You think I would have learned all there was to know about resilience by being in the Army for 17 years and deploying on combat operations. At least that was something I was trained for. As it turns out, I still had some things to learn that were not in the standard issued manuals.

Our IVF journey was the longest and most enduring operation I have been on.

Liv says: “This very private journey was hard, but it was amazing. It was full of the biggest highs (a few embryos sticking for a few days) and the lowest lows….but it made us love each other more.”



Let me tell you a hard truth right from the outset. The ONLY reason we have a beautiful baby boy today is because of my wife’s resilience and tenacity. The ONLY reason. I gave up at our 10th and said, “It has been 4 years of this. We should look at enjoying our time together and maybe later, try again.” It is hard to watch the toll it takes on the body of your wife. It is an excruciating emotional rollercoaster of success and failure.

It was Liv who said, “No, we have one embryo frozen. Let’s see how it goes.” 

Happy wife, happy life. The egg went in. (We booked a trip to South America anyway)

This is a tough one for me to write because we did not initially tell anyone we were trying, had been unsuccessful, and were doing IVF. Throughout the journey, the losses, and the trials, I learned a few things from my wife about resilience that I keep with me to this very day.

Liv says: “round 11 Hunny, it won’t work, it’s a poor-quality embryo, we have the BEST plans for South America craziness, we are training for a triathlon…what’s to lose, we have already accepted our fate?! The very private journey was hard, but it was amazing. It was full of the biggest highs (a few embryos sticking for a few days) and the lowest lows….but it made us love each other more.”

The pain now is small compared to the outcome – Knowing the balance.

Start with the end in mind and understand what it is worth to you. We both admit that we probably wouldn’t be writing this if we weren’t lucky enough to have a two-year-old Harry coming into our room each morning happy to see his mum and dad (and an unnaturally accurate ability to land a knee square in my nuts).

Liv and I will obviously admit that it was all worth it. There were some hard times in those four years where there was not much hope. However, Liv had this way of committing to each cycle, being crushed when it did not work then getting back on with it. I have never seen this before. That is the definition of resilience in my eyes. It is like she had this vision of holding our son and was so driven and committed to it that no needle, test, loss, sadness or invasive procedure was going to get in the way.

It was knowing that you are going to be hurt but committing to it

anyway. Then doing it over and over 11 more times. It’s like knowing you are going to be punched in the face 10 times but understanding that on the 11th, they are going to overextend, and you are going to get inside their guard, take them down, put them to sleep and get the win (sorry, only reference I can think of). It takes some serious guts to commit to getting hit that many times.

People may not understand, that is ok.

People understand pain and emotions based on their experience. They might not understand it in the way that you are feeling it now.

It was Liv who articulated this at the very start. She said, “people wouldn’t understand this if they haven’t done it or been exposed to it before, and that is ok. What we don’t want is pity or sympathy because that will make any unsuccessful cycles so much worse.” It is challenging to empathise with people and this process unless you have been there before. I suppose that is another reason why we did not tell many people. We did not want sympathy or pity.

We just want to get through it. We were so lucky that the people we did tell generally didn’t try to give us advice or tell us a reason or explain what they had read from google. They never asked about it but were there for us when we did want to talk. They were just there to stand by us however we needed them. That is one of the most powerful things people can do. Not understand what you are going through, be powerless to do anything about it, but still stand next to you anyway.

Liv says: “YES YES YES! Each trauma, sadness, unfair situation is different, and no one can truly understand people’s particular difficulty, but they can BE there. I was so adamant people didn’t know, particularly in my workplace (I’m a Registered Nurse in a hospital) and the last thing I wanted was a colleague/acquaintance to try and discuss my/our infertility right when I had a moment of distraction/enjoyment… perhaps the day after a failed IVF, or even an early miscarriage. I learnt that it can be more damaging to get involved in a situation, but not be able to help, especially when occasionally they may be doing it for their own information, gossip or to make conversation. Sadly, whilst these people almost always mean so well…it sucks. Too often, I would hear ‘do you know why she can’t have babies?”, ‘do you know how long they have been trying?'” 

Make decisions as a team and stick together.

You are a team, and you make decisions together. Never go rogue as an individual without input from the other. Once the decision is made, you are both aligned.

We had a few arguments throughout the process, not about the process itself but just normal things. That is to be expected. Emotions are high, and it is a very intense process; however, we worked through them, and when we made decisions, we stuck to them. We had each other’s backs.

Your team’s strength is in those decisions and your ability to stick with them and each other. I’ll admit from the start that Liv made most of the suggestions and had a lot more information. She is an emergency nurse, and her brain is geared that way. I researched and learned as much as I could, but it was very instinctive to her. We were both comfortable in the roles we had to play and knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

We covered each other’s gaps and made sure that we stuck it out together.

Liv says: “Hot damn YES WE DID”

 

Celebrate the wins and the losses.

Any progress is amazing, and find happiness wherever you can, then celebrate the hell out of it.

After our third cycle, I put my walls up and did not emotionally connect to the embryos. I focused completely on the process and being supportive of Liv’s health. Say it is callous, typical and a cop-out if you like. Doing that kept me strong enough to support our family when things were bad.

Liv says: “100% this was the most incredible support right when we needed it, your resilience in the difficult failures.”

Liv connected each time and took any opportunity to celebrate success. When a pregnancy test was positive, she would surprise me with little gifts and rattles over dinner.

Then, two days later, we would find out that it had not worked, and she would be crushed. I would pick us up, dust us off and then she would commit to the next one. Two cycles later, we would get another positive reading, and she would do it again. It hurt her more when the cycles failed because she was connecting to each embryo. That was her way of getting through it. These were our roles. I protected her and she emotionally invested in the cycle.

When they failed, we would plan a weekend away and celebrate our lives together. We always had something to celebrate. Life has to go on and pain is temporary.

Liv says: “I’m sure our friends and family thought…damn that couple of 12+ years still has a lot of romantic weekends away! Haha. Little did they know, they were about celebrating us, and that we will be ok with love and strength, with or without a tiny human…..it was THE BEST. Until the day I die I would encourage anyone who suffers loss or infertility (or hardship), to take this time to be with someone they love, make a list of everything you like to do, experience, eat/drink (sushi, blue cheese and wine), and DO IT!!!! Literally saved us.”

Then, on the last one, she surprised me again. I was excited and still slightly reserved but, as usual, we enjoyed the moment together. Fast forward to when I saw the little man’s heartbeat…I had a moment then.

Liv says: “HAHA, no Jono…I do believe I snuck in a 5-week ultrasound with a colleague after a night shift….we saw a heartbeat….I called you as this WAS IT!!! We did it!!!! Your response was ‘WHAT??? You did an ultrasound, and I wasn’t there?” I replied, ‘YES SILLY…. BUT THERE’S A FKN HEARTBEAT!!!!!”

 

The team first, blame never

You are one team, for better or for worse, so never blame the individuals.

Over 10 unsuccessful cycles, there is a myriad of reasons why they do not work. We never blamed each other, regardless of the reason. One example resonates with me. I had been away with the Army and in a highly fatiguing role for protracted periods.

The fatigue, constant stress, long hours, and time away had broken my body down a lot. This resulted in a poorer quality sample from me. During this cycle, Liv suffered hyperstimulation, and about 28 eggs were produced. She had an internal bleed that caused a massive amount of pain and post-operative complications. Due to the poor-quality sample from me, not one of the eggs fertilised. Not once did Liv ever blame me. We were a team, and that is the way it stayed. Any blame on either end would have led to resentment and conflict. We needed both of us to get through this thing.

Liv says: This is such a key point and on reflection, I am proud of both of us. I will try to incorporate this into life’s challenges.”

 

Never lose hope but always be realistic.

It is one thing to have hope and be realistic but never ignore facts and reason.

As I stated before, Liv was committed to each cycle as if it would be a success. I wanted to make sure we could get through it and deal with a failure. In that way, we had our purposes and our way of dealing with what was to come. I still had hope, was committed to each cycle and Liv. However, Liv treated each one like the first. In my brain, I was playing the long game and trying to keep endurance.  I would pick us up and keep us moving after a failed cycle, and Liv would recommit. I knew that we would get through the cycles, and Liv knew that we would eventually be successful in having a child. One way or another.

Liv is an emergency nurse and knows the body, the chemicals, and the reactions to everything in close clinical detail. I understand people, environments, and strategies, so I would always look to control those things I could.

Have a redundancy.

Being pragmatic and realistic meant that we might have to look at other options if this process didn’t work. One way or another meant that we would potentially look at adoption. Liv suggested we investigate it as another option. I could not think of anything better than that. Having friends who were adopted into good lives and good families, I have seen how it can change lives. If we could not conceive a child, then we would adopt one that never had a chance. At the time, it would have taken us around two years to get through the process, but we were committed either way. That redundancy was another bit of light that kept us going in some of the darker parts of the process. We always knew that we would be parents.

 

Draw strength from your people.

We eventually told some of our closest friends because it was becoming too hard to hide. The friends we told were so supportive and amazing, so we drew some strength from that.

I would say here that for a long time, we drew strength from only each other, and we liked it like that. That is how we wanted it, and it worked for us. Others might have done it differently. When asked about when we were having kids, we would say, “we are seeing what happens,” or, “we are not, not trying.” The people that knew never asked. They were just there to support. That took many shapes and forms, and I will talk about it later.

As a side note here, and one of my personal irritants is that series of questions that nobody has any business asking. They might seem harmless at the time, and people might not know the context, but you never know what other people are going through. So, when you ask any of the following questions, you may cause some pain that you never even thought about:

  • When are you proposing or getting engaged?
  • When are you getting married?
  • When are you having a child/why haven’t you had children?
  • When are you having another one?
  • Why haven’t you been able to have kids? (i.e. whose fault is it?)

It is nobody else’s business if you do not want it to be – Tell who you want.

We didn’t tell anyone. Initially, we did not tell our friends or families. People found out, of course, some by accident and some that we definitely did not want to know about it. However, we just did not want the added pressure of “how is it all going?” “You’re emotional because of the hormones” “who’s fault was the failure this time?” “Is it working?”  To tell you the truth, we ran our own game, and we did not want other people’s opinions.

Liv says: My favourite was “How’s the IVF going?” and my thought was ‘obviously shit…I’m not pregnant, you idiot’. I never actually responded like that…it was just my internal dialogue…because of the hormones of course 😊.”

We decided not to tell many people because to tell you the truth, most people do not understand it or the pain it causes when you ask about it. I know this was much harder for Liv than me. She is a very open, engaging, and entertaining person. Keeping this kind of thing from family and friends was so hard. It was a bit of a survival mechanism, I suppose. We did not tell many people until after Harry was born. Even then, some of our friends and family will only find out upon reading this.

If people want to tell you, they will. Do not take it personally if they do not. If you are in that circle of trust, and someone chooses to tell you about it, then only talk about it on their terms. As an example, after the hyperstimulation, seeing my wife in that much pain, not having the child to go with AND knowing it was because of my issue, having someone close to us ask, “so, when are you having kids?” nearly sent me into a frenzy. However, there is no way they could have known, so that was on me.

If you are going through the same thing, you are under no obligation to tell anyone you do not want to… ever. It is not their business if you don’t want it to be. I do not care if it’s family, friends, colleagues, or anyone. This is your process. Tell who you want. Make sure it is understanding and supportive people, not those who just want to know for gossip or who provide advice from someone who heard it from someone who knew someone who had troubles once. It is not the same and it does not help.

Start with the end in mind.

Keep the focus on why you are doing what you are doing and the reasons for it. Make sure they are the right ones from the start.

Liv steered the ship here. We knew what we wanted but, day in and day out, Liv called the shots. She was the one injecting hormone replacements into her stomach daily, making sure little packets of everything were hidden in the house and anywhere we might need them. I was there for her but make no mistake, she was the driver.

Liv says:Keeping refrigerator medications cold whilst staying at friends/family home was tough, we even forgot them once (you can imagine) and that medication (like many) needed to be given within an hour’s timeframe. Or having someone walk in on you injecting yourself with a syringe and thinking you are taking illicit drugs…it had its challenging moments.”

We both wanted a child but, Liv had this burning excitement about the process and saw it as our way of getting it done as we hadn’t been able to without it. If I am completely honest, my walls were up until I saw Harry’s little heartbeat on the ultrasound. Then, I was like, “we are on here. Let’s do this.” It was like she had visualised holding the little man in her arms from day one, had that fixed in her mind and was not going to let anything get in her way.

Prioritise the things you can control.

There are things you can control and things you cannot. Focus on those things that you can control and do your absolute best to make the most of them.

There were some things in this process that we could not control and some that we could. I saw the writing on the wall for my military career simultaneously as this was all happening. My body was starting to break down. I was doing more and more rehab than training, so we had to prepare for that. I started studying for my masters. Liv kept up what she does best and that was looking at our next place to call home and being an amazing emergency nurse.

I think back to the last two years of the process and I cannot believe how we managed it. The IVF process and appointments, long works hours and weeks away, university study, house renovations, emergency nursing (which is so intense), medical discharge from the military and then all the normal life things that happen along the way. We did it by controlling the things we could and minimising the emotional investment into the things we could not.

 

Be open and honest in communicating with your squad.

Those people that you bring into your circle be open and honest with them so that they know how they can best support you. Be clear about what you need from them, especially if you don’t want to talk about it.  Then test and adjust and keep the circle small. At least, this is what worked for us. They knew that we would tell them and when we would go off the grid for a few days, they knew what had happened.

They were amazing. We would come back to champagne and chocolates at home etc. You know what, it took away some of the stings. Knowing that they cared enough to let you be but would also be there to hug you if you needed it.

Then you tell them you are pregnant while taking selfies.

 

Keep your sense of humour.

Your sense of humour and being able to laugh is just as important as a supportive team around you. Find the funny side in as much as you can because there will be times when there is absolutely nothing funny and you will want those memories.

Liv says: “I love humour in the sad moments! A laugh almost cures everything. My bestie with stage 3+ bowel CA taught me this. Thanks to Jono and Gen I now believe that laughter is quality medicine.”

Be happy for other peoples’ success.

You don’t know anybody else’s journey, so be happy for them when they succeed in whatever they are doing. Celebrate the wins and happiness that other people have. It is like survivors’ guilt. People will feel bad for you when they get pregnant, and you can’t. They must know you are happy for them.

Liv says: “You are so happy for the friend, as you would not wish your situation on anyone, so tell them! The toughest thing to see was ungrateful parents, that hurt (and will forever).”

Today

Harry was born 6 weeks premature with a burst lung. We heard him cry once and then he was taken away for the doctors and nurses to work on him. I was allowed back into the room where they were working on him. I was completely powerless to help. So, I put my finger in his open hand.

He grabbed it, opened his eyes, stopped crying for a second, then peed all over me. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and you know what, as a parent, you get used to getting peed on.

Liv says: “The ‘burst lung’ is a Pneumothorax sweetie. I had a c-section, was as high as a kite and really had no idea what all the ‘commotion’ was about. To quote myself ‘Jack I’m flying’, and ‘omg Mum, I had a baby… WTF?’

We could not hold him for about a week as he was in the special crib with tubes and wires everywhere.

Liv says: “He was in ICU, with a BIPAP ventilator on.”

The nurses and staff in the Mater Children’s NICU were amazing.

Finally, he was well enough for us to hold and when I saw him in Liv’s arms, I cried.

This is what Liv had visualised the whole time. Now I got it. We have our days like most parents do. However, when you are staring down the barrel of not having a child, the sleepless nights, crying, and tantrums seem a lot less of an issue.

 

Liv is an amazing mother to our son, and you can see that whenever she walks into the room.

 

He is absolutely besotted with her and so he should be. She is, after all, the reason he is here.

From Harry, Liv and Jono

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Jonathan Clark is the director and co-founder of The Eighth Mile Consulting based in Sunshine Coast, Australia. Working with organisations, we facilitate change management, strategy development and risk management initiatives. We are good people, helping good people. We support positive projects and positive people.

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