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Talking about fertility treatment

3 August 2020

Some people are open with family and friends about their fertility journey. Others decide to keep it to themselves. Whatever you choose, it can be helpful to find at least one person you can talk to. But it’s not always easy, and sometimes those you thought would be the best listeners don’t want to hear you. Here’s how to navigate these conversations…

You know what it’s like – you’re settled in a relationship, maybe you’ve just got married, or perhaps you’re even happily single but your nearest and dearest know that you’d love to become a parent, and then it starts: the “so-when-are-you-having-a-baby?” question.

I got married in my mid-thirties and during that first year after the big day everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – was asking us when they were going to hear the patter of tiny feet. We weren’t fazed or offended by their bluntness, and we certainly didn’t feel under any pressure. We just laughed it off as a normal question that newlyweds expect, and carried on settling into the everydayness of married life.

Friendly questions

We knew we wanted children and, aware that we weren’t getting any younger, we got down to it on that front too. I didn’t get pregnant in that first year but we weren’t worried, chalking it up to a hectic period of moving house, new jobs and, well, just life stuff really. And the friendly enquiries continued from family and friends. “Come on guys”, they’d say, “Isn’t it time you got this family show on the road?”, or “Hurry up and have a baby because everyone’s married now and we could do with another excuse for a party”.

A taboo topic

But then we got to year two. Our first wedding anniversary came and went without any baby news from us and suddenly, noticeably, the baby chat stopped. It was like what had been a jokingly jovial enquiry became a taboo subject. Friends who found they were expecting would avoid telling us. It didn’t help that we were at an age where most of our friends were on to baby number two, trading up smaller cars for family estates, and moving to bigger houses.

Unexplained infertility

While we still weren’t overly concerned, we did the sensible thing and got ourselves checked out at the fertility clinic at our nearest big hospital. The results came back as ‘unexplained infertility’. With no glaringly obvious reason why we hadn’t ticked the bun-in-the-oven box we wanted to be proactive, so after all the necessary tests and talks and processes we started on the early stages of fertility treatment.

Opening up

We decided from the off that we would be open with our family and friends about what we were doing. My husband was happy to just talk to me about how he was feeling about the whole thing, but I really needed to talk to friends who had been through the process. And this is the bit where it started to feel really lonely. We knew couples who had conceived using fertility treatment but who never spoke about it. While I respected their privacy I really could have done with having someone in my close circle to talk to who'd been through it, but I had to make peace with the fact that it wasn’t to be.

Challenging conversations

Of course, taking that option off the table still left me with friends who hadn’t experienced fertility issues, but I discovered that talking to them came with its own set of challenges. Although well-meaning, almost all of them had a story about someone they knew who’d been through the same things we were and, in pretty much every case, successfully conceived. A couple of friends even told me stories about women they knew who, on the very day they were about to start IVF, did a pregnancy test “just to make sure”, and lo and behold they were already pregnant.

Changing tack

While all this was cheering in a way, the longer we went on without conceiving, the harder it was to hear, and the more awkward I could tell our friends were feeling about it. In the end, kind as they were, I realised that talking to anyone who hadn’t experienced infertility wasn’t going to help, and I decided to take up the clinic’s offer of seeing a fertility counsellor.

Although I was reticent at first about opening up to a stranger, it turned out to be just what I needed. With years of experience talking to people like me, she understood the many challenges that show themselves alongside fertility issues, and she gave me the time, space and support to explore and come to terms with them myself.

Keep talking

If I can share any useful advice from my experience, it is this: there will be someone out there to talk to if that’s what you feel you need. Just don’t expect it to be who you first think of, and be prepared that the help and support you need might end up coming from somewhere you’d never anticipated. Whatever you do, if you need to talk, keep going until you find the right person who will listen.

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