“I want to get off the roller coaster!” I’ve heard that a lot in the infertility community. The roller coaster of emotions around infertility and loss is tough to deal with. We have highs, when we get good news, have a good hormonal rush, feel flooded with hope, or get that big fat positive pregnancy test result. But we also have the deep lows, as if we’re on a roller coaster plummeting to our deaths, when we get bad test results, the IVF cycle fails, or we’re diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, or the baby doesn’t arrive, alive and healthy, as we had hoped or expected. I’ve experienced this roller coaster, and it’s not a lot of fun.
Once we’re on it though, it’s not easy to get off. Perhaps a better analogy is to talk about a treadmill. This analogy worked for me. When we first visited a fertility specialist, we were shocked at the suggestion that within three months we could be doing IVF. But then came a second ectopic, and once healed from that I leapt onto the treatment treadmill, with tests and drugs and injections. And even when there was failure, I didn’t get off, just programmed in another cycle. After that failed, my fertility guy pulled the plug on the treadmill. And I’m grateful that he did. Because I could have kept going. If there had been options, if New Zealand’s fertility industry wasn’t so regulated and we could have increased the drugs I was shooting up, if he had been less scrupulous about the money he could have continued to extract from me, I might have stayed on that treadmill, I might have increased the speed and the incline, moving into donor eggs, or I might have seamlessly switched across to the adoption treadmill beside it, without missing a stride. I’m glad the treadmill came to an abrupt stop. (OK, I could have done without the abruptness of it, as I hit the front of the treadmill and came away with bruises, a bad headache, and a spinning brain.)
But my point is that once you’re on the treadmill (or roller coaster) it is hard to get off. Even if you want to get off, it’s really tough to slow it down and get off in a dignified way. I have seen some people pour money into more and more IVF cycles, unable to stop. And I can see how they did it. I know the feeling. It’s an addiction. An addiction to a form of gambling. Because that’s what IVF is, let’s face it. A gamble. If we poured the same money into slot machines, or on the blackjack table (my husband’s preferred game), our families and friends and society would be shocked, and urge us to call Gamblers’ Anonymous. And yet they see us do it with IVF. For my husband and I, it was a risk worth taking. We could afford it. And we only tried twice. But there are infertile couples who gamble their life savings on an IVF cycle. Some will go into debt simply for the chance to conceive. And then there’s the emotional cost. We gamble with our peace of mind, our sanity, our relationships. And you know, I think that’s sad.
I think it’s sad on so many levels. I think it’s sad that some people can get pregnant at the drop of the hat, and others of us have to spend our life savings and risk our health simply for the chance to do so. I think it is sad that we can get so caught up on the treadmill that we just feel we have to keep on running, that we feel if we stop we’ll fall and never get up again. I think that it is sad that it gets to a stage where we might be motivated by fear to keep running on that treadmill, running away from a future we are afraid of, whereas we first got on it because we were running towards something.
I think it’s sad that we might feel pressure from others to stay on the treadmill. I've been on the end of this pressure. And I’ve seen it exerted on others. I’ve recently seen someone come to the end of their treatments, unable to afford anymore. And yet I’ve seen their internet friends pressure them to continue, suggesting cheaper options (such as IVF tourism, or IUI over IVF) even though this too is beyond their financial (or emotional) reach. Because the ALI friends are on the treadmill too. And they’re running, running hard, and they want company as they run, and they don’t want to contemplate any of their number getting off, because they only want to see the finish line, the holy grail, they don't want to see the tripping and falling, and they are incapable of seeing the relief and peace that is possible afterwards. I think that’s sad too.
And finally, I think it is sad that I am worried about posting this, that I am worried about the reaction to the suggestion that we should dare to question whether it is right to continue to gamble on finding a solution to our infertility. Yet I’ve said it because I think it needed to be said.