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Column: ‘Deep down, I am still angry at the unfairness of it all’

Helen Browne describes her experience of infertility, and asks for people to be more sensitive to this painful condition.

Helen Browne

I WAS DIAGNOSED with endometriosis in my 20s, and when I got married I knew that I would have difficulty in conceiving.

My Fallopian tubes were blocked. IVF treatment was quite new in Ireland and there was only one clinic at the time and I didn’t want to go for IVF treatment. I didn’t know too much about IVF and at that time there was no internet (that will tell you how long go it was!). I opted for surgery to unblock my tubes. Unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful. I knew then that for me to have my own child, I would have to go the IVF route. To be pregnant, give birth and have the opportunity to breastfeed my baby was so important and fundamental to me.

Following our second unsuccessful IVF treatment, I was so low and alone. The feeling of isolation was overwhelming that I decided to go for counselling. After 5 minutes I knew this was not for me at this time – what I needed was to meet and share my pain with those who knew what it was like. That was when I co-founded NISIG, the National Infertility Support and Information Group. Sharing our experiences, pain and disappointment help me immensely.

Three of us women set up the group. There are three outcomes following infertility: success, adoption and acceptance. Ironically each of us reached a different outcome ourselves, so we covered those three between us. For me, following three fresh cycles, four frozen cycles and miscarriages, I had to deal with not ever having my own child or children.

When all I ever wanted was a family, it was a devastating blow to realise it wasn’t going to happen. This is especially so when I’ve been through the demanding regime of fertility treatment and had a glimmer of hope that all might be fine – only to discover that actually, it won’t be.

After each treatment cycle, I went through a range of emotions. I felt depressed, angry, bereaved, anxious, and guilty and it was very difficult for me to see a future without children in our lives.

Infertility treatment had taken over ten of our twelve years of married life. I was exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and financially.

I felt socially excluded; my friends had new friends through their children. Rituals and the passages of life were denied me: our children’s christenings, confirmation, marriage, and our grandchildren.

A lonely and isolating grief

Although I’m a positive person it was exhausting keeping up a front and I withdrew from a lot of activities. Our decision not to pursue further treatment or adoption evolved over many years. I can look at it reasonably strongly now but deep down I am still angry at the unfairness of it all.

It can take a while, if not a lifetime, to come to terms with the idea of accepting life without your own children; especially if it’s something you’ve always set your heart on. Following fertility treatment your hopes are high that it will be successful, only for it to be taken away from you so many times, so cruelly. It is a horrendously lonely and isolating grief, because it is not embraced and acknowledged by society. NISIG has a 24/7 mobile number and I would sincerely hope this would alleviate some of the isolation.

There were many difficult periods for me during my infertility journey. One that sticks out so much in my mind was insensitive remarks that were said to me over time. Believe me when I say, these insensitive remarks are often uttered by mothers. I have now learnt to deal with it. I continue to smile, look elsewhere and count to ten and make an excuse to leave.

Dealing with infertility is hard. Your God-given desire to have children is thwarted. As you grow up, people say to you “When you get married and have your kids…” Everyone assumes fertility. Infertility shatters your identity. You have a picture in your mind. You are married. You have your dream home with a lovely back garden. But where are the children? Infertility shatters your rosy picture.

Infertility is often misunderstood. People take it lightly. A person with a chronic disease or terminal illness gets support from all those around them. But to a couple struggling with infertility, these same people offer platitudes. “Count all your blessings!” “Take mine!” or “Relax, it will happen.”

Infertile couples suffer the same, or a similar, level of intense anguish and heartache as those who are dealing with serious illness and they need to be treated with compassion and care.

Life without children may not be how I envisaged our life to be. I must admit that attending counselling and having a very kind and patient husband helped me to be where I am today. I will always miss deeply not ever being a Mum and us not being parents.

I ask for people to be more empathic towards other people’s pain and to those who don’t fit the mould. Those who have left their twenties and are not married, those who are in their forties and have not had a longed-for child. For older people who cannot tell tales about their grandchildren. Stop and think now before you speak.

Helen Browne is the co-founder and chairperson of NISIG, the National Infertility Support and Information Group. To find out more, visit nisig.ie.

About the author:

Helen Browne

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