Guest Post: On Bitterness and Babies

Please give a warm welcome to today’s guest blogger, Rachel Welch. Rachel is a former teacher turned SAHM. Her hobbies include composing soundtracks for epic nappy changes, scrubbing cupcakes out of the carpet with baby wipes and searching for lost socks. In the spare 30 seconds left after all that, she might sneak in an episode of Glee or a chapter of Love in the time of Cholera (And yes you read that right it is humanly possible to watch an hour long show in 30 seconds. She has a Tardis). She blogged her way through a long infertility journey, which although painful, did not break her spirit. The only thing which can dampen her mood is when she checks her cupboards and finds them bare of both chocolate and rum. Her lifelong dream was to become a mother of more than one child, now that’s out of the way she’ll settle for a cruise around the world with Gerard Butler. Or just 10 minutes to drink a cup of tea in peace and stare out the window.

“And we can’t use any lubricant, because the embryos don’t like it,” the nurse commented as I waited. I inhaled my breath sharply and gritted my teeth against the pain. Then two excellent embryos were transferred in my first and only IVF cycle. The embryologist looked extremely young-I felt panicky wondering if he was truly qualified for the job.  Regardless, two weeks later I had a positive blood test. “Knocked up and ecstatic,” was my new state of being.

I was one of the lucky ones.  Infertility treatments don’t work for every couple and for some; it takes several treatments to be successful. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 couples will experience some form of infertility (translation: someone you know) there is a perception in many parenting and birthing communities that all infertile women are crazy. Or not just crazy, but also bitter, angry, even consumed by utter jealousy. We’re jealous of women who conceive in a flash and have natural deliveries. Their bodies work but ours didn’t. Our bodies are traitors, theirs are comrades. This perception exists regardless of the fact that many of these women have gone on to become parents. The belief is that they will be this way forever.

As a woman who has been through infertility and out the other side, with many friends whose experiences are similar, I need to correct this assumption. You see, the belief that infertiles are coocoo for cocoa puffs equates to saying a pet owner who can’t stop grieving the loss of their elderly, ill dog is bananas. Personally, I’ve only ever owned one dog and I didn’t grieve that long over his death. Maybe that seems heartless, but I moved out 2 years before he died. So the bond just wasn’t there. My point is; I probably don’t understand the depth of emotion that losing a truly adored, furry companion can bring. And you out there, who points fingers but has never experienced infertility, can’t truly understand that either.

To begin to understand infertility you’d have to first dream up a goal. Any goal, anything your little heart desires. Then imagine how desperately you want it. Let’s say your goal is moving to Paris. Step one in achieving it is getting a job so you can save up. Tomorrow, you’re going out there to apply for jobs. But instead, you get hit by a car and spend months in painful, difficult rehabilitative therapy. Infertility is like that. You know  what you want and you desperately want it, but (due to pure chance) the goal posts keep getting moved further and further away. In my experience, before I fell pregnant successfully, I only endured secondary infertility, 1 ectopic pregnancy, 1 laparoscopy, 3 IUI’s, one IVF fresh cycle and 2 years of trying. A friend’s experience was different; “He showed me a scan and pointed to a dark line, that should have been bright. “You have a blocked fallopian tube.” My husband and I were so relieved. Finally, we had a mechanical reason for our three year long failure to conceive. A reason, a solution and an action plan; “We simply bypass the fallopian tube, place an embryo directly in the uterus, and your prognosis for a successful pregnancy is excellent”. And it was. Less than a year later, our funny, funky, sporty little girl was born.”

No two infertility experiences are identical, but I can safely say that mine was excruciating. I felt torn apart at the very core of me, like my identity had been stripped away. No amount of money, pleading with God or the universe, or developing healthier habits could bring me my baby. I’d go out for retail therapy to lift my spirits and end up seeing babies, pregnant women and families everywhere.

Yes, that was incredibly painful to go through. But I have let it go. I had to let it go because with the benefit of my infertility experience, I know I’d rather be enjoying life with my two beautiful children by my side, than dwelling on the past. I learned what I could from that time in my life and it’s over. There are no second chances, no limitless possibilities and that’s just reality. A different friend who has been through primary infertility agrees; “basically I think the reason I am not bitter is the emotional toll that facing the prospect of not being able to create a child took gave me the gift of perspective. I had to invest so, so much into the most important thing I would ever do, and that made me evaluate life differently. I’ve become so much less willing to invest in things that are trivial, or maybe now I just see things as more trivial than before, but either way I can’t be bitter when I look at my child and realize I was blessed with a miracle. The world is so much more amazing now.”

 

I often hear it said that women prefer seeing a midwife because of the special relationship they develop with this individual, or group of carers. Infertiles develop a similar bond with their OB. These men and women are not heartless or money-hungry. Personally, my health insurer picked up the majority of my OB’s tab, including infertility services. The same beautiful friend quoted above says of her time under a male OB’s care; “My OB is the nicest, gentlest and genuinely caring guy. He has always made sure I understood everything that was happening before I left his office…I was never just rushed through, and if he ever was in a hurry he had his midwife who would walk me through it all. I had panic attacks at one stage, brought on by heart palpitations. I was on the phone to him and burst into tears during an attack, and he pulled strings to get me into a heart specialist (his friend, who was booked out for months) straight away. I had ovarian hyperstimulation during one cycle and ended up in Intensive Care, he was on holidays but visited every single day and called as well to check on me. Then even though it wasn’t his fault he covered my hospital bills, because I had been under his care. He cried with me during my first ultrasound, and again when he delivered Miss E, and got photos with us. He hugged me, and shook my husband’s hand congratulations, visited me again everyday till I went home. He is my hero, and made me feel like he genuinely cared about me.”

 

Couples who experience infertility need to know their provider cares and is invested just as much as those who choose midwives. That level of compassion for their patient means an OB may suggest the way to give birth which is safest for that particular mother and baby pair. They know what their patient really wants-the priceless experience of parenthood. The simple, loving relationship which exists between a parent and a child.

When it was time for me to give birth, I definitely considered the idea of a VBAC. Several of my infertile friends were also set on natural deliveries. Even though medical advancements allowed us to conceive, we didn’t necessarily believe that would be needed on the special day. In my case, I knew I would not be taking any risks. Not because I hate the idea of natural birth. Not because I don’t “trust birth” enough. It was just one simple reason: maturity. Another friend who has experienced primary infertility agrees, “From the moment I stuck the first needle in my belly, I knew I would do anything for my child, and that came to her birth as well. I suffered from unmanageable pregnancy induced hypertension. My blood pressure was such that a trial of labour carried high risk of stroke, for me and my girl. Looking at my options I made a choice and hopped on the surgical table without a backward glance.  My birth plan went out the window, anything for her.”

In my case, I removed my needs from the situation and reviewed the evidence based on my past experience. I’d learned that there are no guarantees in life, none at all. In addition to that, time is incredibly precious. Every agonizing second I’d lost waiting and hoping and wishing but not always really living for that day, was already gone. I was not about to invest another 2 years and 9 months trying to successfully conceive and gestate. That part of my life was done. Here are my thoughts from when I decided on an ERC: I can’t be angry with my body forever. The reality is, I am relieved that, as long as bub arrives safely, TTC is over. I just can’t imagine going through another loss, or 2 more years of this same hell. So I will make my peace with it. 2 children is amazing.”

Those who don’t understand can call me and my friends bitter. But we’re not. You can’t understand this hell and I wouldn’t wish it on you. So please, stop judging and assuming. We’ve moved on.  We are seizing the day. Perhaps it’s time you did.