The shame of IVF and how to accept that you need help to have a baby.Oct 18, 2021
I remember the first time I felt true shame about having to do IVF to have a baby.
We were sitting in the waiting room of our fertility clinic, and I was waiting to be taken in for our first egg retrieval. I was a bunch of nerves and a little uncomfortable - both physically and mentally. As I was reading one of the trashy magazines left on the coffee table in front of me, trying to distract myself from the inevitable, in walked a colleague I worked closely with every single day.
I was horrified. I couldn’t believe it. Out of all the clinics and all the days, here she was. If I could have shrunk any further into my seat, I would have. I prayed that the ground would open up and swallow me whole. When she sat in the chair opposite me, there was no avoiding the uncomfortable conversation that was destined to happen.
She was here donating her eggs for a friend who needed help – a truly heroic act. And I was here because we couldn’t do it ourselves. I begged her not to tell anyone at work.
What I felt was a huge amount of shame and embarrassment. That we had to go to these lengths to have a baby, when other people could do it quite easily.
I have done a LOT of work over the last few years to get to a place where I no longer feel shame about the lengths we had to go down to have a baby. Unfortunately, it’s not a switch you get to flick from one day to the next where you DECIDE you’re ok with it. It’s not that simple – well it wasn’t for me.
For years we would tell our story about our little boy Luca being born via a surrogate after 5 years, 9 IVF cycles and a miscarriage. And people would look at us in admiration. But I couldn’t get past the doubt in my head that said – if you had to go to such extreme lengths to become a mother, maybe it was sign that it wasn’t meant to be?
After years of that monologue going through my brain while we were trying to conceive, it was still there long after we completed our family, and had hopped off the infertility rollercoaster. And it’s hard to shake.
My true healing began when I wrote my book, The Injustice of Infertility. During the process I was able to truly grieve the picture I had in my head of how things were “supposed” to go, and see our path in a completely different light.
So, I want to share that with you now. Because it’s important to not only get the help and support we need on this journey. But it’s also equally important that we’re ok with needing help to get pregnant.
Firstly, here are a few of the reasons WHY we find it difficult to accept –
- That picture we have in our head. We grow up watching movies and reading stories of princesses marrying their prince and having babies. There’s never a chapter in there about difficulties, or about the princess enduring years of IVF or suffering miscarriages to create their kingdom. But we keep going back to the fairy-tale. And when we don’t get it, or when it’s harder than it looks in the movies or on other peoples Instagram feeds, we assume that there is something wrong with us. And I can tell you now, there is nothing wrong with you. It’s the picture that’s wrong – because life is not a fairy-tale.
- Hands up my overachievers. Me too! I am a self-confessed overachiever. I’m competitive by nature, so I have always strived to be the best. From being a ballerina and winning gold medals, to getting straight A’s in class, to promotions at work. That’s what I was taught growing up – practice makes perfect…..and it had worked quite nicely for me my whole life. Now that I think about it, before infertility, I can’t recall “failing” at anything. I was good at most things (apart from team sports). So, infertility was not only a shock, it was a kick in the guts. From the beginning we create impossible expectations, try to live up to them – and punish ourselves when we can’t.
- Accepting help is…….HARD. I was always such an independent person (hence why I was never good at team sports), and I had achieved most things in my life by doing it myself. Of course, being a control freak, doesn’t help either. Part of this comes from my upbringing – I was raised by a strong single mum of 3 girls – to me my mum was superwoman and could do it all. And the other part is the stigma attached to getting help. Accepting help usually means that you can’t do it yourself (hello failure) or that there’s something wrong with you. It’s seen as a sign of weakness and we spend our whole lives trying to prove to everyone including ourselves how strong we are. So it’s no surprise we feel ashamed about going down the path of IVF or seeing a fertility specialist.
So how do we release the shame and embarrassment we feel by going down an alternative path to get pregnant, such as IVF?
Let me share a few different ways to shift your perspective on accepting help or going through IVF on your fertility journey -
- We were never meant to do this alone. Despite us being strong independent women, who often sit in our masculine energy, we need help on this journey. Even single mom’s by choice need sperm to create a baby. As a woman, we need to be in our feminine energy – because pregnancy and birth are the most feminine things your body can do. Our feminine energy is all about nurturing, softness, slowing down, caring and most of all……receiving. But most importantly, admitting we need help is tapping into our feminine energy. Therefore, we were always going to need help. And even though our versions of receiving help may differ from person to person, and they may differ from how you imagined, accepting help is an inevitable part of this process.
- This is part of a much bigger process. I’d like to consider myself a pretty practical person. And it gives me comfort when there are established processes in place and steps to follow. Your path to motherhood is exactly the same. I know that sounds weird when we’re talking about creating a baby, however its true if you really think about it. The first step is having sex with your partner (if that’s the path you’re going down). If you’ve been trying that and it’s not working, you look at your cycle and track ovulation to get more exact in your approach. If that’s still not working, you look at your diet or introduce some natural remedies such as acupuncture or mind-body techniques to improve your chances. And if that doesn’t work, you may go and see a fertility specialist and try IUI or IVF. This may not be the exact process that you have applied, but my point is that seeking fertility treatment is merely the next step in the process you may have to walk down. And while you would have liked it to work at step one, this is about doing the next thing in the process to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
- I used to think that IVF or having to seek fertility treatment was a sign of weakness. But it’s quite the contrary. Take a moment to reflect back on all you have been through, and I guarantee you, it’s the exact opposite. I still can’t believe that I injected myself in the stomach every single day. Before I started IVF I had a major phobia of needles, but I overcame it. The emotional rollercoaster we go through in one single IVF cycle is epic. Whenever I talk to someone who has gone through IVF, my first thought is – wow - you are a warrior. Going down the path of IVF takes incredible strength and courage. When you’re told someone has gone through IVF, do you think they’re weak, or do you think they’re brave and strong? We need to show ourselves the same respect we do others. IVF is evidence of strength, not weakness.
- The process you go down does not mean anything about your character, who you are or your ability to become a mother. Nor does it mean you are any less of a woman. It means that you want this bad enough that you will walk through fire to get there, and that is something to be very proud of. I can’t wait to tell my children how hard we fought for them. Because they will know they were loved well before they came into our lives. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of at all. It’s something to embrace.
Look, I’m not saying you have to fall in love with the idea of needing fertility treatments. No one would ever choose the difficult path. If we had a choice, we’d get pregnant straight away, right?
What I am saying however is that there is no shame in needing to take the next step or ask for help. There is no need to punish yourself or carry the silent fear of what people will think. The truth is that other people won’t judge you……but you will judge yourself. And that judgement is not necessary. Because you are not flawed.
You are a warrior.
You are whole.
You are human.
And you are more than enough.
As said by the master of shame, Brene Brown – Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.
Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward? My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.
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