By Kate Boundy
Within society there is an excitement, expectation and over familiarity around the subject of trying for a baby. It is a subject with no boundaries, one portrayed as so easy and achievable, until a difficulty or loss occurs. Devastated couples are then often met with a suffocating and overwhelming silence, from people not wanting to compound their grief, with not knowing what to say.
You are married for all of five minutes before you are bombarded with questions about when you intend to start a family; which I always found highly uncomfortable to try and answer, even before I knew what lady luck had in store for us.
It is seen as ok to ask the deeply personal question, about when the pitter patter of “tinys” is going to start and a great deal of weighted expectation is often placed upon its answer. The poor bride in the months after her wedding is watched closely and if she decides not to have a drink at a family occasion or to wear a loose-fitting top, questions are immediately asked.
Although when it comes to infertility, we are at a loss as to what to say. People that suffer are expected to talk about the subject briefly and ultimately make it easier for the person asking the question than for themselves.
What not to say to anyone who has recently married
Apparently, my answer of: “When the IVF works,” wasn’t the right answer to give when I was once asked, but I honestly didn’t know what else to say, as I felt so acutely uncomfortable being put on the spot about something so sensitive.
For the people asking: “When are you going to have a baby?”, it is an innocent question, but for those being asked who are having problems it stirs up a hornet’s nest of emotion and pain if their journey to starting a family isn’t going according to plan – why me? Why us? This is supposed to be so so easy. We think this because no one ever tells you it can be so so hard. We receive no education on this topic in school and this has got to change.
The impact of becoming pregnant through IVF isn’t something to be underestimated. It will completely change you as a person emotionally and physically. You will have operation scars; you will have gained and lost weight and your hair may or may not have thinned from all of the additional hormones. You will have had your strength tested beyond measure and you will view the world in such a different way compared to how you did before.
Finally becoming pregnant through IVF is surreal – and then you grieve – and you grieve heavily
You grieve because you are weaning off the hormones that you have been put on to ensure your pregnancy stays until 12 weeks and beyond. This sent me into an acutely deep depression for two weeks where I didn’t really know what was going on due to my enormous hormone imbalance. No excitement for me.
Then you grieve the loss of the celebration, the lack of excitement and the thrill of keeping your precious secret is well and truly robbed from you. It is swiftly replaced by an enormous weight of worry that this could all be snatched away from you in an instant. It is beyond overwhelming and you ultimately crave your privacy hoping and praying that no one notices that you are pregnant so that you don’t have to explain anything that will cause you stress and therefore might affect your pregnancy.
The realisation then hits that your body, with a chequered history of managing to do so, now must keep a small human alive and well for nine months. This was terrifying for me and the urge to wrap myself in a cotton wool cocoon for nine months, have a nice long sleep and emerge when it was all over was enormous.
I will never forget the day I was told I needed IVF as a final resort for getting pregnant. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. This was something you read about happening to other people and my mum had said she got pregnant so easily with me – so I always thought that I would be fine. It was a completely alien concept that no one had ever talked about and I knew no one at that time who had had to have treatment to become pregnant. Although, now I know different and have made multiple friends who have shared the same heart wrenching experience.
You experience a new type of anxiety once you get those two pink lines
Five years later I was emotionally drained, two stone heavier and utterly exhausted by the whole experience. Then it came to our last ever attempt. Our time to move on, as the process was emotionally just too draining, debilitating and exhausting for us both. Although as our door on IVF was starting to close, two tiny little baby feet firmly wedged it open. There they were… two pink lines … and after three previous miscarriages my first feelings were not of pure elation but of, ‘well that’s the first hurdle over with’. Every day felt like a year. Every visit to the toilet, (especially during the first 12 weeks), a trauma wondering whether I was about to miscarry, and it was frankly utterly terrifying. For my entire pregnancy, although there were moments of joy and excitement, I completely held my breath… waiting … just waiting and praying it wouldn’t go wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to even have just one cup of coffee in case I miscarried, and I would only shower instead of having a bath to avoid infection that may cause another miscarriage.
Then no one mentions the friends you lose along the way. The ones that don’t know what to say when things are going wrong and the ones that wish they were you when it finally worked as they would give anything to be in your position.
Then the time comes to give birth
And it is still not a real concept to you, as you waddled the womby corridors of the hospital cocooned from the outside world trying to get your labour started. You feel like you are having some bizarre out of body experience. Even labour, (as they insist on induction in case anything goes wrong – no rosy water birth for me), is so drugged infused that you can’t really connect with what you are experiencing.
Then our beautiful baby arrived. In the stark glow of the theatre lights we finally became parents, just like that – we had done it.
We had finally won the star prize of the IVF race
Although we had been dramatically changed forever, we couldn’t have been any happier, more relieved or elated if we tried.
Fourteen months later and I still have moments where I can’t believe she is here. There are parenting moments such as looking at first birthday cake ideas, wiping up buttery finger marks and sticking bath toys on our bathroom wall that I thought I would never see and that I treasure every single day.
It feels like a total utter privilege and I take absolutely none of it for granted. A privilege I thought I would never have. It is also a privilege I would never ever upset others with. I would never ask another man or woman when they plan on having children as I know only too well the pain and anguish that question can cause. You never know where on their journey to having their family they are and you will never know how they might ache to be in your position.
Therefore, I ask you to be kind
Please, please don’t ask someone when they are going to have children as you could be causing untold pain and suffering that is so unnecessary and completely avoidable.
We are not educated on infertility in schools and this must change. We are sold IVF as a quick fix through the media and it is anything but. It is an all absorbing, emotionally destructive process that ultimately changes you forever, even if you do finally win the IVF race, you are not the same people that you were at the start line. The fertility industry is booming whilst infertility is rising, and no one seems to be trying to tackle the question of why. Why are we not taught how to protect our fertility when we are young for when we are older? Our future selves would thank us. Surely if fertility education can help some avoid such pain and anguish then that is something worth investing in.
I have no regrets about doing IVF as our beautiful girl exists because of it. It is a miracle treatment that can give the gift of parenthood to those that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. I just very much feel that it is being sold as a quick fix one-time only treatment and it is anything else but.
Finally, a note to our dear little girl
Mummy and daddy’s hearts were broken before you came along but you helped put them back together. You are the light of all our lives and we love you and everything makes sense now that you are finally here.