I recently saw heard someone say “infertility robs us of the long-term view”. Planning anything during fertility struggles becomes near on impossible – I remember I had so much of my life hung up on the loose possibility and desperate hope that I might soon be pregnant. From minor things to major life events – I’d find myself thinking…
Best not buy that dress… in the hope that I might not get much wear out of it as I would soon be needing maternity clothes
Best not book that holiday just yet… not knowing if I’d be in another IVF cycle or hoping that I might be in the early stages of pregnancy
Best not book the wedding yet… we don’t want to be spending ‘unnecessary’ money that might be needed for more treatment or (the more hopeful me) what about my wedding dress if I’m pregnant at the time? (a scenario I was quite happy to face!)
Best not commit to going on the hen weekend… there will be questions about me not drinking / what if it clashes with egg collection?!
Best not go to the social event… there’s bound to be another pregnancy announcement and I don’t feel strong enough to cope.
Best not apply for the new job… I just don’t have the energy / I need the length of service in the hope of company maternity pay / what if I start a new job & need more time off for appointments?
It’s the not knowing that I found so incredibly hard. Being a planner with the only thing certain in my life plan being quite simply “to be a Mum”, I was completely and utterly at a loss of what to do with myself. I wished for a crystal ball to just tell me that one day it would happen, even if it was going to be another 5/10 years – I just wanted some certainty, when in fact the only certainty was that there was none!
Because this lack of control can literally leave us feeling powerless we can easily let life run away without being ‘present’ in it.
I love the phrase “don’t let trying stop you from living” (I believe from the wonderful @mother_pukka) It’s why I love concepts such as @thisisalicerose‘s ‘Life Raft’ with the idea that, rather than be a passenger in life waiting to get back on the train, you can still find enjoyment in other things.
Try not to lose what makes you…YOU and don’t let trying stop you from living.
Love, Becky x
Not all journeys to motherhood are easy. It can be a long, difficult & traumatic path for as many as 1 in 6 couples, with not all struggles ending with a baby. It’s very likely that someone you know is facing infertility, but may be suffering in silence. From those that have been there, here are some useful tips for how you can best support someone…
We don’t expect you to fix it for us, so please try to avoid saying… ⠀⠀
“Just relax”. Relaxing won’t get us pregnant when a medical condition is causing infertility – this comment can imply that it’s our fault for being too stressed.
“Just adopt”. Adoption isn’t an easy alternative, in reality there are so many emotions involved & a difficult process with no guarantees.
“Maybe you should try x, y, z…” with no medical knowledge or experience. Believe me, we’ve probably tried every wacky remedy under the sun. *
“At least you…” A comment often used to try to make us to feel better & see the positives in our situation. With good intention, we know you are trying to lessen our pain but being childless just isn’t comparable to material things.
Avoid comparison to life as a Mum. We know motherhood is hard, but I promise we would much prefer a screaming baby keeping us up at night rather than sleepless nights worrying whether we will ever be a Mum! ⠀⠀
Be sensitive with triggering announcements. Ask how we would prefer to be told about pregnancies / births. Often a text message as a ‘heads up’ is appreciated, as opposed to an unexpected announcement. Rest assured, we are happy for you, however the ache for a child can sometimes mean the sadness of our own situation is overwhelming.
Simply put – just be there, acknowledge our pain & say…”I’m sorry, it is shit. I am here for you. What can I do to support you?”
We might prefer to be left alone, want to talk about it, want a welcome distraction or just need a friendly ear to rant to every now & again. All we may need is for you to be there & stay with us whilst we’re on this rollercoaster journey.
Love, Becky x
Getting pregnant isn’t a skill.
It isn’t a talent that some people are better at than others.
It’s simply the luck of the draw .
YOU are not a failure.
It is not your fault.
It really is just the luck of the draw, meaning some of us have great difficulty in conceiving and may only be able to become parents with some help from science.
Why is it that so many of us feel like we’ve failed when we aren’t able to conceive naturally? Infertility can leave us feeling like a failure as a woman… as a man…even as a human being. I remember feeling so much anger towards my body for not doing what’s seen as the most natural thing in the world – being able to reproduce & pass on my genetics. When all-consumed by infertility sometimes I’d find it hard to recognise that, in most cases, it is out of our control & not our fault for needing help to make a family. It’s why I think we can easily become obsessed with elements we feel we can control – diet, exercise, holistic & complementary therapies, weird & wonderful remedies, old wives’ tales. Following a negative result, it leads us to the ‘what ifs’ – “did I not try hard enough?…what if I’d tried x, y, z?” We can convince ourselves that it’s our fault the IVF cycle didn’t work. I questioned myself all the time, it’s now that I realise it was all out of my control – not being able to reproduce is not my fault. It’s not your fault either.
Since starting DefiningMum, I’ve come to realise that the language we use in talking about infertility can actually make this worse. We often hear fertility struggles described as a “fight” or “battle” – implying that the onus is on us to “win” or “lose”. Then there’s the word I absolutely hate, one that formed part of my diagnosis – “failure”. It crops up so many times… “Premature Ovarian Failure”… “Failed cycle”…you name it, it makes us feel like WE have failed. I actually didn’t pay much attention to the language I used in the beginning when writing – I even called an early blog post “Failure or Fighter”, something I would now describe very differently!
I share this as a reminder – needing help to conceive shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. You are not lacking any skill or ability – it’s simply shitty luck, something we have to accept and face. Think about the emphasis you put on your own role in your fertility journey & don’t beat yourself up when it comes to things you simply cannot control. Lastly, think about language & try not to fall into the trap of making yourself believe that YOU’VE lost a fight, or you’ve failed. YOU haven’t, you’re simply dealing with an incredibly difficult situation. The way in which you are facing this adversity is something you should be incredibly proud of.
Love, Becky x
“To love and be loved by you is a privilege I am eternally grateful for and each and every time you wrap your arms around me and tell me so, you give me the only confirmation I will ever need that I am Mum.”
Today I’m honoured to share an extract from a recent blog post written by Frances, a wonderful Mum I met recently as we both talked on BBC Radio 5 Live about our alternative routes to parenthood, in particular about how it made us both redefine what it means to be a Mum. Despite our journeys being different, we shared so many parallels. Whilst I carried my girls without sharing genetics, Frances does share genetics with her girls but needed a surrogate to carry for her. I have so much admiration for her bravery and courage, and couldn’t agree more with her sentiments about what motherhood truly is…
BABIES OF MINE
A few weeks back I met with another mum, Becky, who had gone through her own fertility struggles. Her experience, like ours was a little unconventional and like myself she has documented her journey to motherhood. Her blog is called Defining Mum and she writes to give hope and support to so many others that are struggling to become parents and challenge the traditional notions that being a mum is dependent on DNA and giving birth. As I listened to her talk about how her own preconceptions were shattered once her children were born, so much of it resonated with me and I thought back to the day I made the one of the biggest decisions of my life and in doing so gave up the ability to carry a child.
I met my new consultant Mr Bultler Manuel two days before I was scheduled to have surgery. I had a rough idea of what it would involve but we needed to finalise the details and I wanted to meet the man who would be operating on me. I felt I was in safe hands almost immediately, he had just the right balance of care and attention without being at all patronizing, he knew I was well aware of all that was going on. He went through the options in detail. The first was a radical trachelectomy, this would remove my cervix, the top of my vaginal tissue and also the surrounding lymph nodes. It was the least severe option and choosing it would leave me with the ability to carry a child, although to give birth would require a c-section and there was also a much higher chance any baby I had would be premature. The second was a radical hysterectomy and the removal of pretty much all of my reproductive organs, it was extreme but he explained with it came a slightly higher chance of the cancer never coming back. He spoke of two ladies he had treated in the past who had opted for the first option and in both cases the cancer had unfortunately returned before either had the chance, or made a decision to try and get pregnant. He said I didn’t have to choose right now and that I could go away and think about it but to be honest I didn’t need anymore time. If he had said that by taking my legs it would have been less likely to come back I would have opted to have those removed too. Right then my only thoughts were of survival and giving myself the best possible chance. Finally we spoke about my ovaries and whether they should be removed too. For the staging I had, more often that not they were left alone but he explained that by removing them it would increase my chances of survival ever so slightly. I told him I wanted them gone too.
I wonder sometimes what you’ll think of how quickly I made that decision, whether you’ll question my choice. I know that for so many women that carrying a child is a fundamental part of being a mum. In a perfect world I would have loved to carry you both and I cant pretend that in so many ways it would have been wonderful. I missed the excitement and awe of my own flesh and blood creating life, I missed those first tiny kicks and never got to talk to you when we were alone together in those first few months. Your dad never got to put his head on my belly as we cozied up on the sofa wondering if it was a boy or girl, I didn’t get to wander the maternity clothes isle, never got to ‘eat for two’ and didn’t get to lie back on a chair while my tummy was covered in cold jelly and gaze at a screen while the baby wriggled around inside me. Sure I missed out on those things and it makes me sad, but I don’t regret my decision for one moment. It may well be controversial to say so but for me all those things would have been for my benefit only. To have experienced all that and to have brought a child into the world only to increase the risk of leaving them when they were so little was out of the question. That was risk was I was not willing to take and I knew right there and then as long as I survived I would be a mum and we would be a family however we managed to get there.
Less than three years later we did just that. And instead of giving birth I had a totally unique experience that most mothers don’t. I watched you Evelyn being born, every part of it, from the business end. I got skin to skin contact with you both, without going through labour first so I wasn’t exhausted by that or nine months of sickness, lack of sleep and carrying around another person. I was elated and petrified all at once and totally present for every last second. From the moment you were placed into my arms I felt as much of a mum as anyone else ever has. From that moment on you were mine and I would do anything and everything to keep you safe, protect you from harm and love you with every part of me. You can give birth and share DNA and maybe according to science and the Oxford Dictionary that makes you a mother but for me that is in name only. To become a real mum everything that you’ll ever need is found only within your heart, it is the creation of an unbreakable bond that once formed you’ll feel forever. To love and be loved by you is a privilege I am eternally grateful for and each and every time you wrap your arms around me and tell me so, you give me the only confirmation I will ever need that I am Mum.
Forever and Always
Thank you so much to Frances for allowing me to share the story of her beautiful family, you can find their full story and ‘Babies of Mine’ blog by clicking here.
As a midwife, I knew that birth and death walked alongside each other. Having seen first hand the babies that entered the world with a silence, still nothing could prepare me to say goodbye to my own babies.
I had to give birth to two babies, knowing that there would be no chance for them to live. That they would be so premature that no amount of medical intervention could save them. I was giving birth to death.
This is the story of my sons, Cecil & Wilfred.
My husband and I met 11 years ago at university. Two years ago we started trying to expand our family with little success. In December of last year, we found out that the only day 5 embryo we collected from our first round of IVF had implanted, and by some miracle I was pregnant with identical twins.
I did not enjoy being pregnant. I found the physical symptoms debilitating, and the anxiety overwhelming. I worried constantly from the second I got pregnant. Twelve weeks passed, and I was worried. Sixteen weeks passed, and I worried. Twenty weeks passed, and I started to relax slightly, although could never quite shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. I was over half way through the pregnancy, so pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind. Perhaps I was going to bring these babies home after all.
Despite niggling thoughts about nearly everything, one of the things that never crossed my mind was going into spontaneous labour at twenty one weeks. Preterm labour was of course on my radar, as I was having identical twins, but it never occurred to me that I might not make it to viability. That their cause of death, would be birth.
On Saturday 6th April, when my waters broke with a big gush, I knew it was the beginning of the end. That in fact, the pains that had been coming and going over the past two hours were contractions. That my babies were on their way.
It is very difficult to articulate how the death of your babies really does completely invert your life. There will forever be the time before, and the time after.
Not only did I lose two very precious babies, but I also lost a life time of memories. I am not invited to share my experiences of birth or motherhood with friends, because no one asks. I am not asked whether I had boys or girls, whether they looked like me or James, how much they weighed, or any other questions that most parents take pride in answering. I will never hear my sons call me Mummy, or see them playing together. James will never take them to play rugby, or tuck them into bed.
It has been six months since I last held my sons in my arms, I am still trying to navigate a world where I have given birth to two babies, but am not accepted into the motherhood club.
Not a moment goes past where I don’t think about my sons. I hope that by speaking about them, I am helping to honour their memory, but also to break down any misconceptions that baby loss is something to be ashamed of. I refuse to accept that only living babies matter.
My sons were born into silence, so I am making noise on their behalf.