Former IVF Patient: “I Realized I Was Just Profit”
My name is Zoe James. I had back-to-back fertility treatment for 3 years. I’m now 44, recently single with no biological children. I spend my time between London and the north east of England where I teach pregnancy yoga and hypnobirthing and soon I will be running workshops helping women to heal from their IVF experience. For many, healing from IVF is a long journey but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
My story: I had three cycles of IVF treatment that resulted in seven single embryo transfers, two miscarriages and, sadly, no baby.
I had no embryos left. I was running out of both money and time. But I was desperate to have a baby, and seriously considering further treatment.
We discussed my partner having treatment and she had a range of tests to make sure everything was in order — if or when — we decided to go in that direction. We didn’t intend to make that decision quickly.
Still a patient and most likely planning for a further cycle of IVF I was confused when the clinic contacted my partner asking her where she was in her cycle and telling her she needed to come in immediately to start treatment.
Between my partner and myself the clinic determined she was the one more likely to get the better results for clinic statistics. (She was 3 years younger and still under 40.)
The clinic phone call completely changed my life. From that moment on, the decision as to whether I should continue treatment or not was out of my hands. The clinic didn’t give me a second thought. This hurt so much. I trusted and respected the staff as IVF professionals but also as human beings. I honestly felt they had seen me as a human being, too.
After that phone call I realised I was just profit.
I was heartbroken.
Did you know that if we had decided to apply for adoption we would have had to wait at least six months before we could even start the application process? That guideline gives the parents an opportunity to grieve and heal so they can come to terms with the fact that they will never birth their own baby.
Most women trying to have a baby most likely assumed all their life they will be able to get pregnant and give birth to their own baby.
How long does it take to undo three or four decades of believing something or thinking a certain way? How long does it take for a woman to get her head around the fact that she will never give birth? How long does it take a woman to feel hormonally normal again after IVF treatment so she can make a decision about her future? How long does it take to feel strong again, and accept and love your failed body again?
I’m sure some women get there quicker than others. But I imagine there’s not a woman in the world that could get there in a mere three weeks. That’s all the clinic gave me when they disregarded my dreams of being a birth mother and phoned my partner instilling a sense of urgency to start treatment that day.
Every appointment I accompanied my partner acted as a massive emotional trigger — my partner in the exact same room, in the exact same bed as I’d been so many times.
The embryo transfer was too much for me. There to support my partner at this incredibly important step I was broken. Triggers went off left, right and center until I burst into tears and had to excuse myself. It was less than three months since I’d been in the position of seeing the black & white photos of my gorgeous maybe-babies. No wonder I broke down. What shocked me most was how little the clinic staff cared. No one asked if I was okay, never gave me a second thought. When I returned with bloodshot eyes no one even looked at me. I understand it was easier to ignore me because I was no longer a potential improvement to their live birth statistics.
As someone who has worked in a business environment I’m under no illusion as to the importance of live birth statistics to IVF clinics. Good results drive more sales.
I imagine managers and sales people around a boardroom table looking at prospects the clinic can turn into paying customers for the quarter.
Following the transfer I noticed the language used. A nurse who had been at my embryo transfers told us if it was ‘God’s will’ we would get our baby. In my heart I know that her words were well meant but they have haunted me every day. Am I not worthy of having a child?
During my partner’s pregnancy I struggled to cope. I was unable to handle the pain. My partner’s labour was a massive trigger. I knew I didn’t support her the way she needed and deserved to be supported. I felt my heart had been ripped out. I felt a failure all over again.
Even though our baby is now a year old I have never fully recovered. Our daughter’s first birthday should have been filled with joy, excitement and wonder. Instead I’m heartbroken as my partner and I separated largely due to the fact I didn’t have time to grieve between my treatment and hers. Short on money due to treatment and the fact I have been barely able to work since stopping IVF the only place I could go was my mum’s house 300 miles from my daughter. To say I’m devastated is an understatement.
I couldn’t love my daughter more if I had birthed her myself. But not being allowed the time and space to grieve meant I always felt on the back foot. Unable to fully support my partner I spiraled into depression because of my failure and my partner’s success.
I write this as part of my journey to healing but more so because I truly believe there are some fundamental changes needed by all IVF clinics.
Acknowledge that patients need to grieve
If grieving is a guideline for adoption then surely it should be introduced for IVF patients too.
Use appropriate language
Well-meaning phrases like ‘if it’s God’s will’ are inappropriate, misplaced and may do more harm than good if IVF doesn’t work.
Treat patients with kindness, respect and compassion
You have a duty of care. You may already know what your patient has been through, or maybe the history is unknown to you. Either way, please treat all as you would want to be treated.
If another woman is the egg donor
Open your eyes and actually see her. She has a name. Do not refer to her as the Egg Donor… yes she might have donated her eggs but she is also a human being with feelings, emotions, hopes, dreams and quite possibly even some grieving for her own fertility journey thrown in for good measure.
Ensure all have sufficient counseling. Frequent and consistent counseling sessions should be compulsory for anyone providing IVF and related procedures.
Women whose babies don’t make it need your support. Please don’t dismiss and discharge them so quickly. Be kind to them and give them space to grieve. Refer back to my point about counseling because every woman who experiences IVF-related loss really needs support to get back on track.
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I have no doubt that had I been in your shoes I’d have felt and reacted the same way, Zoe. I imagine the sense of betrayal and lack of control you must have felt were beyond overwhelming.
How long does healing take? Well I’m 3.5 years out of treatments and I’m still working on it. I was a basket of intermittent pain and numbness three weeks out.
Love your guidelines. Any implication of God’s will or meant to be sends me into a tail spin. I don’t know any mother worth her salt who would take comfort in the notion that her children weren’t meant to be. I feel those things are often said to make the person saying them feel better, not us.
Sending good thoughts to your healing process and thanks for sharing your story.