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Infertile, dating and 33: How do you bring up an inability to have children?

“You can’t just bring up the “do you want kids” conversation over your first date martini,” writes Clare McAfee two years after her ‘horrible diagnosis’.

Clare McAfee

I’M A 33-year-old woman who was told two years ago that I wouldn’t be able to have my own genetic children.

Being handed an absolute diagnosis of infertility was incredibly difficult and came as a terrible shock.

And as I’m finding out now, it’s a pain in the ovaries when it comes to dating.

In my 20s, my body began to act out of kilter and my brain seemed to be firing out symptoms of anxiety, depression and the never-ending impulse to eat the entire contents of the fridge.

Blood tests showed my hormones in a state of flux and also a diminished egg reserve, but no cause was found. Despite the lowered egg count, I was told I still had some chance of having children in the future, and I was given medication to counteract the symptoms.

Unfortunately this didn’t get rid of the general down feeling and my Pacman-style method of eating, which was the only thing that seemed to make me feel better, if only temporarily.

A wake-up call arrived when my BMI hit the obese category and, not wanting to make my situation any worse, I tackled my weight problem in my late 20s. I managed to lose four stone and consequently began to look forward not just to my 30s, but also to finding a partner in crime with whom to share the better years of life ahead.

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That conversation

The “you’re completely infertile” conversation that I had with a consultant at the age of 31 was horrible.

Again no definitive explanation could be afforded, and the word autoimmune was thrown into the mix. If indeed autoimmunity is the cause, then I imagine mean-looking cells waged war on my defenceless and decreasing army of eggs.

I’m not ashamed to say that in the weeks after the diagnosis I spent quite a while sat on my couch, surrounded by chocolate wrappers and watching Jeremy Kyle.

It felt like I’d worked so hard to lose weight and get my life on track, only to have confidence-busting news come in like Miley Cyrus on a sodding wrecking ball.

While my chocolate-overindulging response was quickly put in check, it did take me longer to do the same with my own perceived permanent state of single-dom.

Over the next couple of years I found myself in a few short relationships, where I just couldn’t connect with my partner on an emotional level. I was ashamed, embarrassed and angry – not just at myself, but also at the lack of discussion about infertility.

It felt like a subject that should only be discussed in a medical setting or deep in the confines of an online message board, and certainly not with a potential partner.

While my change in thought process certainly wasn’t a sudden one, I gradually realised that while I can’t control infertility, there are other things I do have a choice about.

Long-term, infertility in itself doesn’t mean I can’t have a happy marriage and maybe one day buy a house with a big field out the back (that can house all the rescue animals!).

In the last year my focus has shifted to what I’d like to get out of life and I’ve set myself some goals such as running the Dublin City Marathon this year.

A few months ago I started a blog that originally was just going to chart my marathon training, but soon I also started talking about my “issues”.

I added my blog link to my online dating profile with the proviso that I had nothing to lose, and ironically by publicly airing my not-so-pleasant experiences, I’ve found myself back in the dating land of the living.

But I could really do with an infertility dating manual!

Trying to figure out how to bring up an inability to have children with a potential partner is very difficult. You can’t just bring up the “do you want kids” conversation over your first date martini.

I’m pretty sure I’ve explored every combination of method of communication and time it was mentioned – via a text, a Facebook message, phone-call, a conversation – early on, after a few dates and after more than a few dates.

Have I found an ideal time to mention it? I’m not sure that exists. I’d love to know what other people in my situation (or in a similar situation) do, or if someone doesn’t want children, when do they think is the best time to mention it?

And for those on the receiving end of the piece of news, when would they want to know that the person they’re seeing can’t have children, or mightn’t want them? Thoughts and opinions welcome!

Clare McAfee blogs at offthecouch.ie. She can be followed on Facebook and Twitter @imoffthecouch

Read: Why do people say this: ‘They’ve been married a while now? What’s keeping her?’

More: ‘My failure to conceive makes me feel like I’m not functioning as a woman’

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