Thursday, 10 July 2008

When is it time to let go?

Last week, many British newspapers featured an item about a woman who had just given birth to a daughter conceived after she had advertised, first in the window of her local newsagents and then on the back of a London bus, for an egg donor. She was fifty-six years old.

This story could - and should - have generated debate about the severe shortage of both egg and sperm donors in this country. Instead, it provoked a range of predictable concerns about the so-called 'selfishness' of women determined to extend their reproductive life beyond what is 'naturally' possible. I listened to a radio phone-in on the topic, in which several callers pointed out that the woman in question would be in her seventies by the time her daughter was a teenager, and would in all probability not live long enough to see her mature into an adult woman.

This is, perhaps, a legitimate concern. Having suffered the effects of premature maternal bereavement first hand, I know how traumatic the loss of a mother during late adolescence/early adulthood can be. My mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was thirty seven, just one year older than I am now. She died two months after her forty-fourth birthday. As I have grown older, I have become less convinced that I am destined to follow the same way, and yet it is always in the back of my mind: if I have a child now, and die at the same age as my mother, then that child will be just seven years old. In my experience, mothers do die, and leave their children before they are ready, and I cannot help but worry that that may happen again.

But this case also sent me back to the perennial question, when is enough, enough? At what point do you decide to let go, to move on, to build a life for yourself beyond infertility? I seem to have spent much of my thirties trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. And I am tired - I am tired of the endless monthly cycles of hope and disappointment. I am tired of the repeated minor surgeries, of the injections and internal scans. I am tired of having to plaster a pleased expression on my face whenever I hear about someone else's surprise pregnancy. I am tired of crying all the time. I am tired of feeling a failure. I don't know how much longer I can keep putting myself through this. I cannot imagine that in another twenty years, I will still be plugging away at fertility treatments, still living from cycle to cycle.

Given my most recent prognosis, I can no longer believe unconditionally in happy endings. Of course I have hope that I may yet have a child, but I am also beginning to confront the fact that childlessness remains a very real possibility. I know that I will be forever scarred by infertility. I feel that it has robbed me of a major part of my identity as a woman. There will, of course, always be reminders of the baby I lost, of the children I might have had. And yet, I hope that, over time, I will journey towards some kind of acceptance. My life will follow a different course from the one I had envisaged, but it will continue nonetheless.

But what happens if, when other women my age are seeing their children off to university, or even welcoming their first grandchild, I am still longing for a baby? What if that deep, visceral ache for a child never subsides?


luna said...

I could have written much of this post. I know that pull, that longing, the nagging doubt and ache. I know the exhaustion and failure. At some point it becomes too much. but without that "happy" ending, there is no easy resolution. I wish the answers were easier. but they are different for everyone. letting go of that hope is not easy.

Shinejil said...

The exhaustion you describe is what I fear most, more than any pain or humiliation or discomfort.

My heart just aches when I read your questions. I know you'll find the answers, but that you have to ask them sucks.

Lisa said...

I feel every single thing you posted about. What's most difficult for me is how many people feel they have the right to tell me when enough is enough and that it's time to move on. As we all know, it's different for each of us and, frankly, nobody else's business, especially someone who hasn't suffered the horrors and disappointments that we have.

Deborah said...

I can so sympathize with how you feel. We will be trying IVF #2 in the next month or so and knowing this is the last time is extremely difficult for me. It is uncertain whether or not we will be able to afford adoption or even if we will qualify. It is difficult to imagine the rest of my life child-free. I don't know how to relate to this. I just keep telling myselt the time will reveal all that needs to be revealed. I truly believe that my life has purpose and I am determined to find it. Hugs to you.

Malloryn said...

I feel a lot of the same things you articulate here. In our case, it's whether to continue treatments or not. At this point I can't imagine not being a mother at some point, yet there is a fear that if we pursue adoption, what if we don't get picked?

I wish I could share some comforting words, but I'm not sure if that longing for a child ever goes away. It is so hard. I hope you find some peace with whatever decision you and your husband make.

the Babychaser: said...

Oh honey, I wish I had words of comfort. I'm so tired, too. So fucking tired. Three years of my life down the tubes, consumed by sadness and need.

I know that studies show that childless couples end up just as happy. But I have a hard time believing that could be me.

And, going into IVF Cycle 4, I'm starting to feel a bit silly in my quest. When is enough enough?

Mrs.X said...

Oh sweetheart, there are so many emotions at work here, all of which we understand completely. Of course the question of when to say when is a very personal one. Should it be measured in procedures? In time? In number of losses? That's for you to decide.

But, the question is a very important one. There is so much frustration associated with infertility because you never know when it is going to end. There is no prognosis, no estimate.

In the end, the only person who can answer this question is you and I suspect that you will know when you have reached the end. Getting there, though, is no den of roses.

I'll be thinking about you.