Failing to have a baby, and finding out the secret to personal fulfillment along the way.
I have never been a planner. The only thing I wanted was to live a passionate life. I started a blog and had met success, money, and freedom. I had love, too. Love was never a preoccupation for me. It had always been there, and I knew it always would be. I had everything, I thought. Only one thing was missing. A child. I started playing with the idea at 37. At that time, I was with a man I loved, but my new desire for kids didn’t seem to find its space in our couple. Too many travels, too big an age difference, too many cultural differences.
Breaking up takes time. I was 39 when I left. I was traveling around the world; I had a million friends and grand ambitions. I was perfectly following the perfect recipe for what a perfect life should be. So, as a recently single woman a little bit late on the reproductive train, I had the genius idea of having a child on my own. Gosh, wouldn’t that be perfect, I told myself. I would hire a great nanny. I would keep on living my life as I wanted and where I wanted, with no man to interfere in any of my plans. How smart, how modern.
A lot of my friends were moms, and each of them had become one in her own way. Some were classics and actually had a husband, others had adopted, others had gone to the sperm bank, and some had kept the fruit of a hot one-night stand. The only thing they had in common was the expression of exhausted bliss on their face, which was making me think this is it. This is what the secret of happiness is.
That’s when life sent me a man. Chris, 39 like me, no kids. This didn’t fit into my plans at all. I couldn’t just make him have a kid right away! Good thing I find the chemistries of passion are way stronger than those of reason. I decided to delay my plans for a while and to let myself enjoy the delicious complications of a budding love story.
Playing more and more with my biological clock.
Ah, the clock. Let me tell you about my clock.
At twenty, my grandma started telling me it was time to have a child. At 30, my mom went at it. Don’t wait too much, it will be too late!!! Still not ready, but OK, listening. Add to that friends, doctors, and society’s pressure.
My clock hadn’t deterred my new love. He had asked me lightly between two jokes, “Soooo, do you want kids?,” and I had answered lightly between two jokes, “Yeah, offf, of course!!? You?” And he replied, “Yeah, totally!”
We kept on loving each other, and one day he proposed. Which is pretty classic for an American in love, a little less for a French woman in love, and really ravishing. For a few months, I let myself enjoy the American Dream.
First thing I did, a few months later, when he agreed to kids and we started trying to make a baby?
Why, I called a doctor, obviously. So romantic, no?
I was 40, almost 41. I went to the OB-GYN who had been recommended to me, and the lady immediately freaked me out. Your levels of this are WAY TOO LOW. Your levels of that are WAY TOO HIGH. OMG, LOOK AT THESE FIBROIDS. At your age, I recommend an intrauterine insemination next month because we don’t HAVE A MINUTE TO LOSE. NOT A MINUTE!!! At your age.
AT YOUR AGE.
I had just heard the words that would begin, conclude, and be the highlight of all my conversations with doctors, and there were going to be a lot, lot of them.
AT MY AGE.
We did the IUI. It means that your eggs are closely monitored each day, and the day they’re perfectly ready, bam! Your man goes to masturbate in a tiny bathroom (you can go help him if you want, the first time is almost funny), and you have your first hormone shot. We tried to do all this with joy. The day I had my period made me very sad. It was just the beginning. From then on, my period would become the sign of the failure of my body, the failure of my femininity, the failure of my life.
I was at a restaurant when I got the phone call from the OB. I had been trying to reach her for a month with no success, so I took her call even if I was in the loudest restaurant on the loudest street of New York.
She barked: “OK SO IVF IS NEXT FOR YOU AT YOUR AGE BUT SINCE YOUR FIBROIDS ARE IN THE WAY I SAY LET’S FIRST GET YOUR EGGS, THEN I TAKE YOUR FIBROIDS OUT BY AN OPERATION, THEN IMPLANT THE EMBRYOS AND BOOM THERE YOU GO MISSION ACCOMPLISHED YOU’RE A MOM OK HAVE A GREAT DINNER.”
I said OK and hung up, shocked.
That’s the moment when something inside just said no.
Intuition, you might call it, or my soul, I don’t know. But to me, this operation sounded crazy, and it was a no.
I went to another, kinder doctor, who didn’t think I needed an operation. He prescribed steroids, hormones, and hope. The perfect chemical cocktail to make an already fragile woman completely crazy.
For those long months, I stopped living. I downloaded self-help books faster than it takes to say om. I stopped coffee, stopped alcohol, stopped eating, stopped going out, stopped traveling, stopped having fun. I started taking every color of vitamin there is, started putting my feet up after sex, and was very studious about reaching orgasm (yep, that too is recommended).
Guilt, which already had been a long-term partner of my life (ah, to be a woman), became my superintendent. There was always something I could do wrong. Plus, I was constantly swollen and on edge because of the hormones.
But of course, we had to fuck. Because the number-one thing you’re supposed to do when you want to have a child is to “make love.” You can almost forget you’re so busy trying to be fertile. I had bought these little sticks you pee on and that tell you when you’re ovulating. When the day comes, you take your sexiest look, the one of the matron, guardian of the couple’s fertility, and you demand that your man displays his glorious virility.
Fifty shades of ballcutter.
It’s our right, you understand.
Because we’re suffering.
Because in a few months, we go from being the lovely, joyous girlfriend to the fertility martyr. “Do you even caaaaare!” (Melodramatic voice masking warm, self-righteous tears.) I started crying a lot, every day. It was as if I had lost someone. Long and warm tears, for hours. Was I a woman? Was I desirable? Was I infertile? What had I done?
After a few months of trying, my kind doctor called me. You’re soon going to be 42, and after 42, clinics won’t want you, because they don’t want to make their statistics drop, you understand? Go fast and do an IVF. It probably won’t work the first time, so chop-chop!
During all this time, my friends were talking to me. So many of them had had fertility problems. So many had had IVF. All of them were supporting me, giving me advice, telling me to keep going, going, going. If I wanted it enough, it was gonna work, all the suffering, the money, the terrible fights with Chris (have you ever tried to have sex on a schedule?), all that would be worth it the day I would hold his little hand in mine.
In the middle of this turmoil, we decided to move to LA, and I was given the number of the best local doctor. I was already imagining the sun, the palm trees, and my fiancé’s adoring eyes on my rounding belly.
We landed on the first of January. It was pouring.
January was also the month of my IVF. Oh yes, I say my. Chris wasn’t ever really consulted. He was just going through the motions, following crazy me. At that point, I was just a zombie, obeying whatever whoever with a little bit of knowledge told me. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, hormones, fertility meditation, steroids, shamans — at this point, you could have told me to take the sperm and boil it and make a tea out of it, and I probably would have done it because someone said “It worked for my cousin, I swear! She had two babies like that!!!”
Which is why, when I landed in that chic Beverly Hills fertility clinic in January and met my new doctor, I didn’t see that he was cold, detached, and even aggressive. I thought he was just a pro. I thought, He can’t get attached to every desperate woman who comes here.
I was still pretending I was strong at that time. I was cracking jokes, making the nurses laugh. I cracked jokes when they explained I had to inject myself five times a day. I cracked jokes when I went to the pharmacy and got a full luggage of medicine. I cracked jokes when I learned how to place the needle on my belly, hiding in a corner of the house like a wounded animal.
Telling you this still makes me cry.
Then they started monitoring my eggs. Cold eyes on my ultrasounds. Doesn’t look good. Come back tomorrow. Daily hormone shots. Belly covered in bruises. Daily blood tests. I was cracking fewer jokes. But one day I was ready. Egg retrieval. They retrieve as many eggs as possible while your man is in the room he now knows too well to produce what will be needed for the fertilization. Yay.
After the operation, the doctor was supposed to call me every day to keep me updated on how our eggs were doing. Except sometimes he forgot, probably not even thinking of how much I was waiting for that call. Or maybe he was. Then one day he called, and he said the two embryos that had fertilized were not good. It hadn’t worked. That was it.
I was broken. Nothing had prepared me for this. Nothing had prepared me for a year on toxic hormones, toxic talks, and toxic thoughts. A year of losing my mind, my joy, my love. A friend I called that day gave me the number of a psychic, and I called her. I usually don’t do that. I just needed to talk. She said a lot of true things, and she said:
“Physically, absolutely nothing is preventing you from having a child.”
When she said that, it’s like my soul suddenly woke up and shouted: LISTEN TO ME, I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU THAT FOR MONTHS. You listen to everybody but Chris and yourself. Stop your bullshit and trust me now.
I decided to stop everything — including psychics — and try to learn to listen to myself.
No more hormones, no more doctors. Just love and trust and patience.
I told Chris. He said:
“I never chose you to be the bearer of my children. I am with you because I love you. I went through the IVF with you because I love you. I’ll be happy if we have kids. I’ll be happy if we don’t. What I want is to be with you. Plus, I want you to stop treating yourself like a lab rat. I don’t want to see you sad and exhausted anymore. I want you to take care of yourself. I don’t want to try for another IVF either.”
I was finally able to hear him.
Right now, I have no idea which day of my cycle I’m on. I slowly reconnected with myself, and with Chris. The skies of LA got clearer. As time passed, so did the pain. The lessons I had learned made me a more humble, more joyful person, finally able to live in the moment and enjoy what I have. I celebrated my 42nd birthday with a few drinks, and without a tear. I didn’t want to write that story with a “happy” ending. Nothing would be more wrong than telling you that story and then saying, “And now that I’m happy, here I am, pregnant!!! SUCCESS!!!”
My story has helped me to understand the enormous amount of pressure that is put on women to be mothers, a pressure that I had completely internalized and that I question today. This idea of having a full life, of having it all. As if our lives couldn’t be complete without children. The pressure, too, to use every possible means to have a child, because today if you want a baby, you’re going to get one. If you don’t, well, that means you didn’t try enough.
This has to stop.
Truth is, life is not fair, and life has no rules. Life is much better than that. We’re not at school. It’s not the hardest working or the wealthiest or the most virtuous that succeed at “perfect” happiness. Sometimes, the most we can do is nothing. Just let life decide and fall in love with our destiny. That’s what we chose to do, for now. We’re complete even if we don’t check all those stupid boxes. We’re complete without a shiny job. We’re complete without a shiny wedding. We’re complete without a shiny baby. My happy ending, I have it. I owe it to that child we might never have.
Garance Doré is the founder of AtelierDore.com, host of the podcast Pardon My French, and New YorkTimes best-selling author of Love Style Life. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their dog, Lulu.