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"It still hurts." The unique grief of losing an embryo after IVF.

This post mentions miscarriage and may be triggering for some readers.

Too many people don’t appreciate what infertility can do to a woman’s soul.

What’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with my body, why don’t I deserve this?

You ask yourself these things every month you don’t fall pregnant when that’s all you want; which, for me, was 24 months.

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I had my first and only child through IVF. It was relatively easy for me in comparison to so many of the stories of others I know. I mean, it was a nightmare of emotions and injections and appointments, and unmanaged expectations – but I was also very lucky.

I never had a miscarriage. I’ve never lost a baby. And I got a baby in the end.

Having said that, I’ve lost embryos in two painful ways that still haunt me, no matter how hard I try to shake the memory.

After my first failed IVF attempt, a friend, who was already a mother, wouldn’t acknowledge I saw it as a loss. But it was, to me. It was a lost chance for our embryo to become a much-wanted child. A child whom, in my head that was filled with hope and desperation, already existed.

She didn’t understand that when an IVF round ‘fails’, a woman can feel grief. She also didn’t care.

“You haven’t lost a baby,” this ‘friend’ said, as her only offer of advice.

Oh, I thought. I know. Thanks for that.

Yes, I knew it was nothing like having a miscarriage, or losing a baby. Obviously. I realised I’d been spared that. But it still hurt.

After three rounds of IVF – meaning two lost embryos which emotionally wrecked me – I fell pregnant, and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy son, twelve wonderful years ago. I’m so grateful to have him; especially because my marriage ended only two and a half years after he was born.

In the chaos of our break up, my ex and I never discussed what to do with our four frozen embryos. To be honest, it didn’t seem relevant at the time. I was only 32, and believed I’d probably have more babies with someone else.

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When I was going through IVF, I’d bought a seven-seat SUV hoping to fill it with kids, and I didn’t think getting divorced would get in the way of that.

As it turned out, it did – but I had no way of knowing that for sure back then.

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I saw my fertility doctor one last time, who assured me that if my next partner was in good health, we’d have no trouble conceiving. Great.

The doctor also mentioned that the clinic wouldn’t let uncoupled couples use their embryos. That made sense to me. Why would I want more kids with my ex?

It seemed straightforward, until I got a letter from the IVF clinic asking for me to make a tough decision about those embryos. You see, freezing them didn’t come free – it cost $1200 for the year.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to pay that… but then what? I had three choices: I could donate them to other couples, donate them for medical research, or have them destroyed.

These were choices I never envisaged having to make. I’d worked so hard for these maybe babies; the emotional and physical toll had almost made me stop trying.

I thought donating them to science as a thank you for what science had done for me might be the best option. But then I read the fine print: the clinic could call me when they were ready to use them, and check to see if I was sure I didn’t want them – even years later.

And in my heart, I knew that there was a strong chance I would say yes, and turn the situation into a complicated drama involving lawyers and my ex.

Trying to sort out my mind, I asked another friend for her opinion.

“Don’t you want to give your son a full biological sibling?”, was her unexpected response.

 

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#tbt A time when this kid could fit in my lap ❤️ (and also when thin eyebrows were cool) #feelingsentimental

A post shared by Nama Winston (@namawinston) on

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Of course I did, but the situation wasn’t just about me. I knew I had to deal with it now, before emotions and temptations took over in years to come if I didn’t have more kids with someone else.

I couldn’t keep those embryos as my Plan B. That wasn’t fair to anyone.

I know now, a decade later, I made the right call to sign the form for destroying the embryos, even though doing so still haunts me, because fate didn’t make the decision; I did.

I never had more kids. It is a great sadness for me. If I still had those embryos, I might be tempted to pursue those maybe babies, for very selfish reasons.

Instead, what I’ve done now is planned to become a foster carer. Maybe that’s what I was meant to do instead; be available for the most vulnerable children.

Maybe that’s what will help fill my heart, finally, after losing my maybe babies all those years ago.

Feature Image: Instagram/@namawinston

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