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Reflections on infertility: 'I expected to be mocked for thinking we were getting somewhere'

Infertility’s seemingly endless circle of hope and disappointment leaves you expecting the worst in all situations, writes Jennifer Ryan Moran.

Jennifer Ryan Moran

ANYONE WHO HAS been through any sort of fertility issues will be familiar with that jolt you get when learn that someone else is pregnant.

It doesn’t matter who it is – it could be someone as remote to you as Kate Middleton – but you think, “Why not us?”

I was surprised to discover that even when I became pregnant myself, after four years of trying, I still felt that same stab of injustice that other people can seem to get pregnant at the drop of a hat.

It’s not because you’re selfishly unhappy for whoever is making the announcement. You wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone. It’s because you’re so desperately sad for yourselves.

I think it’s just another side effect to infertility, another layer of something to deal with that they don’t warn you about at the clinic.

We found our own way to deal with our failure to conceive. Every month, your hopes go up, then get knocked down. Then you lick your wounds and get back up and try again.

That circles of hope and disappointment teaches you to expect the worst in all situations. I’m not sure if that will ever go away.

Learning to trust

The other thing I found surprising is how hard I found it to move from the familiar experience of being pregnant from IVF to just being pregnant like anyone else.

It took me a long time to trust our pregnancy. I kept expecting a surprise disaster to pop up and mock us for thinking that we were actually getting somewhere.

I felt like I didn’t belong in regular pregnancy groups, that I was a phony, because nobody else really understood it from where I was standing.

I remember going for our 12-week scan at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin. I was a mixture of nerves and excitement, but mostly nerves that they’d say something had gone wrong, because that was what I was trained to expect.

It was particularly busy that day and there would be a bit of a wait, we were told, so I got chatting to the girl sitting beside me in the queue for the scan.

When I asked her how she was feeling, and had she been sick at all, she told me that she’d spent the first six weeks of the pregnancy crying because it wasn’t planned.

I was shocked. Not because this woman didn’t want to be pregnant – that was her choice – but shocked because I had forgotten that people can actually get pregnant unexpectedly.

I was so wrapped up in our world of infertility that I genuinely forgot that not everybody wanted to be there waiting for that first scan, scared of what is ahead of them.

I sat and wondered about it all, about the hands we are dealt and the hurdles we have to overcome, in all the different ways they present themselves.

Difficulties for men

In many ways, women really do get the crappy end of the stick. While all of these “what ifs” were running through my mind, my partner – through no fault of his own – was relatively confident that his life outside of fertility treatment can continue as normal.

He didn’t have to worry about how it might affect his career and whether there would be any medical side effects.

But there’s another side to this: men don’t talk about stuff. Yes, this is a generalisation, but I think it’s generally true.

I spent a lot of time on fertility forums and not once did I come across a men getting involved in discussion. While I give out about how tough it is being a woman going through all of this, of course it’s just as hard for men as well – maybe harder in some ways.

To not be able to do any of the physical work of it cannot be easy. I know that in a heartbeat, my husband would have swapped places with me, to spare me those particularly hard moments.

People also only really asked me about our experience. I don’t think anybody asked him how he felt, how he found it, what he thought about it. Because it is such a private matter, not many people are open to talking about it. Yes, you have each other, but we both experience it from different perspectives.

Finding my feet

Fertility and infertility have been a huge part of our lives now for so long, and I have only recently begun to realise the full impact it has had, and still has, on me.

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One aspect of the fertility treatment I didn’t consider at the beginning was how restrictive it can be. You can’t make plans, whether they are short-term holiday plans, or long-term career plans. It is always hanging over you.

After the baby was born, everything got put to one side as I had to find my feet as a new mother and figure out all the challenges that that brings in itself. When my maternity leave was nearing its end, I had to figure out how to deal with leaving him every day to go to work.

It was only when I was back at my desk, as if I had never left, that I realised that the old me was gone. And I realised I was lost.

It was only sometime after returning to work that I felt I had a chance to stop and take a breath, and think about the whirlwind we had been through.

Somewhere in the middle of trying to figure out how to deal with infertility and motherhood, I forgot how to control my own self, the part of me that was me. The person I was before my life got taken over by infertility.

I knew I needed to recognise and accept this fact, and try and remember who I was before. Then, one day, an opportunity arose to join a healthy living and fitness programme in a local studio. There were 15 places available thanks to some funding from the local sports council.

I don’t know what came over me, but I applied – mainly so that I could congratulate myself for trying something, because chances are I’d be safe and wouldn’t get in anyway. But I did get in. I was randomly selected to take part in the programme.

During my first TRX class, I spent the whole hour swearing to myself that they wouldn’t see me for dust once it was finished. It was so hard that I wanted to give up, but because I had been gifted this opportunity, and plenty of people would have loved it, I gave it my best and stuck at it.

And do you know what? It saved me. Week by week, I started to remember the old me.

No, I’m not now one of those smug exercise types, preaching from my high horse. I’m still the same lazy girl at heart. But it helped me find myself again. I’m not really sure how.

Maybe it was because I was doing something just for myself, by myself. I am not just the girl who went through IVF. I am the one who has learned to overcome challenges. Just me. And I’ll forever be grateful.

As we face getting ready to try for baby number two, and the rollercoaster of more fertility treatment, I feel prepared. I know who I am, and I know I can do it. I am back to myself, but a new version of it. The new, improved version, I hope.

Jen Ryan is a 30-something IT-working mother of one who works in Dublin and lives with her husband, son Rian and their two dogs. You can follow her blog The Scenic Route – The Story of Us

Read: ‘What if he says a new word? What if he forgets me? The back-to-work guilts are the worst’

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

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Jennifer Ryan Moran

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