Instead of tears of happiness that after years of infertility I had finally gotten pregnant, I sat in bed bloated, uncomfortable, and unable to breathe properly from OHSS after my first IVF cycle, with red hot tears of pain and confusion. 

We had just received the call from the fertility clinic that our pregnancy wasn’t viable.

While I would never wish a miscarriage on my worst enemy (nor a pregnancy loss after infertility, as I had experienced)...

While I don’t believe everything happens for a reason (sometimes awful things just happen)...

While I will never know for sure if the changes I made after that contributed to my next healthy pregnancy…

The pain of my miscarriage was the breakdown I needed.

Let me explain.

woman holding note that reads you are worthy of becoming a mother

Our lives seemed perfect up until we started trying to conceive. I had married my high school sweetheart, and we had moved out, got married, bought our first house, and worked hard before deciding to start a family. Right before that, we embarked on the fairytale trip of a lifetime around the world. We traveled around Europe at Christmas, visiting Christmas Markets in Germany, spending Christmas Day at Disneyland Paris, and then traveling to New York for New Year’s Eve.

Shortly after that, when we started trying to conceive, I was determined to do everything by the book. I visited my naturopath, tracked my cycle, and ‘detoxed’ my diet, utterly convinced that we would conceive immediately. It hit me like a ton of bricks when, month after month, we just weren't getting pregnant.

Each month, I would put on a brave face as I hopped from my fertility clinic to my acupuncturist to my naturopath, while I juggled a career in Marketing Management. But then, every now and then, I would crumble, more and more easily, when I would receive yet another pregnancy announcement or another big fat negative. 

I would sit through coffee with a fake smile, nodding with friends as their conversations were dominated by nap times, sleep schedules, and feeding their babies. I felt isolated and completely alone. I would constantly question what I was doing wrong and continually attempt to cut out more food groups, investigate more gadgets, and take more supplements in hopes that it would magically fix the roadblock to conception.

Eventually, we landed at a fertility clinic and went through the motions of medicated cycles, IUI’s, and tests, praying that we would receive a red flag followed by a silver bullet. Spoiler alert: that never came.

As I went through the motions each month of trying to conceive as well as the rapid grief cycles of hope and failure, I sunk lower and lower emotionally. Yet, I never quite hit the rock bottom I needed to cause me to question my perspective, philosophies, and course of action. When we received the call that our pregnancy wasn’t viable, it felt like my entire world collapsed in front of me.

In the ultimate act of the universe giving me the middle finger, I was told that we would need to induce a medical miscarriage because my progesterone levels were more than 40x what they should be, and if I waited for my body to miscarry naturally, by the time my body recognized what was happening, I would be well into my second trimester. A medical miscarriage seemed like the complete antithesis of what I had wanted.

woman holding sign that says i release myself from all expectations of perfection

As I sobbed in bed, I told my husband that this had tipped me over the edge. I could handle IVF. I could handle Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, but together with a medical miscarriage, I could no longer cope. In the days and weeks that followed, I withdrew from friends and family. I walked the corridors of work in a fog, feeling like tears were constantly welling in my eyes. I had lost all motivation. I needed a circuit breaker; I needed to get out.

So we booked a last-minute trip, together with rushed passports, to a remote area of Lombok, Indonesia. We landed at a surf retreat with only two other guests in a place that only had a small traditional village nearby. No shops, no tourist activities, no restaurants. Just a pool, the beach, and the communal dining table.

For the first time (possibly ever in my life) I couldn’t distract myself with busyness or try to avoid my feelings. I was forced to rest and sit with my deeply uncomfortable feelings and accept that my hair was falling out in huge chunks because my body had been through a lot. I was forced to surrender to my journey and accept that children might not be part of our future.

Up until now, my personality and coping mechanisms consisted of:

  • Keeping busy
  • Staying strong
  • Avoiding uncomfortable feelings
  • Doing everything I could to get pregnant, even if it meant sacrificing myself, my sanity, and my emotional health to do so
  • Obsession

On that trip to Lombok, I had a deep realization that this strategy had left me broken and unable to cope. I had become a shadow of my former self, and if I wanted to have the true strength and stamina to continue pursuing IVF to get pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to do it by sacrificing myself any longer.

The pain of my miscarriage was the breakdown I needed.

woman lounging by a pool

After that trip, I completely changed my approach.

  • I made the conscious choice to put myself BEFORE my baby. I was no longer willing to sacrifice my mental health and my life in this pursuit. It takes energy—physical, mental, and spiritual—to create a life. And so above all else, I decided that I needed to be okay first and foremost. 
  • I took tiny, small actions toward shifting my perspective and emotional well-being, starting with a gratitude journal.
  • I removed relationships and activities that no longer served me and that drained my energy, including hibernating friendships, quitting acupuncture, and quitting that dreaded gluten-free diet. 
  • I stopped living my life from the perspective of restriction and started leaning in towards joy and the present moment (it was time to take my life off pause, take that leave from my job, start going out again, and start pursuing new hobbies and interests). 
  • I came to accept that my journey might take years, that there are so many beautiful paths to parenthood, and that even if none of those paths became part of my story, my life could and would still have a glorious and happy ending.
  • I stopped looking at my fertility specialist as a god and the end all, be all of my fertility journey and gained the strength to advocate for myself.

A few months later, I had just come away from a frozen embryo transfer. As I exited an Indian Restaurant with my best friend, I rubbed my belly, feeling a sense of peace that everything would work out, and told my friend that this was the first two-week wait I had experienced that didn’t leave me feeling frantic, desperate, and anxious. For the first time in so long, I felt, not like the old me, but like a newer, calmer, and more trusting version of myself. One who believed that she was worthy and important, regardless of whether she became a mother or not. Strong, in a much truer sense.

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note that reads it won't feel like this forever

The true test was when that frozen embryo transfer cycle came back negative and instead of crumbling, I coped. Instead of feeling zapped of all emotional and physical energy, I felt like I had the capacity to grieve, recover, and set a game plan. It has been nearly 10 years since we returned from that trip around the world and started trying to conceive, and I have since grown and evolved several times. 

Maybe your world has been rocked by infertility and trying to conceive.

Maybe you've reached rock bottom, or maybe you’re skirting just under that line, feeling hopeless and desperate each month but not quite enough to trigger the breakdown before the breakthrough. 

Maybe you’ve been putting yourself at the bottom of your priority list, leaving you feeling drained. 

Whatever your story is, my wish for you is this:

That you don’t wait.

  • Don't wait to put yourself first.
  • Don’t put your life on pause and sacrifice your joy while you navigate this struggle.
  • Don’t wait to invest time and energy into your well-being.
  • Don’t believe the story that you aren’t worth it or aren’t doing enough.

Because you are, always have been, and always will be worthy.

Support, tools, resources, and options for reclaiming your life are all available to you, right now. You don’t have to do it alone.

Robyn xx

fertility warrior Robyn Birkin

Robyn Birkin is the Mind-Body Fertility Practitioner and Life Coach behind The Fertility Warriors Podcast and the NEW Mind-Body Fertility Reset Membership where members receive tools, resources, and community to provide them with emotional well-being and lifestyle change in small steps and a sustainable way. With a thriving events calendar, an on-demand library of resources, and a budding global community, the Mind-Body Fertility Reset is an incredible value for anyone navigating their conception journey. Learn more here. Robyn is from Perth in Western Australia and together with her husband, Ross, has two ICSI babies. You can find her on Instagram here or subscribe to The Fertility Warriors podcast here.