Growing up and into my early twenties, when I pictured my future family, I always imagined that I would have at least two children. I myself am the oldest of four daughters. I daydreamed about the sibling life my kids would someday have, best friends through it all just as I was best friends with my sisters. I, like many people who want children, only ever envisioned a family with siblings.
In my mid-twenties, my husband and I started trying to get pregnant. Nothing wild yet - I just went off my birth control pill. We tried, and we waited.
Eventually, we realized something was wrong.
Eventually, the excitement lessened and was replaced with a sinking feeling deep in the pit of my stomach.
Eventually, years passed.
Efforts increased. Cycle tracking, doctors appointments, invasive tests, draining our savings, crowdfunding. Finally, we started an IVF cycle.
The road was rough.
The path to a family I’d envisioned was rocky, leaving me feeling as though I was simultaneously climbing a mountain and stuck in the depths of a canyon.
It was isolating, stressful, and oftentimes felt insurmountable. It was filled with grief and trying to hang tight to tentative hope, though after 5 years of failed attempts to get pregnant, those shining glimmers of hope were nearly impossible to grasp onto.
We were some of the lucky ones in the world of fertility treatments. We had several viable embryos after just one cycle. My first transferred embryo settled in and stuck around, and just like that, I was pregnant with the greatest love of my life - my daughter.
Today, she’s crawling and teething and eating solid foods. Everything’s messy and I’m exhausted more often than not, but I’m living the dream. The picture of a family I had in my head has been updated, revamped, and made clear by her sweet, smiling, sticky-with-oatmeal face every morning.
My husband and I have talked extensively about what we want to do with our remaining embryos. The lengths we went to in order to create them weigh heavy in my heart. Getting to those embryos is, to this day, the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced.
And while I had always envisioned multiples, after the birth of our daughter we have solidly landed on being one-and-done.
These days, I’m viewing the cost of IVF - in finances, in time, in emotions - from a new vantage point. These costs are no longer just taken from myself and my husband. If we were to begin a new transfer cycle, these costs would now also be weighed against our daughter.
The financial burden of embryo transfer medications and procedure costs was a deep hardship for us to achieve the first time around. But now, I consider what other things that money could go towards and I see mommy-daughter dates, family trips, or improvements to our home. IVF is a full-time job.
Even though we had embryos on ice, there would still be a transfer cycle. Constant monitoring at our clinic nearly two hours away, blood draws, medication injections, procedures, and all that is assuming there were no additional roadblocks along the way, such as the hysteroscopy I needed prior to my first embryo transfer. Where would my daughter be during all of these grueling tasks? What milestones and simple joys might I miss when, for months, all my time is sunk into a cycle of appointments that feels neverending?
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Emotionally, I’ve possibly never experienced lower lows in my life than during that first IVF cycle. The hormones made me feel truly insane. I cried every day. I felt more physically and mentally beaten down with each passing injection. Some days it was all I could do to make it out of bed without bursting into tears. Looking back, I sincerely don’t know how I did it all while still managing to go to work and care for myself.
However, if I were to do it all again, I’d obviously have more than just my own self-care to worry about. If I were sobbing in the kitchen before giving myself a hormone injection, where would my daughter be? If I were irritable as all hell because the cocktail of transfer protocol medications had me feeling out of my mind, what kind of a mother would she have that day? If I were too exhausted to do anything more than curl up in the fetal position on the couch, whose dream would I be living?
I want to take those vacations. I want to intentionally spend my precious and ever-fleeting time in this life with my daughter. I want to do it all without begging my body to give me anything more than it already has because I’m already living the dream.
What folks do with any remaining embryos is an extremely personal decision that is certainly never taken lightly. There is no one right way to do any of this. There should be no guilt for those who keep trying, and there should be no guilt for those who choose to stop. There is only what’s in your heart, and for me, this is it.
At night, when my daughter is finally asleep and I lie down after a long day and look at photos of my family, it’s picture-perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Lindsey Williams is a library worker and writer who lives in Arizona with her daughter, husband, and their dog, Peaches.