“I give myself permission to cry, scream, laugh, dance, eat and do all the things that this dynamic body needs and demands” – @siphokaziveti
Once we started our IVF treatment, the whole thing just felt like a dream. It feels real but not real at the same time and it kind of felt like we were in this game where you are almost about to have your baby and boom you wake up and realise it is not a dream and you do not have the baby because the pregnancy test was negative. I am conscious that when Mr Un_fertility and I did our Instagram live it was easy to walk away thinking that “aw they will be fine, they will be parents soon, they seem very with it” – please allow me to say the IG live was just a glimpse of our IVF journey and no day is the same. Certainly not the day we had to take the pregnancy test after our frozen embryo transfer (more on that in the next update). I remember it so vividly, and I remember it all because I only need to close my eyes to see my husband’s face when I said ‘it didn’t work’. Breaking his heart in this way will stay with me forever. I woke up at 9am and went straight to the toilet on test day, he was awake waiting for me in bed, I had left the test on top on the toilet so I wouldn’t forget to test with my morning pee (AS IF one would ever forget this in IVF!). I peed and I covered the test window with a piece of toilet paper and started the countdown, when the time was up I didn’t want to reveal the window. I thought about how many test windows I had seen before, all of them so willing to break my heart, I thought God please let this one be different…
I mustered up the courage, unveiled the test and there it was, in as black and white as it gets! ‘NOT PREGNANT’. My immediate response was to shut down all feelings and I just went numb – I have been doing this since I was a kid. I walked out of the toilet, my husband’s head rose up in hopeful anticipation (the most hopeful I have ever seen him) and I said the words “it didn’t work”, he collapsed into his body and I quickly looked away, went to my side of the bed and covered myself completely and closed my eyes. As much as I wanted to be there in the capacity of a comforting wife in that moment, I genuinely did not have anything left in me. I wanted to pray, meditate, sit still, sit in silence, scream, cry all at once. But instead I just shut down. My husband left the bed shortly after I got into it and went downstairs. As selfish as it sounds, I was relieved to be on my own because if the urge came, I could cry without him there. I didn’t want to add to any hurt he was already feeling. So I lied there so still, I didn’t move, I didn’t speak, I wept for literally 20 seconds – and I was weeping about breaking the news to my husband not the fact that I didn’t have a baby in me – then I wiped my tears and that was ALL the emotion I had that day – and ever since. I realised then just how cried out I had become, over the years, over the months that have made up 2020. So much crying that I didn’t have much cryfest in me bar the 20 seconds of weeping.
As if telling my husband wasn’t enough to bear, I remembered that I had told my mum + sister that I would ring them at 9am as soon as we found out. Again, numbness came over me and as much as I knew my mum was waiting for that call with as much hope as my husband, I couldn’t bring myself to call her. There is something about calling your mum that brings out the cryfest in you and I didn’t want to cry, as in I really did not want to cry. I just kept thinking okay cry and then what?! That’s not going to give you a baby. It’s done. Get over it. Yes, this is how not-gentle I was with myself. Again, numbness. Complete shutdown of the softer parts of me. Fight – Flight – or Freeze. So anyway, I didn’t call my mum, I put my phone on DND and I went back to sleep. When I woke up, I had kind of forgotten the morning, then I remembered, and I had this knot-feeling in my stomach and I felt so shit. I didn’t want to go downstairs because my husband was there, and I just didn’t have it in me to comfort him or even to seek it from him. I just wanted to forget this ever happened. So I took a shower with some music on and started feeling like myself again – (you guys need to understand that my black girl joy series is an actual lifeline! As funny and crazy as it is) – and I left the house to go park somewhere and called my mum.
I would say that phone-call with my mum + sis was the most ‘matter-of-fact’ I have been in my entire life. My mum was all mum-like and she was being very emotional, and I was literally responding to her with the science, the facts, 29% success rate and all that. Deflection. The more emotions I got, the more factual knowledge I dropped. Listen, I had zero capacity in me to ‘honour my feelings’ or the feelings of others – and even worse, I had no capacity to feel guilt for being this way, in that moment. It’s not necessarily something I feel needs an apology but taking my mum + sis, and my mum in particular on this IVF journey made me realise that when I made that decision, I took on the responsibility for their feelings too – which is something I had no business doing. My pain about not being pregnant was also a very real pain for my mother and I was not and still not in the right frame of mind to comfort her grief. And it is grief, for all of us. My counsellor said IVF patients harbour heavy emotions not realising that a lot of it is grief, even though we never met the baby, even though our embaby didn’t implant in my uterus, it is still a grieving of the possibility. Everything about IVF is centred on the mere possibility, that chance will work in your favour. And as we all know grief is not the easiest of emotions to process. And everyone handles grief differently. What I know now as an IVF patient, and as the one who has to carry the baby… I am in no position at all to be responsible for the feelings of others and the person I really need to look after and focus on is myself. As women we fall into these superwoman narratives so easily but trust me IVF will show you just how important it is to be a bit selfish. Because sis, you can’t come and die!
It took my first ever counselling session last weekend to understand that I have PTSD. IVF is an abnormal experience that you get thrown into with absolutely no experience at all and no training. And the worst part of it is that there is no real end in sight so when you enter the world of IVF, you are signing up to lose all your power, your freedom and all spontaneity. The IVF journey is often likened to a marathon because it is long and so much mental, emotional and physical energy goes into it, but the key difference is that you are not getting rid of this energy as you would in an actual marathon. So the brain has to make a decision, is this a good challenge or a bad challenge? What does this body need to survive this and get through it? – this is where the primitive – fight / flight / freeze concept comes in and in order to main either of these states, the brain tells the body to produce adrenaline as an automatic physiological response. People with PTSD have been found to continue to produce high amounts of stress hormones even when there is no danger and it is thought this may be responsible for the numbed emotions and hyperarousal (feeling on edge). And adrenaline can cause other issues like anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks etc.
My key takeaway from my counselling session was when she said, the IVF episode is the opportunity to practice being parents before the baby is here – it is the chance to parent each other, to be the soft place for your partner and vice-versa. Because that is the role we will play for our baby. I thought this was so powerful and it filled me with a new sense of purpose because I don’t want to be this numb version of myself when I have a baby. I don’t want to be this numb version of myself in general. So as part of my mental and emotional health treatment, she encouraged me to practice (re-claiming) my soft place with hubby before I restore it in my other relationships with family and friends. I’ve said this before, but I will say it again, our story is real and it is unfolding in real-time and no doubt this is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. And you have to navigate the IVF within the context of normal life and work and relationships and it gets so overwhelming because I am constantly feeling like I cannot catch a break, if it’s not a work deadline, it’s an appointment, it’s an injection, it’s looking after the home, the puppy, it’s feeling so sick on the medications, it’s the physical pains, its friends and family still expecting 100% from you. It is just too much. My point is please practice patience with your loved ones going through IVF, if you feel the friendship has changed, or I don’t attend enough family things, or we hardly talk now… just remember that I am emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically trying to have a baby every minute, every hour of every day. All my energies are channelled towards this desire and the small bit of leftover energy (if any) is just enough to keep my head above the water.