I really thought it was going to be easy.
Sure, natural conception hadn’t worked out for us, but I figured IVF would be a piece of cake. After all, lots of people have babies that way, right? All I’d have to do is show up to the fertility doctor’s office and use their porn room to produce a semen sample (Hollywood has taught me that every office has a porn room). They’d mix it with my wife’s eggs, freeze them, and then we’d show up one day and they would simply implant one or two in my wife’s uterus. Nine months later, we’d be parents.
Boy, was I naive.
Looking back on it now, there are so many things I didn’t know and even more things I thought I knew but couldn’t have been more wrong about. In no particular order, here are a list of things I wish had I known before embarking on IVF:
1. Do Not Get Your Hopes Up
Contrary to my original belief, the odds are not in your favor. According to WebMD, the success rate for all women undergoing IVF is 27.3%. If you’re under 35, your chances increase to 39.6%, but if you’re 40 or older, those odds fall, dramatically, to 11.5%.
Nevertheless, if you’re going to approach IVF, you must have the mindset that you’ll be in that minority. And that’s what I truly believed. We had six embryos stored, and even after our first couple of transfer attempts were unsuccessful, I figured it was no big deal. After all, we still had four shots, right? On our third attempt, we got our first positive and were overjoyed. The doctor cautioned us not to get our hopes up – chemical pregnancies are extremely common in IVF and we wouldn’t know for another few weeks if the embryo would actually implant.
All of those warnings went in one ear and out the other. We just heard “positive” and the rest of it might as well have sounded like the adults in Peanuts. We got way ahead of ourselves and started making plans for our new baby. We had names all picked out. We even made plans to attend a baby supplies expo that was supposed to take place in Chicago later that summer.
I think you know where this is going.
On her next appointment, her hormone levels fell, meaning it had been a chemical pregnancy after all. I still remember that day vividly. I kissed my wife goodbye when she dropped me off at the train station before heading to her doctor’s appointment. After I got off the train, I walked to my office with a spring in my step and a gigantic smile on my face, fully expecting that I’d get a call later in the day confirming that we were finally pregnant. In retrospect, I was probably tempting fate so much that I might as well have been singing “Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me.” Later in the day, my wife called me in tears with the bad news and the rest of the day is a blur. Actually, that’s a lie. I cried so much that day even John Boehner would have told me to pull myself together.
I still find myself thinking about that non-pregnancy quite a bit. If it had been successful, our child would be celebrating his/her third birthday right about now. But it was not to be. Luckily, we still had three other chances and we were making progress, right? It sucked to have a chemical pregnancy, but it showed us it was possible to get that initial “yes” rather than the usual “no.” Hopefully, the next transfer would take.
2. It’s a Hard Journey
I had no idea how physically taxing this procedure would be. Not for me, of course.
My wife was an absolute warrior throughout this entire process. She had to give herself multiple daily injections of hormones, medication, and various other things. And we’re talking long, six inch needles – not the smaller ones they use for vaccines. She had to do it for a couple of weeks leading up to each transfer, and then for weeks afterward. She got so adept at injecting herself, there were times I didn’t have do a thing — just watch her demonstrate her incredible tolerance for pain.
And that doesn’t include all of times she had to undergo medical or even surgical procedures — all in an effort to get answers that never came about why she couldn’t carry a baby to term.
Indeed, the physical toll, as bad as it was, was tolerable compared to the uncertainty. Because we fell into the category of “unknown fertility” rather than “infertile,” we were in the tough position where we had to put all of our hopes into each transfer rather than move on to something else (adoption or surrogacy). Even when I was ready to move on, it was important to my wife as a woman and future mother to exhaust all possibilities. It didn’t matter how many times I said I’d be happy to adopt. It was a question of identity and nature for her.
“As a woman, my main biological function is to reproduce,” she said. “If I can’t do that, then what can I do?”
3. And Lonely — Very Lonely
Despite that, after our fourth failed transfer, we had to accept that we might never have a biological child. As such, we decided to begin exploring adoption as a possibility.
Like IVF, adoption is also a scary and intimidating process that we were similarly unprepared for. Nevertheless, we found that people who had gone through adoption were more than happy, even excited to share their experiences and insights with us.
IVF, on the other hand, remained a black box for us. Even family members who had undergone IVF seemed reluctant to talk to us about their experiences. For men, it was even harder to find out information. I actually found a group on Facebook and posed this very question about why it was so difficult to find people willing to talk about it.
“One reason might be that a lot of people see IVF as unnatural or even an affront to God,” one person stated. “That might make people who have gone through it feel ashamed or stigmatized. That’s not the case with adoption.”
“It’s tough for people to talk about IVF because it involves talking about your own body and your bodily functions,” another person opined. “Adoption is easier to talk about.”
Ultimately, IVF is about failure — to conceive, impregnate and reproduce biologically. Adoption is about success — giving a child a good, safe, nurturing home while overcoming the obstacles to create a family. I can see why people would rather focus on the good instead of the bad.
4. You Will Find Out Who Your True Loved Ones Are
A painful lesson my wife and I learned is that our circle of loved ones is smaller than we thought. Some people we had long thought were our best friends, and even some family members, were not there for us during our struggles. We understood that people have their own lives and struggles — we certainly couldn’t, and didn’t, expect others to put us front-and-center.
Nevertheless, we were stunned by just how much some of our loved ones seemed to actively avoid talking to us about our struggles. Maybe they’d change the subject. Or they’d drop off our radar completely — seemingly afraid that even asking us how we were doing would result in an awkward, uncomfortable conversation they weren’t willing to be a part of. One person even said the entire concept of pregnancy didn’t interest them.
Others tried to make our struggles secondary to things they had gone through, even if they weren’t analogous. More than one person compared our difficulties with their own, even though they had managed to have children. “We had struggles too,” said one person who had a child after one miscarriage and a few months of trying. Another said that he understood what I was going through when it came to having to watch my wife struggle because he had watched his own wife have trouble feeding their newborn daughter. I don’t know if it was a poor effort to say “you’re not alone” or an unwillingness, in our merit-obsessed culture, to accept that they had simply gotten lucky. Either way, it made us feel like we had been dismissed and our problems didn’t matter or weren’t important.
On the other hand, some good friends stepped up and became even better ones as a result. “I’m sorry that you guys can’t be parents. That’s really terrible since I know it’s something you’ve wanted for a long time. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know,” one person said – basically summing up everything we’d wanted, and needed, to hear.
5. Your Story Might Not End the Way You Think It Will
And those friends stepped up for us, big time, when we finally decided to throw in the towel on IVF and commit ourselves to adoption. They wrote reference letters for us and checked in to see how things were progressing.
That’s right. When I first started writing this essay over 2 years ago, I had held out hope that we’d have a happy ending in that we’d finally get pregnant and have a child. But just because things don’t turn out the way you think, or even hope, they will, that doesn’t mean they can’t also turn out just as well. The adoption process has been its own monster. It’s been a bureaucratic labyrinth consisting of rigorous screening procedures, tons of paperwork, and hours of training. From the home study to the matching phase to the long legal process that often forces you to wait for months and months with nary a word before suddenly dropping big news on you without warning, the adoption process has been stressful, scary, intimidating and frustrating in its own right.
However, going through the process has been rewarding in ways that the IVF process was not. At the very least, we knew that if we did everything we were supposed to, then we would end up with a child.
And in September, we adopted our son from Taiwan. It’s been a difficult adjustment for all of us, but one that’s been worth it. It’s been fun getting to understand his personality and quirks and learning about his many likes and dislikes.
But mostly, it’s been wonderful to finally have a child we can love, raise and protect. It hasn’t been the easiest road, but the destination has been worth it. For everyone else facing the same situation as us, here’s hoping that it ends up being worth it for you, too