I have to let you into a secret that not many people know about me…
I am infertile.
Those three words are severe and harrowing for me to write down. In fact, I spend a fair amount of energy keeping my infertility hidden from nearly everyone. But it is the truth. And in an attempt to overcome this infertility, my husband and I have spent a stupid amount of money on medical bills over the past 9 years.
The brief backstory
After 4 years of marriage, my husband and I were having no luck in the baby-making department, so went to see our GP. Luckily we live in a part of the UK where the National Health Service (NHS) will fund fertility treatments if neither partner has another child. After 3 years and 13 free treatments, we had a successful IVF cycle and ended up with our loving, magnificent, cheeky 4-year old son, born in 2012.
Once he was around 2 years old we felt the strong urge to provide him with a sibling but we were no longer eligible for state funding so we decided to self-fund one more round of IVF. We took out a £5,000 personal loan, went through the pain and stress of the cycle, and had nothing to show for it. At this point, my husband and I were cognisant of our debt and knew that logically we should stop and enjoy our perfect family of 3. But when it came to family and emotions and thoughts of what ‘should be’, logic got clouded. At our follow up appointment at the fertility clinic, we were passed a leaflet. In large letters next to a staged photo of a smiling chubby baby (of course!) was: “IVF plan with a money back guarantee. Finance available”.
In a what feels like a blink, and clearly under the haze of fuzzy logic, we signed up to a 3-cycle money-back guarantee plan. We paid £12,000 cash upfront for it and if after 3 cycles we do not have a baby, we will get 70% of this cost refunded.
Where we are now
We have now completed 2 out of our 3 cycles. We were nearly successful in the last cycle, but it ended in a miscarriage at 6 weeks. We are due to have our final treatment next month and today we went to the pharmacy to spend the usual £400+ on the first tranche of drugs.
I am ready for this to be over. I am ready to come to terms with our family size, whatever it may be and to stop fretting over what-ifs and uncertainties and possibilities. I am ready to focus on my family for what it is right now and to be grateful for it in its entirety.
The cost of creating our family has been financial and emotional. We are paying off a debt for a child we never had. With our new focus on financial freedom and simple living (and in the clarity of hindsight) it becomes obvious to me: society’s message that one child is not enough has led me to this point. Society is wrong. My son is definitely enough.
As we approach this last cycle I have had time to reflect on our journey to get here. If I had known then what I know now, things might have gone differently. During my soul-searching I have written a list of things I wish I realised before going into infertility debt.
Five things I wish I realised before going into infertility debt:
- The infertility industry is a business that profits on couples during a time of desperation. If you have failed in a previous cycle, they will try and sell add-on treatments, most of which have no empirical evidence to prove they will increase your chance of conception. But of course, the fact that an additional option is out there leaves you thinking: “maybe I just need that one extra thing and it will work”.
- Only children are completely and utterly fine and well-balanced and lovely. Research has backed this up. There is no requirement for a sibling and the bond between a parent and an only-child can be so strong and so beautiful.
- Having more than one child does not guarantee they will be friends as adults. I hear many people say that they want their children “to be there for each other once they are gone” or to “share the burden” of caring for them in old age. My husband and I are planning our financial independence now so that our child does not have to care for us in old age. Hundreds of thousands of people enter old age without any children and rely on alternative care without a problem. I have also come to realise, based on recent experience, that in many cases there is one adult sibling who ends up doing the vast majority of care for old-aged parents. This is a sweeping generalisation but I have seen it happen in my family a few times now.
- Some people know how many kids they want (if any) but some people will never know; it is okay to not know. I have a friend who has 3 children and feels a great deal of sorrow for the 4th child she wants but her husband doesn’t. I also have a friend who absolutely knows that 1 child is all she wants and is content to stop. If I were to have a 2nd child there will not necessarily be an internal switch that says ‘enough’. I could have a sibling for my son and still feel unfulfilled. My life is as full and satisfying as I make it.
- Going into debt for a child that does not exist yet is all too easy to do. Companies exist solely to finance fertility treatments and are charging up to 15% interest for loans to fund treatments. Their websites are polished and professional and filled with beautiful babies, but remember these are profitable businesses. Getting sucked into these deals during a time of desperation is hard to resist.
If we are successful in our upcoming cycle we will rejoice I am sure. If we are not we will look forward to a special, fulfilling life as a family of 3. All family sizes, from a single person on their own to a large family, are wonderful in their own way.
Importantly, whatever happens next month, we will not abandon our financial plans to pay off ALL our debt in 10 years. Paying off our debt is a gift to our future family, whatever size it may be, and we deserve it.