Infertility is invisible – so don't ever ask a woman when she's having kids
The human race exists because women give birth. Finding out you’re one of the women who can’t grow a baby in your tummy is hard – when you’re going through it, it’s unbearable.
I always assumed I’d be a mum. It was never a question of if, it was when. I was naïve and assumed I’d get pregnant as soon as we started trying. When I didn’t, month after month, I felt like a complete failure. My body had let me down and I hated it for that.
When you’re going through infertility, it feels like you’re the only one who ever has.
It’s a lonely place to be. Every month starts with hope. Every niggle, twinge or cramp that I experienced, waiting to see if I was pregnant, was over-analysed.
This hope would then be replaced with all-consuming sadness when my period arrived. My monthly slap in the face to remind me that my body couldn’t get pregnant.
It felt like every other woman I saw was carrying a baby in her tummy or pushing a child in a pram. How come they had this and I didn’t?
Infertility affects around one in seven couples in the UK and while campaigns to raise awareness are crucial for those going through it, we also need to highlight the need for sensitivity from those who haven’t experienced it.
People seem to think it’s acceptable to ask when a woman is going to have kids.
I will never forget going back to work after a holiday, when a colleague said I looked different. She then asked if I was pregnant. We’d been trying for quite a while by then and nothing was happening, and I was shocked that she’d asked such a personal question.
When I said I wasn’t, she wouldn’t let it go. She said she was sure I was, but understood why I didn’t want to say. It took every ounce of my strength not scream at her. I couldn’t believe her insensitivity. She didn’t really know me and had no idea what I might have been going through.
That’s the thing with infertility. You don’t know who’s experiencing it. It’s not like a broken arm that everyone can see is damaged. The pregnant woman you see in the street may have had five rounds of IVF before this pregnancy. The work colleague you roll your eyes at for being late might have done a test that morning and found out she isn’t pregnant, again.
Questions around pregnancy are often asked without consideration of other people’s personal situations.
And now we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the implications of the virus on people’s physical wellbeing is pretty obvious, what’s less so – unless you’re experiencing it – is the impact it will have on those who were due to undergo fertility treatment.
The advice to stop providing non-essential treatments like IVF for the time being will be devastating for many.
For some, it will be the end of their dream of having a birth child.
But it’s worth remembering that not being able to have a birth child doesn’t mean you can’t be a mum. If you want, explore other options like adoption – but also give yourself time to grieve, before you move on.
As for my own situation, I believe things happen for a reason. I now think that I was always meant to be the one in seven. I was never meant to get pregnant.
We looked into IVF, but realised very quickly that treatment wasn’t something we wanted. It felt like opening ourselves up for more heartbreak and I didn’t feel strong enough to cope with that.
For us, adoption felt like the right path to create our family. It was something we’d discussed a lot and once we made the decision, it felt like a weight had been lifted.
Our eldest daughter came home five and a half years ago, when she was nine months old. We were happy as a family of three but then we found out about our youngest.
She is a full sibling and unfortunately, as the birth mum’s circumstances hadn’t changed, the plan for her was adoption. So we said we’d like to be assessed for her. She came home 18 months ago at five and a half months, four years to the day after we met our eldest.
Being their mum has helped me love my body again. They grew in my heart, not in my tummy.
The Fertility Network is the UK’s national charity which provides help and support for anyone experiencing fertility issues.
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