After eight months of IVF treatments/four cycles of IVF, I was finally pregnant. Two lines — the first joy my husband and I had had during the past eight months of bleak, grueling treatments. We did a little dance while singing about having a baby. This was not our first rodeo. Our daughter was born via IVF. While it was difficult to go through with her, we had no idea how lucky we were to conceive her within only two cyles of IVF. Even then, after our first failed cycle, I had felt as if my world were crumbling around me. A grief that went largely unacknowledged, just as the stressful, taxing process of undergoing IVF had also gone unacknowledged.
In recent years, the grief associated with miscarriage has been begun to be brought from the shadows into the light of public discourse and mommy blog articles. However little attention has been given to the loss experienced with failed cycles of IVF. To fully understand this loss, you have to first understand that to undergo IVF at all is full of losses. For us, there were huge financial losses and associated stresses that come from gambling your savings on a baby you may or may not conceive. I personally experienced the loss of bodily autonomy as I went in for near daily blood draws and transvaginal ultrasounds, put many hormones and other medications into my body, was put under anesthesia for each egg retrieval surgery, and had my ovaries swell from the sizes of walnuts to the sizes of oranges. We lost time at work — for my salaried husband, it was a diminishing of his vacation hours, and for me in my role as a contractor, it was a loss of wages at time that was already financially straining under the enormous costs of IVF.
It was a huge loss of time and energy as I had to find my way to monitoring and medical appointments so frequently. It also took an enormous amount of coordination to be able to arrange child care/playdates for my daughter in order to be able to attend my regular appointments. The work of IVF takes so much time and energy that it is like adding a part time job to the responsibilities you already have. This time commitment inherently robs a couple of time they could be spending with friends and family, on leisure activities or doing chores.
After all the losses experienced just by merit of having to use IVF to begin with in our conception attempts (and yes, for us, IVF is the only option available if I want to become pregnant with a child of our own), when a cycle does not succeed, the loss of the child a couple was trying to conceive is amplified. There is enormous grief for the child you anticipated welcoming to the world — the little blastocyst you saw a photograph of before they transferred him or her into your womb. This grief is complicated by the dread and anxiety of knowing that to have another shot, you will have to give up everything you just did again for the next round of IVF, knowing that even gambling all of that again, you could end up in exactly the same place of intense grief, but even more broke and more tired than the last time.
My husband’s and my joy at our two lines soon faded as it became clear that our pregnancy was probably a chemical one, or in other words: a very early miscarriage. Our originally strong lines on home pregnancy tests started fading, and the measurement of HCG (the pregnancy hormone) that the doctor measured dropped when it should have been doubling. Facing another loss was crushing. After so many compounding losses, the grief was becoming too much to bear. I had wanted nothing more than to share the joyous news with my five year old daughter who had been begging for a sibling since she first started talking that she was finally going to get her wish. Not being able to share such joy with her further compounded my own grief.
The grief and stress were crushing. I would not have been able to get through it all without the help of friends and family. So, I want to share tips on what you can do to help a loved one if they are going through this difficult loss. Instead of asking, “What can I do to help?” help in one of the following specific ways:
1. Bring your friend or loved one dinner.
They have spent weeks, months, sometimes years trying to figure out how to juggle all of the medical appointments, medication administration and countless calls back and forth with doctors and pharmacies. They were exhausted from this already and now they are further exhausted by the emotional toll of grief. Take off one load for them by bringing them a healthy meal. Or, as my dear friend, who lived states away did: schedule a meal delivery for them.
2. Bring/send them anything to show you care and want to brighten their day.
Flowers are a straightforward one, but it could be a chocolate bar, an inexpensive trinket you saw at Target, a card — anything to let them know that you are thinking of them. One of the most touching examples of this that I have experienced is when a friend checked in with me after my last cycle. After I told her our sad news, she let me know that she was leaving to go out of town that night but wanted to be there for me. Then, on her way to the airport, she had her Uber stop at my house and dropped off a beautiful vase of flowers. The beautiful flowers lifted my sunken spirits, but I was even more buoyed by the gesture that she would go out of her way for me even as she was headed out of town.
3. If your friend or loved one already have a child or children, offer a specific time you could take care of those children.
You could say something like, “We would love to have little Sally over tonight or tomorrow night so that you can have some time and space to process your feelings.” Alternatively, you could also offer to watch their child(ren) during the next IVF cycle so that you can attend appointments if the person intends to try again.
On one of my previous unsuccessful cycles, I called one of my best friends, and when I told her my devastating news, she cried on the phone with me. She told me how much she hated that I had to go through this. Having a friend understand and be willing to sit with the immense grief I was experiencing was validating of the often-invisible, but enormous grief I was feeling. It helped me feel understood and loved.
The process of IVF and the many losses associated with it has been financially, emotionally, physically and practically devastating. Having family and friends step in with even small gestures to alleviate some of that grief and stress has been a life preserver as we have charted these extremely dark and stormy waters. So the next time you have a friend going through something similar, instead of offering that you wish you could help, help in one of the ways listed here. It cannot wipe away the enormity of the pain or stress your friends are going through, but it will be a reminder that there is still joy, beauty and love in their world.