This really isn't where I thought I'd be at this point in my life. Thirty-six years old, single and planning to conceive a child with the help of an anonymous donor across the seas. Try bringing that up over a coffee, in the staff room or in general conversation.
So generally I don't. I hold it inside. Yet so often a tiny voice in my mind pipes up, sometimes weeping, silently screaming about doing this alone.
I know now that this little voice is grief's echo. Yes, I know that suffering is inevitable and normal. That unutterably horrendous things happen to good people. That "happiness" is an unhelpful standard and contentment a blessing. But for this past decade since we lost beautiful Dad, grief's echo has been the voice in my head. A voice that has whittled me down physically, emotionally and spiritually. I hate myself for it.
Yet, amid the most searing heartache, self-hatred and loneliness, another softer voice occasionally reaches me. Whispering to my soul, Dad's voice urges me on from the sidelines. "You'll get there, darling!", and "take it on the chin – just keep being you".
Recent media coverage around alarmingly low IVF "success" or "live birth" rates may lead many to question the sanity of those undergoing IVF. However, this ignores the pull of hope.
For those on the IVF treadmill, hope fuels the resilience to keep going.
As I sit in an inner city IVF waiting room adorned with garish butterfly prints, the tiny voice in my head continues to whisper sadly. The room is full of couples awkwardly avoiding each other's eyes.
Later that day, I click on the photo of my chosen donor, the man across the seas whose words struck my soul. A six-year-old boy with gentle, smiling eyes pops up on my laptop screen. As clichéd as it sounds, tears blur my vision. The deep brown eyes of the little boy and the words his adult self has written tug at my heart.
And as I sit uncomfortably at times with the ethical and personal questions anonymous donor conception raises, the tiny voice asks again how it is that I've arrived at this point in life? A concoction of medical misfortune, some bad luck, and fate.
Well-meaning friends who haven't had the intensely personal, anxiety-provoking and wrenching experience of IVF ask "Aren't you excited?"
I find myself without an answer. Yes, I should be, and at times feel flickers of brightness but these are mixed with realism regarding the risks and statistics of IVF. There are no guarantees of success.
On days of lightness, optimism wins over my irritating pragmatism, most often sparked by bouts of reassuring cluckiness. The fuzzy undefinable scent of new baby skin. Or the beautiful, soft, warm weight of a baby in my arms. Conversations about IVF are inevitably tricky. Navigating such awkward conversations requires tact and, most of all, a dry sense of humour. No self-pity.
The imagery inherent in media coverage too often focuses on assisted conception as the commodification of nature. An option reserved for wealthy working women who "want it all". Yes, there are deep ethical and legal questions and dilemmas. Yes, the best interests of the child must always be paramount. And no, there are no easy answers.
IVF is rewriting the narrative of the life I assumed would unfold. However, no matter how this chapter of my unexpected story ends – failure or fairytale – I have to find the courage to accept the inherent uncertainty of the human experience and the strength to keep embracing life.
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