Infertility can feel extremely isolating at times. You feel like an island, surrounded by a sea positively teeming with fertile couples. You grow incredulous and disbelieving when you hear of couples ‘accidentally’ falling pregnant; surely not?! – When you’ve tried with so much intention and painstaking effort, and yet still failed.
And then at some point you discover The Others.
The first time I found out that a friend had undergone IVF was just as we were starting investigations at the clinic, and I felt the most enormous relief. She had tentatively reached out to me with the correct suspicion that we may be going through something similar, and I eagerly grabbed at the opportunity of a confidant. Finally here was someone who understood how it felt! That person became one of the most precious gifts during the following months, she was always just a Whatsapp message away; she reassured me, she nodded in recognition at how I was feeling, she told me what to expect, and now, as we both mother our IVF miracles, she continues to be a treasured friend and source of advice.
Since then there have been several more discoveries, chance meetings and connections with other couples experiencing infertility. One incredible example of this happened on our holiday last year, when I was about 24 weeks pregnant. We were staying in a small apartment block, of only 11 rooms. My bump became something of a talking point and through poolside chats we soon discovered that the family of 3 who’d arrived with us conceived their son via IVF; later in the week another couple arrived and, through more friendly conversations, we found out that not only were they just being referred for investigations into their infertility, but they were being treated at the same hospital as us back in the UK! We’ve come across several other couples now who have had IVF, (including one who, remarkably, had their egg collection, embryo transfer AND BIRTH all on the exact same days as us!!) While everyone’s journey is slightly different, they are all united by that same deep longing for a child.
The latest figures put at least 1 in 8 couples as struggling with infertility in some shape or another. And yet when it was happening to us I felt so alone to begin with. We tend not to talk about it openly, something which is completely understandable. It’s an extremely private thing, and if you are having, or about to have IVF you may not want to tell people, because it may not work. Choosing who to tell is a big decision, the more people who know, the more people are hanging on the outcome of every turn in the road and the more people to tell if it doesn’t work out. Couple that with the misplaced shame many people feel about infertility: as a woman for your body not doing the one thing our society expects it to do – which you’ve been schooled about preventing since you were a child and now wonder why all those preventative measures were necessary; and as a man for lacking the virility supposedly owned by ‘real men’ (all total BS, but also totally part and parcel of how you might feel.) It’s easy to understand why it is still something many couples keep to themselves.
So it stays in the shadows much of the time, and often we only think about it if we’re unlucky enough to have to. Having a friend who had been through it, who ‘got it’, was honestly one of the single most helpful things throughout the whole process for me. It’s only now, now that it worked out OK for us, that I feel brave enough to talk about it openly – and I hope that in doing so it might offer some comfort to others going through similar things. Already since publishing the first few blog posts about our IVF more people have reached out who have been through, or are currently going through similar experiences. I have felt honoured and privileged to have been given the opportunity to offer support and friendship to others journeying on the IVF path, paying forward the kindness and encouragement which was shown to me.
As you read this perhaps you are the one in eight, perhaps you have been, perhaps you will be. You definitely know someone else who is, even if you don’t know you know. Although I would never wish the frustration and pain of infertility on anyone, it is comforting to realise that it’s not just you; to recognise in others the same longing and to commiserate with and encourage them as they journey along this well trodden path.
For all The Others we’ve met, and those we know but don’t know – hang in there. You’re not alone. xxx