I will never forget the first time I walked into the reproductive clinic for my appointment to begin IVF. At 36, I was already upset and nervous that after almost two years of trying all the other, less-invasive infertility options, here I was ready to undergo an expensive procedure that had no guarantees of working. In the waiting room, a young woman about the same age as me was in tears and a doctor was comforting her. “You can try again in the spring — a new season,” he said gently, resting a hand on her shoulder. I knew all too well that she was experiencing the pain of not getting pregnant; I just didn’t realize how hard IVF really was. But I was about to find out.
This woman was in the IVF spiral, a never-ending quest for a baby she couldn’t stop because, well, what if it worked the next time? For us, there could be no second chance — not with the price tag of IVF and lack of insurance coverage. But there I was, ready to take the gamble myself.
I will say right up front that I did end up conceiving via IVF. I got pregnant with twins on our first cycle, in fact. But it was at a great cost — and not only of the financial sort. Apart from the crazy shots of hormones you must inject, the scheduling your life around all things TTC (that’s “trying to conceive,” for the uninitiated) and the fact that you have to go under general anesthesia (PS. new studies show that anesthesia may be more detrimental to health than previously thought) for the egg retrieval, IVF also takes a huge toll on your relationship with any significant other who may be in the picture.
For me and my husband, trying to make a baby started off as an act of love and ended up as a clinical procedure. What people who haven’t been through it can’t know is that baby-making becomes less about the love between you and your partner and more about a single-minded quest for an end result — which you may or may not get.
I know that if I could go back in time, there’s no way I could convince myself not to try IVF. I wanted a baby — and to be a mother — so badly I was willing to undertake all the risks, side effects, and negatives. I’m sure plenty of others on this journey feel the same way. But that’s also because it can be very, very hard to know when to draw the line with fertility treatment.
What I would tell myself or a younger woman considering IVF? Even if you haven’t met your soul mate in your 20s, even if you haven’t decided when/whether you want to have kids at all — it’s time to take charge of your own fertility. That means knowing what’s up with your body, speaking to your doctor and charting your family history. I learned that freezing your eggs, which seemed to me to be touted as The Thing every young career girl who hadn’t found the perfect partner yet automatically did, is not something to bank on; rather, it’s something (something very expensive in its own right) to be used as a last resort.
I also urge you — I urge all women — to think of IVF as a last resort. To anyone who thinks they’ll put off motherhood and “just do IVF” if things don’t go according to plan, please understand this is not an easy option. After going through it myself and watching friends go through it, I can tell you this: The advice given varies so greatly from clinic to clinic that one must hope the ability to actually perform IVF is further along than doctors’ and scientists’ understanding of how, why, and when the process works. That is, why does it work for some women and not others? What is the actual cause of infertility is to begin with? “Unexplained” is the so-called reason doctors often give.
Bottom line: IVF is an amazing technology… that also involves doctors and patients throwing hope at the wall and praying something sticks.
As a feminist and a women’s college graduate and an overall champion of all things girl power, I now firmly believe — perhaps despite myself — that getting pregnant younger is the way to go. Doing so can potentially save many women the pain, expense and heartache that comes with desperately needing to use IVF. Or, at the very least, diving into fertility and any struggles thereof while you’re young can give you more information about what may be going on with your body — and whether something is indeed off.
Don’t let the myths fool you: You can “do it all.” If you’re a person who is privileged enough to be thinking of doing (ie affording) IVF down the line, I believe you can still have a career and a partner and (yep!) even a social life with a child, right now. For me, suddenly having two children at age 37 made me more efficient, aware and organized in all areas of my life; I’m convinced it would have had the same effect at 27.
And although 27-year-old me was already with the man who would become my husband and hold my hand in that IVF clinic 10 years down the road, I don’t know that I could have convinced 27-year-old me that it made more sense to become a mother right then. But I do hope I can convince other twentysomething women to at least consider it.