From the very first moment, the penny drops and you realise that just because you want a child doesn’t mean you are going to have one, you come face to face with a new you, someone you never knew existed.
Infertility can evoke a depth of feeling you have perhaps never experienced before. Often, such is the enormity of desire to have a baby, that the inability to do so can stir up emotions and behaviour you have never before encountered in any other situation. You may have experienced grief at the loss of a loved one, you may have had a dream shattered, you may have had cause to question the competence of your body, but there are few instances in life where so many strands combine to challenge you.
Your head is telling you it’s right, your heart is aching saying it’s what you want and your hormones and instincts are urging you to have a baby, so is it any wonder the sense of anger and frustration is so great when Mother Nature doesn’t come up with the goods?
We all have a view of who we think we are as a person, who we’d like to be perceived as and how we actually think others see us, but there are times in our lives when situations beyond our control make us think, say and do things that we’d rather not. We become someone we sometimes don’t like, say things we didn’t mean and all too often have thoughts that we simply don’t recognise as our own.
As the reality of infertility sinks in, it’s common to feel anger and frustration at the situation we find ourselves stuck in. We can sometimes experience jealousy seeing other pregnant women and in most cases, grief for lost cycles, pregnancies or babies can be enormous. There is also the grief for a future we may now never have, so it’s perhaps understandable that the enormity of that shift in thinking can conjure strong feelings.
The inability to conceive evokes such strong emotions in us, that it can be difficult to keep them under control at times. Such is the strength of those feelings, the way they manifest themselves can often feel like we are unleashing an inner monster, one we had no idea lay within us.
For me, my inner monster would rear its head most commonly when I felt most vulnerable or when my situation was questioned by others.
In the first instance, perhaps after a period arrived, another negative test or yet another milestone passing and I was not pregnant. I have always liked to feel in control, to be master of my own destiny so each time I was reminded that it was all out of my hands, I’d feel a huge, desolate sense of frustration. At times, I would find myself enraged, physically pounding my fists, screaming through gritted teeth, wiping tear after angry tear at my predicament. They were ugly tears, furious screams of someone momentarily out of control and gripped by their emotions. It was a far cry from the composed executive that would be sat back at her desk the next day.
And yet that was me. The real me. It was often an alarming vision of myself that I’d look back on and one that I didn’t want to encounter too often. And yet it was one that I knew was buried within me, a strength of feeling that I was capable of and with each knock or blow that four rounds of fertility treatment punished me with, all too often it appeared.
The other triggers for my inner monster came from other people. My biggest battle with infertility came when trying for my second. Despite trying for almost four years for my first child, we were finally successful after four rounds of Clomid, which not only gave us our precious son, it also renewed my faith in my own body and my ability to conceive.
It was this faith and ability that was put to the absolute test when we wanted to provide a sibling. Six months of trying on our own, 15 months of Clomid and all the ovulation testing that includes. Then four gruelling rounds of IVF, all took their toll on my ability to keep my inner monster at bay. I’m not sure I coped with the grief during that time but I did get by. Rage turned to sadness, then turned to frustration which in turn, slowly began to allow determination and hope to return and so it went on. With each cycle and experience I fought different demons but each time, learned a little more about myself and how much I could tolerate and handle. At times it was harsh, other times I impressed myself!
The fact that I had a child and demonstrated to the world that I could conceive just seemed to give those around me the green light to be more direct in their questioning about a second or indeed give their opinions about whether I should even bother trying again.
Battling with your own questions about your body’s capabilities is bad enough, but to try to reason with other people about why it is taking so long is really tough.
If they weren’t asking where number two was, they were telling me I should be grateful for what I had in my son already. If they weren’t telling me my clock was ticking and my son deserved a sibling, they were telling me that I shouldn’t be wasting his money on IVF and to just concentrate on him instead.
They were often insensitive, sometimes rude and from just as many friends or family as strangers in the street. And sometimes, it was my own child who asked painful questions that hurt the most. The beautiful, misconstructed sentences coming out of the sweet mouth of my toddler asking, “Why have you not got baby in your tummy yet Mummy?”. He used to break my heart frequently as he longed for a baby brother or sister like his friends at nursery.
I often wanted to scream or to run away from the deep anger within me. I wanted to shout out that I was trying my best! I sometimes wanted to say something to shock people, like “I can’t have another”, just to hurt them back, even though I wasn’t sure that was true. I’d hear my voice in my head giving curt replies back that I fought so hard not to say out loud such as: “Why are you so interested in my sex life?” “Well, when are you popping one out?” or worse still often “why don’t you just….”
The anger I’d feel inside at my reactions often hurt more than the comments. I hated how it all made me feel. I hated to think that the bitter part of me was growing day by day, getting blacker and more out of control. It was becoming all-consuming and with every setback, comment or criticism it got deeper and more dominant.
When I was trying for my first child, all my friends were of similar ages and were having babies left, right and centre. We all got engaged, then came the weddings and then for most of us, with what felt like me as the exception, the babies started arriving. Every time we met there was either a new baby or a growing bump. And every time I left the house I’d struggle to avoid prams or pregnant bellies and it was no different the second time around.
My NCT friends were all starting to pop out a second or third, my son’s nursery friends all now had baby siblings and my circle of friends’ children were growing older quickly, leaving me feeling like my family were being left behind. It brought the same frustration and anger but this time, with it, came the weight of guilt at wanting another baby so desperately but knowing I was already lucky to have what so many other still wanted.
I was told I should be thankful for what I had, and I always was. I felt forced to stay silent about my desire for another child in case I upset anyone who was trying for their first, so I did. I put on a smile and pretended we were content with one when asked why we hadn’t had another, but I was breaking inside.
The complex cocktail of feeling guilty yet angrily thinking there was no reason why I shouldn’t want another was extremely hard to deal with. One minute I’d be adamantly thinking: “why shouldn’t I have another baby?” and the next I’d be crying feeling shame at being greedy when I knew I was already so blessed.
I’d often feel shame at my inner monster and my thoughts would sometimes shock and surprise me. I’d turned into a person I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to feel angry at the world. I hated the rage that burned inside and I didn’t want to be the person that didn’t want to hear the good news of others.
The frustration as everyone around you seems to be moving on with their lives can be almost debilitating whilst you battle to get through another day, trying to cope with your huge sense of loss and lack of accomplishment. If you are someone used to being in control as I was, you almost feel bereft at the very lack of making a decision and being able to act on it. Like you’ve lost a little but important part of you, perhaps like a ship without a rudder. Wondering what life will hold for you now and feeling that you have no influence, can often bring huge anxiety.
There were times when I hated myself, even worried about my state of mind, thought I would never again be the contented, generous person I had previously thought I’d been. And yet, was I really any different from any of those people asking me intimate questions about my life?
Looking back, I can see that it goes beyond babies and fertility. We all want more, we all have our struggles, our frustrations and triggers that wake our inner demons. Infertility was just the particular battleground that taught me my life lessons.
We all want more in life, expect more of ourselves, face tough times that test us to the limit. Facing up to my inner monster through my inability to have a baby was simply my journey, but we all meet our hidden selves through one life battle or another.
I don’t regret my struggle or that chapter in my life where I met the bitter, angry side of me. It made me who I am and is the very reason why I spend time now raising the profile of the complex pain of Secondary Infertility. There is nothing wrong with wanting more, either wanting a baby when you already have a fabulous life or wanting another baby when you already have a family.
Realising that we all have inner emotions, that surface when we are facing our biggest life battles is probably the first step to being able to cope with those demons and cope with the specific situation we find ourselves in. Expression of emotion is healthy, knowing we are all the same is vital and accepting that unleashing the inner demon from time to time is OK is the one thing that perhaps, in the end, will keep us all sane!