This is the story of my journey with fertility or rather infertility. It is not one of those fertility tales that inspires hope and promise of the long awaited baby. It is not even one of those helpful blogs that let you know what it is really like to go through fertility treatments. It is just my story.
When I was young I often dreamed about what I would be when I grew up. The possibilities were exciting. I felt that I would do something but I just didn’t know what. One thing I did know was that I wanted children – lots of them. Coming from a big catholic family and growing up around other big families, this was just standard. Why wouldn’t I want that? Little did I know that life had other plans.
My husband and I met in London, just before my 30th birthday, and we hit it off. That time of our life was spent travelling, partying and generally living in the moment. We felt young and free - there was plenty of time to settle down.
A few years later we moved back to NZ and settled into sensible jobs, worked hard and saved to purchase our first home. Soon after we got cats and the transition into suburban life was almost complete. Next it was the wedding and then of course kids. We wanted children so much. Even though we were on the slightly older side, we were healthy and ready and believed it would just happen – it was meant to be.
That belief kept us trying for 8 years.
Those years of trying were long. When things didn’t happen as we thought they would, we explored many avenues in an attempt to make it happen. I was going to get pregnant, and I just needed to figure out what was amiss. Specialists told us that there was no reason for the infertility and put us in that lonely “unexplained fertility’ camp. They also explained that even though there was no reason for the infertility, the problem was with me. I was obviously broken and at fault!
We tried everything to get pregnant. I read and researched anything that I thought could help us. There were visits to doctors, specialists, and alternative health practitioners. I thought if we just tried this treatment, or that approach, that it could be the missing piece of the puzzle and the answer to our dreams. Tests were undertaken. Scans were carried out. Blood tests done. Cycles were religiously recorded. Detoxes were done to cleanse my body of the toxins I had consumed and prepare it for new life. Diets were changed. Alcohol was eliminated. Fertility herbs were taken. Fertility drugs were administered. I listened to lots of advice. I tried focusing on other goals. I even took a couple of months off work to de-stress and increase my chances of conceiving.
Despite all best intentions, the quest to start a family began to slowly suck away spontaneity and joy and overtake my life. It was hard for it not to when every day was marked with recording this and that to pinpoint the optimal time to try for a baby that month and every month was marked by the unmissable notification that I was not pregnant - again. With every month that came around, I felt more and more disappointed. That disappointment slowly became sadness. I felt like such a failure.
I wanted so much for us to have a baby and start our own family. I knew age was against me and it felt like a ticking time bomb that I couldn’t get away from. Time was slipping away and this added to the pressure and my desperation.
But the harder we tried, the harder it became. People stopped asking us when we were having children pretty quickly. It soon became the white elephant in the room. The friends that did bravely broach the subject could sympathise but I often just felt worse after talking to them and trying to explain. They didn’t understand what we were going through and they certainly didn’t seem to understand the choices I was making. Mostly I just felt ashamed and that made it was so hard to share.
I felt a lot of pressure to get pregnant (mostly from myself) and when it didn’t happen time after time, I felt utterly and totally hopeless. Infertility was not part of our plan! For some reason, I felt responsible for this “infertility”. I was sure my husband thought that the fault lay with me (he didn’t) and I felt so guilty. I desperately wanted to create a family together, to have children with my husband, and I felt incredible sad that we couldn’t. What was I doing wrong?
As more and more friends became pregnant and then pregnant again and then again, I felt like an outsider from the mother’s club. I got pretty good at putting on the brave face when I heard the news that someone was having a baby. I was always happy for them, but just sad for us.
The emotional roller of trying and failing was exhausting. I constantly moved from hope and optimism to disappointment and grief and then back to hope. Trying to contain all those emotions is equally exhausting. Putting on the brave face only works for so long.
When we decided to try IVF it felt like the last chance and hope of a pregnancy. We’d never been able to conceive but somehow I still had a belief that it would happen. Even knowing the success rate of IVF, I had a renewed sense of optimism.
Everything went so well and when I got the call to say we were having a baby I went into a state of shock. I could hardly believe that we were actually going to be parents after all this time. Shock quickly made way for joy and I felt on top of the world. Being pregnant seemed so natural and I was remarkably confident things would go well. I felt like I could now start getting on with my life. We started sharing the news with family and close friends. Everyone was thrilled for us. I knew our baby’s name. It wasn’t a name we had ever considered when we use to talk about baby names all those years earlier but I just knew. Her name was Natalie.
We found out the baby stopped growing at seven weeks. The grief we felt was immense. I remember crying until I just couldn’t cry anymore. It was equally hard to see how upset and devastated my husband was. I felt completely empty. Was this all really worth it?
This was the point I decided to jump off the roller coaster and let go. What I always steadfastly believed would happen, just didn’t. We had invested thousands of dollars, hours and hours of treatments, and years of our life. There had to be something else better than this but giving up our dream when we had got so close seemed crazy.
Making that decision gave me such relief. I was released from the never-ending pursuit and suddenly I felt a sense of possibility again. I understood that there were other potentials and opportunities out there for me. I could take back control of my life.
The ease at which I adjusted once I had made my decision seemed to concern people around me - it even surprised me. This thing I had so desperately desired for years and that was in the fabric of everything I did, in my very psyche, I let go. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly and I am forever grateful to a wonderful support person who helped guide me to this decision. Once made, I didn’t even so much as glance back. It just felt so good, so right and that was something I hadn’t felt in such a long time. I knew it was the right decision. It was time to accept that this wasn’t the path and move on to something else. People didn’t seem to understand why I would give up when the possibility was close. “Had we considered adoption” they would gently inquire as though sharing with us some amazing solution that had never occurred to us.
Those years have been a journey of immense emotion. Emotions of grief, disappointment, hope, sadness, isolation, and even shame. Emotions so strong and persistent that it has taken a strength to contain them, for fear they would consume me. I was so focused in my goal that I never considered that there may be other paths. I was so sure we would have a family and it was just a matter of being strong and keep believing. I now know that sometimes having a baby just isn’t a decision you make.
This journey has taught me so much. It demanded that I take care of myself physically, mentally and spirituality. I know how to listen to myself and make choices that feel right to me – something I had never been particularly good at. I have learnt to be vulnerable. Above all, I have learnt acceptance. I have learnt to trust.
Not having children doesn’t make me a failure. It doesn’t make me less of a woman. I am never going to be a mother or a grandmother and experience what that feels like and I am ok with that. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunty, a cousin, a friend, and so much more. I understand that there are many ways to create and nurture and many ways to be a woman. I love my life, and now that I am not having children, I feel so many other opportunities and potentials open up again.
While I am eternally grateful for where I am, it is difficult not to look back and just wish I had let go so much sooner. That I had replaced that determined belief that it was going to happen with a gentler trust that whatever happens is ok and just got on with life. I relied too much on Hope. I expected too much from her when what would have served me more was trust. Rather than faith I needed truth. I know now that the way to truth is through awareness and acceptance.
Infertility felt so isolating for me and looking back I can see what a big impact it had on me emotionally and as well as on my relationships. It’s not that I’m an emotional person – I just struggled to acknowledge and share what I was really feeling.
What I needed most on my journey was not to feel alone. I needed people who really understood what I was going through and that I felt safe enough to share how I felt. Who supported me and the decisions I made, not because they thought the decisions were the right ones, but because I did. I needed gentle support from people who had similar experiences and could really understand what I was experiencing. I needed to be with other people who saw fertility as more than a medical issue, more than something that needs fixing and who had an open-minded approach.
My experiences have led me to a place where I can support other women trying to conceive. I want women to feel ok no matter where they are on their fertility journey.