It’s that phrase that I think most of us have heard at some point during the infertility journey. ‘At least you…’, often followed with the pointing out of something that you already have, or should consider yourself lucky not to have. With good intention, human nature tries to lessen the pain by pointing out the positives but sometimes this actually ended up making me feel worse, making me doubt whether I was normal for feeling as deeply as I did.
There’s one example that stands out to me, one that would sit well within the ‘Think What Not To Say’ #twnts campaign by @thisisalicerose (check it out on Instagram). At one of my darkest times, when I was really struggling to cope with the prospect of never becoming a Mum, someone responded by telling me that they knew someone that had sadly become ill. They went on to (not so subtly) emphasise how well that person had coped throughout the diagnosis and treatment. This was followed by,
“It puts things into perspective doesn’t it? At least you’re not ill”
Of course, I was incredibly grateful to have good health (aside from my prematurely aged ovaries), I knew that on the whole I was very lucky – I had a lovely husband, a nice house, good job but it didn’t change the fact that what I wanted more than anything was to be a Mum. By talking about my situation in this way it made me feel like I was overreacting for feeling the way that I did, she may as well have said ‘well, it could be worse’. By saying ‘at least you’ it belittled my feelings and made me feel like I wasn’t normal to feel so all-consumed by my infertility.
There were many other instances of the phrase I came across;
‘At least you can have a full night’s sleep – I’ve been up with a teething baby all night.’
‘At least you can go on holiday whenever and wherever you want.’
And a particularly difficult one to hear following my missed miscarriage;
‘At least you know you can get pregnant.’
My lovely Instagram Followers also shared with me some of their ‘at least you…’ moments – it seems I’m not the only one that came across this phrase!
‘At least you have a house, and a job and your health, you’re not dying or anything…’
‘At least you can come and see our house now’ (Following a tricky pregnancy that ended)
‘At least you found out when you were younger’
After saying that they felt particularly awful that day… ‘At least you’re not pregnant’
‘At least it’s not cancer’ (re the grapefruit sized cyst that has eaten my right ovary)
‘At least you got a positive after everything’
I don’t know about you, but these really made me wince! In the most part however, people don’t actually mean to make us feel worse than we already do. I believe it is very easy to fall into the trap of starting a sentence with these three words, I’m sure at some point I will have been guilty of using this myself. Sometimes it’s just too uncomfortable to sit with someone’s pain and not offer any words of wisdom, you just can’t help wanting to make them feel better about the situation. There’s an instinctive urge within us to look for some kind of positive and steer away from the glaring negative. As humans we generally want to make others feel better and to fix things, but some feelings just can’t be fixed with words. Sometimes all you need is for someone to acknowledge the size of your pain say ‘Yes, I know, it really is s**t. I am here for you’.
For those of you who know someone experiencing infertility we know you mean well, but please think before trying to make someone feel better by saying ‘at least you’, it suggests that they shouldn’t be feeling the way that they do and may not be what they need to hear. It’s so important that people feel comfortable enough to have an open conversation about their fertility struggles without the fear of someone actually belittling that struggle as something trivial or unimportant.
Everyone has a different story, it is sharing these stories (without judgment!) that make us feel less alone.
Love, Becky x
It’s a vicious cycle – nobody talks about infertility and so you feel like you’re the only person in the world experiencing it, and because you feel alone you don’t say anything, therefore perpetuating the cycle.
“I feel like I’m the only one, everyone seems to get pregnant so easily”
“I felt like I was the only one it was happening to. In that moment, I was the only person in the world to be diagnosed with early menopause at the age of 28.”
Isolation is a direct result of very few people feeling comfortable enough to talk about infertility, which may seem bizarre given that 1 in 6 couples in the UK have direct experience of it. I’ve been surprised by how many people are affected, especially as I remember when I was diagnosed I felt like it was such a rare occurrence and that I was an anomaly, the odd one out. Two things have made me realise that it is so much more common that even the 1 in 6 number suggests.
Firstly, since I launched this blog and openly ‘came out’ about our infertility struggles many people who I have known from school, university, jobs (and even job interviews) have contacted me to say that they too are struggling and feel very much alone.
Secondly, I realised during my NCT classes that we were not alone. In my group of eight lovely ladies, the ratio of us that conceived through IVF was much higher than the ‘1 in 6’. Three of the eight of us had struggled to conceive and half of the group had experienced miscarriage. What it made me realise is that infertility and loss is all around us, we just don’t hear about it because people don’t talk about it.
All we see are everyone else’s perfect lives on social media, not knowing what really goes on behind closed doors. That’s because we don’t tend to talk about the difficult things. Outsiders would have looked at Matt and I and thought we were lucky, we married in June 2015 and were pregnant in October 2015. Quick and easy it would seem. They didn’t see the POF diagnosis, the 5 IVF cycles, the pain and the loss. The same goes with the recent Royal pregnancy announcements, it all seems so very easy. It adds to that feeling of isolation, that you’re the only one that isn’t able follow this perfect fairytale of how life is ‘supposed’ to be.
Recently, Michelle Obama put it perfectly; “I think it’s the worst thing we do as women. Not share the truth about our bodies and how they work.” She has hit the nail on the head – we just don’t share these things. The former First Lady sharing her infertility journey has the potential to change things massively. I just know that the more that iconic women share their struggles, the less isolated we will seem. In the UK, Izzy Judd has also recently opened the conversation by launching the recent podcast ‘Let’s Talk Fertility’. This is something I wished I had available when I was struggling, it would have certainly made me feel less alone.
As for us ‘non-celebrities’, the more we share, the less of a taboo it will become. We can be the pioneers, paving the path for others to feel less alone in the future. I’m by no means saying that you have to open up and talk to the world about your infertility struggles, but what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t feel like you can’t talk about it. You might find that if you feel comfortable to open up and share, then you may give this same strength to others. The amount of people that have responded with ‘me too’ when I opened up to them astounded me. Support from fellow people experiencing infertility can be incredibly comforting, after all you can only truly understand how it feels when you have been through it yourself.
Since starting my blog, I have found that there are so many more ways to access support and speak to others who are experiencing similar challenges and emotions. There are 3 that I’d like to share with you.
The first is Social Media – who’d have thought it! You’ll be pleased to know that Social Media isn’t always the enemy when you are Trying To Conceive (TTC), I know some people avoid it like the plague for the (very justified) fear of pregnancy announcements popping up without warning. There are some fantastically supportive women who have built a TTC community on Instagram – you could use your personal account, or set up a separate account if you felt more comfortable, and share journeys with other likeminded ladies. The support and encouragement they provide for each other is incredible – they’re even doing a TTC Christmas Gift Exchange! If you want an introduction into this community simply follow @definingmum on Instagram and send me a direct message – I will then try to connect you with some of these amazing people.
My second recommendation would be to a listen to some of the fertility podcasts – it’s so easy to do on your way to work, at the gym or whilst you’re doing chores around your home. My top recommendations so far would be Alice Rose’s ‘TTC Life Raft’ and Izzy Judd’s ‘Let’s Talk Fertility’ – you will suddenly realise that you’re not the only one and by hearing other stories you may feel more confident to share your own.
My third recommendation would be to check out The Fertility Network UK – they have some fantastic resources and a list of support groups that run throughout the UK. I always wondered why we never spoke to one another in the IVF clinic waiting room. Of all people, those in that room would be best placed to truly understand how others are feeling, they would make a fantastic support group! These support groups are an informal way of chatting to others who are in similar positions at different stages of their journey. I am actually looking to start a local group to me somewhere in Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire in the new year, so if you are interested then please get in touch!
Everyone has a different story, it is sharing these stories that make us feel less alone.
Love, Becky x
I recently explored why I believe it’s good to talk about infertility, but this didn’t address the reasons why we’re afraid to talk about it in the first place. I want to thank to my lovely Instagram followers who have kindly shared their reasons why they find it difficult to open up.
I found that there were three main reasons why we feel we are unable to share our struggle to conceive, although different they are all very much connected. Over a series of 3 blog posts I will share my thoughts about how we might be able to see them differently and work towards breaking that taboo.
I’m by no means saying that you have to open up and talk about your infertility struggles, you can still choose not to, but what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t feel like you can’t talk about it.
I call it ‘The Vicious Cycle of Infertility’:
We don’t talk about infertility and so…
- We fear being seen as a failure…
- We feel isolated…
- We fear what people will say…
…and because of this we don’t say anything.
The only way to break this cycle is to raise awareness, to talk and share our stories.
That is what Defining Mum is all about – not only talking about how my infertility journey has defined me as a Mum but also talking about the struggle to become a Mum – Chasing Motherhood and what the experiences have taught me.
Everyone has a different story, it is sharing these stories that make us feel less alone.
It’s a vicious cycle– nobody talks about infertility and so you feel like you’ve failed because you can’t become parents in the conventional way, and because you feel you have failed you don’t say anything, therefore perpetuating the cycle.
Here’s what my Instagram followers told me:
“I felt like a failure as a woman, not being able to do the most natural female basic function”.
“Because everyone wants perfection and I will be seen as a failure”
“Because we are afraid people will pity us”
“We are afraid to show weakness and that we are not in control of it all”
I understand these feelings all too well. I remember when I was first diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure, the word failure reverberated in my ears.
I felt like my body had failed me.
I felt like I was old before my time.
I felt like I wasn’t the woman that my husband first met.
I had to learn to believe that being infertile wasn’t my fault. It’s so difficult when you’re used to being in control of your life, so when you are suddenly feeling out of control it can feel like you have done something wrong, that you have failed. I had planned to have a child before I was 30 and because I had planned it in this way I automatically thought that, as I approached this age and having tried for 2 years, I was failing. But how could I have changed this? I came to accept that had no control over this infertility ‘disease’. It is unfair, it is life changing but it is not our fault.
What I could control however was how I chose to respond to it and only I could choose how to try and turn that failure into success. I’m not saying that I was happy and positive every day, far from it (my husband will tell you this was definitely not the case!) but I came to learn that although it may not happen the way I originally envisaged, if I wanted to be a Mum there had to be a way.
We chose to be open about our struggle to become parents and initially I did worry that I would be judged for having failed. In reality, what I actually found was that those who we told never focused on us failing at becoming parents in the conventional way, far from it. Instead they were in awe of the strength we had to fight through it. As I spoke about our infertility, IVF, loss and hope, they realised how lucky they were to not have to face that challenge.
I believe that if we are open about our struggles, the majority of people will not see you as a failure, but instead as a fighter. Infertility was by far the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, but now it has become my biggest achievement in life. How can someone see that as failure?
Love, Becky x
I’ve always been a big advocate of talking things through, whatever the issue. I was no different when it came to our infertility. They say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Well, in this case a problem shared means that at least others are aware that there is a problem in the first place. Frankly, if your friends and family don’t know how can they support you?
Talking about problems may not be everyone’s cup of tea, after all, British stiff upper lip and all that. But I truly believe that by talking about my feelings with my friends and family I was better equipped to address what life had to throw at me throughout our journey.
Here’s half a dozen reasons why I think it’s good to talk:
1. You might actually find that you’re not alone.
Over the past 5 years I have found countless numbers of people who have been or are going through IVF. I’ve even found another lovely Mum who, like me, used donor eggs. This came up in a conversation whilst changing our baby’s nappies. I opened up to her about how my eldest was conceived and she gasped ‘Oh my goodness, me too!’
Knowing that others are in similar situations definitely helps with the isolating feeling that infertility can bring, especially when you realise that you’re not the only one.
2. There’s no having to remember who knows what.
If you’re open, you don’t have to keep worrying about who knows what. I only told a select few people at first, whilst I got my head around things. I soon found myself constantly thinking ‘do they know?’ and even worrying that someone might be offended that I hadn’t felt close enough to them to confide! Once I started to be more open and comfortable to talk about what was happening I no longer needed to worry about who knew.
3. Sometimes it’s good to have a cry, and you need a shoulder (or two!) to cry on!
Sometimes you just need to shout about how utterly s**t your situation is! Sometimes you want to shout that it’s just not fair! With friends and family being aware you are able to let your mask slip when you need to. After all, bottling things up is no good for anyone.
4. You might be able to avoid, or soften at least, some of those difficult pregnancy announcements.
If your friends and family know that you are struggling to conceive it at least gives them the opportunity to try and be sensitive. Now, I know this doesn’t always turn out to be the case but if someone doesn’t know then it’s harder for them to protect you from potentially upsetting news.
5. You can build both new and deeper friendships by talking.
I bonded on a much deeper level with some amazing women, some of whom I may have never met or only known from a distance.
One who was a complete stranger and became my inspiration and strength throughout.
One is the girlfriend of a friend, who was diagnosed with the same condition as me a year later. We now share a special friendship, both as Mums through donor eggs.
One very close friend became pregnant during my lowest time, she was so sensitive and thoughtful of my situation during her own happy time, we have a much richer friendship because of it.
I honestly believe that when you have built a friendship through something like infertility, it will last forever.
6. If we all talk more, together we can help break the taboo around infertility.
It’s not uncommon, it affects 1 in 6 couples, so why do we feel like we’re the only ones going through it? The more people open up, the more others will too, building those support networks and special connections.
Part of my mission with Defining Mum is to encourage people to talk more openly about infertility. I was extremely lucky to have a fantastic support network around me. Without them, I’m not sure I would have been able to cope with the rollercoaster that became my fertility journey.
In this blog picture, here I am on my wedding day with my closest friends and bridesmaids. Underneath the smiles I had not long since discovered that our 4th IVF attempt was unsuccessful. These girls knew everything I was going through and were always there for me every step of the way.
I’m not saying you should shout it from the rooftops, but maybe start with confiding in someone close who you trust. It may surprise you and might make you feel a million times better. If you don’t feel able to just yet, you can always contact me here or one of my social media channels. I won’t have all of the answers but I’m always happy to listen 🙂
Most importantly, remember, you are not alone.
Love, Becky x