What to expect when you’re not expecting: A guide for the fertility challenged.
First and foremost, I don’t want this “project” (I don’t feel confident enough to call it a book yet, as I bash out angrily on the keys on my 10 year old laptop, sat on the sofa with my beloved while he watches the football) to sound like I’m whining, or whinging, or claiming life’s not fair.
This is an account, first hand and with the help of some lovely women I have had the fortune of getting to know, of what it is like being a 30 something year old who hasn’t got children, in a time in our lives where it seems it is customary to ask any 30 something woman in a stable relationship the question some of us dread:
“When are you going to have children?”
Now, this question may seem completely innocent to some, and to most people, it is harmless. But to others, like me, it is quite possibly the one question we loathe being asked (more so than “who’s turn is it to do the dishes?”). Why? Because for some of us, it’s not an easy one to answer. Hopefully, this project will help you understand why, and to those who still don’t know quite how to answer it, hopefully it will help you too.
It seems to me, wherever I look these days, someone I know, is either pregnant or has just had a baby. I’ve just sat and watched a programme on TV, where a woman gave birth to twins while the father of her children’s ex-partner (who, by the way, also carried one of his children – I can’t keep up with American rom coms) is there with her. I’m also currently checking my phone every 6 minutes waiting for the news that my best friend has had her first baby (FYI, baby girl, 6lbs, absolutely gorgeous). I’m also an auntie to four gorgeous little humans, courtesy of my sister. They’re the best. Fact.
This year alone, I’ve seen 6 “we’re having a baby!” posts, and to date, 4 of my friends have had children in 2016. (I suspect this is something to do with the summer of sports we are having in 2016, with the Euros and the Olympics in Rio, as well as the usual cricket, tennis etc. well timed, gents.) Three people at my work are currently pregnant (well, 2, one of them is a 22 year old boy who “accidentally” got his girlfriend pregnant. Because that’s a thing too now), and when I scroll through my social media, if it’s not a baby bump swelling underneath a beautiful summer shirt, new born photos, or pictures of adorable little humans pushing raspberries into their gorgeous chubby little cheeks, it’s a pee on a stick photo, or some other elaborate and adorable announcement. Why does this bother you so much! I hear you cry! Well, that’s because for some of us, it’s not as easy to fall pregnant as others.
I won’t give you the backstory of events that lead to this outcome, but let’s just say I’m what the doctor’s class as “fertility challenged”. I have what is classed as a broken reproductive system, and only have one ovary, which automatically gives me 50% less chance of getting pregnant. Add to that the Fallopian tube scarring and the scar tissue from a laceration in my womb and that percentage drops even further. It doesn’t mean I can’t have kids, which is great, but it does mean that my partner and I will have to do a lot of planning, undergo a lot of testing, and be referred to a medical professional to help us have babies. You know when you hear people say their kids were a surprise? Yeah, that won’t be us. Our kids will be meticulously planned for around 2 years (one of those years is what they class as the trying to conceive period), so there will be no surprises there.
But is that a good thing? Do we talk about it enough? Isn’t it pretty straight forward? I don’t think so. The reason I am writing this, is because as I’ve grown up, I always knew that one day I would want to have a family. But no one has ever told me just how hard it is to go through your 20’s and arrive on the metaphorical eve of what some people call your defining decade, and still not know very much more about the processes of assisted fertility treatments, and the heartache that comes along with it. So along with my own personal experiences this project/book/will include some stories from some very lovely ladies who have opened up about what they are going through or have gone through in the quest for what most see as being the most natural thing in the world to do. There will be laughs, there will be tears, but hopefully you will find this helpful. And I’ll try to keep it as light-hearted as I can.
Act One. No, we are not having a baby.
So, let me formally introduce myself to you, my dear reader. I’m 29 years old (30 this year, yikes!), I have good job, a nice flat, a cat, a dog, and a boyfriend – how school playground does that sound? Can I call him my man friend? No? OK. We have been together for around a year, and on our first date, I drunkenly blurted out to him that I might not be able to have children without the aid of a test tube. I know, I know, who does that? (me, apparently). Luckily, he did not run off and leave me sitting there, staring into the bottom of my empty wine glass, and is hugely supportive and understanding about the whole thing. Previously my relationships have been defined by this one characteristic,and they varied in different reasons why, because my reproductive system is flawed, they no longer saw me as a lifelong companion. One relationship lasted 3 years until this was a problem, others, a couple of weeks, however regardless it was horrible to be told that because it might be difficult, they would decide you weren’t worth it because of that. I don’t think there is much else that could be as hurtful.
Obviously it was for the best as my Mr is incredible. He doesn’t (seem to) mind that much that our family will require some forward planning, and this year we intend to “start trying but not be trying” as some people put it. Should nothing happen after a year, we then get to go through the laborious task of fertility treatment. Neither of us knows what this will involve, as until we go for those tests, we don’t know what the root of the problem is. Until then, whenever someone asks “are you two planning on starting a family soon?” we have to come up with some sort of explanation. Here lies my first biggest bug bear of being almost 30 and not having kids.
Where a lot of people share their pregnancy announcement stories, I share photos of my cat and dog. When people ask me “so, are you and the Mr going to get married and have kids?” I tactfully change the subject away from us and onto something else. When my colleagues complain about how annoying their kids are, I smile and go back to my work. When my best friend announced that she and her husband were expecting their first baby, I got a pang of jealously, followed swiftly by guilt. And then I felt so happy for them I thought I was going to burst.
For me, and many others, all of the above can literally make your blood boil.
I’ve been in a room of people I’ve barely met and been met with the statement, “Still no kids? That’s quite unusual for someone your age!” my response varies depending on the person, and the situation, but it usually includes forced smiles and restraint, no matter how much I want to tell them to piss off with their opinion. Mainly because they don’t know that I’ve already had 2 “chemical pregnancies” (That’s when you have a miscarriage in the very early stages, around 4 weeks. Some women don’t even realize they have been pregnant. It’s just like the worst period you can ever imagine, plus utter heartbreak over someone you didn’t even know you could love. Almost like an elephant is doing a dance on your uterus while someone sets off a corkscrew in your cervix). The first time I cried silently for days. I didn’t want to cry in front of my Mr, because I didn’t want him to see how upset I was. It was the most horrific experience I have ever been through. The week I got a faint line on a stick, I as terrified, nervous, excited, and for a week I fell in love with the human that could have grown inside me. Me and the Mr had even discussed about when we would tell our parents. Then on the Friday evening, exactly 8 days after my period was due, I have the most sickening cramps, and once I saw the bright red blood, as dramatic as it sounds, I felt empty. On the Monday lunchtime I went to the doctors, and they confirmed to me that I was no longer pregnant and had indeed had an early miscarriage, but that I should be happy because this means I CAN get pregnant. Oh yay, tell me that now why don’t you – when my hormones have been fired into a blender that is my nervous system and I’m in agony, and you can see in my medical notes that I have had depression and suffer with anxiety. Very tactful. But anyway, you just have to move on, otherwise the feelings of loss and sadness can completely consume you. The second time it happened a couple of months later, I knew the signs, so I didn’t feel the need to go to the doctors, so I didn’t. I stayed home and hugged a hot water bottle and waited for it to pass, because that’s all I could do. Crying over it doesn’t really seem like an option.
I’ve cried a lot about not being able to have kids you see, for a lot of reasons. These include:
Because my sister has 4 children and they are the most amazing humans I have ever met. They make my heart want to explode because they are so adorable. If you met them you would understand.
Because my mum and sister get on at me for not having any kids. Apparently my nieces and nephews, despite there being 4 of them, require cousins. No idea why, to form a football team maybe?
Because my partner would be an amazing dad, and I worried for months that he would go back on what he said on our first date and want kids with someone with a fully functioning womb.
Because previous boyfriends have done that exact thing. Apparently it is a higher priority for men that we are led to believe.
Because my friend got pregnant, and then didn’t invite me to her baby shower because she thought it would upset me. What upset me is that she thought me being in the presence of her bump meant I would have a breakdown.
Because when I was out for lunch one day, someone I used to work with patted my stomach and asked how I was feeling, and assumed I was pregnant – um, no, I’m not pregnant, I’m just bloated. Thanks for pointing that out to me though…. why do people think its OK to assume? (Probably didn’t help that I had two packets of jaffa cakes in one hand and a cheese twist from M&S in the other.) I cried because I was humiliated, and I cried because I wanted to be able to say that I was having a baby, and I couldn’t. And that sucks.
Because every time I hear of one of my friends getting pregnant I feel jealous before I feel happy for them, and then I feel guilty. Its an emotional fucking roller coaster. The jealously and the guilt go away very quickly I might add, but the happiness I feel for them is unconditional. I think sometimes those who know our infertility struggles try and not tell us about these kinds of things, but I just want to put it out there – unless we explicitly tell you we are hurt and upset that you are pregnant and don’t want anything to do with you, don’t shut us out. If you are a friend, trust me, we are so happy for you we could burst.
There are loads of other times I felt emotional, guilty, and just a shit person because of my hostile reproductive system, and looking back, when I was 18 years old I wish I had taken the counselling I was offered to come to terms with “my condition”. But back then I just wanted to forget about it. I am incredibly lucky that I have some incredible friends who have been so supportive, who have listened to me whinge and cry and moan and whine and have basically been my therapists while I came to terms with everything, and still do to this day. (If you’re reading this, I love you guys. You’re the best.)
So back to those questions. In my wise older (29 years on this planet, I’m wise) years, I’ve adopted a slightly different approach, and to all those people who think it’s perfectly fine to be so intrusive – are you really prepared for the answer to your question? What will you say to the woman who admits, “I can’t have children? We’ve been trying for years.” Queue awkward silences and muttered apologies. What about the woman who replies, “I’ve never wanted kids. Why are you asking me such a personal question?” It’s simply not okay to bury your head in the sand and pretend like this is a benign question. It’s not. So please, stop assuming that A) all people want children and B) all people want to give you a detailed rundown of their family planning and fertility struggles. Anytime somebody asks me if I’m going to have kids, I’m like, ‘One day, you’re going to ask that to the wrong girl who’s really struggling, and it’s going to be really hurtful to them,’ And I hate that. It’s not really anyone’s business unless you let it be, and take it from me, if someone confides in you over something so personal; you must be a top human to them.