Writing about our ttc journey (in the post before this one) made me think I should write more about how it ended -- i.e., how we came to childless/free living. (I hesitate to say "made the decision" because in so many respects, I feel like we didn't have much of a choice.)
As I wrote previously, we had agreed (in consultation with an infertility counsellor at the outset of our foray into treatment) that we would try three IUI cycles using injectables. In dh's mind, that would be it. In my mind, we would re-evaluate and perhaps move on to IVF. (But of course, it was going to work!!)
Cycle #3 came & went and no BFP. Devastating. This was in early June 2001. I was 40 years old. What now??
About two weeks later, I was having lunch with a girlfriend at a restaurant in the office tower where both dh & I work. I was treating her for her birthday. Before I met her for lunch, I had taken off my bra & stuffed it into my purse, as it was feeling unusually tight. As we talked, I was finding it harder & harder to focus on the conversation. We were in a booth & I was sitting with my back flat against the upholstery. I had a strange tingling feeling in my arm & shoulder. The waiter came with the bill and I tried to reach for it. I couldn't move my arm. My girlfriend noticed something was wrong & asked me if I was OK. "I don't know," I said. I managed to pay the bill and we left the restaurant & sat on a nearby bench. I was breathing heavily. I wondered whether I was experiencing some side effects from the huge amounts of drugs I had been taking for my cycle.
She gave me her cellphone & I called my RE's office. Nope, they said breezily, I shouldn't be having problems two weeks after the end of my cycle. But if it continued to bother me, I should see my family doctor. Gee, thanks.
So I called dh. He was downstairs in about two minutes flat. My girlfriend hailed us a taxi and he gave them the address of our family dr of 16 years. Not sure why we didn't go to emergency at the local hospital, but I'm glad in retrospect we went to the dr. I was breathing heavily all the way in the taxi. Dh squeezed my hand reassuringly, but I honestly thought I was having a heart attack -- maybe even dying.
Walked into the dr's office. It was empty (thank God) except for the receptionist and nurse (the dr's wife). I said, "I'm sorry, I don't have an appointment, but I'm not feeling very well," and burst into huge wracking sobs. They had me laying on a table with a blood pressure cuff on my arm in about 30 seconds flat. The dr came in, took one look at me and said, "You're having an anxiety attack." The receptionist handed me a pill (from her own Ativan prescription, it turned out!!) & that helped me to start calming down. They took an EKG & continued to monitor my bp while I talked about all the stress I'd been under, at work and with treatments, and the failure of our final cycle.
"Well, no wonder," my dr said. "You've just had a major life disappointment." Dh told him about some of the drugs I had been taking & he shook his head and said, "That's pretty powerful stuff." He wrote me a prescription for Ativan & told me to take it when I felt I needed it.
The next few days I had to take the Ativan several times. I would be feeling fine & then I would get this tingling feeling running up my arm & scalp, and start to panic again. I didn't like how the Ativan made me feel, but I liked the anxiety attacks even less. Was this how my life was going to be from now on??
I wanted to talk to the infertility counsellor again, & dh agreed to come again with me. She listened sympathetically as we brought her up to date on our story.
Dh said this was the end of the road as far as he was concerned -- he wanted a baby, but not at the expense of my physical & mental health.
I told her I felt like we should try IVF -- because it was there -- but I was terrified. If this was how I reacted to the failure of an IUI, what would an IVF do to me, with its much greater stresses (not to mention higher drug dosages)?
She recommended I read one of Alice Domar's books, and that I try yoga to help me relax. She asked us how we felt about donor egg or surrogacy. Too far out on the fringe, we felt (although it has become much more common as an option since then). Adoption? We had discussed adoption, but neither of us was able to muster up much enthusiasm for it -- and I felt that going into it half-heartedly would not be fair to the child. Perhaps if we had been 35 instead of already in our 40s, we might have felt differently. I know several couples who have adopted, and knew it wasn't just a matter of deciding to adopt and having a baby fall into our laps. I knew adoption might take another few years and perhaps more heartbreak along the way, and we were already in our 40s. (I imagined pregnant teenagers scrutinizing our profile and, seeing that we were about the same age as their parents (!!), choosing younger, more hip couples to parent their babies.) It would mean getting off one rollercoaster and getting onto another. I was tired of riding rollercoasters. But we'd been doing it for so long now -- the thought of actually getting off & walking away was a scary, scary thought. Still, I knew that dh & I could have a good life together, just the two of us -- because we'd already been doing it for the past 16 years.
Then the counsellor made a really great suggestion. "Why don't you take the summer off?" she said. "Take a vacation. Focus on your relationship as a couple. Find some fun things to do together. Set up a regular night to go on a real date, like you used to, and take turns deciding what you do for the evening. Put away the thermometer and try to avoid anything to do with infertility. And at the end of the summer, take another look at the situation and make a decision."
And that's what we did. We tried the date night thing (didn't last too long, but it was fun while it did). We went on vacation with my family to the Oregon coast, where we took long walks on the beach. I couldn't stay away from the world of infertility entirely, but I started visiting childless living boards and sites and doing some reading. By the end of the summer, I knew that, much as I wanted a baby, I couldn't go back to infertility treatment.
We were done.
It's not like we decided that we were done & everything immediately fell into place. It's been an ongoing journey. It was probably a couple of years before I could say I really felt we had done the right thing. It's been six years now, and time truly is a great healer. I like to say that our lives are not necessarily any better or worse than parents' -- just different. I do NOT miss infertility treatment at all!!
But there are still days when something will happen to remind me about our stillborn daughter -- about the life that might have been, the road not taken -- and man, it can still hurt. :(