When you first start trying to conceive, you don’t anticipate that you may be infertile. You don’t anticipate hours spent in doctors offices, invasive scans, alarms every morning reminding you to take your basal body temperature, ovulation charts and constant negative tests. Infertility isn’t even remotely on your radar.
Your friends fall pregnant just by looking at each other. Your sister falls pregnant on the pill. Your cousin has 3 under 5, and yet you seemingly can’t get pregnant to save your life. At first you think it’s taking its time, you missed your ovulation window or you drank too much alcohol the weekend you were ovulating. The months pass, another period, another negative test, and you begin to wonder why. The year mark is hit and you begin to question everything, the doctors tests start and the only thing you’re nursing is a sore stomach from the laparoscopy.
It’s only when you begin to talk about infertility that you realise how common it is. With the newest figures suggesting 1 in 6 couples experience infertility, it seems crazy that it’s such a taboo, that people don’t understand, and everyone assumes that you’re just not trying.
But this, this is what infertility feels like: infertility is lonely.
It’s easy to say 1 in 6 go through it, but not all 1 in 6 want to talk about it. Chances are, you have a close friendship group of maybe 5 couples. You are, in this case, the 1 in 6. You don’t know who to talk to. Your friends don’t understand. Your friends and your family make suggestions like ‘just adopt’, because they want to fix your problem. They don’t know what else to do.
Being infertile changes the way you see things, the way you see life and the way you see people. I was always very vocal about my infertility; I refused to be ashamed of it. I was the reason everyone knew, however from that day on it felt as though everyone looked at me differently. Even when they didn’t know, it felt like they knew.
My return to work following my laparoscopy was horrific. I had spent 10 days at home, crying into my coffee at every given opportunity. I’d had friends and family visit my house with orchids, chocolate, candles and care packages. I was so grateful and yet every time I opened the door, I felt their pity oozing out of the gift wrap. I returned to work when perhaps I wasn’t mentally prepared. I had sympathetic smiles, the “never say never” comments and the “my cousin’s friend’s wife was told she couldn’t have children but she now has 3” talks. Did they not hear me? I can’t have children. A miracle wasn’t happening. For every ‘supportive’ comment I received, the anger in me brewed that bit more. When you make a cup of tea, you leave it to brew for a certain amount of time. You brew it for too long and it tastes bitter, it has little bits floating on the top and nobody wants to drink it. I was turning into the bitter, over brewed tea. Nobody wanted to be the one lumped with that tea. I was angry at the world and nobody understood. I sat next to the man with the grandchild, who loved to show off the pictures. I sat with the fertile woman, pregnant with her third and spoke of how unplanned the child was. I listened to the man whose child was born the day I was told I was infertile. The first thing I saw when I picked up my phone that day was his child in the group chat, the name, the weight, the picture. I couldn’t even look at him. How were these people supposed to understand?
7 weeks after my laparoscopy, 7 weeks post infertile diagnosis, good friends of ours got married. I wasn’t very well, full of cold and my glands were swollen. I decided to drive and not drink, which was probably for the best; I’d have only ended up guzzling the Pinot and sobbing my heart out, nursing 20 drunken cigarettes and the pending nasty hangover. I didn’t know anyone in that room except the bride and groom, yet I felt they all knew. I sat at the table, sober as a Nun, feeling sad, alone and lonely. The room was full of other women and yet I clung to my husband like my life depended on it. I did not want to speak to women, these fertile, feminine beings. I felt bitter towards all of them. Little did I know, across the table sat a woman who knew exactly how I felt. However, this wasn’t spoken about and I had no idea of her struggles until around 10 months later. Now, I look at everyone and see them as infertile. I sit in a room and I look at their faces, I pretend they are infertile until proven otherwise. It is easier than believing I am the odd one out. I know, the chances are that I am.
I had found some support on Instagram and Facebook. I had an account on Instagram that was solely about my infertility. I joined so many support groups on Facebook and whilst I found some solace in those, once the phone screen was locked and the day moved on, I couldn’t even remember the names of those I’d spoken to. I didn’t know these people; at that time it felt no different to reading a forum on Mumsnet. In my head, even they didn’t understand. They didn’t really care about how I felt, we were all in there for selfish reasons, trying to comfort ourselves with words on a screen. Those words didn’t stop me sobbing at night. Those words didn’t fill the empty void. They didn’t make me feel any less barren.
Christmas was a funny time of year. At Christmas, you see the family and the friends and it’s all about togetherness. It was around Christmas that I had really started to sink. At the beginning of the year, I had convinced myself I was going to be pregnant by the festive season. We had got married and started seeing the fertility nurses, where we had all thought I would be put on clomid and I’d fall pregnant without an issue. Clomid wasn’t even an option. I was infertile and here was Christmas, still just the two of us and more barren than ever. The ‘how are you?’ texts had stopped, the phone calls were few and far between, everyone else had moved on with their lives and I was still there dwelling on my diagnosis. I felt bad for bringing it up whenever I saw my friends, I didn’t want to bore my family. Why would they care? I wasn’t dying, after all. I remember the beginning of December and I’d hit a real low point. It was the build up to Christmas and I was feeling awful. I would sit in my car after work for what felt like hours, staring into space and googling self help. I would cry at the most random things and I would curse at my husband for breathing. I was not coping at all. That weekend we had a get together with friends; I had got the evening off work to go. We knew of mutual friends who had babies and so for the first time ever, I didn’t moan at my husband for wanting to go a bit later so he could watch the football. It meant I could text my friend and find out if there were babies at the house, so I could mentally prepare myself. There were not any babies; instead there was a pregnancy announcement. A pregnancy announcement before we arrived that was shielded from me all night, that my best friend rang me and told me about a month later. I was relieved I hadn’t been there and yet I was mad, with myself for feeling guilty and with them for simply being pregnant. It was around this time a friend made a comment to a third party about how ridiculous I was being, how I couldn’t avoid pregnant people forever, and it was then again that it was confirmed to me that even those you think are closest to you don’t understand.
The months follow and there’s pregnancies and slowly less and less people talk about it. After all, I should have been over it by then… right? Except I wasn’t. Not even the slightest bit. My best friend from University came to visit in the February and it was the first time a friend cried with me. We sat in the garage drinking wine and she held me whilst I sobbed. She didn’t even pretend to understand and for that drunken night I will always be so grateful. For me, that night was a turning point. I knew the loneliness wouldn’t pass but I had to try and feel normal, for my husband’s sake more than my own.
March arrived and so did my bilateral salpingectomy, an operation I chose to have for my sanity, so the ‘maybe this month a miracle will happen’ stopped consuming my brain. I had both Fallopian tubes removed and consequently 7 weeks off work. This time it was different. This time, the pity didn’t appear at my door. This time, I had a few days of people checking in to ensure all went well. This time, no bad news had been delivered and so to most people, this was just part of the parcel.
There’s only so many times you can tell someone you feel sad. There’s only so much a person will put up with listening to. I am lucky yet unfortunate in that despite my years of struggle, I am really the first of my best friends to be thinking about children. It is a blessing in that baby showers aren’t on my agenda and yet a curse in that my friends don’t truly understand the desire I feel for a child.
My friends with children, I have distanced myself from. I feel guilty all the time but still now, I struggle to be around them in more than small doses. I love my friends and I love their children, however I cannot always guarantee my head space. It’s all well and good making plans with them but if Aunt Flo arrives that day, you can guarantee I’ll only spend the entire time feeling bitter. I’ve become very good at using the ‘mute’ button on social media. I’ve learned to not torment myself, although I am forever sorry it is at the expense of my friendships.
You cannot explain the depression that comes with infertility to someone who is fertile. You can try your very best, you can shout and you can scream but to them it will never be a huge issue. It will never be anything more than a medical issue and bad luck. They cannot understand the resentment that fills your bones, the grief and the jealousy that invades your veins. They don’t understand why when you’re at work and someone is talking about their child, you lock yourself in the toilet and have a quick cry. They don’t understand that sometimes you just stare at pregnant women in the street and wonder what they did to deserve it that you didn’t. They don’t understand that you walk past the room that ‘should be’ a nursery and feel the pain in your heart every time you do. They don’t understand that as beautiful as their child is, you can’t look at another newborn photo without wanting to rip out your uterus and ask it why it belongs to you. They don’t understand that you feel the need to talk about it all the time, but feel scared to because to them it’s ‘private’, or they might tell you to adopt.
Infertility is the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with. It has changed me as a person, it has taken its toll on my mental health and it has impacted my professional life. Being infertile is lonely; you are a one man band and your audience is a room of problem solving fertiles.
When people ask why I blog, when people ask why I sit in my dressing room talking to a camera about my uterus on YouTube, I tell them this is why. I joined the world of infertiles and didn’t know where to turn, so my aim is simply to make one person feel less like I have done.
Infertility teaches you a lot of things and it is something I never expected to impact my life, especially in the way it has. For now my journey continues and with any luck, it will all be worth it in the end.
Love, Amber x