In honour of National Infertility Awareness Week I wanted to share my thoughts on my own fertility journey so if you're going through it, you feel less alone. I found this phrase recently and it really resonated with me. A reminder we all have our wounds and are warriors in our own worlds.
Such a negative word – infertile. To me is suggests something inhabitable, devoid of life, an empty vessel. It just sounds bad and sad and less than. It is still a part of me that I very much struggle with, but as 18th – 24th April is National Infertility Awareness Week I thought I would share my feelings around it. It’s the kind of thing you don’t want to say out loud, but I know every time I hear someone else being honest about it, it makes me feel less alone. And, I guess that in my life not working out the way I thought it would, I’d like to offer some hope that you can still live a happy life without a family. See what’s behind door B, take the lesser walked path and most importantly, write your own happy ending.
I feel like I’ve spoken about my journey with fertility a lot. The trying, failing, picking ourselves up, getting so close to our dream, then Olive dying in childbirth and loosing ourselves to grief. Worst of all, loosing hope. Our quest ended in infertility in 2018 when a dangerous ectopic pregnancy meant I had surgery to remove my fallopian tube. Sadly, for me I only ever had one to start with and part of the reason Olive isn’t here is because I have a unicornate uterus (something I’m also keen to share because if you are born with an unusually shaped uterus you also feel a little weird and alone).
What I’m probably not so vocal about is how earth shatteringly painful infertility is. We live in a world where we generally get what we want. Most things are at our disposal, even if we have to save or wait a while, we get whatever we want eventually. Fertility isn’t one of those things and the more you want it, the further away it can feel. What’s more is, all around you people are getting what you want with no issues, people complaining about what you want, or not treating what you want the way you would. Basically, comparison central and an often nightmarish world to inhabit. On a bad day this can only be described as pure torture. It is not something you can ever prepare yourself for and it makes you feel like THE worst person in the world for all the unkind thoughts and uncomfortable feelings that go along with it. Plus because not everyone talks about it, it's like a secret life which is lonely and exhausting.
The rest of the human race are doing what we’re programmed to do, procreate (unless of course you have made the choice not to have a family - I see you and I wish I had known more people like you). You on the other hand aren’t part of that. You are living in an alternative universe, speaking a language only those who have experienced infertility can understand (or all keeping quiet as not to draw attention to it). Did you know that 1 in 8 people are affected by it? Why is it then that there are not more honest conversations about it? I felt so much shame around my infertility. You can’t not feel like you’re a failure, there is part of you that doesn’t work and that is getting in the way of not only yours, but your partners dreams. I struggle with failure and with feeling out of control – both feelings have been really hard to overcome but I’m learning to embrace them along with the path I now find myself on.
It’s where gratitude comes in. It’s the way I keep focused on what is going on in my life and gives me the discipline to not look to the left or right (or in my case too far back) but on what I have. It helps me shine a light so bright on what is there that what is missing is in the darkness – unless I want to hang out there for a while and I do, I honour the tears and sadness because it is so important to do that. I know this because I tried so hard to distance myself from the ugly feelings that come with infertility, I think this is because all the time we were trying and a baby was an option we had hope that our dreams of a family would come true.
Life without that hope seemed bleak. You know it was 5 years between Olive’s death and the operation that took away my fertility. To grieve and to keep trying took an enormous amount of strength. Like the hope of a family kept us going, to have a baby and to look back and make sense of that time by us having a family at the end of it – the elusive rainbow baby. There are so many layers to infertility. Even as I write this I am already thinking about how lucky I am to have got pregnant more than once, how I got to experience being pregnant even if that ended in tragedy (and how tragic that thought even is) and how lucky to find someone to even try with. There are so many different stories and journeys to consider – it is so heartbreakingly complex. If you're reading this and are impacted by the variety of ways infertility can affect you - my heart is with you.
Then the big questions come... In the absence of a family what is my purpose? Rightly or wrongly the view I had of my future saw a family (I am one of 6). It took SO long to undo that but when I did what I realised is I had the power to design a life that I loved. What has got me through life is focussing all my energy on making the rest of my life as ‘fertile’ as possible. What brings me joy, what do I have already, what might I have never done? I have the choice and since I’ve embraced this thinking I’ve found new levels of happiness. It would be unfair to say that every day I’m bouncing around thinking how great my life is and there can be triggers waiting around every corner, BUT…I’ve made space for my grief, I’m doing everything I can to make my time here count and am dedicating it to making our daughter, Olive proud.
Love + Gratitude
If you're experiencing infertility, please know you are not alone. Reach out to someone you trust, say how you feel, honour all your emotions, put the right boundaries in place to protect yourself and know there is a different kind of happiness waiting for you when you are ready. One that includes cheaper holidays, spontaneous plans and lots of sleep.