Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Pain of Infertility

I was watching an old episode of Flashpoint this morning and it struck a chord with me. The show was about a young couple who had been trying to have a baby, and the doctor had finally said no…no more drugs, no more fertility treatments and no baby.

The woman was beside herself, wouldn’t believe it and wanted to keep trying, no matter what the cost. The husband was tired that every minute of their life was about a baby that wasn’t going to happen. He also had to deal with their strained financial situation as the treatments were costly and they were in debt, something she didn’t seem to care about.

The situation came to a ‘flashpoint’ when an old friend of the husband’s comes to the house. They were friends before the wife was in the picture, and had a one night stand when they recently met again. And the old friend was now pregnant. The wife goes off the deep end and holds her hostage at knife point, demanding all the details of her husband’s affair.

Here’s what it made me think.

Why is it that so much of a woman’s identity is related to her ability to have children? Why is motherhood the Holy Grail that says you are a fulfilled woman?

I bought in to that whole Happy Ever After dream of marriage and family. I finished my schooling, got married and settled into life in a small town, both of us working at jobs we’d trained for, ready to start our lives.

For some, starting a family is as easy as stopping birth control. For others, like that woman on the TV show, and like me, it was not so easy.

After a year of trying and no pregnancy, I went to the doctor. He was not concerned, or sympathetic, I thought. He reminded me that a woman only ovulates once a month, if that, so there are less than 12 chances in a year, and only if the timing of the trying is right. Not what I needed to hear when I could sense there was something going on, could feel the changes in my cycle, in my body. He finally referred me to a gynaecologist, more to shut me up than any belief there would be anything wrong.

But, there was something wrong and over the next few years I went through a laproscopic procedure, a year on hormone treatments, and a laparotomy. Drugs and surgery. The drugs played havoc with my emotions, my moods, and my weight. I didn’t feel like the same person while I was on them or when I came off and the treatment was done.

I feared the family we had planned for was never going to happen. We applied for adoption and began the lengthy process to approval and then faced the long waiting period.

I was not the same young woman who had married and looked forward to life and all it had to offer, not anymore. I had invested so much of me into this battle to be a MOM that I forgot there was more to me, that I had value as a person.

That’s what struck me with this show. Listening to the woman go on and on about the baby, the constant trying, having to face the endless disappointments. In one way you could say she was optimistic to keep trying, but in reality she was obsessed, and could see nothing else. I mean, she held that woman at knifepoint.

But I can understand, in a way. The constant attention to the calendar, when you ovulate, counting the days and the disappointment when you know you haven’t conceived…yet again. We went through that for years. I have to say, when I went on the drug treatments and knew I could not get pregnant, it was a blessing of a sort. I could set the calendar aside, I didn’t have to count days, we could make love because we wanted to and not because the calendar said it was the time to ‘do it’.

I’ve known many other women with fertility issues, some who went on to have a child, many who did not. One woman who I greatly admire handled the whole thing with dignity and grace. She never lost sight of who she was and put her time and energies into her marriage and her career and has a happy though childless life. Another woman I know adopted a child. Another said we’ll stop worrying about it and see what happens, and she got pregnant, twice. And the last, like the woman in the show, spent thousands on fertility treatments and never conceived.

Not happy endings for everyone. But what I see in retrospect, is the women who dealt with it, who didn’t let fertility rule their lives, are the ones who are happy. The others, not so much.

I was fortunate. After the second surgery, which was my last ditch effort, I did get pregnant, and even managed to do it a second time. I got my wish, I got my family. But not without a cost.

Had I been a more confident person in the beginning I might have handled things better, because the whole process left me feeling less than whole, less worthy, less everything. I then turned around and tried to become the perfect mother, the Super Mom, determined I would not be ‘less’ in that role.

Women are just people, the fact that we can procreate is just that, we can, but we don’t have to. Our identities should stand alone, and not be dependent on that biological function.

We put that pressure on ourselves, as do our parents who want to be grandparents, and the friends who constantly ask when you’re going to have a family.

I felt for the woman in that television show, I remembered what it was like, though not to that extreme.

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