Strong? You want strong? I nominate women who stop or forego risk-laden IVF treatment.
Women who stand up to profiteering medical practitioners are as far as you can get from the widespread narrative that those who don’t persist with treatment are weak, pitiful creatures who couldn’t hang.
The strong women I know faced the music. They asked the hard questions. They said, no, to doctors and clinics pushing more, More, MORE tests, and new, unproven IVF ‘add-ons.’ In today’s society they have to swim upstream. Run against the herd. Make an unpopular move. They truly are among the very strongest women I know.
The latest woman to enter the arena of strength is Julia Leigh. She is the author of the new book, Avalanche. This week Julia and I connected via Skype to discuss her new IVF memoir. It becomes available this summer in the U.S.
Who is interested in a virtual book tour in August?
Meanwhile, stay tuned for a more in-depth review in the coming weeks.
BTW: Julia is also among a set of former IVF patients included in a hard-hitting Australian news segment questioning the practices of the fertility industry. There are some jaw-dropping moments — including when a doctor advised “hanging in there” and offered, as an example, administering 37 cycles on one patient. You can watch it here: The Baby Business.
‘Normalization’ of Extreme IVF is Perverse
How did we arrive at the place where women sharing photos containing scary amounts of needles are now featured as heroic. This latest fad for announcing pregnancies pretty much makes my head want to explode. Even Louise Joy Brown, the first human conceived via IVF, worries about the amount of drugs used in fertility medicine today.
It’s a world upside when you’re the weird one for wondering, “um? is this healthy?”
If IVF addiction is what it takes to get applause and validation I am prepared to get booed, but maybe we should not normalize extreme IVF. I’m all for diagnostic workups to determine why pregnancy isn’t taking place. But let’s adhere to evidence-based protocols and safe, responsible ‘do no harm’ medicine.
Not Even Menopause is Safe
Still not convinced we live in a pro-natal society? Vanity Fair weighed in this week. It published a piece that estimates the number of times tabloids have deemed Jennifer Aniston pregnant: roughly 3,234 times in the past 20-odd years.
If, heaven forbid, she [Aniston] has even the tiniest hint of a stomach, our nation’s preeminent sad, childless woman is immediately declared as pregnant by the media.
From New Zealand Mali wrote about: “the pressure to have children, the questions about ‘when’ not ‘if’ you will have children, the loaded assumptions about a woman without children,” in her latest blog post.
Because the pressure is palpable. In fact, it’s more intense than ever. Not even menopause is a valid, safe haven any longer thanks to the aging ‘celebrity du jour’ pushing the limits of reproductive medicine.
Strong As They Come
Most of all, then, I salute the courageous souls who critically examine clinic promises. Those who step away from the siren song of “persistence pays off.” Those strong enough to say: ENOUGH! They do so in the face of an added burden: judgement and, yes, a new set of probing questions.
Sarah from New York turned the tables in a recent blog post: “Do people give any thought as to how it would feel to be constantly educating, justifying and explaining what has become your normal due to circumstances you didn’t ask for? Your only choice to traverse down the road of silence and inauthenticity? To constantly assert yourself in conversation where your reality doesn’t exist in a society that has failed to make room for people like you? To have your normal go unrecognized and unaccepted?”
Elaine from Switzerland (via Klara’s blog in Slovenia) described the added burden imposed by friends and family members who refused to let her move forward. She was forced to tell one friend, “Please understand that I had to let it go. It was a question of survival.” Her friend said she understood. “But she kept mentioning it all the same. Again and again. Until the day I told her that this was doing no good to me.”
Hope for a Fulfilled Life
So I am kvell (today’s word of the day — extraordinarily proud) to see strong women step forward and push back on wrong-headed stereotypes.
Back to Mali and Elaine. They summed it up this way.
Mali: “Whether we have children or not, we are all still women. And even in 2016, surely that is enough of a daily battle.”
Elaine: “Somehow, in our society, people think that hope is always the right answer. It is not. Sometimes hope is just plain wrong.
“I still think that the healthy kind of hope exists. The hope I have now is completely different: I hope for a fulfilled life, even without children. It’s the kind of hope that makes life better, not worse.”
Therefore, don’t you agree it’s time we gave equal time and bouquets to those who move to preserve their sanity and their health?
24 thoughts on “Strong? Stronger Than Ever, Thank You Very Much”
Hear hear! I often say that those of us who have had to face life childless/free not by choice are the true success stories. I firmly believe that! Thanks for leading the way.
(Also, I’m reviewing Julia Leigh’s Avalanche on my blog this week.)
I so completely agree with you on this, Pamela (& Mali). Infertility treatment is not for the fainthearted — but it also takes incredible strength of a different sort to say “no more” and walk away — particularly in our highly pronatalist society, where parenthood is not just the norm but assumed to be a given for all. Thank you for the support & encouragement on this road less travelled!
Thanks also for the heads up on Julia’s book — looks interesting. I have put it on my wishlist to order later this summer. And am now settling in with my earphones to watch the video. I wonder if any North American television shows would tackle the same subject??
Yes, strong. Very strong. This group of women is the strongest I’ve ever met. For a while preparing for each day felt as if I were preparing for battle. It was exhausting. Thankfully I’m (mostly) past that phase.
Our decision not to pursue fertility treatments was met with shock and judgement. Friends abandoned me and family tried their hardest to change our mind (some even offering to pay for IVF). It’s hard enough to empathize with infertility, but empathy from the general public is virtually impossible when you walk away without the desired outcome.
In spite of all of the treatments and procedures I went through, halting the pursuit of parenthood was hands down the toughest thing I ever did. Relative to doing treatments, stopping is hard on a whole other level. Add to that being met with disappointed confused looks, a society entirely in-adept at conversing with you, and the stigmas of failure and not wanting it badly enough. Truth is, parades and bouquets are in order for all of us!!! Strong? Everyone better believe it.
PS Pamela, thanks for the mention.
This is fabulous. Women who have the balls to say no to further treatment, in an age when we have the technology to get a 72-year-old woman pregnant, are heroic. Myself, I had an aggressive battle with a pretty horrible clinic before I’d had enough and called it a day. I sat in front of an arrogant consultant who dismissed my family history (mother dead in her 30s) and wanted to put me on an extremely high-dose, last chance oestrogen programme. He mimicked the form of a weighing scales with his hands and actually said “What is our priority? Baby up here… cancer down here”. I say screw that. I hope to write about these experiences in my blog at https://differentshoresblog.wordpress.com/ and join your voices.
It does take strength to both say no and then live with the consequences of that decision. Thank you for pointing this out! I often don’t feel that strong myself ;-). Also, thank you for mentioning my guest post on Klara’s blog. Being so very new to the blogosphere, I am truly honoured!
Yes very strong, all of us, and even stronger to write about our experiences in order to help others.
I agree with all the comments above. Yes it takes strength to walk away & to live with no regrets. I’m happy that we did all we could and when we stopped we were done; physically, emotionally & not to forget financially. For us that line was 6 rounds of IVF and me getting to be 40. For each that line is different & I I would never judge anyone on where they draw it.
Thanks for the heads up on the book – I’d love to be part of the blog tour.
It was hard to say ‘no more’. We did one round of IVF (after 6 rounds of IUI) to discover that my eggs were the problem. Thankfully we didn’t have pushy doctors encouraging us to do more. Friends, on the other hand, were more surprised by our decision. And even more were puzzled by our decision not to pursue anything further like embryo donation or egg donation. We were done. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. From beginning to end (including some pursuit of adoption)it was 8 years of lows without any highs. We walked away, officially, last year. Some see it as weakness, of giving up. I’m not. I’m letting go of one dream and looking forward to the next. I’m coming to terms with our childless life, happy my marriage is stronger than ever, as sadly we have witnessed the opposite happen. Strength, soul-searching, counselling, and support from sisters all around the world is helping me move forward.
Thank you for this. I chose not to pursue IVF for many reasons. Cost, health consequences, continued suffering, probable low success rates, and a need for my physical suffering to be resolved – which required a surgery that ended my chances of having biological children. I heard the words – “You can’t give up”, and lots of miracle stories, but in the end I stood fast in my decision thanks to the support of my husband and my own willingness to prioritize my well being. I think so often women are programmed to believe that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood is the highest path to identity, worthiness and fulfillment, and so comes this willingness to sacrifice our own health, sanity, relationships, time and money in extreme ways to make it happen. I am lucky that I was raised in a feminist family and have many dreams outside of having children, so although ending our pursuit to have biological children was difficult, I have many other pursuits that helped with my grief. However, this is not the case for all women, and I feel sad that so often we internalize misogynistic views of what it means to be a woman in this pro-natal culture.
Yes indeed. I knew that statistically, maybe I would eventually conceive, if I spent every cent on treatment and went into debt beyond my means. But that was still, STILL, a “maybe”. We did 3 rounds of IUI and two IVFs with increasing amounts of meds and invasive procedures (HSGs and what amounted to a uterine disruption/ wall scraping). I also struggled with the knowledge that every embryo transfer and subsequent loss, a bit of my soul died. I was told so many times “never give up” and I felt as though I were surrounded by addicts afraid of losing a fellow user.
I am one of those who put on the brakes and emphatically said “No” to IVF after weighing the risks to my physical, emotional, and financial well-being. I just couldn’t continue being a prisoner to false hope any longer. It wasn’t easy, because there are some who view you as a quitter. They think even the slightest chance is worth chasing. In the interest of my sanity, I said enough.
I decided against IVF, which was the next step offered by my doctor during my infertility treatment journey. Besides the low success rate, the high price tag, and the emotional crash and burn, it didn’t seem right for me to pump my body full of hormones to try and make it do this thing that it did not want to do. I was just tired of being at war with my own body.
I love this post! We never opted for IVF treatment, knowing we weren’t sure about long before we even started ‘trying’ …we watched family members endure IVF and the roller coaster, and I knew it was a burden I was not willing to take on. We tried for 10 years and were pretty silent throughout, with only close friends & some family knowing. Yet we still go lots of comments about methods and miracles. My first response to ” have you tried /ever considered IVF?” is always, “do you know it has a 77% global failure rate?” and they are 100% ALWAYS shocked. I am so glad we never got on the IVF train because I feel like it would have been a lot longer on the crazy baby making train – which means, I wouldn’t have gotten my life back as soon…I am grateful to be 38 and just now feeling human again, after 2+ years of recovery after trying for kids for 10 years…..saying NO! Saying STOP! was my 35th birthday present – I chose to get back to living:) greatest gift ever, because now I can say YES to so many more things:)
I gave up after two IUIs and 3 IVFs that resulted in two miscarriages. I was 44 and knew the odds. After the second miscarriage, I feared for my mental health if we continued. Giving up was hard, but necessary. It took time, but I learned how to be happy again and how to accept that I had a good life, even if it wasn’t the life I had planned.
Thank you for this!! Sometimes I feel completely alone!! I also decided against IVF. I just couldn’t justify pumping all those drugs into my body for such a small chance at our dreams. I just kept imagining how much worse we would feel than we already did if it failed. The support groups we would attend had women who had given their lives and had done ten rounds of IVF with no success. We stopped and really thought: do we really want to look back on our lives and wished that we had lived them rather than spent all of our time and resources trying to force my body to do something it so obviously did not want to do. It was not an easy decision but I feel like we made the right one for us.
Thanks so much for adding me to your blogroll, I’m beyond thrilled.
This topic of knowing when to stop, and being helped to stop rather than relentlessly pursuing last-ditch, desperate treatments, is very close to my heart. I agree that stopping is psychologically very hard.
Five or six years ago,the book Silent Sorority was a revelation to me because it was my first step to realising that I could let it all go. No one had ever suggested that it was OK to choose the option of not doing anything else – it just wasn’t an option.
A couple of years ago, I posted on here as ‘Rose’, and said that I had tried to give your book to a friend who was miscarrying a lot, just to have a read of it because I’d loved it, but she cried and couldn’t even touch the covers of it. (You wrote a post about this but I can’t find it now). That friend was appalled that I wanted to give up treatment. She had a completely different set of factors to me (she continually managed to conceive naturally, while I had a max 11% chance of conceiving with extreme treatment), and she went on to have a child.
Her incredulous disbelief that I wanted to get out of the limbo and the fact that she wept and said she didn’t want to be like ‘the childless couple with dogs up the road’, made me incandescent at the time and our friendship fizzled out. That was bad enough, and the doctors trying to get me on a donor egg programme were another thing altogether. Not to mention family that couldn’t talk about it, etc.
So all in all, a seismic shift needs to occur in how we view life without children, not to mention the fact that clinics need to be 100% transparent in providing percentage chances to patients: I arrived at that max 11% myself after spending days reading research papers, and the consultant agreed I was correct – after months of treatment. Let ‘not proceeding’ be added to the list of acceptable options at these rip-off factories.
This post was very timely for me as my husband and I have stopped all treatment after five years of heartbreak and stress. I can tell you that making the decision to stop putting our marriage and our bodies through the hell of IVF has given us a feeling of relief that we haven’t felt in years. It was not a popular decision among our family and we still feel pressure from outside sources that insinuate that maybe we are giving up or quitting. To us it feels like finally living our lives after putting them on hold for so many years trying to achieve one singular goal , and we never did achieve it. I’m new to the blogging community and I just started sharing my story you can check it out at http://www.notbreedingintheburbs.com/
I just posted about Taboos in my blog, SimplyNotConceivable and while reading your post, Pamela, it occurred to me that Quitting is taboo–quitting,in this case, by not trying to do everything possible (including rounds and rounds of IVF). While I was caught up in trying to have the child dream come true, I didn’t see that my larger dream of having a contented and fulfilling life wasn’t going to come true. You so aptly underscore the courage and strength that quitting can take and model that quitting one dream can allow you to live another.