I am approaching ovulation - a time of fluctuating degrees of anticipation and stress. I rarely talk to anyone but my husband about my anxieties that revolve around 'the bedroom'. Sex is private after all. Yet, when you are infertile and certainly in the midst of treatment, it is anything but private. Helen Adrienne wrote in her book "On Fertile Ground" that infertility treatment "feels dehumanizing.....your sex life and your menstrual cycle used to be nobody's business but yours. Why do your private parts need to be under the glare of fluorescent lights?" She writes about how "the formality of science [starts] to do something detrimental to the spontaneity and the meaning of sex."
Before egg collection during our second IVF cycle, I felt very emotional and actually burst into tears in front of the doctor just minutes before she was to carry out the procedure, not because I was scared of the anaesthetic or of the operation itself, but because it was just all so unnatural. I felt penned into this world of test tubes and laboratories and more and more ostracised from a world where sex was about casually jumping into bed the moment it took your fancy. I explained the reason for my upset to the doctor and her response was abhorrent. She vehemently denied that infertility treatment was unnatural and in a very brusque manner left me feeling ashamed of myself for not appreciating the marvels of modern medicine. I felt choked with sadness that someone, least of all a woman in her professional position could be so callous and unable to even assume the pretence of someone who cared.
I remember how carefree sex used to be with my husband before I became infertile, even in the days when we were using contraception because back then, we had that freedom to choose and there was no psychological barrier between our desire for each other and our desire to have each other's babies - because they're one and the same, aren't they? If ever I mentioned to friends how sex had taken a bit of a nose dive since becoming sterile, the response was always, "Oh your poor husband" or "Sex is about so much more than procreation. It's about showing your love for each other. It's about just having fun together." These statements tore me apart because I wanted so much to be able to show him my love in a physical way. But how could I when I had been stripped of all the components that had once made me feel like a real woman?
To this day, I still feel robbed of my womanhood. And I still struggle with sexual intimacy. We are working on it, slowly and gently. But it's not easy, especially in a world where sex is flaunted on the TV, in magazines and in real life almost as a means of conveying the merit of a relationship. Is it any wonder that as a society, we feel compelled to exaggerate about how often we 'do it'!
Susan Cooper writes in her article "Sex, Relationships and Infertility": "Couples parenting after infertility can certainly derive great pleasure from their sexual relationship, but it may always be a reminder of their infertility". Maybe it's true. Maybe I'll never be able to fully let go and accept our loss. Maybe I'll never have the self-confidence of my fertile years. But I think I should feel proud of myself for my progress so far in overcoming these personal struggles and equally proud of us both for continuing to survive one of the most difficult challenges a couple can face together.
During our previous IVF cycles I used to often hear people say, "Be kind to yourself. Be gentle and forgiving to yourself." It took a long time to learn how to interpret the vagueness of these words and put them into practice within my life. Right now, I think the kindest and most loving thing I can offer myself is reassurance in the belief that time will heal us both.