I remember ages ago, not long after our first IVF failure, being asked directly by an acquaintance why it was that I felt so fearful and panicked as a result of my infertility. I was gobsmacked that I had to spell it out for her with a surface-level explanation. I think though she's not alone amongst the fertile world or indeed those who haven't yet experienced trauma in their lives. How can you know unless you've really been there? I think though it was the tone of the way in which she asked that galled me at the time.It was a tone of indifference, almost like she was saying in her head, "God, it's not that bad! Get over it!"
I think I used to feel guilty or narcissistic for wallowing in my emotion. After all, all you have to do is turn on the TV and you are immediately bombarded with stories about genocide, civil wars, famine and all sorts of global atrocities. It makes you think, "Here I am moaning about being infertile?! How can I be so selfish in the grand scheme of things and ungrateful for the fact that we are......well, alive!?"
However, contrary to these self-punishing sentiments, you will read at the beginning of most infertility websites something similar to the paragraph below. This particular excerpt is from a fact sheet written by Alice D. Domar for Resolve, the leading infertility association in the USA:
"Research has shown that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as do women with cancer, heart disease and HIV+ status. While this may surprise some, it actually makes sense. Procreation is the strongest instinct in the animal kingdom. You are facing genetic and social pressure to have a baby. You are likely surrounded by friends, family, neighbours, co-workers and a society who can conceive easily. Infertility can be very lonely."
Whilst I cannot speak first-hand about the stress of cancer or any other life threatening diseases, I can wholeheartedly vouch for the fact that being infertile is quite simply, terrifying. Infertility is your personal crisis and I have come to realise that by minimising the experience you are unwittingly causing yourself detrimental psychological damage.
From the moment I regained consciousness after the operation to remove my second and last remaining fallopian tube, I was plunged deep into an abyss of severe anxiety. However, I initially ignored my grief and instead was doggedly determined to push forward, to find a solution. During this time, I careered dangerously close to insanity, developing compulsive hypochondria following the discovery of a small lump in my breast. Even after I was given the all-clear at the Breast Care Clinic, I was still wrought with worry, totally unable to see a future beyond death and doom.
But it was only after the failure of our first IVF cycle 8 months later that I allowed myself to fully pour out the heartbreak and fear that had been building inside me for so long. Back in October 2008, I became sterile. But with a glowing prognosis, we walked confidently into the world of IVF, assured in the knowledge that this was our answer. All of a sudden, our faith was crushed and we were totally lost at sea.
It's a long story as to how we finally arrived at our positive pregnancy test result. It took almost three and a half years from the point that I became sterile, during which time we rode the emotional rollercoaster of rising hope and shattered dreams over and over again.
But it's true what they say about a crisis in one's life. I read this in another fact sheet for Resolve, this time written by Susan Cooper on the subject of 'Sex, Relationships and Infertility'. She says:
"The Chinese have two definitions for the word 'crisis': danger and opportunity. Although infertility is not dangerous in the sense of being life threatening, the emotional pain that accompanies it can be threatening to one's marital and sexual relationship. Yet the opportunity for increased intimacy and growth is profound. If we avail ourselves of this opportunity, we will have discovered the silver lining behind the dark cloud of infertility."
I could not agree more. During our IVF era I tortured myself with guilt for the fact that I felt so empty and incomplete..... for the fact that I needed more than just the two of us. I needed to be a mummy and daddy together. Yet, the more desperately I longed for this, the more I hated myself for seemingly rejecting the very person with whom I wanted this dream to happen. I was trapped in an inescapable vicious circle of emotional guilt. But luckily, I felt able to confide in my husband and through complete openess and honesty about even the darkest thoughts that, in my mind placed enormous jeopardy on our marriage, we became closer and more emotionally connected than ever before.
I still felt troubled, scared and deeply heartbroken for us both. But at least I knew my husband would always be there to help me dispel that fear.
Since the moment of conceiving our baby girl, I locked myself into a box of denial and during this time, despite the arrival of our little bundle of joy, I pined for the level of intense intimacy that my husband and I shared during the 'dark days'. But since starting this blog and admitting that the pain of infertility has not left me, since feeling stronger in myself and more connected to the world around, I can feel my husband and I moulding back into place together. We are finding each other again. I knew we would because we have survived so much together. I love him and our little girl so much.