No one tells of IVF’s men­tal toll

The phys­i­cal hur­dles of con­ceiv­ing ei­ther nat­u­rally or by IVF left au­thor Jodi Panay­otov un­pre­pared for the emo­tional toll

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

IKNEW there was some­thing wrong with me when I be­gan fran­ti­cally pulling ev­ery­thing out of the rub­bish bin for the third time. Or should I say some­thing else wrong with me — I al­ready knew I had en­dometrio­sis, hy­per­thy­roidism and that my hor­mones were out of whack (all un­der the in­fer­til­ity um­brella of af­flic­tions), but this? It felt like some­thing in my brain had gone into over­drive and was com­pelling me to do pre­vi­ously unimag­in­able things ob­ses­sively and repet­i­tively.

How did it get to the point where I was on my knees ri­fling through salad scraps like a hun­gry street per­son? Ex­cept in­stead of food I was look­ing for one of a dozen dis­carded preg­nancy tests, just in case a sec­ond line had shown up in the hour since I’d shoved it to the bot­tom of the bin in dis­gust.

This con­di­tion, like an ob­ses­sive dis­or­der, had snuck up on me in the year since my first mis­car­riage and had be­come more pro­nounced in the year since my sec­ond mis­car­riage. My hus­band and I had been try­ing un­suc­cess­fully to con­ceive for a few years, and at some point re­cently it had taken over our lives and, in par­tic­u­lar, mine.

At the time of the rub­bish in­ci­dent I was on herbs to cor­rect my var­i­ous re­pro­duc­tive ail­ments. This had in­volved the tak­ing of my tem­per­a­ture ev­ery morn­ing and chart­ing it, which may have been use­ful for my herbal­ist but was do­ing my head in. I’d taken to set­ting the alarm so I could get an ac­cu­rate read­ing by tak­ing it at the same time ev­ery morn­ing.

A tem­per­a­ture too high and I’d failed to ovu­late, a tem­per­a­ture too low and I wasn’t preg­nant. With shak­ing hands I’d reach for the ther­mome­ter, and de­pend­ing on the read­ing of my basal tem­per­a­ture, I’d ei­ther leap out of bed happy or re­treat un­der the cov­ers. I be­came Linda Evan­ge­lista-es­que, in that a num­ber dic­tated whether I got out of bed or not — al­though for her there was a dol­lar sign in front of the num­ber, while my num­ber had a small el­e­vated cir­cle af­ter it.

As for the tem­per­a­ture chart, I’d taken to study­ing it in­stead of the pa­pers through­out break­fast, analysing the lit­tle peaks and troughs as if it were a stock mar­ket graph. Did they mean I was ovu­lat­ing or was I per­haps, oh God please, preg­nant? And my mood would swing in peaks and troughs ac­cord­ingly.

I re­alised how de­pen­dent on the tem­per­a­ture-tak­ing and chart­ing I’d be­come when on one week­end my hus­band and I went away to the moun­tains. As we were half-way to our des­ti­na­tion I re­mem­bered I’d left the ther­mome­ter and chart by the bed­side.

‘‘ We have to go back!’’ I screamed. There was no way I could face a week­end with­out it. It was as if my very ex­is­tence now de­pended on that ther­mome­ter, it so dic­tated my days and moods that I wouldn’t know what to feel with­out it.

At dusk we fi­nally ar­rived at our des­ti­na­tion, a villa tucked away in the moun­tains. The next morn­ing was one of the morn­ings I wanted to stay in bed like Linda, but break­fast was in­cluded, so I dragged my­self out to face a sump­tu­ous buf­fet. At first it looked very invit­ing, laden with fresh and home-made pro­duce. Then, as I moved along with my plate, the items started to turn into some­thing else be­fore my eyes. The plump dried figs be­came shriv­elled ovaries, the berry jam en­dometri­otic clots and the poached eggs blighted ova. I knew then that I needed help, but I wasn’t sure whether to call a gy­nae­col­o­gist or a psy­chi­a­trist.

As it hap­pened I ended up see­ing both. Af­ter that week­end I called my gy­nae­col­o­gist in Syd­ney and booked an ap­point­ment for IVF. I re­ally didn’t trust things to be left in my own hands any more, not when I was ca­pa­ble of turn­ing a break­fast buf­fet into a dys­func­tional re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem. And through a friend I found a 90-year-old one-legged psy­chi­a­trist who had more em­pa­thy for how my fer­til­ity prob­lems were af­fect­ing my life than any­one in the med­i­cal fra­ter­nity.

The med­i­cal fra­ter­nity are all, ‘‘ swal­low this, have an­other blood test, take this, try this’’, but they seem com­pletely obliv­i­ous to the emo­tional side of what you’re go­ing through. For in­stance, not once in any med­i­cal re­port do they say, ‘‘ There are many side ef­fects to in­fer­til­ity be­yond the phys­i­cal ones.

‘‘ Some com­mon ones are: Homi­ci­dal thoughts to­wards preg­nant women, homi­ci­dal urges to­wards peo­ple who mis­treat their chil­dren, tem­per­a­ture chart­ing ob­ses­sion, repet­i­tive preg­nancy test tak­ing to the point where you con­sider tak­ing shares in the com­pany which man­u­fac­tured them, ex­treme mood swings, and burst­ing into tears at some­one else’s preg­nancy news — for ex­am­ple, Liz Hur­ley’s.’’

‘‘ And the less com­mon: When food­stuffs re­mind you of faulty re­pro­duc­tive or­gans.’’

If I thought IVF would be the an­swer to both my re­pro­duc­tive is­sues and my men­tal is­sues, I was very mis­taken. Yes, it pro­duced a baby, but it took ages to re­cover from the emo­tional toll. On the one hand IVF took the onus from me and placed it in the hands of a med­i­cal team, but on the other hand I had to play a far greater role in it than I had with my herbs.

Ev­ery­one knows IVF in­volves in­jec­tions, but what I didn’t re­alise was that there would be a plethora of blood tests that left my in­ner arms look­ing like those of a junkie, and th­ese were car­ried out at ob­scure hours in the morn­ing. Some­times th­ese were paired with in­ter­nal ul­tra­sounds, af­ter which I’d spend un­til mid-af­ter­noon ob­ses­sively await­ing the re­sults and whether we would con­tinue the next day. It was like do­ing an exam ev­ery day that you had no way of study­ing for.

I’d thought my men­tal state was pretty ragged un­til I started the IVF drugs. To put them in per­spec­tive, I se­ri­ously be­lieve that one day, the line ‘‘ my client was un­der the in­flu­ence of Lu­crin and Pure­gon when she killed him, Your Hon­our’’ will be a valid defence in a trial. It’s like PMT tripled. And com­ing on the tail of the years of try­ing to con­ceive stress, it can be a force to be reck­oned with. When I was on those drugs, I think that for the first time in his life my hus­band was scared of me.

The day I got the pos­i­tive preg­nancy re­sult from the IVF clinic, it was like be­ing let out of prison — a men­tal prison that I’d been in for the past three years. But I was on pa­role un­til af­ter the scans that showed a vi­able preg­nancy. Sud­denly I didn’t know what to do with my­self. I put the ther­mome­ter away, the charts, tipped out the herbs and thought, ‘‘ what now?’’. It was as if I had to in­vent a new life for my­self, which I did, al­though I had some scares dur­ing preg­nancy which had me back in a state of high anx­i­ety for a while.

Now when I look back on the diary I kept dur­ing the in­fer­til­ity years, which I’ve since turned into a book, it’s not the pro­ce­dures, the drugs, the tem­per­a­tures that pre­dom­i­nate, but the in­san­ity which ac­com­pa­nied them all.

Friends who’ve read the book are taken by ut­ter sur­prise and say they had no idea what had been go­ing on. Yes, they knew of the herbs, the IVF and so on, but they had no idea what was go­ing on with me. It wasn’t as if I was go­ing to ring them and say, ‘‘ can you be­lieve it, I’ve just spent an hour trawl­ing through my rub­bish and the preg­nancy test still says neg­a­tive’’, or ‘‘ I re­ally think that figs look like ovaries, don’t you?’’.

You see, when peo­ple speak of in­fer­til­ity, no­body men­tions that it has an in­san­ity clause. InVitroFer­til­i­tyGod­dess by Jodi Panay­otov is pub­lished by Blink Press at $24.95

A dif­fer­ent jour­ney: Jodie Pany­otov, pic­tured with her child, says in­fer­til­ity can take the suf­ferer to the verge of in­san­ity

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