Where I'm at is where I"m at. If people at work are talking about their "pregnancy stories; I just quietly leave the room and practice a little self-care. Expecting others to understand and let alone practice some awareness when around you is simply too much for some; especially new moms. So, I have to remember that not everyone is practicing awareness and mindfulness and that I have to do whatever I need to take care of myself.

We are starting shots, but not hopeful. We will look into fostering babies next and hope we have the emotional strength to survive. This is the most painful thing I have been through.

OvaGirl said...

Jo, I think you are wise to be protective of yourself. People are generally unaware as you say and even previously infertile women can be unintentionally hurtful. It is such a painful and difficult thing to go through that I think people tend to block it out as soon as they can, if they can. It is astounding, I think, that the general population has no real idea of infertility, of the extraordinary pain and stress it causes and that women have to live and function with that for years.
You say you aren't hopeful and I understand that but I believe that any action, any attempt to try and conceive is a chance for hope, however small. I wish you the very best.