3 Things I Didn’t Expect About Taking A Break From IVF
By Lauren Citro
Life doesn’t always go the way we expect it to. As someone who likes being in charge, this has been a hard concept for me to come to terms with, but nothing drives the point home about how few things end up going according to plan like five years of infertility.
My husband and I have been married for seven years and we started our journey to grow our family shortly before our second anniversary. Pregnancy didn’t come easily and we blew through Plan A, B, C, D and beyond, pretty quickly. You name it, we tried it - 3 rounds of Clomid, 3 IUIs, 6 IVF Retrievals, and 4 IVF transfers (2 fresh, 2 frozen, 2 embryos each time). After our most recent FET resulted in a heart-breaking chemical pregnancy, we knew it was time to take a break and re-group.
Taking a break wasn’t my first choice. I was resistant to the idea of anything that would delay us having a baby - and not pursuing treatment is a very obvious delay for us.
As much as I didn’t want to do it, I agreed to a short break. Probably 2 or 3 months, I said.
That was a year and a half ago. Our break has lasted a lot longer than I thought it would- and the time we’ve had since stopping treatment, well that didn’t go exactly as I expected either. Turns out, it’s a good thing it didn’t.
1) I Didn’t Expect that I Wouldn’t Feel Like a Failure
I powered through 6 IVF retrieval cycles and 4 transfers in less than 2 years. If there was ever anyone who was determined to just keep on swimming through the world of IVF, it was me. If you could get pregnant by sheer willpower, I would have a minivan full of kids right now. I remember a friend once asking me “how many cycles are you going to try?” I scoffed at the question- we were going to do as many as we needed to do! Obviously!
Every single time we faced a setback, I was the first one with my head back in the game (after a good cry, of course) and ready to go with whatever the next appointment, test or treatment was.
This last cycle was different.
If you’ve been through an IVF cycle, you know the toll it takes on you - physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually. As my husband says: IVF is expensive and it costs more than money. After so many years of non-stop treatment, we were spent.
My doctor was encouraging after our most recent chemical pregnancy, he had a new plan, and he wanted us to get started on another transfer the following month. It was a hard-no from us. We told him we weren’t ready and we’d call him when we were.
And guess what- I didn’t feel like a failure and I didn’t feel defeated. I fought through some really tough stuff the past several years and I’m proud of myself for pushing through it. And, now, I am proud that I spoke up when I needed a break. In fact, taking a break has been empowering. My IVF cycles may have failed so far, but exercising agency over my life and saying no to more treatments for the time being has made me feel like a strong, successful woman who doesn’t let disappointments and heartbreak set the tone of her entire life forever.
2) I Didn’t Expect The Emotions Would Be So… Complex
I suppose this doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Infertility and all the medical interventions surrounding it bring a unique set of emotions, many of which, I had grown accustomed to. I rode the roller coaster of pre-cycle excitement, mid-cycle anxiety, and post-cycle grief a million times. The emotions were draining, but the path was well-worn.
The feelings that came with taking a break have been all brand new.
It started with frustration.
I did not want to take a break. Well, scratch that, I did want to take a break, but I wanted to take it for a completely different reason- being pregnant!
People would say “oh it must be so nice to take a break from IVF” and it would take all my self-control not to scream right back, “Nice? Nice? You think it’s nice to stop injecting myself with hormones all day everyday? Why do you think I was doing this in the first place? For fun!?”
Taking a break from something that no-one ever wants to do in the first place, without the pregnancy I was working toward felt maddening.
But after a few months, the initial exhaustion and frustration faded and I began to embrace our break. I made a decision to practice gratitude and intentional self-care. I made my focus every single good thing that was happening in this season.
The next few months felt like restoration. And I hate to admit it, but it really was nice.
I started to incorporate more self-care into my life- daily walks, trips to the beach, afternoons by the pool, a new workout routine, cooking new recipes, and investing in new friendships. I did basically all the things that are really challenging to do when your brain is full of “remember to shoot yourself with Menopur” and your body is full of, well, Menopur.
In the midst of it all I gave myself plenty of room to grieve.
I grieved the loss of our embryos, I grieved the loss of our well-thought through life plan (we’ve run through version A-Z by now), I grieved the years I lost to IVF. I grieved every hard part of our journey.
In the midst of the grief, I let myself heal. Grieving during a break is very different than grieving when continuing treatment. When you have another cycle coming up you can comfort yourself with the idea of the fresh hope that comes with trying again. (It’s not a bad thing, I’ve done it many times) But it is different to grieve without a next try to look forward to. You find comfort in aspects of life that have nothing to do with another cycle or the idea of motherhood at all. You feel hope, for reasons completely outside of your ability to reproduce- which leads me to surprise #3.
3) I Didn’t Expect that I Would Find Contentment
To be honest, this one was a real shock to me. I did not expect to find contentment in this season. Truly, I thought I would be miserable. I was worried that grief and disappointment would mark my life in a way that I would never recover from and that I would be beyond eager to start treatment up again as soon as possible.
Every month Andrew and I touch-base on how we are feeling about starting treatment again. And every month I surprise myself by saying “not yet.”
Here’s the deal- life is good. And I don’t want to ever tell myself (or anyone else) that life is only good when you have a baby.
Do we still want kids? Yeah, we do. Does my heart still break a little bit walking by the baby section at Target? Absolutely. Are some days really, really hard? You can count on it. Do we think we will ever do IVF again? The plan is yes, one day, we’ll transfer our frozen embryos and hope with all our hearts that they’ll live and grow and become the sweetest babies ever and really cool adults too.
In the meantime, I’ve been given an opportunity to find myself again- outside of the stresses of IVF, outside of the demands of my protocol calendar, outside my desire to grow my family and be a mom.
And guess what- I love my life. And I’m not in a rush for this season to end. When you’re in treatment, you’re constantly reminded of the parts of life you want that you still don’t have. This break has given me the opportunity to focus on everything that is right in my life and to focus on gratitude for all the beautiful parts of it.
When the time is right, we’ll try again. We’ll sit down with our doctor, pull out our box of syringes and injections, and open ourselves up to another cycle. We’ll risk another heartbreak while praying for a miracle. Until then, I am at peace, I am content, and I’m embracing the life I have in front of me- the highs, the lows, and everything in between- and finding joy in all the parts I never did expect.
Lauren Citro and her husband Andrew live in San Diego, California and have been married for 7 years. She feels a deep connection to other couples walking through a diagnosis of infertility and is passionate about sharing her story in hopes of building community and encouraging others in their journey. Lauren loves traveling and exploring just as much as she loves staying home with a good book, but her perfect day would always be spent at Disneyland. You can find Lauren sharing bits of her story, as well as encouragement for other infertility warriors, on her blog www.growmyfamily.com or on Instagram @growmyfamily.