Janine, like all the women interviewed for this article, insists her real name not be used. As she pulls up her shirt to show the red marks like shotgun shrapnel that angrily speckle her abdomen, she attempts to explain why.
“Look what I’ve done to myself,” she says, incredulous at the sight of the hundreds of needle marks from almost a year of injecting herself with growth hormones as part of her numerous attempts at IVF.
“I am 47 years old. What was I thinking? That’s the problem really, I don’t think I was in the end. I was like a gambler or a junkie that didn’t see anything or anyone but what they wanted. Only, for me, it wasn’t a hit or a drink, it was a baby.”
You don’t read a lot of stories like Janine’s on the many fertility-over-40 websites and forums on the net. Sure, there are the cries of desperation, heart-breaking stories of unsuccessful attempts to conceive both naturally and with medical help, and the singular focus if-I-don’t-have-a child-I won’t-have-a-reason-to-live alarms.
However, stories that, like Janine’s, don’t have happy endings? They’re just too depressing and something women still trying to conceive a much-wanted baby just don’t want to hear – her 14 unsuccessful IVF attempts in under 18 months, most of which she kept a secret from her family, friends and even, towards the end, her own husband.
Her rapid plunge into depression and contemplations of suicide each time another chance at motherhood was dashed by the onset of her period, aided and abetted by rapid weight gain, dramatic mood swings and the realisation even more thousands of dollars were lost along with her dream.
Instead, older women with their eyes still on the prize of motherhood prefer to hear the stories of hope, luck and success: the woman in Russia who had a child at 62; the Hollywood celebrity who gave birth to twins at 46; the woman on a blog who said she had given up hope but then, after that last try at IVF, gave birth to the healthy child…
What also seems to be ignored by Janine and other women over 40 undergoing numerous attempts at IVF are the statistics which, despite the remarkable advances in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), are as irrefutable as they are dismal – around a 10-15 success rate per cent per cycle for those aged between 40-43, 1-2 per cent between the 44 and 45 and just a fraction of a per cent beyond 45.
Yet, when Janine’s doctor outlined her chances of conceiving when she first signed up for IVF, she wasn’t listening either. For once Janine, who runs her own accountancy firm, refused to listen to the numbers.
“I was tra la la la la, I can’t hear you,” Janine says, her fingers firmly implanted in her ears.