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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Claire Mulcahy

Friends assumed I would keep going, but after three rounds of IVF I knew I’d had enough

Midsection of woman injecting syringe in abdomen during IVF test at home
‘My life became reduced to waiting. Waiting until 8pm to inject myself with more hormones, waiting for another blood test.’ Photograph: Maskot/Getty Images

We like to tell children to not give up, that quitting is not an option.

I remember, as a child, being reminded by probably well-meaning teachers that there is no such word as “can’t”.

I also remember the times when, utterly worn down, I wondered to myself: “But what if I want to stop? What if I can’t keep going?”

Last week, Caterina Mete, the current red Wiggle, announced she is pregnant with twins at 43, having used a sperm donor and IVF. News coverage described the Wiggle as triumphant after a challenging journey to motherhood. She is one of many celebrities to announce a pregnancy after 40 recently, though not all have been so open about the details.

It is great when older high-profile women talk about their positive experiences of IVF, because it reminds us that there are many women over 40 who desire to have a baby, and that maybe for them there is still hope.

I know, because I was one of those women.

This time last year, I was pregnant with twins that were conceived via IVF with donor sperm. After an adulthood spent being mostly single, I doubted I’d ever have the opportunity to become a mother.

At almost 43, I was going to be the mother of two babies.

The first few weeks of my pregnancy felt dream-like. I had been realistic enough going into IVF to know that my chances of conceiving over the age of 40 were very slim.

Given the enormous expense of IVF, and shouldering that cost alone, I had planned for three rounds.

But after one round, I was pregnant and, what is more, with twins. I spent some restless nights wondering how I was going to manage two newborns by myself.

At my six-week scan, the smaller foetus no longer had a heartbeat. I sat in my car afterwards howling into the steering wheel. I had started to see myself as the mother of twins and then, suddenly, that future was gone.

Four weeks later, at my first obstetrician scan, my little peanut, as I’d come to fondly think of it, was gone too. The doctor gently placed her hand over mine. “I’m sorry, Claire, there’s no heartbeat.”

I spent what was undoubtedly the loneliest 30 minutes of my life crying alone in a spare room, one that was probably reserved for these kinds of moments.

Through my tears, I saw an abandoned ECG machine on a table next to me, a film of dust covering its surface. It seemed a cruel irony.

After enduring an excruciating miscarriage, I beat myself up mentally. I wanted an answer, a reason for what had happened.

Frustratingly, when I asked my obstetrician and IVF specialist why I’d miscarried, they both gave the same vague response: “It’s multi-factored.” I wondered if they were trying to spare my feelings about probably being too old.

But even if I was, my IVF clinic was happy for me to keep going with more rounds.

In the following months, I clambered back on to the carousel to try again.

My life became reduced to waiting. Waiting until 8pm to inject myself with more hormones, waiting for another blood test that left my veins bruised and lumpy, waiting while my doctor ran late, then rushed through my appointment so they could get to the next waiting patient.

So much waiting.

Perhaps unwisely, after my second round of IVF, while trying to occupy myself during the eternity of another two-week wait, I read Julia Leigh’s memoir Avalanche. I sobbed my way through it in one afternoon, desperately hoping that her ending would not be mine but increasingly suspecting that it would be.

In Avalanche, Leigh recounts her six unsuccessful rounds of IVF as a single woman over 40. She also shows how addictive IVF can be. That once you get on the merry-go-round, it is difficult to get off, to say: “I think I’ve had enough now.”

I did two more rounds of IVF after my miscarriage and then I decided to stop.

I was out of money but I was also tired of giving my body over to something that had no guarantee.

Even writing this, I imagine the voices saying, “Only three times?”

Friends assumed I would keep going. Even my brother asked me, and told me about a friend’s wife who got pregnant through IVF at 45.

What my brother didn’t appreciate is that his friend’s wife is the exception.

The media loves a feelgood story: the miracle pregnancy, the rainbow baby. It’s very tempting to buy into these stories and to stay on that carousel, trying desperately to grab ahold of that gold ring. It’s tempting because some people do indeed get it.

So when you keep missing, it’s easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you or that you’re just not trying hard enough. On the one hand, the media celebrates older women having “miracle” babies but, on the other, moralises that women are leaving motherhood “too late”.

My teachers got it wrong. It is OK to say “I can’t” or “I don’t want to do this any more”. Choosing to stop fighting a battle doesn’t make a person weak, cowardly or any less worthy of happiness. Sometimes people just get lucky.

That’s what I would have told my children.

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