I've been putting off writing this post since forever. I'm all on for the sharing of anonymous information with strangers that come across the blog but it's much harder to write something personal when I know that there's people in our real lives who read what I put up here. It's even harder when it's information that not all of them will have been privy to (until now). This is not a post that will come easily to me, and I'd imagine it's not going to always be easy to read either. Also, if you're anyway squeamish or offended by the word vagina I'd stop reading now if I were you.
We're trying for a baby. That's great news! you might say and it would be, usually. I say usually because usually people stop trying not to get pregnant and BAM! Baby on the way. That is not how it has worked for us. We've been trying for quite some time now and nothing has happened. Nothing. At all. We're way past excited and hopeful and innocent so please, allow me to wallow in some of the pain and cynicism and give you an idea where we're at.
You know how you find the right person, the one you want to grow old with and have babies with and you talk about these things and you say "Hey, why don't we not try for a baby but we'll just be less careful and see what happens, we'll have a happy accident"? Then after a while you start to think that you're not having your happy accident yet and maybe you guys just need to concentrate on timing a bit more... After a few months of working on your timing there's still nothing and you start to worry. You think it's time to be a bit more progressive, that you're both young and this shouldn't take so long. Welcome to the beginning of the Dark Side.
Induction to the Dark Side begins innocently enough. You read up on actively TTC (that's Trying To Conceive), you log onto forums and learn all of the acronyms and abbreviations (CM, BBT, EPO, OPK, BD, CD, DPO, IUI, FET, SA, TWW, BFP, BFN etc). You read about the miraculous nature of pineapple core and cough syrup (not together obviously, 'cos THAT would be crazy), tips and tricks that are passed around like the urban legends of the fertility world (I knew this one couple, and they were TTC for 5 years and then they (insert random unconnected activity here) and suddenly they were PREGNANT! with like, triplets).
Before you know it you're taking your temperature every morning, orally at first but then vaginally because orally just isn't accurate enough for you anymore and godammit you're an A-student at this and you're not going to miss out on getting pregnant 'cos you yawned before you took your temps and that might skew your chart. You're peeing on a stick to see if you have an LH surge to show you're about to ovulate, you're peeing on sticks after you ovulate to see if you're pregnant. You're taking so many vitamin supplements that you rattle if you run. You have not one but TWO fertility trackers on your phone, just in case. You know more about your cervix and cervical mucus than most doctors. Your partner knows more about your cervix and cervical mucus than most other women! You start to live your life in two week cycles (waiting to ovulate, waiting to test, waiting to ovulate, waiting to test) and sex is so far from the spontaneous, creative craziness with was at the beginning because you don't care if you're both tired and cranky and sick, this is your three day fertile window and you are going to get it on if it kills you (leading to lots of acronyms on TTC forums like BD - baby-dancing; DTD - doing the deed; or my personal favourite GOF - goal orientated fucking). You stop smoking. You start smoking again. You stop smoking. You start smoking again 'cos godammit everyone but you is pregnant and the least you can do for your own sanity is indulge in the things a pregnant woman can't, or at least shouldn't, do: soft cheese, runny eggs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, nuts, etc.
Next come the appointments with the doctors. They're fun. The games start in the waiting room where you're surrounded by pregnant women and small children and you challenge yourself to see how long you can take it before you have to go to the bathroom for a cry. After that period in purgatory you're called in to see the doctor. You go in, you bare your soul, you might even cry a little more (okay, I lie, you'll cry a LOT). The doctor will listen with that concerned little head-tilt they are so fond of and then give you some brilliant advice: you're too focused, try to relax a little. Go home, light some candles and open a bottle of wine. Come back to be in six months if there's still nothing doing.
So you go home. Six months later you're back, having practically burnt the house down with candles and drunk enough wine to own shares in a vineyard. You'll cry again. "Oh", she'll say, "it really shouldn't be taking you guys this long". No shit, Sherlock. So you start the tests. You wait until day 3 of your cycle (that's 3 days from the beginning of your period for those of you lucky enough not to know what I'm talking about) and you get bloods drawn (lucky me, I'm a fainter). You then chart like your life depends on it (which in some ways, it does) and when you're 7DPO (days past ovulation) you go back for more bloods to be taken. You get your results, everything looks fine but since you're now 30 (which is surprisingly old in terms of fertility, especially if you want more than one baby) we're going to move forward. Which brings us nicely on to money and insurance...
See, you can't use your health insurance for fertility-related matters in Ireland. I've had VHI coverage since Christ was a boy (thank you Carol for that expression, still one of my faves) but that doesn't matter 'cos they just don't do fertility. If you can afford it you can go privately and get all your more invasive tests done quickly(ish). We can't afford it, not right now. Which means we're on the public waiting list for a fertility consult. And it's a waiting list. We went on the list in late December 2011. It's now late October 2012. According to the (poor) lady I spoke to (harassed endlessly) we'll be "lucky" to get a letter in January 2013 organising an appointment for February/March 2013. However, budget cuts in the health service mean that these waiting times are getting longer and longer every day.
Now, if you know me at all you'll know I can't just sit on my hands for 14 months+, I have to do something. ANYTHING. I visit the doctor again. Cry some more. Get a recommendation to try acupuncture. Pay (privately) for consultation with "natural" fertility clinic. Cry some more at that. Go back. Cry again. Realise that she's talking out of her arse (my back issues are due to unresolved emotional trauma eh? How's about that herniated disc the MRI scan revealed being the trauma?!) and rue the money spent there that could have been used on one initial private fertility consult with an actual specialist. Find out from MRI scan that I need an ultrasound as I seem to have an ovarian cyst. Find out from ultrasound that I have TWO ovarian cysts, one each side, both larger than 5cm (which is the standard let's cut it out surgically point). Might I add that at this stage, between colposcopies and internal ultrasounds, that random strangers have seen more of my vagina than I'm entirely comfortable with and knowing that there's so much more of the same to come I'm starting to feel kind of whorish. I mean, I've found "the one", surely only the Big Guy should have access to my vag. Oh, and one of the cysts is a dermoid cyst which is a funky little fella filled with mature cells i.e. likely to contain skin, hair, bone and teeth. Yes, you read that right. Teeth.
So now I have to wait and see a gynecological oncologist to make sure I don't have ovarian cancer. It's unlikely, but they have to check. Right cyst (dermoid) is now named Juan-Carlos, lefty is Frank (as frankly, this is bullshit and I'm tired of waiting and doctors and all this infertility crap). They're unlikely to be causing the infertility as most women find out they have ovarian cysts when they're pregnant and go for an ultrasound but there is a chance that surgery will either mean the loss of one or both ovaries, or cause scarring on the fallopian tubes that effectively blocks everything up. Depending on how the consultation goes I may have to decide to spend a cycle or two on fertility drugs and have eggs harvested for freezing so we can do IVF at a later stage.
That's the medical side of things. Isn't it so much fun already? Can't you just feel the sparkling joy emanating from me?
The emotional side is so different, and so much harder. I don't even know how to explain it without going around in circles, and making myself cry, but I'll try.
I never expected this to happen to us. No one does. As women we are programmed to be mothers (which is why those who are child-free by choice often face such shock when they declare themselves to be so). Every little girl has a doll that at some stage is called her "baby". Little girls push their dolls around in prams and pretend to feed them, change their nappies, and fuss over them. It's just what we do. As teenagers we're warned about the dangers of being sexually active and unplanned pregnancies. Once we become sexually active we will more than likely, at least once, have a late period that has us running to buy pregnancy tests and pleading for the test to be negative. We assume that fertility is our right and that once we want a baby we'll just have one.
Trying to move from that mentality to the idea of being infertile is...painful. It shakes what you believe of yourself as a woman to the core. It does the same to the men in the relationship. You feel betrayed by your body, by human nature, and then it starts...the guilt.
You feel guilty about every bad decision you ever made. You wonder if this is somehow your fault. You think of the times in your early teens when you swore you never wanted kids and you wonder did I do this? Did I bring this on myself? Every cigarette you ever smoked, every time you maybe had a drink or took drugs, every time you didn't exercise, every time you did exercise, every time you skipped a meal, every time you were underweight, every time you were overweight, every mean thought you've ever had, every cup of coffee, every sexual partner, everything you've ever done becomes, at some stage or another, what you blame yourself for because, after all, it's your fault. You're obviously a bad person and that's why you can't have a baby. It's karma, you brought it on yourself, you don't deserve to be a mother.
You feel guilty that you haven't provided your loving partner with the baby you both so badly want. You know that it is quite likely that if you do ever have a baby together it will be the result of medical intervention and not some wonderful romantic moment between you two (because let's face it, there's nothing romantic about lying on a table with your feet in stirrups having your partner's sperm injected into your cervix, or having your eggs removed, fertilised, and surgically implanted back into you in the hopes that they'll stick).
You worry. You worry that your partner will leave you if you can't give them the baby you want. You worry about the cost of all of this. You worry about when the time comes to finally stop and accept your lot and one of you can't do that, wants to keep pushing. You worry about what to say if your miracle baby one day asks "where did I come from" should you be lucky enough to conceive somewhere along the way. You worry about the toll infertility takes on your relationship. You worry about the toll infertility takes on your friendships.
Friendships are one of the hardest parts of infertility. You get to a stage in this "journey" where you can't deal with people anymore. The jealousy of OPP (other people's pregnancies) kicks in. There have been 17 or 18 babies born since we started trying for our own, and 2 more on the way. Sorry, 3 more. You can't imagine what that does to a person unless you've dealt with infertility yourself. It can be so hard to be around your friends and family when you're constantly reminded of what you want so badly and don't have. It hurts your soul. You want so badly to be happy for them and you are but it still hurts. You can't be as happy as you'd like to be. You can't help but go home from visiting them depressed. You wince every time someone asks you to hold their baby and then tells you that it suits you and you should think about having one yourself. You have to mentally steel yourself for pregnancy announcements and sometimes you can't and you just have to try and smile and be happy until you can go home and cry for 3 days. You start to avoid people who are pregnant and avoid situations where you'll be around babies. You no longer associate your friends with what you have in common with them but how long it took them to get pregnant and how difficult their journey to parenthood was. Those who have walked this path with you, in whatever way, are your soul brothers and sisters. You have shared pain and now you share their joy. They are the ones who give you hope that one day, maybe, if you're oh-so-lucky enough you might just succeed like they did. Then on the other side there are those who had accidental babies and you just can't be around them. Simple as. Can't do it, won't do it, and I'm sorry but it's self-preservation and I can't put myself through that anymore. The people that only have to look at their partner and wow, pregnant. Lucky you. I'm happy for you but please don't expect to hear from me anytime soon. It's not your fault, it's mine, and I'm sorry. The people who struggled with fertility and then once they had a baby forget how sensitive to comments they themselves were and tell you that you wouldn't understand, you're not a mother; or complain about how much being pregnant sucks/sucked.
You want to cry every time you hear a parent complain about how hard it can be. Yes, it's hard, there's no doubting that but we would give ANYTHING to have to deal with sleepless nights, teething, morning sickness, swollen ankles and everything else pregnancy and babies bring with them. Parenting is a hardness that brings with it joy, your baby's first tooth, word, step, day at school, giggles, hugs, kisses and love. Infertility is a hardness that brings pain, emptiness and shame.
The shame is, for me, the absolute hardest part of this whole thing. People don't talk about infertility. It's a taboo subject. No one wants to hear about your struggles and if you're lucky enough to have a friend who does (which I do and I'm so, so grateful for) then you worry that you're boring them, or making them feel bad. It's not okay to say that you're struggling. It's not okay to be upset. It's really not okay to burst into tears when a friend tells you they're pregnant. I'm sure there are people who have read this far and think that I should have kept this post to myself, that what I've said above about friends above is way out of line. People that would tell me that if we just relaxed we'd be successful. People that would tell me that we should just adopt.
So let's start the final part of this post: what not to say to someone that you know is having issues with fertility.
Just relax, you're stressing too much about getting pregnant, that's why it's not happening.
No, that's not why. Relaxing will not help. Getting all Zen about baby-making is not going to make a difference if there's actually a medical issue. As I like to point out to anyone who says this to me - people have babies and get pregnant in war zones. I'm pretty sure they're waaaay more stressed than the pair of us combined so please, fuck off.
Oh, you can't get pregnant. Why don't you just adopt?
Do you have kids? If yes, did you "just" adopt? No? Why not? If you can't give me an answer that doesn't involve wanting a little mini you+partner running around then why would you suggest that I should feel any differently?
Also, I have already looked into adoption. Do you know how hard it is in this country? Did you know out of 181 adoptions in 2011 only 34 were to non-relatives of the child and almost all of them were long-term foster parents of that child? Did you know that to adopt internationally you have to pick one country and that's your lot, you go on the waiting list for there and just...wait? Did you know that by the time you're matched with a child and all the checks and paperwork is carried out you will not be adopting a baby but a toddler or young child? Adoption is also expensive and it may come down to a choice between IVF and adoption for us. We also have to be finished all fertility treatments before we'd even be consider for adoptive parents.
Did you know that I'm already adopted myself and whilst it is my end-game plan as an adopted person it makes me feel truly awful to know that child would be our second choice because it makes me feel like I was the second choice for my parents? The dealing with infertility and the idea of adopting is so personal, and such a raw thing for me that I can't promise I won't swing for the next person to suggest it.
Have you tried acupuncture/herbs/dancing under the light of the moon.
Yes. If you name it we have probably tried it. Sadly though it hasn't worked and we've had to move on as we don't have a bottomless pit of money to keep throwing at it until it does maybe work and we have our wedding coming up, a house we want to buy, and if we get to the end of the public system without a baby (2/3 free IUI's then you're on your own) then we'll have to pay for further treatment ourselves.
Maybe this is God's will.
Fuck off. Seriously. Fuck off. Are you honestly expecting me to be okay with God's will being for us to remain childless when there's crackwhores and perverts out there having babies left, right and centre? Fuck right off.
You want kids? You can take mine ha ha ha ha!
I don't want your kids. I want our kids, a little dash of me, a little dash of the Big Guy, and a whole heap of their own quirks thrown in too. I want to watch people trying to guess which one of us the baby looks more like. I want to see which of our different attributes our child grows up to have. I don't want to be a baby-sitter, I want to be a MOTHER. I know you're only joking but it's not funny. Not even a little bit.
Every time my partner touches/looks at me I get pregnant.
Lucky you. Thank you for rubbing your hyper-fertility in my face. I'm going to leave now and cry myself to sleep tonight. Don't you think that we wish it could be so easy for us?
So who's fault is it then?
We don't know. Even if we did we wouldn't tell you. Now fuck off.
At least you can sleep in/be carefree/have fun trying.
Oh yes, aren't we lucky to not have the children we long for! Aren't we lucky to have another Christmas approaching with no Baby's First Christmas decoration on our tree. Aren't we lucky that we schedule our sex life around fertility and that it's happening whether we're in the mood or not. Sure, we can go out more than parents who need to find babysitters, we can have lie-ins together but wait! We have to save money in case we need IUI's/IVF/ICSI so actually we probably go out less than you do. Know what we can't do? Have the baby we want easily.
You'll know what it's like when you're a mother...
Usually accompanied by a smug smile. Being pregnant or having a child doesn't make you an authority on everything. In fact, it doesn't even mean you know everything about being pregnant and having a child. I know our lives will change when we have a baby in our home but we've been preparing for this for 2 years now so as far as I'm concerned I am a mother, I just don't have my child yet.
I know this couple that did X, Y, Z...
This falls into the "Have you tried" section above. Same answer. Just because that worked for them doesn't mean it's the magic fertility bullet for us.
Do you want me to come over and take care of it for you?
This one is specifically for the guys. Please, please, if a friend of yours is TTC with his partner without success then don't say this to him. You have no idea how hurtful and offensive it is to both of them.
What are you looking at baby clothes for? You going to rob one off the street? Har, har, har.
Gee, thanks. I might have been looking for a gift for a friend's baby. I might have been in that ridiculous hopeful point between ovulation and my period where I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, if we're lucky enough this month and the stars smile down on us that I might be buying these soon. I might have been frozen to the spot in blind panic when I realised that I was going to have to walk through the baby section but I have my period and every hope we had for the last cycle is now gone and oh-my-god-i-think-i-might-just-burst-into-tears-if-i-have-to-walk-past-baby-things. Now instead I know that you obviously think I'm such a barren psycho-bitch that the only chance I have of getting the baby we long for is if I steal it. Cheers.
There's about a thousand more but I'm sure you have the gist of it by now.
So what do you say instead? Nothing. Not unless they start the conversation first. Don't advise, don't say you understand if you haven't been through this yourself. If the conversation starts then say things like:
This is so unfair on you guys
I'm here if you ever need a shoulder to cry on
and if you know them well enough then ask questions about the current stage they're at. Don't pry if they don't feel up to being open about it.
That's it, that's all I got folks. If you know me please don't bring this up the next time we see each other, it'll only make both of us really uncomfortable. I'll talk about it if you want but only because I'm tired of the shame, and the keeping quiet. If I haven't spoken to you about our struggles TTC before now well then there's a reason and I'd ask you to respect that.
If you feel like you recognise something of yourself in this post then I am sorry. I really tried not to bring other people into it but instead to talk about how it feels on this side of the fence. If I have hurt you with what I've said then I'm sorry. I'm hurt too, and it's this place of pain that I'm speaking from.
I'm so sorry that this is so long. As the title says...it was a long time coming. Just like our baby.