Five Stages of Grief

Last month we were approved to go ahead with our third embryo transfer. This time we were given a 70% chance of success. We thought those were pretty good odds. Our embryo was pre-genetically screened and deemed “normal.” It was a fair quality embryo and our only girl.

Our transfer went smoothly. Post-transfer, I obediently rested for two days on the couch and used the time to pick out baby girl nursery decor. Man, oh man, I found the absolute cutest, sweetest little girl items to decorate our home. As hard as it was, I obediently refrained from picking up my IVF miracle toddler (much to both our dismay) so we could protect his little sis. Chris gave me shot after shot after shot to help keep my hormones at the perfect levels for our little girl.

As many of you know, there’s not much to do during this time but daydream, so we thought about our daughter a ton. We talked about what she might be like. Chris has always been crazy about the Fourth of July, and her due date was set to be right around that time. He was thrilled. We shopped online for cute little outfits containing more ruffles, floral print, and bows so big they go all the way up to Jesus. We were so excited to become parents of a little girl.

Beta Day was the day before Halloween, and just like that, our hopes were crushed in one simple email. Negative. How was this happening to us again? I felt numb. The news simply wouldn’t sink into my brain. I talked about it with a hollowness in my voice. I couldn’t believe it was true. The tears wouldn’t fall. I couldn’t laugh. All my emotions were frozen. For nearly two weeks I was deep into the first stage of grief: disbelief.

A phone call snapped me out of it. A relative told me she was in the early stages of pregnancy. Due early July. Like we should have been too. Something inside me snapped and all the sudden the suppressed feelings hit me like a Mack truck. Our daughter was gone. There would be no Christmas pregnancy announcement. My belly would not swell with the growing life of my little girl. There would be no big bows, and floral prints. The perfect name we picked would never go to a child of ours. Mason would never have a sister. We were simultaneously bummed for someone telling us their happy news at such an sensitive time, and utterly depressed that infertility has us deep in the clutches once again. I laid on the couch and sobbed for most of the weekend.

The stages of grief are no joke. I feel like my emotions are a pinball machine, and I find myself bouncing from one thought to another. The same thing is happening to Chris and not at the same time. There’s not a lot we can do except feel what we feel and try not to judge our emotions. We still have some grieving to do. We’ve talked to our family therapist, and she’s supporting us through this time. To be honest, most people really don’t comprehend our pain. And why would they? It’s not something the majority of the population has any experience with. Most expect since we have Mason already, we will be fine. He definitely makes us so happy, and we are beyond thankful for him. But our life will always be different moving forward. Part of us will always feel the absence of our daughter. Time may help us heal, but it will never give her back to us.

Our clinic reviewed out charts. Since this is the second embryo we’ve lost that was expected to be a successful outcome, they’ve decided they want to try some new options with us in the future. They want to try an endometrial scratch prior to our next cycle. This brought me to another phase of grief: bargaining. If we’d tried this procedure prior to our transfer, would she still be with us right now? They’re ready for us to move forward at any time. My heart is still broken and in mourning for my daughter. I want to process this. I want to move forward. I’m terrified of another disappointment. It’s hard to say what our next step will be, or when. For now, we are just loving on each other, praying, and trying to find a sense of peace.

Failed IVF: How Does it Feel?

No one sets out on this journey to fail. That’s not to say we’re na├»ve and think this is a guaranteed process. We know the risks involved. We understand getting pregnant is not a promise. We also know we will never have our own child without this risky process. 

Taking the plunge into the world of IVF is scary. We’re handing our reproductive abilities over to doctors. Initially, somehow we find reassurance in the fact that the doctor will be taking over our babymaking. After all, by the time we reached the IVF process, we’d tried and failed for a long time. So the fact that another person is taking it out of our hands is a bit of a relief. However, as the process gets rolling, there are ups and downs. There are times of intense anxiety while we’re waiting for answers and we just want to know how it’s all going to end. And where is the end exactly? How long will it take to get there? There are countless times where we so badly wish we could have a baby “like everybody else.”

Last week, I finally saw a therapist about our failed cycle. Something hasn’t feel quite right to me since we got the news. When I’m sad, I can’t cry. I haven’t cried a tear since the day we found out. When I feel joyful, I can’t laugh. In fact, nothing really strikes me as funny anymore. The highs aren’t high, and the lows aren’t low. For lack of a better way of expressing it, I feel emotionally dead. 

The doctor told me I’m experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This news was shocking. I’ve always pictured PTSD happening to war heroes and combat veterans. It never occurred to me that a failed IVF cycle could bring this on. 

I learned that anyone who goes through a traumatic life event is at risk for PTSD. At highest risk for PTSD are those with pre-existing anxiety, and lack of a support system. Anxiety has been a struggle for me throughout my entire life, and only one trusted member of my immediate family, and his awesome spouse, actually know we’re going through this. So there you go–it’s the perfect storm for PTSD. 

You’re probably wondering why I don’t just tell my family. Why would I voluntarily put myself in a position of isolation and loneliness? Simply put, it’s easier this way. I realize I never know unless I try, but both Chris and I feel so strongly about not keeping my family in the loop. They know we want kids, and we’re trying for kids, and that’s all they’re ever going to know. We don’t need to add more stress to this already stressful situation by informing them of the particulars. 

So how does it feel? Failed IVF is more painful than most can imagine. These are wounds that I will actively work to heal in therapy. I hope one day, I can look back on this experience and be safely on the other side. I hope our future IVF attempts do not deepen this wound. The hard part is, we’ll never know unless we try.