I’ll never forget the day I had my first ultrasound for this pregnancy. The fear and anxiety going in – just hoping that we would find a baby in there with a strong heart beat. All of the warm congratulations from the nurses, my RE, and other staff at my clinic. It was amazing.
But there was one comment made by one of the nurses that stood out at the time and has remained with me. She said, “You did it! You never gave up! And it paid off.” But what she didn’t know was that I kinda had given up.
Now that I’m obviously sporting a baby bump and it “looks” like I’m out of the danger zone, I’ve had others comment on the same thing. People who know how much infertility treatment I went through to get here seem to be saying, “you never gave up” in one form or another. I suppose it’s meant to be an affirmation or validation of some sort. It’s with good intentions, I know, but it always rubs me the wrong way.
What does “giving up” mean in the context of infertility treatment? Does anyone ever casually say, “Ummm, I think I’m good now. I don’t really want that baby. You can keep the medications. I’m done. Thanks.” No one casually throws in the towel when it comes to infertility. Maybe the term “give up” irritates me so much because it sounds a lot like failure or resignation. Simply quitting. It sounds like someone was too weak to continue.
But there is nothing weak about the women (and men) who go through infertility.
Honestly, I can think of few harder decisions that require more strength of mind than making the decision to stop infertility treatments. To choose to embrace the life before you, one that is not what you had planned or preferred, but can make something beautiful out of, rather than continuing down a dark and possibly quite unhealthy path.
And that’s assuming you even have a choice. For so many women and couples, the decision to end infertility treatment is made for you against your will. By insurance companies, lack of insurance, finances, medical conditions, age, and other factors out of one’s control. That lack of control can be traumatic. And being told to never give up when you don’t really even get to make the choice, can leave women feeling ashamed, confused, angry, or guilty. We don’t all have the luxury of “never giving up”.
In an environment that sings to the tune of “never give up,” discontinuing treatments, whether by choice or not, can leave a person feeling like they are doing something wrong. In the infertility community this starts to look like some form of peer pressure. Well-meaning women in IVF support groups readily tell other to “never give up” after any set back or negative test result. Sometimes I feel like shouting it’s not giving up! Sometimes stopping treatments, if the decision is up to you, is a healthy thing to do. Sometimes it’s healthy to choose the life you have rather than constantly hoping for or living for a “maybe” while the rest of your life passes you by.
For me, making the decision to stop began as a mindset not yet in sync with my actions. I had agreed with my RE to transfer my two unlikely embryos that I did not expect to take, and planned to do one last retrieval and fresh transfer afterwards. And then I decided that enough was enough at that point. I felt like I found the tipping point where maximizing my chances for success was going to become outweighed by the toll infertility treatments was taking on my mind, body, spirit, and relationships. Identifying that stopping point felt oddly liberating. Like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I began accepting what life would look like when IVF didn’t work, and I managed to see a light at the end of the tunnel (that wasn’t a train).
I realize that my road would have gotten rockier had my FET and last planned IVF hadn’t worked. I’m not naïve enough to think that I would have sailed through the finality of that loss without a huge crash, but I did have a support plan lined up for that outcome. Seeing a psychologist was a big factor in helping me come to terms with my stopping point, and although I ended my therapy while preparing for my FET – the ending was agreed upon and planned based on my progress – we agreed that if the final courses of treatment didn’t work, I would return to therapy to process my feelings and reactions to ending treatment and moving forward. Steps toward closure.
I’m not sure if this post is going to come off as negative or inspiring. I simply hope that it will help to open up the doors to acknowledging some of the difficult decisions that women face during infertility, provide a bit of insight into why “never give up” isn’t always helpful, and work to remove some of the shame and guilt that so often comes with infertility and treatment outcomes.