Like many couples, I never expected I’d have trouble conceiving. My husband and I were both healthy, my periods were regular and, in all honesty, infertility had never even crossed my mind as something which might affect, and then take over, our lives. Yet it did. As it is currently known to do for one in seven couples in the UK.
Being infertile is utterly overwhelming, all consuming and is often something many of us, regrettably, begin in secret. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment, disbelief and confusion; I constantly questioned whether we were actually doing things correctly in that department, wondering if perhaps there was something huge we’d both completely missed in our childhood sex education lessons. But who could we ask? I was ashamed to broach the subject with anyone else and simply didn’t know how to put my fears into words.
My husband and I had made no secret of our desire to start a family once we were married, however, no child was forthcoming. We were at that season of our lives when family and friends were announcing their “happy” news, and would be left feeling humiliated that we weren’t able to achieve what is perceived to be the most natural act imaginable; the ability to bear a child.
And so we began to lie. And continued to do so for the next year, until a diagnosis had been confirmed and the wait for IVF could begin.
No one dreams of being infertile, or of struggling to conceive, and assisted conception, in a sterile, clinical environment is not the scene conjured up when envisaging that magical creation of a new life. Long, torturous years can pass waiting for a specific medical reason in order to start fertility treatments. A diagnosis which, for those with unexplained infertility, never arrives.
Yet the hope never leaves.
To begin with, hope is everything. We know it can take six months on average to conceive. Then, we’re aware it does, at times, take some couples a full year. And so we pray, and wish, and hope that we’re those couples. We spend two weeks, out of every four, trying to believe, and desperately anticipating that this month just might be the one. We analyse every symptom, every twinge and every little grasp of straws we possibly can, before discovering that Mother Nature is a cruel mistress and the signs of a regular, monthly bleed, mirror those of early pregnancy. The blessing of a child is, once again, replaced by a stark, red curse.
Then there’s the superstitions; greeting lonesome magpies, wishing on chicken bones and carrying around pennies we’ve found on the street for luck. We move from medical to alternative research, and old wives’ tales, rubbing babies on our ovaries, drinking cough medicine by the gallon and watching videos of clowns, immediately after what we now call; “a try”. All things which, in the cold light of day, sound utterly ridiculous yet, upon which, we believe might make all the difference towards our dream coming true.
We spend a fortune buying kits to check we’re ovulating, charting temperatures and calculating. We then pee on another multitude of expensive sticks; early response, digital, the old fashioned, bog-standard, two lines type; wasting what feels like hours watching egg timers and looking for mythical lines to appear to see whether we’ve finally passed the test. It’s literally money down the drain.
And so we continue. Week after week, month after month and, for some, year after year, living a secret life of shame and experiencing a grief of loss we feel we don’t have a right to; how can we mourn something we’ve never even had? All the while, in many cases, trying to present the faked, merry front of a couple, who are choosing travel and career over reproduction.
It can be incredibly difficult to tell others, to voice those innermost fears, as if saying them out loud will make it even more real than it already is. For most, it’s a lonely, bitter and very scary time. I’m mindful of the fact that no one intends to make us feel that way but, at the same time, firmly believe no one should ever have to: There is no shame in infertility.
Attitudes towards infertility are ever improving. Taboos are breaking, and there’s an incredibly strong and scintillating community of women, and men, speaking out. We’re talking about it, yet there is still so much unintentional ignorance around all things fertility related and the realities behind having to make babies the hard, soul-destroying way.
October 29 – November 4th is Fertility Network UK’s Fertility Week; a chance to learn, to educate and to try to walk in the shoes of infertility. To imagine the fear, the isolation and complete devastation of those unable to have a family naturally or, indeed, at all. It’s a time we can all seek to understand more and exhibit greater compassion, keeping those loved ones of ours, experiencing such anguish, close in our hearts. Knowing that whilst they might not, outwardly, appear to be suffering, they may actually be heartbroken and scared and living with a, wrongly conceived, secret shame.