Last year, around the time I was preparing myself for our third Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) in an effort to have our second baby, I read online somewhere that TV3 were looking for couples to take part in a documentary series they were going to film about IVF. Last Monday we watched the last episode of the four part documentary, and I have to say I have mixed feelings about the show.
When I first heard they were going to do it, I was delighted. Obviously, I have an invested interest in the topic, but it was more than that. At first, I wasn't sure why, but when I sat and thought about it, I realised I was happy that people might finally get an insight into what it was like to actually go through IVF.
It's a very lonely thing to go through because generally, even though there are two of you going through it, people don't want to talk about it. So, when you are actually open about it, and people ask you about it, it's very hard to get across just how tough it actually is. I mean not only tough physically with the injections and drugs - but my biggest issue with IVF services in this country is the shocking lack of mental and emotional backup and support and that's something that is very much glossed over. So when I heard about this show I just thought, at last, people might understand now just what exactly it was we went through. It also just made me happy that the topic was going to get some coverage if nothing else.
The series focused on a handful of couples attending the SIMS fertility clinic in Dublin. I was under no illusion that the main aim of this whole thing was essentially one big ad for the clinic. It featured a couple from the various basic fertility issue aspects - IVF itself, ICSI, a case with Secondary Infertility, a same-sex couple (IUI with donor sperm), and a couple doing IVF using a donor egg. In other words, they were showcasing the various procedures and services that they offered. Fair enough.
At no point did they actually explain what is involved in each treatment. Not even a basic overview of IVF. So, I was able to understand everything because I had been through it. But chatting to family and friends who had never done it, it just seemed to portray it as something simple you can choose as if you were at a restaurant.
Another inaccuracy if you like, was the timeline.
One of the hardest things about IVF is the constant waiting for things to start, things to end, things to try, things to test. Realistically, one standard cycle of IVF would take at least two months to even get going by the time you meet your consultant, do some tests, start preparing your body for the treatment.
Depending on what your exact issue is, they decide a plan of action, and these vary from around 10 days to a month or maybe more. This is just the prep, assuming you have had all the basic pre-tests done like blood tests, checks on your womb and ovaries, sperm analysis etc. And then you start the actual IVF treatment - egg collection, fertilisation, embryo development, then (hopefully) they replace the embryo and it's the horrific two-week wait to see if it has worked. The impression from watching that show was that things happen much faster than they do in reality.
This moves me on to that two-week wait. Without question, the worst six weeks of my life were each of the waits to see if our embryo transfers had been successful. And this is probably where I felt most let down by the show.
I wanted, I suppose, for them to acknowledge what a challenge this really is. If you're going to do it, at least do it honestly and accurately and as raw as it really is. It was sort of touched on, mentioned once or twice about the fact it takes two weeks but nobody, in my opinion, really was able to convey just how torturous the wait itself is. I don't want it to seem that I'm critical of the couples taking part, because that took amazing courage to do in my opinion, but I still felt that this just wasn't portrayed in a realistic way. We saw people getting the results of their tests but not much about the pressure of the lead-up.
The thing that constantly surprises me about my experience with IVF is how it has never really left me. It has had such a deep impact on me, it's something I feel passionate about, something I still get very emotional about. It might be easy to assume that because we were one of the unbelievably lucky ones who had success with it, that I would move on and sort of forget what it was like.
And sometimes I think I have forgotten, but then watching this show I found it incredibly hard at times. Despite the things I didn't like about it, I was glued to it. Parts of it were hard to watch and I found myself in tears when something happened and the same thing had happened to me - when our initial cycle was cancelled was my absolute lowest point in my whole life. Not just because it was cancelled, but because I had learned how it felt to really have lost all hope for something that I had really believed in, and the heartbreak that comes with it. So I identified with parts and re-lived things and I think I realised that the experience will never really leave me at all.
In some ways, I think the fact that is was vague in some areas is maybe good. If you are new to IVF, I think in one way it might be good that ignorance is bliss. Less to worry about going into it, and less stress is clearly a good thing. It was great to have the coverage on such a topic that for some reason I don't quite fully understand is so taboo.
Infertility is a medical condition, in my opinion, nothing to be embarrassed about. I don't understand the shame sometimes surrounding it - if I had a kidney or liver or heart condition I wouldn't be embarrassed. So the coverage was great. But I just wish, seeing as they were going to do it, they had spent that bit more time on the topic and experience itself rather than a showcase of what one clinic can provide which for me, this ultimately was.