Just Because You Wished for It: My Journey from IVF to Postpartum Depression
By Michele Lovetri
It’s impossible to know what lies ahead on your journey to motherhood and, for me, I was blindsided.
It was Spring of 2015. We had been through all of the tests. We switched fertility specialists. We got approved by our insurance company. We wanted this. We wanted parenthood. We were willing to do whatever it took. We were ready.
I had found out not long before that my chances of getting pregnant without fertility treatments were slim to none. After not feeling as if our first fertility specialist was a good fit for us, we were referred to another facility where we met a team so dedicated to the families they were serving and a physician who was willing to go out of his way for his patients. I will never forget his call at 9 pm one night because he was so excited to tell me he had a peer-to-peer with my insurance company and they were willing to approve two rounds of IVF. He strongly felt IUI treatments would not be effective and fought for our dream. He was in this fight with us, and it was so reassuring.
We dove headfirst into our first round of IVF in May of 2015. We followed all the rules, timed everything perfectly, and kept positive. This was it! We had one viable embryo to transfer, and when they handed us the picture of the developing cells before the transfer, we took a deep breath. Life was going to change from that point on. We waited for the two long, grueling weeks and had our beta blood pregnancy test.
I will never forget the call we got from the nurse at our fertility clinic that afternoon. I was at work and rushed into another room when my cell phone began to ring. All I remember hearing was, “I’m so sorry Michele, but you are not pregnant.” I became hysterical. I felt broken, and I needed air.
I left work, went home, and cried in my bedroom. My husband also rushed home, and I remember apologizing to him for being broken and unable to make him a father. With all the love he could give, he reassured me that I was not broken and that it just wasn’t the right time. I couldn’t look at the photo of the embryo for weeks after that. It was too much for my heart to bear. My husband and I decided to try and enjoy our summer, give my body a break, and then see how we felt as we still had one remaining covered round of IVF.
We enjoyed our summer, enjoyed our wine, and enjoyed each other. At the end of July, we called our doctor and set up an appointment to try again. This time, hope was a little harder to come by and the emotional toll it took on me was heavy. I quickly found myself to be exhausted by the shots, the process, the worry, the racing thoughts, and how suddenly my body was beginning to feel foreign to me.
One night, as I was giving myself one of my last shots with tears in my eyes I looked at my husband and said, “If this doesn’t work, I can’t do this again.” Soon after, and the day before our egg retrieval, I was laid off from my job. I told my husband we were not going through with the retrieval and that we should save our last covered round. He insisted we keep going and reminded me of how far we had come. So we pressed on.
My pregnancy test was scheduled for August 26, 2015. I was not hopeful. I kept telling myself I should “feel” something and that I would just “know.” The truth is, I felt nothing.
I waited. The morning seemed to drag on for days. Then the phone rang, and this time it wasn’t the nurse; it was my doctor. I was pregnant! My HCG was 636, and I remember crying and asking if that was high and meant multiples. He laughed and said it was high, but still within the range of a singleton. I cried, hard, and the tears came from my soul. It was a feeling of joy that, to this day, I cannot fully encompass in words.
September 8, 2015 was our first ultrasound. I remember looking over at the machine and seeing what appeared to be two angel wings staring back at me. Just then the nurse exclaims, “Wait a minute. How many embryos did you transfer?!” I replied with, “two,” to which she stated, “Yup there are two heartbeats!” My husband and I both laughed at the same time. I guess you can say we had come full circle.
In early December we found out we were having two boys. We were elated! We spent the remainder of the pregnancy preparing and telling ourselves we were ready. We met each appointment with a breathlessness that at times was overwhelming. The worry that comes over you when carrying human life is extraordinary. With every feeling, every movement, I would wonder if everything was okay or if something terrible was about to happen.
I remember being so grateful that I was carrying multiples because that meant more appointments, more scans, and more confirmation that everything was okay. I carried my babies all the way to my scheduled c-section at 37 weeks. We were prepared, we were ready, and we had this. I had it in my mind that it would be magical and that I would see them and fall in love. The reality of that day was far different from my expectations.
I ended up having a terrible reaction to the anesthesia. I was incredibly nauseous the entire c-section and could barely look at my babies because I felt so sick. I have flashes of memories in my head of me holding my boys as I was wheeled to the recovery room, and flashes of my family looking at me, but I was so sick the entire time.
There are photos of me feeding my twins just minutes after they were born; however, I only remember these moments through pictures. I remember telling the nurse how tired I was. I remember wanting to close my eyes and sleep. My mother-in-law told me that at some point I had said I was afraid to close my eyes because I was scared I wouldn’t wake up. I had become hypothermic, and my body temperature had dropped to 94 degrees. I was sweating, and yet everyone was rushing to throw blankets on me. I didn’t even know that the boys had been taken out of the room and upstairs to the nursery until I woke up at around four in the afternoon. Little did I know, this was the smallest hurdle I had ahead of me.
Day two in the hospital, I was having a hard time sleeping and my heart felt as though it was doing a marathon run. I was anxious, but I chalked it up to the whirlwind of giving birth and the ignorance of not knowing what to expect. We slept the boys in the nursery each night, and I would get out of bed each morning excited to see them. Instead, they would be wheeled to my room and I felt void of all emotion. I felt nothing at all.
When I showered and looked down, I didn't recognize my own body. I soon found myself sitting on the side of the bed staring out into the parking lot. I didn't know why. I lost all track of time. All I know was that all of a sudden I didn't know who I was. I was gone, or so I thought. "What am I doing?," I remember thinking to myself.
That night, two friends of ours had come to visit us when I looked at my husband and said, "I feel like I want to come out of my skin and that I'm going to have a panic attack." Soon, nurses and doctors were rushing in. I explained how all I wanted to do was cry and felt as if I was going to have a panic attack. The lump in my throat was growing by the second. I remember telling the psychiatrist, "Please know I do not want to hurt myself and I do not want to hurt my children." It came out of nowhere.
When we finally came home I was numb. All I could do was cry. It just came and took hold of me with an unbelievable grasp. How could I bring these little people into the world and not feel anything for them? Their crying made me cry even more and sent my anxiety into a spin. What was I doing?
I remember one of my sons was in his Rock-n-Play and had a bowel movement and all I wanted to do was leave him there. I didn't care if I changed him or if he got changed at all. I wanted nothing to do with this new life. I wanted nothing to do with them. How could this be my life? I didn't want this, I thought.
A few days after returning home we had their first pediatrician appointment. At the appointment, I ran into an empty exam room to cry hysterically. I needed an escape. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be anywhere but there. But I wanted children, didn't I? This was what we had worked so hard to achieve, wasn't it?
About a week after my boys were born, my sister thought that maybe doing skin to skin, which I didn't get to do in the hospital, would help me connect with them. This was right before I asked for my husband and sister to "get them off of me." Again, I felt nothing and I hated myself for it. I was in a constant war in my mind. All I could think to repeatedly cry out was, "Why did we put in two embryos? Why did we put in two?" I began manifesting in my mind that life with one would have made me far more connected to this thing called motherhood, that I would have surely felt something then. That night will stay with me forever.
I was in hell both mentally and physically. My mother-in-law came over, and we went on a walk around the neighborhood. The anxiety that set in was all-consuming. I didn't want to get the boys ready; I wanted to be me and just walk out the door. This "new normal" that I was waiting for had not arrived. I forced myself out the door that day and spent the entire walk cringing inside, silently counting the seconds until we returned home, which all of a sudden that day seemed like a safe place.
I knew that hell was not where I wanted to be and I had to do something about how I was feeling. I reached out to a counselor and sought out therapy. I reached out to every mom that I knew, and to my surprise had moms that I had never met get in touch with me because friends had reached out to them to send me support.
I was desperate for help. I would have done anything to be able to crawl out of the hell that was my mind. I needed someone to say to me, "I have been there. You are not alone."
With help, I worked through the depression, but the anxiety manifested quickly. As the weeks went on, I found myself more happily immersed in motherhood but then the thoughts came and began to rob me again, slowly, yet fiercely. I had thoughts that something was going to happen to me and that I was going to leave my kids, thoughts of them drowning in the ocean when we went to the beach, thoughts of someone coming into our house to kidnap them.
I was obsessively checking the thermostat because an article I had read said the temperature should be between 68-72 in their room, and I thought that something would happen to them if the temperature was even a degree off. I thought I couldn't walk down the stairs holding them because I would surely trip, fall, and severely injure them. These thoughts became all-consuming and got to the point where I couldn’t function. I didn’t want to leave my house; yet, I felt suffocated by its walls. With help from my doctors, medication, and therapy I slowly began seeing the light again.
This journey has left me feeling depleted, defeated, and lost, but it has also left me with incredible strength. In overcoming postpartum depression and anxiety, I have found a strength from within that I never knew was there. I have also learned many lessons along the way. I truly believe there is no larger learning curve than parenthood.
When my twins were born, I felt extremely guilty for working so hard toward this dream of motherhood and yet not finding it magical. The IVF, the doctor’s appointments, the hope, the energy it had drained from me mentally, physically, and emotionally, and yet here I was not loving every moment of the journey. Here I was experiencing a motherhood that was so far from what I had envisioned it to be. What I didn’t know then was that I was actually part of a community that I never knew existed and I was far from alone.
It is okay that you wished for it mama, and it’s okay that it’s not a fairy tale all of the time. It’s okay to loathe motherhood at times, and love it, too. It’s okay to want to run back to your old life; we all do sometimes. It’s okay to feel that your identity is lost in the demands of being a mom, and it’s okay to work towards finding it again. It’s okay to hesitate waking up in the morning because you question whether or not you have it in you to give one more day to your babies. It’s okay because I have this in common with you, and so many others do as well.
Just because you worked hard for it, just because you dreamed of it, does not mean that you have to love it all of the time. I don’t always love motherhood. That doesn’t make me a bad mother and certainly has no bearing on my ability to be a good parent, nor does it mean that I do not love my children. I think it makes me normal and human.
I see you, mama. I am here for you, and it’s okay. You are going to be okay.
Michele Lovetri is a mother to fraternal twin boys conceived through IVF. She has been married to her husband and best friend since 2011. She is a passionate writer, influencer, and content creator that wants to unite women on the road of motherhood and mental health. Her self-titled blog “Michele Lovetri – In My Own Words,” was born from the depths of her postpartum journey. It is a story told in words and pictures with a hope of making others feel less alone. She brings to life the rawness of the motherhood and mental health journey, while still finding laughter in the chaos. You can connect with Michele on Instagram and Facebook at @michelelovetri.