Thank you to Holly, for sharing your story and thoughts.
When I was first asked to write this piece, initially I was overwhelmed… Despite being completely content with all of it in my head, how do I put the last decade of feeling and emotion into words coherent enough for people to read and make sense of? But after sifting through years of thoughts and feelings, it seems it could be done… Coherent, I am not certain of, the reader may have to be the judge of that themselves!
I had my first born in 1998, at 21yrs of age. After being diagnosed pre-teen with severe endometriosis, I had always been told to expect that conceiving children may always be a struggle without the help of assisted conception. Luke was a planned pregnancy, and despite expectations that he would not be conceived easily, he was… And here he is now at almost 15yrs old. Lukes birth, unfortunately, was less than easy… and after 56hrs of active labour, a body that just would not (or could not) dilate, an emergency c section, and a handful of infections later, I was left with secondary infertility.
My second son was born in 2010, 12yrs after his brother, with over a decade of surgeries, different specialists, and multiple IVF attempts in between.
My first pregnancy was just amazing. A completely drama free, enjoyable, text book pregnancy. I had known only fortune in terms of fertility and health, and had absolutely no need to be anything other than contented and wonderfully in the moment.
Here’s the thing about infertility.
After experiencing the harsh reality of all that it is, it changes things so that they may never be the same again. Over a decade of doing my best to find hope, to find faith, to find belief… And then to hold onto those things in what sometimes seemed like an endless tunnel of darkness to fight for a positive outcome? That changes you.
After living with infertility now for as long as I have, I have learnt many things along the way.
I have learnt that there is a fine line between being cynical and being realistic. I think it’s important to acknowledge that in such a journey – in any journey with great disappointments – and then to have learnt to constantly remind myself of that fact in order to keep a clear mind and not fall victim to the cynical side.
Before infertility, and throughout my first pregnancy, I can honestly say any fears there could have been for me concerning the pregnancy or birth were just not even great enough to raise. After infertility, during my second pregnancy, I could not have been any further in the opposite direction.
After dedicating years upon years to this one focus of conceiving a child – once I was finally blessed with that miracle, it’s a hurdle I found I passed, only to then have a handful more presented to me.
I remember vividly the moment I was told I was indeed pregnant. I had the scan, I saw the heartbeat for myself and at that moment, I was told from this point, I would be just the same as every other pregnant woman now in terms of prenatal care. I remember smiling to myself at the irony of those words – words I had waited to hear and a situation I had waited to be in for so very long. But to be just the same as any other pregnant woman now? That was something that would never, ever be.
You spend such a long time getting to this point that once you reach it, it’s impossible to relax, to be just ok. It’s impossible to be like ‘just your average woman experiencing your average pregnancy’. Every twinge, every feeling, every EVERYTHING you feel throughout the pregnancy has the potential to send you into a state of panic, of paranoia – because this tiny growing life inside of you was so hardly fought for, all of a sudden it’s fragility has increased to a level beyond measure. An inability, really, to relax, as I just knew I could not breathe easy until that much awaited new person was safely earth side and inside my arms.
And safely earth side inside my arms…. There lies another fear and anxiety of how to bring that situation to head – the birth.
I have many good friends who have birthed babies in all ways we know are possible. Vaginal births, drug free births, caesarean births, home births, doulas, obstetricians, midwives.. The list is endless. And if I am to be completely honest, once upon a time I would have looked at all of these options and had a preference of how I envisaged this to play out.
My first birth I had plans, and dreams of a lovely active labour, drugs if only necessary, and a natural, vaginal birth. After 10yrs of struggling to get to this moment, to even be carrying a baby – for my second birth, I was just happy for this baby to be here.
Infertility will do that to you.
As it turned out, during the pregnancy, I developed placenta previa, and so any other birth other than Caesarean section was not an option. Honestly? I was completely 100% fine with that. I had so many people along the way tell me how sorry they were I didn’t have the ability to make the choice, but realistically, I just needed this baby birthed, safe, and in my arms. Some could say I was a little cheated in terms of birth choices but for me, personally, after everything I endured to get there, it was the last thing on my mind.
I don’t think for a second that this is a generalisation of every woman though, who has gone through the hell that is IVF or infertility. I know many women – even most of the women who have been through this – and their birthing choices for them were just as passionate and determined as the dedication to the journey that got them there.
The most important thing? Acknowledgement. Acknowledgment and honesty within yourself. THAT’S the most important thing. Expectations. Hopes. Fears. Acceptance if those expectations fall short. To know them is to acknowledge them, and for me, admitting these things made it possible to get through the additional struggles of the pregnancy and birth that I believe the infertility contributed towards.
I am a huge believer in positive thinking. I do believe that in order to keep sane throughout this entire process, you need to have a certain level of positivity, of faith that everything will happen as it will happen, and you have the ability to endure whatever is put in front of you, regardless of the outcome. To be honest with yourself and know when you are great to continue on, and when to accept that you have come as far as you can.
To walk your own path, to have the strength to not let others who have not known your heartache to make judgement or have an opinion on your choices or your sacrifice.
They say never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes…. Never judge a woman who feels her purpose in life is to grow, birth and raise children – yet the Universe has decided that this simple privilege to so many others will be her greatest personal hurdle that she may ever have to overcome.
Infertility is hell. But that’s a topic all of its own that I could honestly write forever about. But I believe if you can find a positive within this darkness, it makes the experience or the living of it become bearable. To be able to continue on.
I have found many positives along the way – over the years to have found other women who have endured the same heartache, hopes & fears has been a lifeline for me. I have been incredibly lucky to have had amazing support from family and friends, however, having other women who have been through this experience to talk things through with is a gift that is priceless, and for me I could not be more grateful.
I am one of the lucky ones. I spent over a decade walking this road, but along the way met some of the most incredible people the world has to offer. Amazing women who have shared in similar heartache. An amazing fertility specialist of whom I could not have more respect, admiration or appreciation for. A team full of nurses and administration in my IVF clinic that have picked me up many times along the way without sometimes even knowing they have done so. An absolutely incredible husband. A relationship with him that plunged into hell and back many times over, yet reached a level of love and respect that otherwise I could not have imagined was even possible.
So much personal growth. So much I have learnt about myself and who I am – to have learnt how to allow something such as infertility change you – and yet not to define you. To have learnt empathy in its purest form, both to have given and received, that is a gift within itself.
And then at the end of it all to have been blessed with the ultimate prize, as my happy, healthy, perfect 3yr old goes about his day…. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Infertility is a change of life as you knew it previously. As you will never know it again. It becomes a lifestyle. It is not something I would wish upon my greatest enemy.
Enduring pregnancy and then birth after infertility – while it is indeed victorious – it is by no means any easier than the path that has been taken to have reached this point.
My experience proves that all of this can be done – I have a healthy 3yr old as evidence.
Will it make it any easier for me to endure the next time I choose to try again and experience another pregnancy? No chance. Infertility leaves emotional scars that for me will never allow that innocence to ever be again. But I am really ok with that. Finding the balance between acknowledging that and then the strength to know I can do this anyway is what will allow me my sanity to do it all over again.