IVF: the great leveller

"IVF has to be one of the most incredibly tedious processes to go through, and who better to understand this than a ...
"IVF has to be one of the most incredibly tedious processes to go through, and who better to understand this than a fellow IVFer?" ... Jen Vuk 

There's one thing women going through IVF can rely on: each other. And this even applies when the women in question is the controversial UK columnist Samantha Brick, writes Jen Vuk.

Samantha Brick sure doesn’t do herself any favours. She of the “You-only-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful” infamy just can’t seem to help putting her foot in her mouth (remember her “fat equals failure” statement just last month?).

Yet, recently I’ve found myself softening towards the self-confessed “French housewife”/ producer/freelance columnist. Shocking, I know, but the reason for my change of heart is pretty elementary.

Like many women of a certain age (myself included), the 42-year-old was on the wrong side of 30 when she first started trying for a family. In the end, like many of us, she turned to IVF to realise her dream.

Unsuccessful IVF ... Samantha Brick and her latest article on Mail Online.
Unsuccessful IVF ... Samantha Brick and her latest article on Mail Online. 

In a recent Daily Mail op-ed piece, however, she admitted that she wished IVF had never been invented. “Some women achieve miracle babies through IVF. But for others, like me, it offers only the devastating cruelty of false promise,” she wrote.

For four years IVF has had its hold on Brick, and in the article she discusses, in heart-breaking detail, what it means to live perpetually suspended between hope and disappointment.

As I read on, something of the headline-chasing Brick began to fall away. In its place stood someone honest, vulnerable and hurting. In short, someone real.

It was an utterly authentic account. I know this, because I’d been there, too. IVF is a state of mind - never mind state of being – when hope is often all you have left (to be frank, at our ‘advanced age’ the stats are dead against us). But there is one other thing women going through IVF can rely on: each other.

During my IVF journey, I formed a strong bond with a number of women also going through the process. Nothing strange there, I hear you say, except that before IVF we had next to nothing common. 

IVF has to be one of the most incredibly tedious processes to go through, and who better to understand this than a fellow IVFer?

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I mean, who else can get what it means to keep a constant tab on your body temperature and inject yourself daily with hormones? Sharing the roller-coaster highs and spectacular lows with someone else makes for a bonding experience like no other.

It’s no surprise that there’s been such a rise in infertility chat-rooms over the past few years; I lost whole weeks to them (after all, time begins to take on new and onerous dimensions during this process). And yet what I found – or so I thought at the time – was a new level of camaraderie.

Oh yes, IVF is nothing if not a social leveller.

And not just among our contemporaries, either. For further evidence of IVF’s ability to break down barriers, look no further than our ever burgeoning fascination with celebrities – from Courtney Cox and Brooke Shields to Steph and Dan, our latest reality-TV ‘darlings’ and MKR winners – who, too, have boarded the pricey in vitro express.

US blogger Lindsay Cross believes there are social and emotional benefits to be gleamed from all of this extracurricular activity. She says that searching out shared experiences among an otherwise eclectic community shores us against an, often, unsympathetic public view.

“Those who seek medical help to expand their family [are often the most] misunderstood and misrepresented group of women,” she wrote on mommyish.com last year.

“The ... persona of these families is pretty one-dimensional. The word ‘selfish’ gets thrown around a lot.

“It’s assumed that an IVF recipient is in her 40s and was just too busy with her career to have children ... Whether you’re 45 or 22, whether the cost is pocket change or a second mortgage on your house, it doesn’t really matter. When you want to have a child, it’s an all-consuming struggle. And many times, IVF is only answer.”

But what if it’s not? What then?

Samantha Brick might be a bit of pain when it comes to some of her views, but her desire to have a baby with someone she loves is as universal as taking breath. While I know something of Brick’s aching desperation, that’s where our parallel story ends.

Unlike her, I thank my lucky stars for IVF, because, without it, I wouldn’t have had either of my beautiful ‘miracles’. 

And maybe herein lies the germ of my newfound affection. Brick’s yearning signifies a path my life could have taken if luck or time – or both – had run out, and not even the crazy unbearable lightness of my sons’ laughter will ever fully erase that shadow of a thought.

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