What if, because of the years lost to infertility, we miss important parts of our son's life?


"Just gone?" I was standing on a footpath by the side of a road with Mr Bea, holding the handle of The Prata Baby's stroller, watching a red car disappear around a corner. The driver's last words - said with an eyeroll - had been, "You know how it is when you have a kid. Two years of your life - just gone!"

"It's not like twenty-four months are just sucked out of you for nothing," I complained.

"Yes, but, I'm sure you've noticed," Mr Bea replied patiently, "the first couple of years can be pretty all-consuming. You don't get much achieved apart from raising your child."

"I don't deny it, but at the end of those two years you have a two-year-old to show for your efforts," I persisted. "You haven't wasted those two years, you've chosen to spend them raising a child." Mr Bea patted me (rather condescendingly, I thought) on the shoulder, and sighed, and agreed that I was right, of course. We didn't have to delve further into it. We both knew I was comparing the act of raising a child to the years of failing to conceive one in the first place. There was no need to explain, to either of us, how infertility can eat up your time and energy and put your life on hold. How it can stop you from advancing a career, or experiencing that must-see travel destination, or renovating that house, or even just getting that dog, on the basis that the next cycle (or the one after that, or surely, at the outside, the one after the one after) will be the cycle that changes your lives forever - til one day, maybe two years later, maybe more, you look back and realise you've progressed more or less nowhere at all.

I say "more or less" nowhere. Of course, there is always one type of progress we can't avoid - the progress of time. We started trying at twenty-six years of age, not old by any means, but the end of my life only got closer during those years of failing to conceive, and that knowledge leaves me with a thought I can't quite shake, even now: infertility has robbed us of several years as a family. What if that means we miss an important milestone in our son's life? What if, because of those years lost to infertility, we miss the publication of his first book, his appointment to public office, or his graduation from Oxford? What if we miss his wedding, or never get to meet our first grandchild?

What if, because of those years lost to infertility, we're not there when he needs us most - during his mid-life crisis, personal bankruptcy, or marital breakdown? What if we're no longer there to see him through a life-changing medical condition - perhaps even infertility itself? We've no good reason to believe he's more likely than the next person to be the one-in-eight who suffers as we have - the fertility specialist guesses Mr Bea's ultra-low sperm count may be the result of a virus he caught as a teen, and The Prata Baby has already been vaccinated against that one - but infertility can strike randomly and without warning, so there's no reason it couldn't be our child, either. What if, because of those years lost, there's nobody to help him through, as only a parent can? There are some things you just can't get back.

But time is not only a thief. Whilst our lives were on hold, others were making remarkable progress in theirs, and I'm not referring to all those friends who managed to have two, if not three, consecutive children as we chalked up fruitless treatment cycles, one right after another. I'm talking about reproductive scientists the world over, who were working hard to try and fill our every question with an answer, even that pitiful one we cried during the dark hours after yet another loss: why me? I saw significant changes over the two years we spent with our clinic - new drug protocols to reduce the risk of hyperstimulation syndrome, improved embryo culture techniques, better pregnancy rates per cycle, new information on the causes and treatment of miscarriage. Because of this, as I gear up to transfer our remaining embryos sometime later this year, a new question dares to play in the back of my mind: What if, someday (soon?), assisted reproductive technologies just... work?

This week Resolve (U.S. infertility association) organizes National
Infertility Awareness Week
. Get basic information about infertility here.

Mel enlisted the blogging community to give an insight into the various
ways infertility impacts people's lives, expressed so aptly by the two
words "what if?".
Part One of Project IF
Part Two of Project IF

I want to tell you one last story before I go.

When we started IVF, there was a woman I knew of through a message board. Like us, she and her husband had started trying to conceive in their mid-twenties, and like us, they unexpectedly ran into male factor infertility. Unlike us, they ran the gamut of infertility treatments without result, and turned to inter-country adoption, which was no better. Ten years, they spent, pouring tens of thousands of dollars into a state-run system which invaded their privacy, tied up their lives, and then pulled the mat from under them just as they thought they were getting close, by suspending programs or simply shutting them down. With their fortieth birthdays looming on the horizon, they returned to their fertility clinic, half-hoping for a miracle, half-hoping for closure. They were battered and worn, and felt no closer to parenthood than when they'd started treatment over a decade earlier.

But after reviewing their history and running some tests, their doctor gave them this rundown: age had turned against them, so he couldn't guarantee anything, but a lot had changed since they'd last tried IVF, and he thought they still had a fair chance if they were willing to give it another go. As a bonus, IVF had also become more affordable since they'd last tried it - thanks again, to advances in technology - so they decided they had little to lose. Only a few years later they were a complete family of four - mum, dad, and two, consecutive IVF children, born two years apart, without complications. What a difference a decade makes. If I wasn't so busy trying to soak up what I have here and now, I would say I can't wait to see what the next one will bring.

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