If at first you don’t succeed…

If at first you don’t succeed…

I’ve been trying to ‘quit’ fertility treatments for a while. I’m fortunate enough to have a son who came after years of trying and multiple miscarriages. Since this success, my husband and I have only had bad news and worse results. It’s been five years of getting knocked off our feet, over and over again.

All our lives, we’ve been told that if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again. This is a common phrase in my house too as I encourage my little boy to set goals and not give up until they are achieved.

But what do you do when it comes to fertility and you’ve tried, tried, and tried again?

What do you do when the outcome isn’t in your control, despite the sacrifices you’ve made, the physical discomfort you’ve endured, the time and money you’ve invested, and your very best efforts? When do you say “enough is enough?” How do you accept the end when the result is not what you wanted?

It’s less a question of when to quit and more a question of how.

I’ve struggled with this for years. Together with my husband, I have set limitations and drawn lines in the sand on where we would stop. At first, we would do anything but IVF. Then, after we did IVF, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t do it again— that we’d explore other avenues to a baby. And then after we did IVF again, we promised ourselves that we would walk away, feeling like we’d done everything we could.

But you can’t predict or control how you will feel at various forks in the road.

And when there are still more options on the table, more things we could try, it’s very difficult to say “I’m done” and mean it, unless you truly feel it.

The decisions we have to make when we face fertility challenges are big and difficult and costly – not just financially, but emotionally. The journey is both draining and testing: it strips you bare, but through it, you learn more about your strength, your durability, and your resilience than you would have otherwise.

I still don’t know how to say “I’m done” and mean it, but through the journey, I’ve come to realize a few things:

You haven’t failed if you’ve done your best.

I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m a failure for years. Every time my son mentions babies, every time I visit a friend’s newborn, every time a loved one considerately asks how our treatments are going, every time a stranger says it’s time to give my son a sibling (it’s so surprising how frequently this happens)… I feel like I’m failing everyone — my family, strangers, and, of course, myself.

But I know deep down that I’m being too hard on myself. If I was talking to a friend who has gone through everything I have gone through, I would tell her that she cannot blame herself for things she cannot control. I know this to be true, but we always see ourselves differently than how we see others. We need to practise seeing ourselves through the eyes of the people who look at us and are in awe of our strength and courage.

No one will understand you as much as you do.

When I talk about our journey with friends and family, many of them immediately jump to the conclusion that we’ve done enough – too much even. I still hear phrases like “Once you stop, I bet it’ll just happen on its own.” But other people don’t understand the intricacies and nuances of our journey. They don’t understand the diagnoses, the science, the options, and most importantly, the feelings. In the end, these well-meaning voices should not hold a bearing on what you choose to do – they can’t understand your experience unless they’ve lived it.

You have to do what is right for you.

I struggle with the fact that there are potential solutions on the table that I haven’t explored further. We often get questioned about adoption or surrogacy – why haven’t we looked into them more? What others don’t necessarily understand is that when you’re undergoing fertility treatments, you consider other options, all the options, all the time. But you’re relying on the medical advice you’re given and what’s in your heart to make decisions. A lot of the time, you may not need those other options to expand your family.

Also, everyone’s line in the sand is different and defining your own line is often difficult. Just because there are other options out there, doesn’t mean they are the right options for you and your family. You really have to reach deep within yourself to know what is right for you and your partner.

It’s okay to choose you.

I feel like I gave my body to science a long time ago. And I’ve justified it because I was making these sacrifices for our family – for my son, for my husband, and lastly, for myself. Most women I know tend to put their needs behind the needs of others. But I’m learning that, as we come to newer, more difficult decision points, I need to ask myself what I want. I am an important part of this equation.

I still don’t know how to quit and walk away, but I do know that I’ve tried. And tried, and tried, and tried… And unexpectedly, I also know that my marriage is stronger because of what we’ve endured together and that I am stronger and more resilient than I would have otherwise ever known.

Perhaps we need to redefine success, because those are not small achievements.

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