It’s an interesting concept when talking about infertility. I conceived my baby after a tumultuous experience of infertility, IVF, a difficult pregnancy and a labour story that makes people laugh and gasp in horror, all in the same breath. Although it was a physically challenging experience - the psychological challenges were the ones I struggled with the most. Looking back, I wouldn’t change any of it.
People tell you that if you stress about not having children, then you will not have children. For me, this information is as useless as being told not to fear dogs, because they can smell your fear. How is that going to stop my fear? How is knowing this going to stop me from feeling stressed?
In the midst of this stress and fear, I decided that I needed to take back control. I developed my own ‘Self-Care Plan’ to help me through the most difficult times. This involved designated self-care time, a healthy life overhaul and date nights with my husband. As a healthy distraction technique, I filled up my social calendar to avoid constantly thinking about whether I was pregnant that month, or not.
Anyone trying to conceive (TTC) will know that the uncertainty of the 2WW is enough to illicit extreme levels of anxiety.
This was particularly helpful during the dreaded ‘Two Week Wait’ (2WW). Anyone trying to conceive (TTC) will know that the uncertainty of the 2WW is enough to illicit extreme levels of anxiety. Fortunately, being a mental health nurse and having a background in psychology equipped me with the knowledge and skills I needed to manage uncertainty. I felt the same anguish and despair felt by everyone else in the same boat, however, I was able to refocus my mind onto what I had the power to control of the situation. This was a constant conscious process, and it was by no means easy!
Anger and Blame
If the anxiety of TTC wasn’t enough to contend with, I discovered during fertility examinations that I suffered from both Endometriosis and Adenoymyosis. Although it was a lightbulb moment that explained 17 years of suffering each month - for a while, it made me angry at myself. I was angry for flippantly explaining away my disabling periods as me having a ‘low pain threshold'. Angry for not recognising the differences between myself and other women who were able to go about their days normally, whilst I would be bed bound with insufferable pain. Angry for ruining my body with artificial hormones (birth control), only to find that I never needed them, because conceiving naturally would never have been that easy for me in the first place.
I stayed in this funk for a while, blaming myself for the current state that I was in, before shaking myself out of it with the support of my loved ones. I had ignored one glaringly obvious fact: that at any given moment, any decision made, was always the best one I could have made, based on all of the information that I had. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but without it, we can only go by what we know, or in my case, what I didn’t know.
When you want something so badly, sometimes your mind can play tricks on you. It’s like seeing a mirage of water when you are stranded in a blazing hot desert. Each month leading up to my period, I would experience nausea. Morning sickness, maybe? Or maybe it was simply a symptom I have ALWAYS experienced prior to Aunt Flow arriving. Hope and desperation can sometimes make you see things, not necessarily as they actually are, and I was truly devastated when my period did actually arrive.
I really came to resent my periods. Each month I was experiencing agony, what now felt like, for nothing. Resentment was an odd emotion to feel. It’s not as though Aunt Flow would turn up at my door every month and deliberately make my life difficult - so why was I blaming her so much?
I came to realise it was because I had always thought that one day all of this pain would be worth it, so long as I got to hold a baby in my arms. Now, faced with the prospect that it may not ever happen for me, the pain, the suffering and the wait no longer felt worth it. What I did do (which I now realise I should have done earlier), was start to take my pains and symptoms more seriously. I spoke with an endometriosis nurse who gave me life-changing advice on how to practically manage every month. Today I am, thankfully, no longer suffering the way that I used to.
During my focused (and somewhat briefly obsessive) state, I began to treat sex as a military operation. I would tell my husband that we needed to schedule sex for “Monday at 8pm because that’s when I’d be ovulating!” Of course he thought this was ridiculous, but was happy to go along for the ride. However, if for any reason we missed the time I had planned, well...my levels of frustration cannot be expressed in words. I then redirected my frustrations towards him! I was angry that he was not taking this joint mission as seriously as I was. I even questioned whether or not we wanted the same things. I wanted a child, he didn’t seem phased either way. So then we had to have the talk.
He explained that he knows it’s something I want, and he would like children. However, he sees them as a pleasant addition (I believe he used the word “bonus”) to our marriage, not something we need to have to be happy with each other. I took some time to think about it, and accepted that he was right. With this in mind, I realised that there was actually no pressure at all - the pressure I felt was self-imposed. Following our honest and vulnerable conversation, we reintroduced regular date nights (not just around my most fertile time of the month) and went back to what sex really was about for us, intimacy.
Some friends and family, however, were not as supportive as I had hoped. I had a male member of my inner circle say to me when he heard of my infertility “As as father of children who have been conceived without trying, I have no advice for you.” Thank you Mr Helpful; your advice was just what I needed! Another person actively discouraged my decision to proceed with IVF because “they prefer” things to be natural. Thank you Mrs Parent-of-Six-Easily-Conceived-Children for your input!
I was shocked and surprised to see how many people felt as though so much of my personal life was up for public commentary and critique, how forceful they were with their opinions, and how little understanding for my needs and wants people really had. The stress this caused me during my pregnancy negatively impacted my whole experience and nineteen months later, I am still healing from these wounds.
Through it all, I was able to learn the most valuable lesson: how to evaluate, manage and remove toxic relationships, before my daughter came into this world. I can now say that she is only surrounded by positive and uplifting people. Yes, I had to learn some tough lessons at a truly difficult time, but I’m glad that Baby Girl will not see toxicity normalised, the way that so many of us have grown up experiencing, without even realising.
For me the most insightful parts of it have been understanding which of my relationships are full of unconditional love. And although I did not always feel it at the time, I have discovered that I am so much stronger than I ever thought.
I had started my journey thinking that my body had failed me in some way. I now have a new perspective on failure, summarised beautifully by Arianna Huffington:
“Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s a part of it.”
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