Infertility Posts

The only thing you can choose in life is your attitude (Part 2)

So, just a few months later and I’m having coffee with Wendy again as she shares the next part of her and her husband’s journey.

She began by bringing me up to speed on the heartache of further failed attempts at IVF. First in November and then starting the new year with discovering the transfer from Christmas Eve hadn’t worked either. Each with an agonising 10 day wait between the transfer and pregnancy test.

At this point they decided on a break for the whole thing – a new start for the new year. She wanted to focus on getting back to business and getting back to herself and booked a holiday. However, they found out that due to current guidelines they had to be treated in concurrent months so despite wanting a break, it was time start the process again at the end of the January. She was encouraged to try scratching and had that done. On the day of having the process done she came to a healing service at church. Her birthday was given as a ‘word of knowledge’ so she came up for prayer, specifically that the embryo inside her would attach properly. She had some more prayer on the Sunday night with her husband as well.

Psychologically she was really low. She spent the whole day that she had to go into London to get blood results mentally preparing for yet another negative result.

As she walked back from the train to her car, she honestly and completely turned the situation over to God, telling him ‘When I get that call later today. If it’s negative, I won’t get angry or sad with you but will continue to serve you faithfully’. She talked about the freedom of really meaning that and the peace of having surrendered it to him.

An hour later, she got a phone call to say she was pregnant.

And so began the psychological warfare. Such excitement and joy to receive a positive pregnancy test but hard not to fear the worst or wonder if it’s all just in your head. A six week scan made it real to them but waiting another six weeks was torture.

They went on a trip to the States, still struggling to accept or believe it. They flew back on the Sunday and thought they had a 12 week scan on the Tuesday. This turned out just to be the the booking in appointment, thankfully they had an understanding superintendent who saw how crucial it was for them to have a scan and managed to push it forward.

Now, at over five months pregnant, Wendy said it was only really in the  last two or three weeks that she’s felt like should could fully enjoy it and embrace it. Once again, deciding that controlling your attitude is key she’s resolved to try and own and enjoy it more. She talked about some teaching from Joyce Meyer about finding peace and rest within the madness. That said. she was keen to reiterate that she doesn’t want to talk about babies all the time. Like many pregnant women, that’s often the subject people immediately jump. ‘I’m still me.’ she said. ‘I like to have normal conversation‘!

She talked about the battle with anxiety even at the 20 week scan and waiting for kicks when she didn’t know what she was looking for. She also had issues with her placenta being in the wrong position but again, miraculously this moved through prayer.

So, now a bit further on in her journey I asked her what not to say to someone who’s struggled with infertility and is now pregnant.

  • Assume they only want to talk about babies.
  • Ask whether it happened ‘miraculously’ of through ‘IVF’. Does it matter?
  • Ask private details on social media – not the place people!
  • ‘That is great, maybe with baby no. 2 it will happen naturally’. The issue of second child infertility is particularly delicate as you don’t have access to IVF on the NHS, this is often even harder than people’s struggles the first time round.
  • Assume they’re feeling confident and together. They’re not immune  to all the feelings normal expectant mums get. The overriding thought is often ‘Help, I’m having a baby!’
  • It’s very common in our culture to place negative expectations and assumptions on expectant mums. Often well meant but everything from ‘Just make sure you enjoy yourself now while you still can’ to ‘get lots of sleep you won’t see much of that again’ can make entering into parenthood scarier and harder than it needs to be. There are so many positives about having a baby – perhaps there’s a way to focus on these… Loads more on this in Helen Goldenberg’s book ‘Jesus, Your Baby and You’.

The only thing you can choose in life is your attitude (Part 1)

I had the privilege of sharing a coffee with Wendy, a successful business women, stuck into life in her community and church, currently on the emotional rollercoaster of fertility treatment. Here’s some of her story and then some snippets of our conversation that really stood out to me and some advice if you’re going through fertility treatment and some reminders what to say if you’re not!

Her story:

As someone who’s always been very organised, driven and ambitious she designed a career around having a family (setting up her own business) but put off having children, assuming it would be easy and straightforward as she and her husband are both really healthy.

After a few months of trying without any success and a bit of reading, she started to think maybe it wasn’t going to be as easy as they’d first thought. As time went on and after some unhelpful doctor’s appointments she talks about no longer feeling confident and self-assured but instead a bumbling mess. There’s a whole range of challenges that can come with an infertility diagnosis including self-accusation, feeling like a failure or blaming yourself for working too hard, as well as the frustration of people saying unhelpful things like ‘just relax’.

After some test results, they were told they were highly unlikely to conceive naturally and started down the IVF route. Even though they’d known lots of people who’d had IVF it still felt like a really scary step. She then described the long, drawn out process of being referred for ICSI and the further twists and turns of needing to have cysts removed too.

I was really encouraged by the way she talked about not putting your life on hold while you wait to see whether this happens.  She even described taking her injections to a bar in London so she could still enjoy her friend’s 30th birthday party whilst going through the process!

She was really honest about the build up and then crushing disappointment of the procedure not working (despite it working for a friend who had it at the same time and was really negative about the whole thing). Common to many other people who’ve shared their stories she talks about the frustrations of waiting, of admin mix ups/wrong results etc and of it seemingly being so straightforward and easy for others. After this disappointment, she went out for a nice lunch and making some plans for the future – moving forward and continuing to plan and dream.

She talked about the difficult balance of wanting to be private but as a naturally open person also wanting to share if it could help people. A related challenge is that once you tell people they feel like they have a right to ask about it. You can end up in a weird situation where perfect strangers know all that’s going on but some of your best friends don’t.

We also discussed the lack of a forum to talk about infertility (whilst acknowledging there are days you want to talk about it and days where it’s exhausting and you don’t want to talk about it!). She describes it like grief. It’s like when somebody has died – everyone else has moved on with their lives and you are still dealing with your grief. You’re trying to deal with it and find happiness but it’s always hanging over you and feels like your whole life is in limbo. The unhelpful advice you get from everyone is to keep carrying on with your life. All you want to do is be normal and feel normal again. You don’t know if you’re going to get your happy ending.

All that said, Wendy is a firm believer in choosing to remain positive and that the only thing you can choose in life is your attitude. You can’t control your circumstances but you can control the way you react to them. How we behave in a situation can give other people inspiration. You don’t have to let it control your whole life.  There were a few things that she talked about that I thought were really helpful and worth highlighting:

  • She talked about one of her key coping mechanisms being to throw herself into service of others. In all aspects of life, not just church but her businesses, community, family and friends.  Happiness comes from giving and serving people.
  • She also talked about the power of whatever life throws at you, keeping praising God and doing stuff for Him – not to try and earn brownie point but to turn your focus back to him.
  • Limit time on social media or other things that distract you or drag you down.

And now for the good, the bad and the ugly…

Unhelpful things people say:

  • Just relax!
  • Oh but that’s fine you can go for IVF (IVF isn’t a magic button, the stats on its success rates aren’t good)
  • Have you tried acupuncture/reflexology/…. ?
  • Once you shift the focus to IVF/adoption, you’ll fall pregnant naturally
  • There were a few more on the list that weren’t really publishable. Needless to say, unless you’re a medical expert, you probably don’t have a solution and neither do your friends or work colleagues so please don’t discuss it with them either!

Key themes that came up time and time again in my conversation with Wendy and with others are people either being ignorant or overly personal.  Allow people to share if they want to but generally your role as a friend or family member is probably to listen, to pray and maybe to organise something fun (see below), not give advice or get into all the gory details.

Please be sensitive about your own moans and groans too. Wendy mentioned the frustrations of people complaining about sleepless nights or a friend who used to declare ‘I hate being a mum’ weeks when things were tough. Equally, don’t be so oversensitive that you don’t include and invite. She used the example of a children’s birthday party or baby shower – definitely invite someone who is having infertility issues but also give them a get out to cancel on the day if they want to.

I asked the best and worst things that others have done that have helped or not…

On the negative side, she talked about how much time and energy are required trying to help other people process their thoughts and feelings about it and manage their expectations and misconceptions. She talks about asking people to remember that she was a person before she started trying for a baby and is still that person.

On the positive side, she described a fantastic friend who after she got the initial infertility diagnosis, booked the day of work and sent her a text saying let’s spend the day together. She organised a day including horse riding and they spent the day not talking about it! Wendy describes it as the kindest gesture because of the self-sacrifice (her friend is a very busy person working in the city) and the fun and freedom of being outside.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Not a complete surprise

It was not a complete surprise when after two years of trying I still wasn’t pregnant.  Because of an illness I had had earlier in life we had always known that I may have difficulties having a baby.  What was a surprise was how strongly I felt about it. I’m generally a logical, calm person. But in this instance I was anything but. All of a sudden the whole world seem to be filled with pregnant ladies and new-born babies. Whilst wanting to be happy for others I also felt upset and increasingly desperate about the fact it was not happening to me. I also felt very guilty, in particular about letting my husband down by not giving him the chance to be a father, even though he reassured me that this was not the most important thing for him. As the cause of the problem was an illness I had had, I somehow felt it was my fault.  I longed for God to intervene and allow me to become pregnant.  But I also didn’t think He would – subconsciously I think I saw this as a punishment for allowing myself to become ill in the first place.  Even at the time, I knew in my head that this does not reflect an accurate view of God who loves us and seeks to forgive rather than punish.  But I couldn’t get away from the feeling that somehow it was all my fault and I didn’t deserve a family.

My husband and I talked at length about whether to try fertility treatment. On the one hand as committed Christians we both felt we should trust God. But on the other we recognised that we would go to the doctor for pretty much any other medical issue so why was this one any different?  And then there were ethical questions.  Would we be prepared to have treatment that could result in unused fertilised embryos?  What about egg donation?  Or even surrogacy?  Were we being called to foster or adopt instead of having our own children?  Or perhaps called into and a life without children of our own at all?  There seemed very little in the way of sound Christian teaching on this, and what there was said different things. All this questioning left me feeling quite distant from God.  I felt we were desperately trying to do the right thing but He wasn’t giving us much guidance. He didn’t feel close to me through it all.  I sometimes wondered why we trying so hard to do what God wanted and why we didn’t just get on with whatever treatment the medical profession could offer as most non-Christians would.

After much discussion we decided we would have treatment provided it used our own eggs and sperm and did not result in a possibility of fertilised unused embryos. Having made this decision we were keen to get on with the process. And then we encountered the reality of a very long NHS waiting list. I tried to cope with this period of waiting by parking the issue and getting on with life. Mostly this worked and I managed not to focus on becoming pregnant for most of the time.  But there continued to seem to be babies and pregnant ladies everywhere. There were times when I unexpectedly became tearful. And after a while I just stopped doing things I found too upsetting e.g. going to family services at church.

Eventually our turn came and we got to see a very good consultant. He offered a type of treatment that we felt we could accept. And so we embarked on what was one of the most emotional 18 months of my life.  There seemed to be an endless round of hospital appointments, scans, injections, frustrations at the poor admin of the NHS (who seem to lose my notes at every single appointment).  And then the build-up of hopes and the inevitable crash down as first one and then two rounds of treatment failed.  The emotional strain was immense. I constantly wondered if we were doing the right thing. Yet I desperately wanted to carry on and become pregnant. My husband was a real rock through this time – one really good thing was that as we shared in the highs and lows and talked about how we each felt, we grew closer together than ever.

During all of this time we elected to tell only a very few close friends and family what we were going through.  This had the advantage of allowing ‘normal life’ to continue to a large extent without us being constantly bombarded by well-meaning question about how things were going. But it had the disadvantage of limiting the support we had, and of people occasionally putting their foot in it out of ignorance.  And of course there are were some who asked outright when we were going to start a family. Strangely enough I didn’t find this upsetting – I’d just mutter something like ‘one day’ and change the subject. Most of those we did tell were 100% supportive and no-one ever suggested we were doing the wrong thing.  But I did find it hard to talk about how I was really feeling and bottled things up more than was good for me.  I felt we had a lot to be grateful for and I shouldn’t complain.  And I didn’t want to upset others, including my sister who became pregnant with her third child during this time, or my parents for whom I felt I had to put on a brave face.  Another time I think I’d try to be more open with one or two wise and trusted friends and allow them to support me more.

After two failed rounds of treatment we decided to have one last go before giving treatment a break at least temporarily.  We both recognised that the emotional strain over an extended period was becoming too much.  And 12 injections later (the most important of which I very nearly missed due to yet another NHS admin mishap) I became pregnant.

I was elated and felt so blessed. I had a largely uneventful pregnancy for the first 6 months and cherished my growing bump.  But then disaster struck.  At 27 weeks I unexpectedly started to go into labour and my waters broke. I was whisked off in an ambulance to a hospital with an intensive care baby unit. I called a few key people and asked them to pray, and to get others praying too.  But I knew the odds were stacked against us – all the medical staff were clearly expecting that it was only a matter of hours till I gave birth. Yet I somehow felt strangely calm, a feeling I had rarely encountered whilst struggling to get pregnant. I felt that if God had got us this far, He was not going to abandon us now and would be with us whatever lay ahead.  And by the grace of God and against all the medical odds the pregnancy continued another 10 weeks resulting in a normal healthy outcome. 

When I look back now I strongly believe that God intervened at that time.  I still do not understand why he didn’t intervene sooner and enable us to become pregnant without medical intervention. Maybe it was to give us a better understanding for others in similar situations.  Or maybe it was to teach me more about waiting and patience or about hanging on to my faith when my feelings don’t match up.  Or maybe it was not about me at all – I simply don’t know.  But I have always felt especially privileged to be a mum at all and valued how precious our children are.

Awkward.

A great post from Sheila Matthews over at Threads UK as she explores why infertility is so hard to talk about.