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Infertility: giving birth to a new perspective

6 August 2020

A husband, a home, and four children. That was the plan.

However, after five years of marriage, and a year of trying to conceive (TTC), every instinct in my body was telling me that something wasn’t right.

Rewind back to the beginning of my marriage. My husband was open to having children, but I was not yet ready. I wanted to enjoy married life, to lounge around on weekends without any responsibility; but above all, my main focus was on one thing: buying a home.

When my first major promotion came about, I was ecstatic! I truly believed that this was the first step on the path towards my dream life. I clearly remember the conversation with a senior staff member who told me I got the job. “We know about your strong work ethic and we’ve seen your dedication to your patients. You will be perfect for our team. My only concern is that you are newly married and probably want children straight away...” Followed by a well-thought-out list of reasons why pregnancy would inconvenience their recruitment process. Being young, naive, and eager to prove myself in my career, I responded with a list of all the reasons I was not planning to have children, entirely oblivious to the inappropriateness of this conversation. Although we were clear that children were not in the current plan, I needed to be sure that pregnancy would not be an obstacle.

Shortly after, I spoke with a sexual health nurse who advised the contraceptive implant (Nexplanon) based on my lifestyle. The main factor influencing this suggestion was the very strenuous night shifts I was doing on psychiatric wards, and with such an unstructured lifestyle, I needed something relatively “fuss-free” that required little thought or effort.

I had the implant in for over a year and a half. Unfortunately for me, my body did not respond well to the hormones and I gained a significant amount of weight. I also lost my periods for two years. Prior to the implant, I had suffered cripplingly painful periods, often meaning I had to take time off from work; so secretly, with no periods, I was grateful that nothing was stopping me from working anymore. I could now prove my commitment to my work, and work towards my goals, without any “obstacles”.

During this time, with patience, focus and hard work, we purchased our first home. It was at this point that I realised how far I had let myself go, and I decided to get the implant removed. It took six months for my periods to return. Unfortunately for me, my waistline did not magically shrink as I had expected. So here I was, overweight, with no energy and lowered self-esteem, combined with diminished motivation to do anything about it.

In this time, well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) friends and family members were constantly questioning us on why we had not had children. Comments like: “Your house must be so quiet without children”, “Cousin X got married after you and has a child” and of course, at the age of 26, “You won’t be young forever, you need to hurry and have your children now”.

The most amusing incident (I use this term loosely) was at a family party, one year after my wedding. A family member approached: “Are you pregnant because you have gone really fat?”I smiled with a “No, not pregnant, I just like my pizzas.”

"Why are you not pregnant? Do you have fertility problems?”At this point, I was not aware of any issues with my fertility, but I often ask myself the motivation for this question. I mean, did she honestly think I would tell her if I did? Would she have helped me in any way? After seven months of TTC, I felt that something wasn’t right. I spoke with my GP who informed me that if I had not conceived after one full year of trying, I should return and request a referral for fertility assessments. I was also informed, that for any fertility treatments to commence, I would need to reduce my weight to “safe” levels.

For me, one of the biggest frustrations was month after month of TTC, just to result in heavy, excruciatingly painful periods. As well as the anguish of feeling “another month; no baby.” The disabling pain just made me resentful...towards my own periods. It felt as though my periods were for nothing. I fully understood the concept of no pain, no gain. But here I was, in pain, but with no gain. I mean, what was the point of going through this every month, when at the end of it, it amounted to nothing?

The one thing that I did really value in this time, was that I was able to pause and deeply reflect.

  • Do I really want children and why? I thought about all of my reasons, then reflected on whether there was any other way of achieving this. E.g. Wanting to pass on my knowledge and wisdom. Could this be satisfied by writing a book?
  • Is it because of pressure from friends, family or society? After all, they will always have opinions. If I have one child, it will be: “When are you having your next one?”. If I have two, it will be “Just stopping at two?”. If I have a third, “Wow! Getting a bit carried away there! Might want to slow down a bit!” I have never been one to shape my life around the expectations of society, but with such a huge decision as having a child, I needed it to be abundantly clear, that society was not an influencing factor.
  • What would we do if conceiving naturally was not something that would be possible for us? Were multiple IVF cycles emotionally, physically and financially viable for us? How did we both feel about adoption?
  • Anxieties? My husband's anxieties were around holding a newborn, as he had never done it before. My own were around the fear of pregnancy symptoms and labour itself. We both spoke in length about how we would support each other through this.
  • How much time do I want off work after I’ve had a baby? What can I do now to start preparing for this?

After a further five months of TTC, fertility assessments commenced, during which I discovered that I had endometriosis and adenomyosis. As hard as this was to hear, everything clicked into place! I always believed that my severe symptoms were normal, so I could never understand how other women were seemingly unphased by their periods. I had truly believed that I was physically weak, that I had a low pain threshold, and that I just needed to “get over it”. This thinking had caused me to overlook 17 years of painful symptoms that were screaming out for attention, and I just kept pushing myself harder than I could tolerate.

After an incredibly difficult IVF experience (emotionally more than physically), I fell pregnant in my first cycle. However, my pregnancy was no walk in the park, with two bleeds, finding out I was rhesus negative and developing gestational diabetes (insulin-dependent). I also developed a severe form of Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) in my fourth month of pregnancy and ended up wheelchair-bound. I was now in a position where I was being bathed and changed by my husband and mum, and my desire for maternal nesting had to be satisfied by watching cleaning videos on YouTube. I even spoke to my new employers about leaving work, however, they were incredible and made numerous workplace adjustments to accommodate my new disability.

After a difficult, yet fairly quick, labour, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl who, at 19 months old, is thriving. I will say that struggling to conceive gave me the strength to soldier through my pregnancy. I never resented any of the pains, any of the complications, or symptoms. In fact, my struggle to conceive has given me a unique perspective on life, for which, I am truly grateful.

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