For me, the "trying to conceive" period is more relevant to my experience than the postpartum. It was very much in the "before" that I defined how I relate to having a child now. My husband and I started trying to get pregnant when we were quite young. We were living in Ontario at the time, both doing our PhDs, and we knew life would only get more precarious over the years. Because we really wanted a family, we thought it’d be a good timing. But nothing happened. I don’t have any dramatic story about that period. No miscarriage or terrible things happening. But month after month, and then year after year: nothing. I have a complicated relationship with this time of our lives because I knew we were young, and as someone who wanted to be an academic, it’s already complicated. After a while though, the questions of when we would have a child started to come and became difficult to navigate. There are so many reasons why you can’t get pregnant, and sometimes, the problem is easy to identify but more often than not, it’s a combination of factors. For us, it wasn’t until we moved to Quebec, which had a great free fertility program, that we went to a clinic. We were two years into the process when we started, but we took it slow and eventually got a diagnostic of unexplained fertility. We went through different procedures, but it never worked. Four years in, we got the prescription for IVF, and we still sat on it for a while, because I was not ready: it’s invasive, and it’s also your last resort. So much failure had already worn on us, and I wasn’t ready to deal with that not working. We wanted to take the time to think about it, and back then, the government was funding three rounds, so we didn’t have the financial pressure. But a month after getting that prescription, we heard on the news that they were going to end the program. Suddenly, the decision was made for us.
We knew we wanted to have a baby and we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford it without the program, so we went for it. There were injections every day, twice a day, for two weeks. My husband did that for me. Then we needed to do the egg extraction and give the sperm sample. I produced fourteen eggs, which is a lot. Because we were lucky and were in Quebec, they took seven of those eggs and put them in natural IVF, then took seven others to do a more sophisticated fertilization procedure that involves removing the layers from the egg and introducing one sperm into it. I don’t know why but I never considered that nothing would fertilize. After only one day, I received a call, and from fourteen eggs we were down to four successful, none from the natural method. We figured it must have been the problem all those years: the eggs and the sperm never connected with each other, which is awful to think about considering we love each other so much. We know it’s biological, but it’s still affecting. On day three after the procedure, there were only two left. We waited until day five to increase our chances. When I went in for the transfer, only one embryo was left. In itself, the transfer was a beautiful experience. They projected this blastocyst on a big screen and they said, "Here it is!" They put the embryo in a little tube, and we could watch on an ultrasound. I mean who gets to see their child at that stage before they’re even attached? I did. The embryologist said, "One, two, three," and then he pressed the tube. "This is the start of a beautiful story," he added. And he was right. I got a positive test two weeks later. There is something extremely moving about the entire IVF process because it involves so many people who worked very hard to create that life. The program was terminated soon after, and that’s a shame. Our daughter was created by a lot of different forces, and we wouldn’t be parents without it, that’s for sure.
I had a wonderful pregnancy. I felt good, alive. I had nausea, but it was okay because I thought I would never be pregnant, and there I was. I spent the summer rewriting my dissertation into a book, and it was a really beautiful moment for me because I was creative, but I also had that life I was creating. I would say I had the perfect – for me – birth experience. I didn’t have any expectation, and all I knew is that I wanted to have an epidural. My husband and a close friend were there, the doctor who had transferred the embryo was there and it was fantastic! He literally put her in, and he was there when she came. I mentioned before that my postpartum experience was marked by the process because it took so long. So, it didn’t hit me, really, that I had a baby until we were leaving the hospital, with her in the car seat. I’m not a person who cries very often, but I cried for about two days straight from that moment on. I was so happy. But I didn’t really educate myself prior to her birth because I was too afraid to open that door. I looked at YouTube videos on how to change a diaper two days before her arrival. Then all of a sudden, I had this baby, and she needed to be taken care of. Luckily my husband was there. I knew he would step up and do it for me. He changed every diaper for the first two weeks. Another thing that was influenced by the experience was that I always suspected that I wouldn’t want to breastfeed or that I wouldn’t enjoy breastfeeding. I didn’t want to be depended on for nourishment. To be able to dedicate myself to this baby, I needed to keep my body out of the equation. It was important to me that my husband or my parents could feed her. I realize this is a very privileged way of thinking because you need to be able to afford formula, but this is something I felt very strongly about. But when I would tell people, their jaws would drop, and I felt so much pressure that I thought, "Ok, I know that this isn’t something that I want, but I’m going to try. I owe it to myself and to her to at least try." And it was, by far, the most excruciating, painful and unpleasant experience I’ve been through.
If I have any regret related to the whole thing is that I didn’t follow my intuition. I feel like I lost the first three weeks of her life trying to breastfeed. I gave birth to that pink, happy, warm, and sleepy baby with nice cheeks and by week three, I had a baby that hadn’t put on weight, had been screaming all the time and no one had slept in days. After those three weeks, I decided this was over. If I’d continued, it was no longer for her, but for myself, to be able to say that I breastfed which in the beginning, I didn’t even want to. So my husband gave her a bottle, and she fell asleep for five hours. We didn’t look back. After that fiasco, we settled into a really nice routine. I had six months of maternity leave, and my husband would work from home, so I was never alone. After my maternity leave, we divided our time 50/50. One of us would take her in the morning, and the other would work. Then we’d have lunch, and we’d switch. We’d have dinner together as a family and then she’d go to bed, and we’d work a little bit, in our office, side by side. I can’t imagine a better set up. The reason why I had an amazing post-birth experience is that we did it as a team. It’s amazing. Of course, it was tiring for us because when we were with our daughter, we were apart from each other and then we’d have to go from running after a baby to work immediately, and we didn’t have downtime together, but it worked. We kept that up until she was a year and a half and went to daycare. Then we all got sick (laugh!) In the end, her entire story is influenced by the incredible benefits that we get from living here. We were able to have a baby through IVF and, even though we’re not making a lot of money, we still can afford to put her in the really nice daycare just around the corner. We have so much to thank Quebec for. We’re very proud our daughter was conceived through IVF, but I don’t want her to feel some kind of pressure or to overprotect her because of the infertility or because we went through such great lengths to have her. She’s her own little person and is not in debt of anything. I want her to live her life, because her life was a gift.