IVF Survivor Guilt?

Loyal followers of my ‘daily updates’ pages (hi Mom) will be aware that I was interviewed for @TalkRADIO yesterday about my experiences having IVF on the NHS following a report from Fertility Fairness on the increasing post-code lottery of IVF access in England.

The report got amazing coverage, it was on Radio 4’s today programme as I came downstairs to give Margot and Isaac their breakfast. I tweeted:


I was then contacted by the booker for TalkRadio asking if I’d be willing to speak about my experience and naturally… I said yes.

I’ve done quite a bit of media interviews for work, and yet I was pretty apprehensive. Clearly the 10 year struggle to have children is something about which I have pretty deeply seated emotions. So I did what I often do for work, and I went on the internet and dug out the stats and guidelines from the NHS. I was preparing for a ‘work’ kind of interview.

The woman interviewing me was Julia Hartley-Brewer a fairly right wing pundit who I’d ironically had the pleasure of hearing do an after dinner speech at the conference I was at last weekend. She also is an ambassador for the Miscarriage Association, and went through (self-funded) IVF herself.

She was a sympathetic interviewer, right up until the last couple of minutes when she said ‘So, I’m guessing from your accent that you’re not actually British, but your partner is British, is that how you qualified for treatment? I’m asking because I know I’ll get tweets about this’. I was a bit taken aback (but should have seen this coming she is a vocal Brexit supporter). No, I said, I’m now British, despite the accent, and have lived, worked and paid taxes here for 15 years. And that’s when I realised that for the kind of middle England ‘if you can’t afford the IVF don’t have the kids’ people I am the worst post-girl for IVF on the NHS. Bloody foreigners, coming over here, stealing our men and our IVF. NHS Tourism. Never mind the fact that roughly 80% maybe more of the people looking after me were immigrants. Including my consultants.

It was only after the interview was over, dissecting it with friends over dinner, that I realised that I wasn’t meant to be the numbers, policy, and stats girl. For once they wanted me to say how I felt not what I know.

And I realised. I’m still coming to terms with this. I spent so long thinking about not having children that now I just don’t know how to feel or what to think.

I am happier and more settled in myself than I have ever been. This is something that people invariably comment on if they’ve not seen me in a while. But do I think that my life was ‘incomplete’ without that twins? No. If anything I think I’m happier because of the relief of fertility treatment being over. I may well have felt this happy and settled when we called time of fertility treatment irrespective of success.

Can you have IVF Survivor Guilt?

I have a friend. A single woman, over 40, and following her divorce she’s going through IVF alone. It’s such a lonely process, even with a partner, I can’t imagine how hard this must be, and I marvel at her determination. Meanwhile, I wipe yogurt off the twins and deal with the latest in a long line of diaper related disasters and wonder what I’d be doing now if I weren’t doing this.

One of the things that Julia Hartley-Brewer kept repeating was that there is nothing fair about fertility. I agree and have often said the same. There is no sense of fairness about who gets pregnant and how easily it happens. And now, from the vantage point of having successful IVF (first time round!) I hear about women struggling through multiple rounds and I just feel terrible. Like that because I was ambivalent about having children I didn’t want them as much as they do and therefore don’t deserve to have them. Never mind that my ambivalence was almost certainly self-protection.




5 thoughts on “IVF Survivor Guilt?

  1. Great piece, Rachel.

    There seems to be so much emphasis on the post code lottery of IVF and so little on some unscrupulous private practices who are treating IVF in a purely commercial way. Our consultant advised that the first round of IVF is the best indicator of how IVF will work for you but that means a lot of upfront tests to ensure the protocol and aftercare is appropriate to the individual. And fortunately it worked for us too, but I keep getting advertisements for dodgy IVF practices who offer 3 for 1 deals.

    In my clinic I met so many people who had experienced negative practices in both nhs and private clinics because the focus was on a generic IVF ‘formula’ and not the specific fertility needs of a couple.

    This is perhaps a side comment to your interesting piece on survivor guilt, but the way I see it IVF is not or should not be one size fits all but an integral part of our experience becoming parents.


    1. I completely agree. The marketing of fertility treatment makes me sick. Actually the whole baby industry is so problematic.

      All infertility is different. We had a lot of tests, including about a hear investigating the causes of my recurrent miscarriage. In the end we think it was my immune system. So 12 weeks on immune suppressants was what (I think) did the trick. But it’s all a roll of the dice.


  2. “….my ambivalence was almost certainly self-protection”. Mine probably was too, but I hadn’t thought about it like that until I just read your post and got to the last sentence. I thought I was simply ambivalent about children. I keep having revelations like this and wondering why I didn’t realize these things sooner, but that’s the beauty of reading good blogs I suppose…. it’s a bit like therapy. Thanks for this, you’ve given me something new to chew on….
    Glad to have come across your writing


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