Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Unrealistic expectations

I nearly threw a brick through my sister's telly last week. It was on in the background, and a programme came on which I would never normally watch, but which I knew about from reading reviews. And one of the things I had read about it was that there was a character in this drama who was struggling with infertility.

It started to grab my attention when they started to talk about IVF. Another character had lent this woman's husband the money to pay for their IVF, and it appeared that the husband had gambled the money away. There was lots of angst about whether the infertile wife should be told, then there were some huge arguments, and it seemed that there was now no money for IVF and this woman was going to remain childless.

And then you'll never guess what happened next. She had a huge row with her husband - I think she may have thrown him out, though I was still only half watching this as I chatted with my sister, so I'm not certain. We saw her crying and alone, then we saw her throwing up, and then guess what - she peed on a stick, and sure enough, it turned out that she wasn't going to need the IVF any more, because she was miraculously up the duff.

I can't think of a single radio or television programme I've seen which portrayed a failed IVF attempt. And of course, the print media tend to take the line that with women wanting to have it all and deliberately delaying starting a family while they build their glittering careers, IVF will soon become the normal way to conceive - and they never mention the physical and emotional trauma that IVF entails, or the fact that it's not always successful (or the fact that most of us didn't simply 'choose career over babies' and then expect a quick fix at a time when it became convenient to start thinking about babies).

The other thing you occasionally see in the newspapers is a smiling couple showing off their baby after 'years of heartache and 10 IVF attempts'. Sometimes the article will mention the amount the couple have spent: "Our baby cost us £100,000, but she's worth every penny".

But they keep very quiet about the other side: the couples who endure years of heartache, multiple IVF attempts, and are left with nothing to show for it but debts. The impression given is that most people are successful after one or two attempts - some don't even need that, as they get miraculously pregnant while they're waiting for IVF to start - but everyone is pretty much guaranteed to get there in the end.

And I think that's why so many people I speak to think it's exciting that we're going through this, and can't understand it each time we tell them that it's failed again. Because surely if we were doing it right, we'd have our baby by now.

I think there's a gap in the market here - someone needs to write a realistic drama about a couple who endure unsuccessful fertility treatments. The trouble is, it wouldn't sell - nobody likes an unhappy ending. So we struggle on, with the weight of the world's unrealistic expectations on our shoulders, and hope that one day we'll be the smiling couple telling everyone that it was all worth it in the end - but knowing that we might just become another of those invisible statistics that nobody wants to talk about.


  1. I don't know if you ever watch "Brothers & Sisters", but they actually portrayed something similar to what you're looking for. First Kitty Walker (Calista Flockhart) went through a line of failed fertility treatments and a miscarriage before she and her husband adopted a baby, and then her gay brother Kevin with partner Scotty went through a failed attempt of IVF surrogacy before they were successful.
    In the movie Julie & Julia there's a scene that suggests Julia Child struggled for a long time with not being able to have children.
    But I agree, most of the time IVF is something touched fairly light heartedly in most movies and shows.

    I guess as much as you want your favorite movie or TV star to win the battle with, say cancer, you want them to get a child after a battle with infertility. It's just human nature :)

  2. I'm sure you are right and there are lots of people who feel like that. Obviously everyone has everything crossed and is wishing like crazy that your next attempt will be successful; but no matter the outcome, you write so well, have you ever considered writing about your experiences so yours is the book that people turn to in a time of need? Even a book which is just your blog posts would probably bring a lot of women comfort and would be so hard to put down. Just my 2 cents anyway...

  3. You bring up a good point, Hope Springs. From my experience as a donor, I see many people's journey-some happy, some sad, some anxious-and I wish that you reach your journey's destination and embrace the pathway. All the best!

  4. I've definitely notice that trend in the media, and I do have to agree with Circus Princess, people want to see a happy ending and the media gladly acquiesces. Either that or they take the sensationalist approach, turning childless infertiles into mental cases and baby nappers.

    I really like PPM's idea. You should write something, but something geared towards the general populace not just infertiles. I really wish they could better understand the truth of it all. You'd be a wonderful choice for sending the message. :)