IVF: how much is too much?

If you’ve ever Googled IVF, here is what you’ll find.

Scattered in amongst all the advertising and the health information, are the stories of thousands of women.

Stories of women who are absolutely desperate to have a child. Stories of women who have found joy with the success of IVF.

Stories of women who are still hoping beyond all hope that on the next roll of the dice their numbers will come up.

What’s harder to find are the stories of the women who stopped trying.

Perhaps, because when you have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours of hope and then disappointment, into trying to make a dream into reality – you rarely want to talk about how it feels when the happy ending doesn’t happen.

Modern medicine has done amazing things for women’s health and fertility. But how often do we stop to consider the effect these advances have on the mental state of the women who don’t get pregnant?

Journalist Wendy Squires wrote recently about her close friend’s struggle with IVF:

Wendy Squires

Louisa was a mess. After enduring nine IVF cycles in less than a year, she was so obsessed with trying ”just one more time” for a baby that she hid her last two attempts from her closest friends and family – even her husband.

Her abdomen was a blast of angry pinpricks from hormone injections; she had put on eight hated kilos, was clinically depressed and had forgotten a time when sex was fun.

She was also broke, having re-mortgaged to keep up with the expensive procedures (minus the government rebate, the average cost for a cycle is $3000). Her relationship was suffering and career neglected.

But perhaps the saddest fact is that Louisa entered into every cycle of IVF aware that at her age – 46 – her chance of conceiving was a fraction of 1 per cent. Not great odds when compounded with her history of endometriosis and the fact she had never become pregnant naturally.

Louisa’s story is not uncommon. Most women have a story to share about IVF – if not about themselves, then about a friend, an aunt, a sister, a cousin. But here’s the thing. If Louisa were your friend, what would you say to her?

Would you back her to the hilt? Would you encourage her to try and try and try again; to keep fighting for what she wants so badly? Or do you break the news to this person who you love, that the pain she is putting herself through is no longer worth the ever-dwindling chance of success?

Wendy made that call. She counseled Louisa to stop. But when she hears about IVF success stories or against-the-odds celebrity pregnancies (like this one) they make her wonder whether she did the right thing. Wendy writes:

And here lies the big emotional hurdle with IVF – it is a numbers game. It’s like buying lottery tickets – not such a silly idea if you win…

Ask any woman over 40 why she doesn’t have children and there will be a back-story, often a painful one. I am no different. But I have a deeply felt opinion that children are not a given in life – they are a gift. And that sadly, despite how much a child is desired, it is simply not every woman’s lot or luck in life to reproduce.

…I do want other women struggling with fertility to know that it does get better, that the yearning does abate, that it won’t plague your every waking moment as it does now. Promise.

What advice would you give a friend who had been trying IVF for a sustained period but having no success?  At what point is it okay for you to stop being the supportive friend and start being the realistic one? Have you been through IVF? What was your experience?

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