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!
Here Are Some Tips To Break The Invisible Wall
“Most relationships fail because we spend too much time pointing out each other’s mistakes and not enough time enjoy each other’s company.” – Unknown
Struggles through infertility can tend to take over your life. The constant stress of the treatments and the repeated disappointments can definitely strain the relationship between partners. Women may feel more irritable & emotional and her partner may feel helpless and worried. This makes for a difficult combination for any conversation to occur! Slowly there is an invisible wall starting to appear between the couple, emotions take over and make it even more difficult to talk.
With infertility, making a baby isn’t sexy. It isn’t fun. It’s stressful. It’s hard. It’s hormonal. It’s just miserable. The process truly is a make or break on relationships. Women can especially feel volatile just like a volcano about to blast at anytime with no warning. One minute you are positive, the next negative, becoming miserable, seemingly out of the blue. It can become exhausting for the partner quickly. The invisible wall gets thicker and taller… Sound and feel familiar?
Infertility can be an awful journey if the partners are not truly supporting and caring for each other. I have heard so many stories where partners are separating temporarily or permanently due to the stress and struggles with infertility. It doesn’t have to be that way!
Here are some tips to break the invisible wall…
1. To the woman who is in the thick of infertility, pay some attention to your partner. Ask them how they are doing. One of my clients asked her husband that very question on Father’s Day, and he broke down. Men also feel it, they just feel it differently.
2. To the woman struggling through this process, allow your man to be vulnerable. As a man, vulnerability with your partner doesn’t make you weak, it makes you even stronger. I have seen many relationships become very successful amidst the pain and struggles, when there is vulnerability between the couple. It strengthens your bond and makes you closer.
3. To both partners, when emotions are running high, remove yourself from the situation, take some time to collect yourself. Don’t talk or act when emotions are running high. The invisible wall gets higher when emotions are high.
4. Remind yourself and your partner frequently that “Together, we will make it thru this too”. Saying it out loud makes a world of difference and gives a great comfort to the other partner.
5. Get professional help, specifically someone who truly been there and understands the infertility struggle. They can help with tools and techniques to slowly eliminate relationship struggles, help identify the relationship goals and help you move forward positively in your life with or without successful fertility treatments.
Don’t let the invisible wall keep growing stronger and taller. Find ways to break the wall down slowly. Infertility shouldn’t be the reason for a relationship to break! Take small steps forward.
20 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility!
“You may never know what someone is going through, but if you notice any signs of pain—hostility, negativity, or over-sensitivity—then odds are, you know how they feel. Respond to the pain instead of judging the signs.” Lori Deschene
I have unexplained infertility and my fertility journey was very long and painful with almost 8 years of failed treatments. I had 3 miscarriages, 3 IUI failures and 8 back to back IVF failures. It was an emotional roller coaster. I struggled in silence for the major part of my journey. I avoided talking to people with the fear that they will ask me about having kids. I avoided going to India (where all my family is) for 4 years in a row giving all sorts of bullshit (pardon my language here) reasons on why I can’t go. I wore a mask at work and never talked about anything personal. Talking to friends and family members was a nightmare especially who recently became pregnant or had a child!
I always avoid telling others about my infertility journey to avoid the comments that can really sting, let my blood pressure rise and bite my tongue, to put it mildly. There are sometimes where I wanted to react in a more animated fashion to those somewhat insensitive and ignorant comments.
This doesn’t just happen to me. It happens to many of us who are struggling with pregnancy loss, primary or secondary infertility. I recently put a question (What is that one thing that people say annoys you most about infertility?) to an online FB support group and its members had overwhelming response talking about their personal experience with these insensitive comments.
This list is based on my personal experiences and the collective experiences from many amazing souls going through fertility challenges including my wonderful fertility clients.
I am writing this to create awareness to those people who haven’t experienced infertility, who typically say things like this (many times with good intentions) to others going through infertility.
Here are 20 things NOT to ask/say people going through infertility:
- When are you going to have a baby? You are running out of time.
- Just relax, it will happen
- Drink a glass of Wine, it will happen
- Go on vacation, it will happen
- Stop trying, it will happen
- Lose weight
- You are young, you have plenty of time
- Do this, try this, it worked for, it will happen (Varies all the way from eating McDonald’s fries to using essential oils)
- For people with secondary infertility or have experienced losses before- You at least know you can get pregnant
- I know a bunch of ladies who’ve had babies in their 40’s! Don’t worry, it will happen
- To people with secondary infertility- At least you’ve got one, you’re so lucky, you might just have to be happy with one
- You are lucky you don’t have kids yet! (or) It’s so hard having so many kids
- You can have one of mine
- My husband looks at me and I get pregnant (or) I sneeze near my husband and I get pregnant
- Comments by a younger couple – We tried for a really long time( 2-3 months) to get pregnant, I understand your frustration
- Don’t worry, the technology is so good these days!
- Have you thought about adopting? it will kick-start your hormones and you’ll get pregnant. It happened to my (insert random relative)
- If God thought you were ready, you’d be pregnant.
- Maybe it’s just not meant to be (or) whatever is going to happen will happen.
- It’s not just the words, it’s the body language too- When people ask if I have children and I say, I do not, their reply almost always is, you never wanted kids?! With a surprised look on their face.
Even today at my nail salon, my manicurist asked me, how many kids, I said one(adopted). How old, 5 years. The next question immediately, you don’t want to have more???? You should have more..
This article is not intended to judge or blame those folks who say these comments. Many of you say these things out of good heart and well intentions. You all want to support and care for your loved one dearly.
Just keep in mind, these words can and will create a deeper wound to people going through fertility struggles. Because many of us are desperately seeking and doing whatever it takes to get and stay pregnant and yet it’s just not happening.
Unless you have experienced infertility, it’s hard to understand and relate to the pains and struggles all around. Infertility affects ones overall being- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Here is one suggestion I will offer to people who are supporting a friend or a loved one.
Tell them, I may not truly understand what you are going through, but remember, I am here for you. And give them a big hug. Sometimes that’s all we need to feel better even a teeny tiny bit!
“Sometimes, what a person needs is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” Anonymous
Fertility Treatment Survival Skills
Practical and Emotional Top Tips from Iris Fertility Sherpa Natasha Canfer, Clients and Colleagues.
As the founder of Iris Fertility – an organisation offering bespoke practical and emotional support and companionship to individuals before, during and after fertility treatment – I am regularly asked what people can do to help manage the challenges that fertility treatment throws at them. Together with Iris Fertility clients and colleagues, I’ve put together our top tips, insights and nuggets of information.
- Put Yourself First Throughout the Process
Go gently, treat yourself kindly and say ‘no’ to people who are going to sap your emotional energy especially when treatment’s underway or you’re in the 2 Week Wait (2WW) – finding interest in or compassion for anyone else while you’re in the throes of fertility treatment can be challenging. Put activities on hold that you’re not interested in or can’t face. If you feel like you ‘should’ be doing something with someone then probably best to avoid! Be aware that how you feel day to day (and even within the day) is likely to change.
Don’t put off taking that first step – that might be going to your GP or going directly to a clinic for a Fertility MOT.
Don’t do too much of your own research – it can be mind boggling, confusing and cause anxiety.
Seeking the support of an individual or organisation (like Iris Fertility) who knows the process really helped us with having a sounding board away from the clinic environment. We could ask the questions we didn’t necessarily want to ask our clinic and raise concerns we weren’t able to share with friends and family. Don’t leave a niggle or a doubt unsaid.’ Loretta, Somerset
2. Trust Your Gut Feeling
Follow your instincts. Those instincts or your gut feeling might not appear to be logical but if something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t for you – even if you can’t pinpoint the reason.
3. Inform Yourself
Depending on your circumstances, appointments at fertility clinics can feel overwhelming. You might be presented with a lot of information and it can be difficult to take in exactly what’s being said and what that means for you – particularly if you’ve just received tests results that aren’t as you’d hoped. Also, a clinic may only give you information that’s specific to the services it offers rather than providing you with an overview of what might be available to you nationally and globally.
‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the doctors aren’t gods and they need to be challenged sometimes so that you know they’re doing the best for you as an individual.
Talk to people who have also been through this and don’t bottle things up especially through the 2 Week Wait.
Don’t be scared by the process. Embrace it but be careful as it can become addictive – trust your instincts when it comes to knowing whether you’re ready to say “enough is enough”.’ George, Ireland
Other sources to look into if you feel able are:
Progress Educational Trust (PET) – a UK-based charity which advances public understanding of science, law and ethics in the fields of human genetics, assisted reproduction, embryology and stem cell research: Progress Educational Trust
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment and research using human embryos. An expert organisation in the fertility sector and the first statutory body of its type in the world: www.hfea.gov.uk
‘Question, question, question your clinic about all the costs involved and its refund policy.
Ask your clinic about risks of failed fertilisation and unsuccessful thawing of frozen eggs and embryos.
If you opt to use a clinic abroad, check whether you can use a clinic of your choice in the UK alongside that overseas clinic or are you tied to one of their associated clinics?
If you go abroad, factor in how easy it is to arrange scans, blood tests, medication, intralipids, etc. Also work out whether you will easily be able to get flights and accommodation at short notice.
Is the clinic open at weekends and able to work around you?’ Sarah, West Yorkshire
4. Remind Yourself that it’s OK to be in a Different Emotional Place from Your Partner
Depending on your circumstances, it’s possible that you and your partner may want to choose different treatment options or you may find yourselves in a different emotional place from one another. That’s OK and totally understandable. Open and honest ongoing respectful communication with each other is important – and can also be exceptionally tricky especially when emotions and hormones are running high. If you feel that counselling would be beneficial then speak with your clinic about what they can offer you and when. Otherwise, you could locate a specialist infertility counsellor through BICA
Take the time you need.
Talk to your friends. If they are real friends they will want to lend an ear.
It’s OK to recalibrate your understanding of who you are if that’s necessary.’ James, Hertfordshire
5. It’s All About You: ‘Fertility Treatment’ is an Umbrella Term
Ensure that your clinic tailors all your treatment and medication to you and your needs.
6. Who’s Who? Clinic Staff
Make a friend among the clinic staff and ask them for their work contact details. It’s beneficial to have an ally or two on the ‘inside’.
If there’s a staff member who you have strong negative feelings towards for whatever reason and you would prefer them not to be involved in your care then let your clinic know. Most clinic staff work as part of a team and will try and accommodate patient requests of this nature.
I would’ve liked to have treated myself almost as if I was recovering from an illness – very gently. So do what makes you happy or at least calm. Go to places that make your heart sing and your fear retreat. See only those people who make you feel positive and with whom you can be completely yourself.’ Caitlin Allen Acupuncture, West Yorkshire
7. Statistics and Other Numbers are Only Part of the Picture
Perhaps easier said than done but try not to get too hung up on statistics and numbers. No one can say for definite how things are going to work out for you. Ultimately you need one egg, one sperm and one womb to get along with each other. If you’re comparing clinics then make sure you’re comparing like for like statistics. The figure you’ll probably be most interested in is the live birth rate for the female age group relevant to your situation.
8. Check Out Donor Conception Network
If you’re considering using donated eggs, sperm or embryos then check out Donor Conception Network (DCN) as soon as you can but preferably before you even start any treatment or become pregnant. Donor Conception Network is a charity and supportive network of more than 2,000 mainly UK-based families with children conceived with donated sperm, eggs or embryos; those considering or undergoing donor conception procedures; and donor conceived people. Staff, volunteers and network members have a wealth of knowledge, information and expertise about all things past and present in the world of donation including the possible impact of telling or not telling donor-conceived children about their genetic heritage: www.dcnetwork.org
‘If you wish to find the best possible fit with a surrogate mum, then Surrogacy UK is a great association to join. With their ‘friendship first’ ethos, get togethers are organised so that friendships can be formed before Teams are created.
Speaking as a two-time surrogate mother, I felt that finding the couple to team-up with was all about friendship chemistry. Being open, honest and approachable is a good way to connect with a potential surrogate. It may feel scary at first and you may feel exposed and vulnerable, but it works both ways. Imagine a year down the line when your surrogate/friend is about to birth your baby, she will be trusting you to hold that space for her, as the baby is delivered at long last in your arms.’ Jay Kelly, Surrogate, Baby Alchemy
9. Going Abroad – Is the Grass as Green as You Think?
If you’re thinking about going abroad for treatment, investigate what the implications of doing so could be for you and any future children. Here are just a handful of things to consider:
- If your UK clinic is encouraging you to go to a particular overseas clinic then is it affiliated in some way to that clinic? If so, how and what does that mean for you and those clinics?
- How is the overseas clinic regulated?
- What’s the legal situation regarding types of fertility treatment in the country (or state) of your choosing?
- Which screening tests are performed on patients and partners?
- How much is it going to cost you financially, physically and emotionally especially by the time you’ve factored in flights and accommodation?
- If you’re using a donor abroad then how are they screened and selected?
- What are the anonymity rules in relation to donors and how would this impact on any child(ren) born from treatment?
- How many families can a donor donate to and what could this mean in terms of the number of half siblings for your potential child?
10. DIY Donor Sperm – Future Proof Yourself
If you’re using donor sperm outside of a clinic environment then before you even start preparing for pregnancy ensure that your personal safety is paramount. Also, get legal advice regarding your specific situation and make sure you have legal agreements in place in relation to your particular circumstances.
11. Remember the Adult Child
While your focus may initially be on you becoming pregnant, your goal is to have a baby. That baby will hopefully grow to become an adult so when making decisions around the types of treatment you are willing to undertake, consider how your future (adult) child at different life stages could feel about any decisions you make and the impact of your choices on them.
12. Include Your Partner
It might feel that the spotlight is on the individual physically undergoing the fertility treatment so actively include (and encourage your clinic to include) your partner if you have one.
13. Changing Times
The nature of fertility treatment changes all the time so if it’s been taking you a while to get that baby into your arms you might begin to wonder if a particular treatment had been available to you earlier then whether life would have worked out differently. Be kind to yourself and remember that on your quest to become a parent you can only make your best decision with all the information you have available to you at the time the decision needs to be made.
Develop a new hobby or skill in which you can immerse yourself and that can be done at any time regardless of the stage of treatment you’re at. Current favourites to distract clients are escape rooms, singing and learning a new language.
If you’re eligible to receive NHS funding but you’re not sure you want to have treatment in your allocated NHS fertility clinic then you could investigate the possibility of transferring your funding for use in a private fertility clinic.
If you’re not eligible to receive NHS funding or it’s not available in your area then speak to your clinic about any payment plans it might offer. You could also look into specialist fertility funding organisations which provide IVF refund schemes and multi-cycle programmes.
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