Never Give Up


“Never Give Up,”  the spray painted words told me as I jogged around Lady Bird Johnson Lake and looked up at the old railroad bridge.  At first consideration, that advice holds power, assuring you that one day you’ll get the prize, if you just work and work at it. I’m reminded of the movie Rudy, where a young man is determined to play football for The University of Notre Dame despite his mediocre grades, lack of finances, and small size. Rudy eventually pulls up his grades, and as expected, plays a game at Notre Dame. It’s inspiring stuff. There are a lot of life experiences that follow this narrative – persevere and you’ll be rewarded.

Infertility may be one of those exceptions, where effort doesn’t always equate to outcome.

Never Give Up is motivating in theory, but not necessarily in practice. At some point in your journey you may have to assess – when is enough, enough? I often asked myself after several years of being stuck on the infertility loop – am I beating a dead horse? Although I dislike that expression and the image it conjures (I’m an animal lover), it asks me to consider changing directions, adopting a potentially new narrative. So, Sarah, it likely isn’t going to turn out how you thought. What are you going to do about that? What will you make of this? For the first four years of my infertility journey, I did everything I could afford or that insurance would cover – IVF, the use of donor eggs, holistic treatments such as acupuncture, herbs, Maya abdominal massage – to get pregnant and sustain life. Because we were using my husband’s sperm, his pre-ejaculation calendar was full with twice weekly acupuncture appointments across town, a multitude of daily herbs and tinctures, cool showers, and the avoidance of  hot tubs or hard surfaces to sit upon – all preparing him for the all-important semen specimen collection cup. The future was literally in my husband’s hands!

I tend to be an overachiever.  When one donor’s eggs didn’t work out, I chose another donor. When we didn’t like one doctor, we went to another. When I miscarried the first time, we grieved heavily for six months, then got back on another cycle of I.V.F since we still had six frozen embryos on ice. It was difficult to stop, as every frozen embryo could one day be our child.

{It’s important to note that I was fortunate enough to have a family who could afford and was willing to part with monies to aid us in pursuing treatment. I am privileged, and you may (understandably) discount some things I have to say because of that. I hope that won’t keep us apart for the long run, however.}

After five years, which comprised six rounds of I.V.F. with two different oocyte (egg) donors, and two subsequent miscarriages, my husband pleaded with me to put on the brakes. “I can’t continue to watch you go through this. It’s too hard, and I can’t do anything to make it better,” he would echo. Initially, I wouldn’t listen. Hearing his pleas and actually taking his advice would mean I was giving up, and that wasn’t my style.

But styles change.

In my practice, I’ve often seen clients come in with an idea of how things should have gone for them. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!”  Reproductive narratives, which may be largely based on one’s upbringing, can initially steer people in certain directions and not others. “I’ll try I.U.I. but I’ll never do I.V.F.,” one client exclaimed. Another client, after reading about a woman that went through seven rounds of I.V.F., assertively remarked, “I would never do that. That woman needs to have her head examined.” Both of those clients eventually went through I.V.F.  I tell you this because you may commit to one course of action, and eventually, change your mind. The change typically occurs because doors are closing on your journey, and you’re left with only one or two options. You never thought you would choose this path, but here you are.  I, too, thought I would never be the woman to try six rounds of I.V.F., and to boot, use a donor to conceive. I also never thought I’d build my family by way of adoption.

With the legacy of loss ever present, it was time to hit the refresh button on our lives. To do this took more courage than I felt capable of conjuring. To say “hello” to a new possibility – adoption – would mean saying “goodbye” to the child we would never conceive together. As a couple, we were beaten down, raw, disillusioned, and extremely vulnerable. I was terrified that another loss (i.e., an adoption that didn’t go through) could destroy us.

“Saying goodbye is the most painful way of solving a problem” (author unknown). Changing directions or altering your mental perspective on things doesn’t mean you’re giving up. You’re attempting to solve a problem, and you are expanding into how your life could be, not how it should be.  Based on the advice of others in similar situations, we created a ritual to facilitate closure and  symbolize the transition we were making to pursue domestic adoption. We both privately wrote letters to the child we envisioned in the first pregnancy, and then shared those letters aloud in a sacred space.  I cannot stress the importance of rituals – we humans create them to symbolize the most significant life events. After reading those letters and shedding some tears, we felt lighter. A weight had been lifted – the heaviness of attempting to create life against the odds and follow an expected cultural narrative.

My story is one of hardship, and I absolutely love it. To change one thing, one tiny detail, would change the outcome. And I love the results!  I did give up the dream of giving birth, breastfeeding, and perpetuating my genes into the future. But I didn’t give up on the pursuit of parenthood. Over time, we said goodbye again and again in order to open our hearts and minds to the daughter that would eventually come to us. To be parents and to have that profound life experience superseded “how” we became parents.

Wherever you are on your journey, I hope you get where you need to be. But remember, that may not be where you thought life would take you. Be open and try to embrace the world of possibilities. You’ll be better for it.