For those that have not heard our journey to parenthood, it may be helpful to hear a quick (if that’s possible) recap on how we became parents. We married in November 2010 and immediately came off the contraceptive pill and began trying for a baby. Becoming a mother is something I have wanted for as long as I can remember. I was the little kid who was obsessed with babies and children wanting to hold, care for and play with them whenever I could.
I had no reason to believe we would have any issues, but after a year of trying, lengthy cycles, terrible acne, and weight gain, we saw a specialist who thought I may have PCOS. I started a medication to ovulate and on the second round of that treatment we fell pregnant. Again, it wasn’t really on my radar that we would miscarry. I thought our battle had been to get pregnant and now that we were, then all would be ok. So I was totally shocked and devastated when we had a missed miscarriage at 11.5 weeks. To keep it short, we spent the rest of the year and 4 more cycles on that same medication, but no other pregnancy, so I was referred to a fertility specialist.
We had 3 medicated IUI’s, then moved on to IVF. We had one fresh embryo transfer, without success. Then we transferred our frozen embryo. We were finally pregnant again, about 16 months after our first pregnancy. Hormone numbers from the start were looking a little dodgy, so we were shocked when at both a 6 and 7 week scan, we saw a heartbeat. It was so cruel to have our hopes slightly raised. It all came crashing down again when at a 9-week scan, we no longer had a heartbeat! One more frozen transfer then back to another full IVF cycle (after some further investigations) and it was a cycle with poor response. I had one embryo they were willing to transfer, and thankfully they did, as we got pregnant!! That dodgy looking emby became our first-born Xavier in November 2014. Hard to believe that’s the quick recap on how we became parents! We have been lucky to conceive naturally, and have since welcomed, Charlie in May 2016 and Lily in May 2018!
There seems to be more written about pregnancy after loss and/or IVF, but not so much about what its like to be a mother after loss and IVF. Seeing as I am now 5.5 years into my mothering journey, have closed the chapter on trying to conceive and being pregnant, I thought it was a good time to reflect and share how I am finding mothering after loss and IVF.
You will make promises to yourself (while trying to conceive or pregnant) that are unrealistic to keep. I remember saying in my head things like: “I won’t complain about being pregnant”, “I’ll manage the sleepless nights, as anything is better than what we are going through now”, “I will be the most loving and best mother ever if you give me a child” etc. etc. You get the drift. But then you get pregnant, have a baby, and then a toddler and you realise that this is also going to have its rough moments. Was I eternally grateful to be pregnant and through the first trimester? Yes! But was I hating the anxiety that pregnancy created and really disliking how uncomfortable, painful and sick I was with each pregnancy? Absolutely! Also have I felt rage and anger and just wanted a break from the kids? More times I would like to admit. And its ok to feel this and share this with whoever you feel safe with.
You can not and nor should you try to be the perfect mother. This point leads in nicely from my previous point. There may be feelings around being gifted this baby so you must be extra grateful and do everything you can to not stuff up this miracle that’s been given to you. But the perfect mother does not exist, no matter how you came about being a mother. Once a mother our brains physically change, and part of that change is so we can learn on the job. We are not meant to know it all. We are meant to try things out and adapt as we need to. So, it means we will make mistakes, but as long as we make repairs with our children, then they will turn out ok.
Mum guilt may likely be amplified. The guilt that starts in pregnancy will carry on to your mothering. We all get this guilt, but for me at times it could be really heightened. I remember being pregnant with xav and at work with hideous hip pain. I even felt guilty about taking Panadol in case it did something to the baby, I thought I should just grin and bear it. I wanted this pregnancy so badly after all. It took a nursing colleague saying to me something like “I see so many pregnant women who are drug effected, who haven’t been caring for themselves through pregnancy, and a lot of the time the babies turn out well. You can have some Panadol”. Even now I get these feelings of guilt especially when it comes to not being able to be there for the kids, like at school. I really wanted to make sure I was always available and there to support my kids. And I am working on realising that isn’t always possible, and that’s ok.
Your boundaries and how you want to parent, may be further established and in place, as you have worked on these things while trying to conceive and grieving. While I was trying to conceive and experiencing our losses, I had some wonderful support from a psychologist. She really helped me establish sound boundaries with work, so I could protect my physical and emotional health. She also helped me ease the guilt and pressure I felt to say NO and to do things that served my mental health positively. So, for example, I attended less and less baby showers, less family events that triggered me, made changes to my work arrangements etc. This has followed through with my parenting. I have felt little guilt about working around mine and my babies/children’s needs especially when it comes to rest and sleep. We have had babies and children that need a lot of support with sleep, so it is a big deal for us to be out and about during a nap time, so we hardly ever do it. If I hadn’t had the past practice of boundary setting, saying NO, then I think I would have felt more guilt and I would have ignored the boundaries that I needed to set for myself and my family.
There may still be moments of feeling Jealousy, anger, or grief. I am beyond grateful for my 3 children, but of course still have moments of what if? For me I have moments of if we had not miscarried our second (a girl) then I would potentially have had the 2 little girls I dreamed of. So, at times, yes I feel jealous of those that have girls. I can also feel a hint of the green-eyed monster when someone conceives after not trying, or for a little amount of time, and especially if their pregnancies are a walk in the park. My dear friend Chloe so eloquently shared with me about the loss of her daughter Sophia at 23 weeks “It is only 5 years later that I am processing some of the deep grief that I felt over Sophia’s death. Grief of a blissful, innocent pregnancy, grief of her future, grief of her life… Often grief is masked by anger or frustration. Anger that others don’t understand what it feels like to see a little girl the age Sophia would be, anger that others have a blissful first pregnancy. Anger that life goes on, that in part she is a moment in time that can easily be lost in the busyness of it all.” Chloe now has added two boys to her family 2 and 4 years old, and it is only recently she is finding the time to process what happened over 5 years ago.
I personally no longer feel jealous or sad at baby showers or pregnancy and birth announcements, like I once did. I am glad to say that joy has returned for me with these things and I actually get really excited as I love all things pregnancy and baby! Hence the career change of direction! But these feelings can and likely will be raised at some point mothering after loss and IVF. It may be that you need to get some more support now to help you process it all, work on boundaries with family and work or to figure out ways to find time for yourself and your own needs, fill your bucket.
If you need any help processing your previous losses, fertility journey or mothering after loss or IVF, I am always here for support so please get in touch. Some other great organisations are: