A guest post from Melissa Woods, written to raise awareness of Fertility Issues for National Infertility Awareness Week:
It’s the same old story – someone I haven’t spoken to in years posts a pregnancy announcement on Instagram, and my stomach feels as though it’s been filled with rocks. I’m sick, I’m angry, and I’m jealous.
But none of those emotions make sense, because I’m currently holding my six month old son. Unfortunately, infertility leaves lasting scars, and though I’m fortunate enough to have a child, and have no immediate desire to have another baby right now, years of feeling like a failure when everyone else but me seemed to be pregnant can’t just be erased.
When my husband, David, and I got married, I was only twenty-one. “Perfect,” I’d thought. “Lots of time to enjoy being together before we start a family.”
We’d spoken about children many times, and both agreed that we’d start a family when I was twenty-four, we’d have two children with a three year age gap, and everything would be just lovely.
Twenty-four came and went with no baby, despite me tossing out my birth control. No big deal, I was still getting established in my career, and a baby could wait.
Twenty-five passed by. I told myself it was still fine. It wasn’t like we were really trying (being a teacher and actively making time to have sex with your partner is hard work. All you want to do at night is sleep!). I told myself that we’d start trying properly when we went on holiday at the end of the year.
Twenty-six and still no baby. Now I was starting to worry. David and I went to the doctor and explained that we’d been trying to conceive for two years and had no success. My periods were regular, and according to ovulation sticks I was ovulating each month. Neither of us were smokers or drug users, neither of us were overweight, and neither of us really drank alcohol. The doctor suggested fertility testing. It was the outcome we’d hoped for, but it also filled me with dread. What if we found out we couldn’t have children? I’d always assumed it would be so easy.
The results of the initial tests showed that David’s swimmers were doing exactly what they needed to do, so it was likely to be something in my body that was holding us up. Blood tests and scans gave no indication of what could be wrong, so I was scheduled for a laparoscopy.
I’d like to take this moment to clarify that infertility is no one’s fault. It’s just one of those bloody awful things. However, we all know that we can think something objectively, and then feel the complete opposite way when it’s us. So – of course – I began to hate myself.
My body isn’t doing the one thing it was designed to do.
Getting pregnant is the most normal, natural thing in the world, but I can’t do it.
I’m not like normal women.
These thoughts consumed me each time I looked at a pregnancy test and saw the words NOT PREGNANT stamped across the screen. Whenever I got a stomach cramp I’d tell myself it was a sign that we’d finally conceived, and then I’d go to the toilet to find that I’d started my period. After being married for so many years, people began to ask when David and I were ‘finally’ going to start a family, and each time I forced myself to smile and say “hopefully one day, we’re just busy with work right now.”
The sight of pregnant bellies made me ache with desire. I wanted to feel a life growing inside me. I wanted to go to scans, and try to work out who our baby looked like. I longed for labor, and watched countless episodes of One Born Every Minute, crying and wishing I could be the one bringing life into the world. I wasn’t scared of the pain, I was desperate for it. Physical discomfort couldn’t begin to compare to the feeling of emptiness currently consuming me.
When I was twenty-seven we finally got an answer. I had endometriosis, which meant that tissue usually lining my uterus, also grew outside of it. The effects vary for different women, but it can result in more painful periods (check), pain during or after sex (I just thought my husband was doing a really thorough job!), and difficulty getting pregnant.
We were given two options. The first was surgery to remove the tissue. This meant our chances of conceiving naturally would increase…until the tissue grew back again. The other option was IVF treatment.
The thought of going through with the surgery, and then having to keep trying naturally for six months, filled me with fear. Six more months meant the potential for six more failures, particularly when we had already been told the chances wouldn’t increase a huge amount. We opted for IVF.
When I was twenty-eight, the treatment cycle began, and needle-phobic me started a regime of twice daily injections. They weren’t as bad as I’d always imagined (probably because I held frozen peas to my stomach for five minutes beforehand each time!), and though my tummy bruised and swelled up a little, I seemed to avoid most other potential side-effects. My follicles developed well, and I was feeling positive when egg collection day arrived.
I was sedated for the procedure, and when I woke up I learned they’d got nine eggs.
A few hours later I learned that my dad had suddenly died of a heart attack. He was sixty.
My family is small. Dad’s loss devastated us, and for a few days my mum and I shared a bed – in which we didn’t sleep – picked at food, and barely managed to function. My dad had always been my rock, someone I spoke to every day, and for him to suddenly be gone was something I struggled to process.
But seven of my eggs fertilised, and three made it to day five. It was soon time for my embryo transfer, and time to start taking care of myself.
Going into the room was one of the most terrifying things I’d ever done. I wasn’t scared it would hurt, I was scared that it wouldn’t work. Years of longing for a baby had built to this moment, and the thought of me getting pregnant was the one thing keeping my mum and I going. We needed something good, because she’d lost her husband of almost forty years, and I’d lost the first man I’d ever loved.
David was able to come in with me, and held my hand through the transfer. We watched our embryo on the ultrasound machine, and we crossed our fingers it would implant.
Eleven days later was test day. I woke up at 2AM and knew I wouldn’t be going back to sleep. David got up with me and I peed on a stick for the millionth time in the past few years. I couldn’t bear to watch it, so I paced the hallway. I remember turning back to David, and seeing a smile creep across his face.
“Is it done?” I asked.
“Some of it,” he replied, grinning from ear to ear.
I ran over.
A few minutes later: 2-3.
I was 2-3 weeks pregnant.
I waited until the sun came up, then drove to my mum’s house, pregnancy test still in my hand. Mum was down the stairs in seconds. She saw the test and we both cried.
My pregnancy was one of the best times of my life (topped only by the time after my son’s birth). Yes I felt sick for months, and yes my feet swelled up so badly that only flip-flops would fit (thank god it was summer!) , but I didn’t care. My baby was healthy, growing strong, and my body was doing everything it was meant to. I felt more confident in my skin than I ever had before, and every time he moved I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
I was scheduled for an induction on my due date, something which is common for IVF pregnancies, but my son arrived three days before that.
Clark Ray William, was born on the 5th October 2018, weighing 8lbs 11oz.
So now we have the baby we always dreamed of, yet pregnancy announcements still bring a feeling of bitter resentment. Though I’m always happy for whoever it is, and remind myself that I don’t need to be jealous any more, that sting never goes away.
Infertility leaves lasting scars. But no one should feel alone, or like a failure. Sometimes life is crappy, and things seem so easy for other people. But everyone has a story. The woman from school who’s pregnant with her third child might’ve experienced miscarriage, or might’ve been on her third round of IVF or ICSI.
Endometriosis sucks. Poly-cystic ovary syndrome is awful. Unexplained infertility, low sperm count or mobility, and everything else that stops a person being able to have a baby, are punishing. Miscarriage is devastating. There are so many battles that we face when we try to start a family. Even if we succeed and manage to have children, our anxieties and fears continue to haunt us. Once you become part of the ‘infertility club’, you don’t get to leave.
If you’re struggling to conceive, please be strong, remember it’s not your fault. We’re all rooting for you, and I hope beyond hope that your story has a happy ending.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, the following websites can provide help and support:
Melissa is a teacher and writer from Sussex. She writes young adult books, and is currently editing the final book in her zombie adventure series, ‘Alive?’.