What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
After I asked for your opinions on IVF, it occurred to Rebecca and I that maybe you’d want to know a bit more about what it’s like to receive a medical diagnosis that ends with a middle-aged snot-bag of a consultant tell you that in 'all likelihood you are infertile, meaning you won’t be able to conceive a child of your own.'
A t-shirt I don't own but could
So - deep breath, glass of wine on standby - here goes…
It probably goes without saying that for women who want children of their own, a diagnosis of infertility is life-shattering. Current support literature on the topic suggests that the trauma caused by infertility is a form of grief, wherein an infertile person must grieve and mourn the loss of the children they may never have.
If this sounds “ridiculously melodramatic”, to quote a former medical student acquaintance of mine, then I’d guess that you’ve never been through it. I was twenty years old, single, and living in a huge, unfamiliar city, when I was diagnosed for reasons I’m going to gloss over because I. do. not. ever. talk. about. it.
I was alone at the hospital when the diagnosis was made, and left in such a state that I took a wrong turn and ended up walking sobbing through a notoriously violent neighbourhood, only to be harassed by group of teenagers at a bus stop.
It still feels unthinkable that someone, let alone a professional, could deliver that kind of life-altering news, watch a person dissolve into tears, and not think to have them call a family member or friend but this is the kind of insensitivity the infertile have to deal with regularly from medical professionals.
To them, it often seems, you’re nothing more than an unfortunate, largely uninteresting statistic. That said, it’s such an emotive issue that even those closest to me struggled to find something comforting to say, often preferring to say nothing lest they get it wrong.
I’m not even sure what I’d have wanted to hear but I do know that when you’re in that situation hearing something is better than nothing, much the same way that hearing people’s condolences does do something to comfort you after the death of a family member.
Pie chart showing causes of female infertility. See how it's all soft and glowy to soften the blow? My consultant wasn't
I’ve written before about how, for a long time, the thought of my infertility reduced me to tears on a daily basis. Anything and everything was a potential trigger.
Children in pushchairs, the sight of a mare and her foal in the field next to my parents’ house, the idea that I was never going to be part of anyone’s memories of visiting their grandparents as kids or going to the beach with their parents, or even just being able to hold a child of my own, the animated baby from Ice Age… It didn’t matter. It was all devastating.
Sometimes, but with less and less frequency, it still is. What finally convinced me that I needed to come to terms with my own grief over my infertility was not marriage, or the sometimes bittersweet presence of my stepchildren, but reading a letter in the Problem Page in a newspaper.
The letter-writer had come to terms with the fact that she couldn’t have children, only to be thrown back into the mourning process once her friends started having grandchildren. Having already tried to work through the grieving process once, I knew there was no way I could do it again at sixty.
I sought counselling, which has proved very effective at reminding me that though life may not be turning out exactly as I’d planned it in terms of becoming a mother, it is still a life, and mostly it is a really, really great one.
I’m still horribly phobic of middle-aged consultants and the hospitals they work in, though.
I’m nosy and would love to know what commenters think about infertility as an issue. Would you seek counselling and/ or treatment for infertility? Would the likeliness of a person not being able to have kids put you off them as a potential partner? And, most importantly, am I the only one who’s raging against a consultant for being such an absolute bastard? (My current GP is a rock star, btw.). Let me know!