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

To be told you cannot conceive on your own is devastating, cruel and unfair, writes Jennifer Ryan Moran.

A COLD FEAR swept over me after I heard the official diagnosis. ‘…and so it seems, I’m afraid, the only way you are likely to conceive is through in-vitro fertilisation. Now, any questions..?’

Had I any questions? Loads. But can I think of any now, while you stand in front of me with your clipboard impatiently waiting for me to ask one so you can go for your lunch?

No. All I have is this cold fear that started at the top of my head and gathered itself into a big ball of something and lodged itself into the pit of my stomach.

When I started going out with Gavin, it was only a matter of time before people starting jokingly asking when he’d produce a ring. Once he did that, it was all about when we’d set the date.

Once we did that – in fact I clearly remember I had literally walked back down the aisle and was standing in the church yard when the first comment came about the pitter-patter of tiny feet. It’s just what people say – I know there is no harm in it. I’ve probably said similar things myself.

And at the time of course I didn’t even imagine we’d have any problems. ‘Anything stirring?’ ‘On antibiotics you say?’ ‘Oh, enjoy all those nice weekends away now while you can, you won’t be able to do that for too long!’ We just laughed along and nodded and agreed as you do.

But it was when people stopped asking us and the subtle nudges came that I suddenly started feeling paranoid: ‘they’ve been married a while now haven’t they?’ ‘What’s keeping her? She must be one of those career women’. It was when they stopped asking and making jokes that was worse, and the silence was deafening.

shutterstock_265900157 Shutterstock / Shutterstock / /

The F-word

Fertility. A word that is often still perceived as a taboo subject. Of course it’s understandable why that is, such a personal topic and for so many reasons. However personally, it doesn’t bother me in the least to talk openly about it, or to be asked about it.

A result of this is that sometimes people approach me to ask me of my own experience with it because they are going through it or about to go through it themselves. Or they know of a family member or a friend who is going through and they want to know what they can do to help them. When I first found out we had fertility problems I also went on the lookout for someone – anyone who had been there and who was willing to tell me of their experience.

I found great support from other people on some fertility forums online, and from that interaction I knew that almost all of the other girls (I didn’t actually come across any men) were keeping their treatments to themselves in their personal lives.

Of course that’s their prerogative – I’m not for a minute suggesting there is anything wrong with that – and there are a lot of valid reasons around it but the thing about fertility issues versus any other medical issues is that there can be feelings of guilt associated with it because there’s a pair of you in it.

The physical problems were with me

In our scenario, the physical problems were with me. So, for a while I had thoughts like, ‘it’s my fault he isn’t a Dad yet’… ‘he might have had three kids by now if he had met someone else without these issues’… and so on. And some people seem to feel ashamed or embarrassed about infertility.

But why is this? If I had discovered I had any other medical issue would I feel guilty about it? Would I feel embarrassed about it? I don’t know. Maybe I would. But what is it about fertility that holds people back from talking openly about it?

To be told you cannot conceive on your own is devastating news to be given and brings with it feelings of fear, loneliness, anxiety, stress, worry and a sense of loss. Not to mention the stress of how or if you can even afford the treatment and to know that your financial situation has a direct impact on whether or not you can try to have children. But it’s mainly fear, and in various different ways. Fear of failure and never fulfilling that aching need to be a parent.

Fear of the lack of control – this was a big personal challenge for me. I am a determined person in general – if I decide I want to do something, I figure out how to do it, and then I work towards doing it. I can study to learn new things, I can save up to buy some things, I can set a goal and work on it. But this is one of those things that no matter what I did, I could not control.

shutterstock_362617520 Shutterstock / vchal Shutterstock / vchal / vchal

IVF treatment

My brain would search and search for ways of getting what I wanted, surely there must be something I can do, there’s always a way! But all I had was a feeling of helplessness, and all I could do was hope. The thing about IVF is that there’s only so much the science can do – the rest is up to chance. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

When people ask me about IVF the questions are most often based around the physical aspects to it. But the biggest learning curve for me was how to maintain my sanity and overcome the mental obstacles. It becomes an all consuming thing. How will I cope? How can I accept it? How will I learn to live with it if it doesn’t work?

If we go into this together will we come out the other end the same way? Can we overcome this massive challenge and learn to be happy with what we have if it doesn’t work? Do we love each other enough? And mainly the fear of failure. All these hurdles you must overcome regardless of whether you end up as parents. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Everybody has personal battles and challenges of all sorts of degrees. I don’t think I’m anything special for having faced infertility. But I do feel passionate that there is not enough support out there for people who have to face it.

And we’re one of the lucky ones, our son was born in 2014 after four years of trying to get him. There are people who have to face all of this over and over again and still don’t get to be parents. It’s cruel and unfair.

We had our struggles

We had our setbacks during our treatment. Our first round was cancelled, our second attempt had to be postponed, both things outside of our control. After one of our setbacks, while being comforted yet again by my Mam, she told me that she was proud of me and she thought I was brave.

I thought about this. As nice as it was to hear, I disagreed. I wasn’t doing this out of bravery, I was doing it because it was all I could do. The brave ones are the people who have to face the decision to stop, to accept defeat. To decide where to draw the line and move on – whether they run out of money or strength or both. Because that was the scariest thought – to accept it wasn’t going to happen and not letting it consume you anymore.

We had a recent reminder of failure late last year when we transferred an embryo which was frozen after our last round of IVF. It resulted in a negative test. I had thought that a failure after a success would be softened a bit by the fact that we are very lucky to have our son, and perhaps it was, but on the other hand I think I was that bit more arrogant about it seeing as it had worked before, it was a bigger shock. And it’s still a massive loss, I still felt grief.

But we still have some frozen embryos, and we’ll get back up and try again, because what other choice have we got?

But it’s not all doom and gloom and fear and stress, it can be exciting too! Years of not knowing why things weren’t working and now a possible glimmer of hope. It’s a truly fascinating process, what they can do and we are privileged to have experienced a lot of what we have. I’ve seen the conception of my baby – the very second he came into existence! It’s miraculous.

And I have learned a lot. I have learned how amazingly strong I am. I have learned how not to take things for granted, I have learned patience and acceptance. And thankfully I have learned of a new kind of love so strong it takes my breath away.

Jen Ryan is a 30-something IT-working mother of one who works in Dublin and lives with her husband, drool machine son Rian and their 2 dogs. You can follow her blog The Scenic Route.

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Jennifer Ryan Moran
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