“Do you have just one child?” a question I am constantly asked.
“Yes just one child”, followed by my standard response. Until I started to think about the word “just”. Not having one child, but the “just one” child as if it was less than the norm of what is expected. I know this question doesn’t come with any bad intention from the one asking it, and just carries a curiosity as to whether my son has siblings, but just occasionally you feel as if it comes with judgement on my choice or lack of choice as the case may be. There are even times when you get the sad face “oh poor Charlie” or the “well that’s pretty selfish of you to have one child” face. Only last week I was chatting with another Mum who has a large family and she too remarked on the judgement and comments from strangers about the number of children in her brood. So what’s the acceptable number, how many children should I have to fit the norm? Maybe I’m reading too much into all of this but it is something I’ve noticed and thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about it.
Not because I mind that you ask the question but because like everyone’s life there is a story here. A story of pain, sadness, grief, loss, desperation, despair, joy, elation, heartache, triumph and eventually gratitude.
I share that story not because I think you are all sitting at home interested in my life but because I know this will reach someone who is going through the same, or has been on this path. That you might know someone who aches for a child and hasn’t been blessed with that experience as yet, and you will share this with them. Yet more for the women that I coach who are still going through this life consuming journey to have what they feel they deserve or what their body was designed to provide.
So when you ask me if I have just one child just know that my one child is a miracle. A gift that I was never supposed to receive but yet held in my mind’s eye for 5 years until the day he was put in my arms. A vision that I had for myself that I wasn’t prepared to let go of.
This child was number 21 of 22 embryos created through the process of IVF. Before the miracle came a year of trying naturally, followed by medication and artificial insemination, resulting only in anguish and despair and a week hospital stay due to over stimulation of the ovaries. Despite the 32,000 blood tests this involved (yes slight exaggeration), the pain of over stimulation is like nothing I have ever experienced…sheer hell. To top it off this happened to me twice.
So yes “just one child!”
Just when you thought you had enough then the real fun of IVF began. Time for injections and egg collections. Sounds easy right…well it’s not…it’s shit to be honest. Just ask Mark. He didn’t have to physically go through it but he had a bag of carrots thrown at his head one night in a rage of hormones. Not to go into this process too much but on my first cycle I got 6 eggs and 4 fertilised. The jackpot in terms of IVF or so we thought. In went 1 embryo and then you wait for 2 weeks. The longest 2 weeks of your life let me tell you. Every minute feels like an hour and then it’s gone, you get your period and the blood test at the IVF clinic is like the final twist of the knife. But that’s ok, I have another 3 frozen ready to be thawed and implanted. Your whole family could be in those embryos. No need for egg collection this time, you have embryos on ice. So in you walk full of hope ready to go again. Then this;
so we took number 1 out and it died, we took out number 2 and it died and then we tried number 3….it survived so we will implant that one.
Thank God…a brief moment of panic is filled with restored hope and off you go out into the world anxiously waiting the next 2 weeks, as you keep your legs together and pray for the best.
Yes “just one child.”
Negative result, new stimulated cycle, 16 eggs…bingo! Don’t get too excited… over stimulation and hospitalisation again, wait 3 months and back to the beginning once more.
Transfer embryo, failed attempt, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat!
Three years later I was still on this merry go round when I finally had enough. Some deep instinctual place was telling me I was losing these embryos on Day 4. So in consultation with my Doctor we took all embryos out, grew them to a further stage to see who would cut the mustard. You know you are at crunch time when you make a risky decision to take out 9 embryos with the threat of losing them all. They are like frozen gold, so this shows the level of desperation we had reached.
Bravo! Embryo number 20, 21 and 22 you made it. That’s 3 out of the 9 we had left…another 6 gone. At this point we had 2 embryos implanted and crossed our fingers for our last attempt whilst number 22 was returned to the freezer for further storage. It’s almost as if we were discussing a frozen dinner but this is how clinical you become.
Even as I write this I can see how the just one child question bothers me.
My just one child is embryo number 21. Number 20 didn’t make it and number 22 stayed frozen at Melbourne IVF until February this year, when after 7 years of indecision we finally decided to give it another go. When you are told you won’t have children and then you go through hell to finally have one, you feel nothing but pure and simple gratitude. To even contemplate having another go just wasn’t in our realm of thinking and we had decided to say goodbye to number 22. Until the time came to sign the paperwork and we just couldn’t do it. We went through too much to even get that embryo so to just discard it wasn’t an option for us. After years of pondering, just 3 months ago we jumped in and found ourselves sitting at the IVF clinic again. We were very blaze about the whole thing until the possibility of having another child was in front of us once more. Caught up in the cycle again, there we were hoping and praying that it would work and facing the crushing sadness that comes when it doesn’t. That never changes so it seems.
Only this time the grief was different, it was deeper. This time I was saying goodbye to my hope of having another baby once and for all. I’m almost 44 and I just couldn’t put myself through all of that again. Everyone tells you should be grateful for what you have and whilst I’ve never known gratitude like it, there is still immense sadness at saying goodbye to this part of my life. I never used to understand the women sitting in the waiting room already with children coming back to do all of this IVF bullshit again. In fact, I used to feel anger towards them. Shouldn’t they just be grateful for what they have! Until I was in that position myself.
It doesn’t matter how successful your journey of IVF has been the sheer process of going through it again just sucks you in to the cycle of hope and despair, success and failure and it’s like you are right back at the beginning. I was finally able to grieve for the 9 little souls that didn’t quite get a chance to have me for a Mum. We all have different beliefs around when life begins but I know I’ve carried the grief of each them for a long time and I believe I’ve finally been able to let their spirits go.
Wow…wasn’t sure I could write that, but putting it out there just gives me the opportunity to talk to those women who have walked or are walking this path. Whether you have unexplained infertility or ongoing fertility issues, whether you’re trying for your first or your third, each stage of this journey is unique in its experience and feelings. Your feelings are real and valued and worthy. The highs and lows are universal and I know it’s rocked us a little but we are getting there, and sharing this with you is part of the healing.
Just before I leave let me tell you about the journey of my “just one child.”
Charlie began as an egg that was taken from me in August 2007. It was fertilised and frozen when it was 2 days old. It remained frozen until April 2008 when it was thawed and grown in a lab to a 5-day cell. After seeing it magnified on a screen in the exam room with all the little moving cells, it was then transferred to me with another embryo in April 2008. At the 12 week scan my number 21 had survived despite the loss of a twin, number 20. A breech baby, he was born by C section 3.5 weeks premature weighing a healthy 3.2kgs and has done nothing but flourish. He will never truly get what we went through, I don’t think any kid does until they become parents themselves but he’s a fighter like his parents and I know he’ll thrive. He certainly will always know he is loved.
My number 21, my just one child, is meant to be here and that’s just enough for me.
Thank you for reading.
If you know someone going through this journey please share with them and let them know they are not alone.