Anger. Frustration. Hopelessness. Despair. There isn’t a single word robust enough to describe my feelings when I heard our IVF cycle was canceled.
The following story is from a writer who has chosen to remain anonymous.
After months of waiting, we were ready to begin the next stage of our fertility journey. As usual, I arrived bright and early that morning at the fertility clinic for blood work and a date with my favorite transvaginal ultrasound probe.
My husband provided his sample, and I waited to pick up my medications. Sometime between all of this, the fertility clinic made the very difficult but necessary decision to shut down all operations due to COVID-19.
“I’m sorry,” said the nurse in a low voice, “I know you showed up today expecting to receive your medications, but the situation is evolving quickly, and we are holding off on any new cycles until further notice.”
I left the clinic in disbelief, letting my tears roll freely as I walked home through the now deserted streets of Toronto. All this anticipation, all this hope, was taken away from us in an instant. I had even paid off my credit card early that month knowing that my fertility medications would cost us thousands of dollars.
Once again, my husband tried his best to console me, but clearly he felt helpless. IVF was our golden ticket, our way for us to finally start our family. To turn our new house into a real home. We had invested everything into doing IVF and now it was out of our reach. To say infertility is unfair would be an understatement.
The emotional roller coaster of infertility is not something that is new to me. In fact, it’s my job.
I am a naturopathic doctor with a strong clinical focus on infertility. The majority of my patients are actively undergoing IVF cycles themselves, desperately hoping for those two pink lines to appear.
I work closely with their fertility team, prescribing supplements and lifestyle changes to improve their egg and sperm quality. I perform acupuncture before and after their embryo transfer to increase their chances of success. I’ve witnessed the heartbreak of canceled and failed IVF cycles, negative pregnancy tests, and repeated miscarriages.
You’re probably asking yourself why would anybody choose my job? I also get to witness all the joy and happiness. There is nothing more special than opening an email from a patient saying they are pregnant. I await the days when they come to my office for a follow-up appointment with a baby bump and when I finally get to meet their newborn. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
My husband and I have been trying to conceive for almost a year. This makes us newbies in the fertility world. Due to an underlying diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), it’s very difficult for us to conceive naturally.
My doctor thankfully referred us to a fertility clinic right away. That’s when I began cycle monitoring and treatment with the drug Letrozole to help induce ovulation. Given my age, body mass index (BMI), and high ovarian reserve, our prognosis was good. The clinic felt pretty confident I would be pregnant within 6 months.
We felt excited about this next chapter in our lives. I envisioned us sharing the news with family and friends at Christmas. As many of our friends were pregnant, I pictured us spending the next summer outside on stroller dates.
Unfortunately, things did not go nearly as planned. After five failed rounds of Letrozole, which meant 5 months of hot flashes and extreme hair loss, we had a follow-up with our fertility specialist. He explained that my body was very resistant to ovulation and not responding as expected to the medication.
Although I had seen this happen to some of my patients, I never imagined it would happen to us. We made the tough decision to take a break and start IVF in the spring.
If only we had known how much could change in a few months.
For me, the hardest part about this entire fertility journey has been the lack of control. There is so much that is outside your control, and a global pandemic doesn’t help the situation. The uncertainty, the waiting, the not knowing is only compounded by current events. Now, even the ability to do IVF is outside of my control.
I’ve had several people tell me to just “relax” and use the time to “try naturally” because who knows, maybe it will happen! It’s as though they think working from home under lockdown will magically make me fertile.
Trust me, if it were as simple as just relaxing and having sex, there would not be a waitlist for IVF. I realize this advice is well intended, but it only makes matters worse. It reminds me that I have somehow failed as a woman and that infertility is my fault.
If you have a friend or family member going through fertility treatments, I urge you to keep your advice to yourself. Instead, offer them a virtual shoulder to cry on. Schedule a phone call and simply listen. They need you more than ever during these challenging times.
Even after months of weekly therapy sessions, I am still slowly learning to let go of my shame, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy. I’ve learned to accept my situation and that there are things that I can’t control. As I said to myself at the beginning of all of this, I will not let infertility take over my life.
I am always one to try and find the silver lining in every situation. This sudden change in routine due to COVID-19 has allowed me a rare opportunity to scale back my work and focus on self-care. I can’t control the pandemic, but I can control how much “Tiger King” I watch on Netflix before bed every night.
Getting quality sleep, daily movement, and eating more vegetables are all well within my control. These simple, everyday health behaviors have all been shown to increase IVF success rates.
My weekly acupuncture sessions, which serve as a great outlet for stress, have been replaced with daily meditation until our clinic re-opens. I don’t know when we will begin IVF, but I stay hopeful that it will happen when the time is right.