Friday, March 7, 2014

Pardoxes of gratitude

In this weird upside down way, I think we are actually fortunate that we went all the way to the mat before conceiving Magpie. We traveled to, and lived in, a zone of despair for over a year before my pregnancy with her. By that time, we had been through 7 IVFs and 6 miscarriages, and we lived our days with the full-fledged belief that we would never have a biological family. And then, miracle, we became pregnant with Magpie, and stayed pregnant. And so because of that, because we didn't struggle a little and then get pregnant from our first or second IVF, because we went to the end game and then experienced a miracle to conceive and carry our little girl, I haven't had any of the experiences that some of, less infertile? friends have had...(oh dear, sounds like I'm invoking the pain Olympics, but bear with me). What I mean is that some of those I know who have suffered, but didn't ever get to the absolute nadir that we had gotten to remain sad that their pregnancy experience was "ruined" or are bummed they couldn't get pregnant via regular intercourse, which would have been so much more romantic. Well, yeah, that would have been nice.

It's sort of, I guess, similar to the idea that if you have stage I cancer, you have room to be bummed you faced cancer at all, but if you have stage IV cancer, and are truly convinced you will die of your disease, but then somehow get a pass and you make it into a lasting remission, you may be paradoxically less upset you dealt with cancer at all and are just thankful your life was spared. As a psychologist treating a number of people with varying levels of significant medical illness, I have seen this phenomenon.

There's probably a psychological term for this that's evading me at the moment.

The silver lining of going all the way to believing that you will never get out the other side, and then staying for a significant time in that terrible place, is that when you do make it out, by some miracle of God or science or both, you are just plain grateful.

Sure it would have been nice to just have sex and get (and stay) pregnant. And sure it would have been nice to just do one or two IVFs and get (and stay) pregnant. But that wasn't in the cards for us. And because that is so far from our reality, I don't really even mourn those things. They are so distant from our experience that they have become foreign to me, which is strange to realize but true for us. For us, it just feels like all indicators pointed to a hopeless outcome. I remember one commenter even writing to us late in the journey (anonymous, of course), "Maybe it's time you see the writing on the wall? You've had the best clinic in the country transfer chromosomally normal embryos and given you every hormonal supplement they could to enable your body to support the pregnancy. And it just didn't happen." 

And they were right, although the comment really stung. We were in this hopeless, seemingly interminable cycle of IVF, pregnancy, miscarriage. Wash, rinse, repeat. With no end in sight. It was horrible. To then be gifted with a child, conceived of our own gametes, and whom I was somehow able to carry inside of my body for nine months... well, that seemed like a miraculous turn of events, and many in our medical team would probably agree.

So in this strange infertility paradox, all of that pain, all of that difficulty has led us to actually feeling greater satisfaction, more immense gratitude, than if our baby had come much more easily***.

Funny how life works sometimes, isn't it?


***Still not a recommended course of events, if you have any choice in the matter.

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gwinne said...

You know, I remember that comment.

What you say here makes a lot of sense to me, too.

I have a good therapist/psychologist I've been seeing off and on since making the decision to go DE...but I suspect you'd be a better one :)

Jo said...

Yes. So much yes. We are slightly short of your numbers (5 IVF's and 3 losses) with 12 years spent TTC. There is a difference.

Anonymous said...

Yes. This exactly. Sucks about the comment--I missed that one. But I definitely get what you are saying. Having endured almost as much as you I sometimes gave a hard time understanding why @less" infertiles are still wallowing when they finally get their precious baby(ies).

Anonymous said...

beautifully written...

totally agree, too...
thanks for putting it into words!

I also remember that comment. ouch.

Emily Erin said...

I love the *** to let us know that it's still not the recommended way of doing things. I am so glad that you can be fully grateful for Ms. Magpie; she is wonderful and adorable to behold. And I, too, remember that comment and wanting to punch someone in the face on your behalf for trying to tell you and Will where your limits were. Grrr. It *still* toasts my cookies on your behalf. Ha.

I hope so much that maybe just maybe the universe has another miracle stored up for you in the form of your final frozen embryos whenever the time is right for your family to move forward with that.

Julia Spencer said...

6 years into our IF journey, I see the difference too.
Thanks for writing about this.

Mo said...

Hi Anonymous at 10:04AM - Just to clarify, I don't think anyone is wallowing, and I did not intend to cast judgments on anyone for their feelings. It's totally legit in my book to mourn your losses, from your experience and standpoint. I guess my point was more that we have this different perspective, given how close we came to having no family at all, that to have somehow eeked out the other side feels like winning an incredible lottery. Probably wouldn't appreciate it in exactly the same way if it had come easier. Hope that makes some sense?


Silver said...

I kind of wish we hadn't tried for a sibling as I definitely felt that incredible gratitude (after 8 years, 6 miscarriages and various failed treatments) that our DE cycle worked and we got our wee boy. However, after the failed FET with the remaining DE embryos, I felt so grief-stricken and felt also that I'd let my son down by not being able to give him a sibling. All the old feelings of unfairness and jealousy of the ease with which others achieved their families came flooding back. They're receding again a bit now, nearly a year after the FET. It's all so personal, isn't it - everyone feels these things differently. Miss M is definitely a wee miracle - all these amazing "almost never were" babies are!

jenicini said...

I think you explain very eloquently the reality that there is a difference between infertility experiences that doesn't invoke the pain olympics. :) I still believe that I am far more grateful parent because of what we went through. I don't curse infertility or IVF even though I rightly could, I'm just freaking grateful that it worked.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think that's true, that it makes you more grateful. But I think Julie's post was more honest, at least for me:

How can I know if I'd have been less grateful (and by what, 10%, 15%?) if IVF 2 had worked instead of IVF 6?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm way too lazy to look it up, but I once read a study suggesting that, for many people, the experience tends to be the opposite -- the more time and effort and procedures ans losses it took for a person/couple to end up with a baby, the less happy they were with parenthood.

Basically, the harder it was to get there, the rosier (and hence more unrealistic) the expectations of what parenthood would be like became.

Psychologically, I guess, the idealizing of the goal could be seen as a way to justify the costs of the journey.

But, in the end, the gap between the rainbows and glitter they envisioned and the often-difficult reality of having a child was much bigger than for someone who hadn't invested so much in becoming a parent.

Glad to hear that things worked out differently for you.

Mo said...

Anonymous at 3:22 - interesting...i could see it going that way as well... there is a phenomenon known as posttraumatic growth, though, that kind of says the opposite. that sometimes through horrible things, there is a positive increase in things - life appreciation, etc. not that it happens for everyone. not sure if anyone has studied the construct in relation to infertility/loss, though...usually i read about it in relationship to illness.

Mo said...

anonymous at 3:07 - Julie's writing about being a better parent. I may be a more grateful parent, but I don't really think I'm a BETTER parent for having gone through infertility. I still get tired, cranky, look at my iphone when I should just be 100% interacting with magpie, etc. i expect i'd be a better parent 6 years ago than I am now. I'm much more tired I think now that i'm 42 than i was in my mid-thirties! so color me grateful and exhausted, but not better. Mo

Anonymous said...

From anon at 1004--yes, it was me really who was being judgmental. But I still really don't get it. They have the prize! Like another poster said, I think there is a little bit of of difficulty when we find out parenting is less rainbows and very hard after all those years of wanting, but I think that's separate and different than unhappiness due to how you got pregnant etc.

It Is What It Is said...

I feel similarly, Mo. Even though we had our first live birth after IVF #2, 3 naturally conceived pregnancies prior to that ended in miscarriage and it took two surgeries in addition to doing IVF that got us there. I am grateful, grateful, grateful every single day and don't feel embittered toward my infertility.

And, to your point to Anonymous, I am not a better mother because of it. I might be a better, more empathetic, supportive woman, but motherhood isn't a competition and I try to do the best that I know how, regardless of how hard a fight it was to bring my sons to our family.

I feel similarly with those who lament having to have a c-section vs a vaginal birth and who let that color their entire pregnancy/birth experience. It wouldn't have mattered if H or G had to come out of my ear, I just cared that they were here, healthy and thriving. To this day, I am grateful for my c-sections, really, because they brought my sons to me. I don't feel like I have missed out on anything by not having a vaginal birth.

Mo said...

It Is What It Is, It's funny, I actually do mourn the c-section from time to time. Then, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and remember that the important thing is that she is HERE, and that the c-section was to ensure that was as safe for her as possible. The infertility/loss might actually have amplified my desire to have a vaginal delivery, I think, because I wanted there to just freaking be one thing that went "right." But alas, nope. I think too, the place I get snagged is when I think that somehow the c-section could have been averted if only I hadn't induced or had an epidural or some other nonsense. so there's a bit of self-blaming in there for me. still some working through that for me to do, apparently.


SciChick said...

I think everybody approaches this differently. On my part, if I actually get a live, healthy baby to take home (oh dear god, please), I'm going to actually look at these past three years of TTC as a a difficult, but rewarding process (even discounting the ultimate priceless reward of the baby). It horribly hallmarky, but I feel like a different person from the pre-TTC me, and I LIKE the changes. I like knowing that I can withstand awful things and be okay after, I'm definately glad I found about about some science- related stuff (like the Vit D thing, and some other stuff); I would have never found any of that out had life given me the easy route out. It seems like I'd be a better parent now than the pre-TTC version of me, too, for sure.

KDN said...

I really relate! I feel like I'm still in some kind of shock that I actually have a live baby - (8 mo old) ... and I wish I'd known to enjoy my "free time" a little bit more instead of wallowing in all the IF misery. Parenting is definitely tougher being older. The thought I have a lot (besides gratitude) is of a story I heard from a friend about a mom who had her child through DE, and she was so grateful it had turned out that way because she loved THAT child so much. I feel exactly like that. Like, thank goodness we had to go through all my failed IVF/miscarriages... then failed DE cycles... to get just this embryo and just this amazing little boy who is such a total joy. (except for the not sleeping part) ;). I was walking around the city today and he was smiling at everyone and I felt like he was a little ray of sunshine in everyone's day... and many said as much to me. I just kept feeling - thank god for THIS child, MY son. MY SON! I'm getting all weepy now! Best to you Mo - I've been following your blog for years (if not commenting too much).

Journey Girl said...

A hugely thought provoking post, thank you. I did not go to that point of feeling that I would never have a family because I felt that I didn't care how we would become parents, whether donor eggs, surrogacy, adoption (though the process for this in my country would never allow it to be so for us) or fostering. We did 6 cycles with my eggs until we realised that it was unlikely that we would become parents this way. Even so, I feel I 'get' where you are coming from. I am grateful every day for the pain and heartache of those cycles, in my own way, I'm grateful that they didn't work because I know have the utter heart opening joy of my two gorgeous, funny, precious miracle sons who wouldn't exist but for the fact we left Australia to go to Thailand to have them via a donor. I also agree wholeheartedly that this doesn't make me a better parent, just simply grateful, thankful and lucky that I get to wake up and see their beautiful faces and hear their gorgeous voices. For me, I think that the journey matters, I wouldn't wish the pain and hurt that we have suffered on anyone but I sure do wish everyone the joy that I feel. I think of the infertile women as my sisters but I also think my fertile friends are my sisters too.

Thanks again for this post, I found it so very moving and I'm so happy that you have found the love and joy in your darling Magpie, she is a true miracle.

Cristy said...

This post really resonated with me. Though my story is different from yours (3 yrs of TTC, 3 failed IUIs, 3 failed IVFs (1 fresh, 2 frozen), 2 miscarriages and 6 months of living as a couple who believed they would never parent), but the feelings surrounding finally achieving pregnancy and experiencing birth are the same. It's hard to talk about this, though, as people automatically assume it's Pain Olympics. But I agree that it's actually something different.

During my time in NICU, I had a conversation with the nurses where they told me that the mothers that tend to mourn losing their ideal birth experience were those where things really weren't that critical. Those that knew they almost lost their babies or had babies with extended stays in NICU tended to be so grateful that their kids were meeting milestones and focusing more on the daily wins. I think their observations support what you're saying here.

Thanks for the post!

infertilefollies said...

This is so timely for me. I am one of the "less infertile" infertiles. We had our daughter after 2 ectopics, 1 IVF, 1 cancelled FET, and 1 successful FET. I do still mourn my c-section and induction after planning for a natural birth. (Obviously am overjoyed either way, etc. etc.) I also am still processing grief over my infertility, although it gets much less over time.

At this point I am trying to figure out whether to try again. Especially for my daughter--I would love to give her a sibling.

There are many things I am grateful to infertility for, most notably, empathy and compassion. I am a better person for it. ***I agree it is not recommended however, if you can help it! haha.

Also I know I cherish my daughter so much more than I would have. Especially in these few days after our FET was supposed to happen. I am awake to the miracle that she truly is.

Esperanza said...

I really think there is a different kind of gratitude that comes from really, truly believing it's not going to happen. I am probably the most fertile person commenting on this post. My first (successful) pregnancy happened quite easily (only 12 months/14 cycles TTC with one ectopic pregnancy. I was incredibly grateful for my daughter and I wouldn't describe myself as bitter, but I did need to work through some residual grief about my experience, especially as I watched other women (my friends) go on to get pregnant on the first try (seriously I knew six couples who did that--or so they said). Then we tried to get pregnant again and after 13 cycles were told we my husband had MFI and I had pretty severe DOR (at 33!) we were told we had less than a 3% chance of conceiving on our own, and that IVF might not work because I probably wouldn't make many eggs with an AMH level as low as I have. We didn't have the money to spend on an IVF cycle that most likely wouldn't even create an embryo, so we assumed we weren't going to have another baby. We still threw ourselves into Eastern Medicine treatments, preparing ourselves for a last ditches ART (cycle in the fall), while I researched foster-to-adopt (which I doubted my husband would agree to). I only spent 4 months assuming I'd never have a second child, but I really came to a place of believing that. So when we got pregnant with my son, and we didn't lose him, I was thrilled beyond words. And I am absolutely even more grateful for his presence in our lives as I was for my daughter's, and I believe that is because we really didn't believe we would have another child.

So even when someone doesn't do a ton of traumatizing treatments, if they still get to that place where they truly believe they won't have another child, I do think they feel differently if they do get that child. I think it makes sense they'd be more grateful, but maybe that is just because I experienced it that way.

Northern Star said...

I totally agree - I know that my husband and I take way less for granted than those who have not travelled down the same path. I don't recommend this bumpy road to parenthood either, but man it sure does make the ending so so sweet!

awomanmyage said...

The years of infertility (and the fallout of 3 IVFs) and the realities of adoption left us changed forever. We have profound and gratitude for our son. Hubby has even said that he would not go back in time for a chance to have a biological child if it meant we would have never had him in our lives. Cause we could have never created such an amazing child.

S said...

I think the feeling you've expressed so eloquently here
--"we have this different perspective, given how close we came to having no family at all, that to have somehow eeked out the other side feels like winning an incredible lottery"--
was what allowed me to make the jump to using donor eggs without many second thoughts. When it came down to a choice of never being a parent at all, or becoming a parent through an alternative method, that choice was an easy one for me.

I say this to in no way minimize the difficult choice that step is for many women, or to minimize the feelings of hurt and trauma that many people still carry after resolving their infertility by becoming parents. Different experiences affect different people differently.

Rebecca said...

I totally get what you're saying. I think I'm a much better mom than I otherwise would have been because of everything we've been through. Not saying I'm a better mom than others at all, just much better than I would have been. I have a lot more patience, and we savor every moment (even the tough ones) and appreciate them in a way that I don't think we would have otherwise. I look at it as one of the silver linings of everything we had to go through.

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