Irish Independent article on infertility

Irish Independent, Saturday 27th June 2009

Many couples take having children for granted, but Fiona McPhillips found a different reality that included miscarriage, infertility and, finally, children

By Fiona Mc Phillips
Saturday June 27 2009

No couple expects to be in for the long haul when they start trying for a baby. It is supposed to be a time of great hope and anticipation, when you plan excitedly for your new lives together. It is true that having a baby changes your life, but not having one changes it so much more. Sadly, this is something that one in six couples will find out.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I had a child, conceived without any problems. We were good at this. When we started trying again, I did conceive after a few months but miscarried. I had known how common miscarriage was (approximately one in four pregnancies), but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions it would bring. I felt angry, cheated, desolate and so, so sad. Everyone said I could try again, but I wanted that baby, the one that would be born on that due date.

When you lose a child, you lose your future. It doesn’t matter how long your baby has been with you, you feel the gap that their death has left behind. From the moment you know about your baby, you plan their future — your future, together. You work out the due date, pick names, imagine who they will look like. When these hopes and dreams are taken away, it often seems like you are expected to forget you ever had them. I couldn’t forget for one second and I knew that, for me, the only cure for miscarriage was another pregnancy.

If I had been eager for a baby before, I was desperate now and trying to conceive (TTC) became all-consuming. I started a blog and originally called it The Two-Week Wait. The two-week wait is the time between ovulation and when you can test for pregnancy — that’s how long I expected to be writing the blog for. Well, two weeks came and went, and another, and another and, before I knew it, I had unwittingly documented the slow descent into infertility.

A year after our first miscarriage, an IUI (intrauterine insemination) yielded success but the baby died at three months gestation. Further IUIs were fruitless, so we moved on to IVF (in-vitro fertilisation). Two IVFs and two further miscarriages later, we were running out of options physically, emotionally and financially. We were lucky enough to conceive naturally twice more, but lost both babies. Finally, with the help of all of the fertility and miscarriage support drugs available to (wo)man, we conceived our daughter and carried her to term. There are no words to describe how lucky we feel.

I always wanted children, lots of them. Although infertility was one of my greatest fears, it was not something that bore heavily on me — at least, only to the extent that I didn’t want to put off having children for too long, just in case. I didn’t know anyone who was infertile, so I could only guess at how hard it might be.

I didn’t have a clue. My guess only extended to the long-term pain a couple might feel about not having a child in their lives. Thanks to television, many people assume that there is a once-off diagnosis that a couple has to deal with, and that they are then free to return to their lives and reshape their future without their much-wanted child. If only it was that easy.

It is very difficult to explain the cumulative effect of month after month, and year after year, of hope and disappointment, without making it look as though you are just not coping very well with TTC, something most people breeze through. After a while, everything hurts — other people’s bumps and babies, anniversaries of failed cycles and lost babies, and every new birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day you face with empty arms.

There is a huge lack of understanding of infertility in the outside world. It is just not viewed as one of the very bad things in life. A common reaction is, “Why can’t you just be happy with what you’ve got? Focus on all the good things in your life”. When you can’t have a baby, nothing else matters. It is not possible to forget about it, channel your energy elsewhere, take up a hobby. The desire for a child goes beyond the desire for the joy that a child brings — it is a primal, uncontainable urge that overpowers all reason. Yes, I had a child and yes, I knew how lucky I was — nobody knows that more than an infertile person. And yet the thought that I might never carry another baby, that my son might never have a sibling, was unbearable.

Infertility is a very difficult and painful struggle. The research of Dr Alice Domar, professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests that the stress endured by infertility patients is comparable to that experienced by people undergoing treatment for cancer and Aids. A 2004 study found that 40pc of infertile women suffered from depression, while 87pc had anxiety.

I was one of the 40pc. I stopped socialising beyond what I considered absolutely necessary. I could go through the motions of a wedding, a christening, a birthday dinner; I just didn’t want to. The day itself wasn’t usually that bad, it was the anticipation that was the killer — the fear of announcements, of the blithe conversations about pregnancy and kids, and the terror of the platitude.

“I just know it’s going to happen for you soon.” “Don’t worry, it could be worse.” “It’s God’s will.” “Why don’t you just adopt?” And the old chestnut: “Just relax and it will happen.” If there is one piece of advice I can give to those who have friends and family members suffering from infertility, it is that it is better to say nothing at all than to say the wrong thing and risk upsetting your loved ones. If you feel awkward and don’t know what to say, then just say sorry, and give the person a hug if you feel it is appropriate. And one more thing, if I may: stress does not, I repeat, does not cause infertility, but infertility sure does cause stress.

I dealt with my stress by writing. I wrote on internet message boards, I wrote my blog, I wrote my book. I wrote comebacks to insensitive comments in my head while in the shower or on a bus. Sure, I was obsessed, but I decided to channel that obsession into spreading the word. If I couldn’t have a baby, I was going to try to make sure that some good came of the whole sorry mess. And along the way, I met some wonderful women who listened to my rants and kept me sane, and I hope I did the same for them.

The greatest piece of advice I can give to those battling infertility or recurrent miscarriage is to talk to others in the same boat. The easiest and least intrusive way of doing so is to join an internet forum for those who are at the same stage as you, or facing the same obstacles as you. The Irish Infertility Support Forums — set up by Helen Quinn, who has been there, done that (www.irishinfertilitysupportforums.ie) — is a caring and supportive community of women (and a few men) who are dealing with all aspects of infertility. It is also an invaluable resource for information on local fertility clinics and services.

For those who would prefer to meet other women or couples face to face, the National Infertility Support and Information Group (NISIG) can put you in touch with your local support group. You can reach them online at www.nisig.ie or call them on 1890 647444.

Finally, it is important to remember that most couples do go on to have a child, one way or another. My doctor once said to me, “Brave women are generally rewarded”. There are no guarantees, but it can and does happen — even against the greatest of odds.

Fiona McPhillips is the author of Trying To Conceive: The Irish Couple’s Guide, (Liberties Press). See also www.makingbabies.ie.

122 Replies to “Irish Independent article on infertility”

  1. Oh, that is a wonderful post, Fiona. You moved me to tears. Having just read your words, I feel emotional, but strangely I am also calmer. You’ve been brave. I want to be brave too.

  2. Loved it too Fiona – love that it is personal rather than the objective journalistic viewpoint. Hope you saw our piece in The Examiner Feelgood section?

    Hope all is well with you.

  3. great post fiona. will refer all friends fond of platitudes to this article. you say it better than i could!

  4. Thanks girls. Always reassuring to know that I have said the right thing.

    CNFC – I didn’t see it. Will have a look for it online.

  5. Thanks Denise – missed your comment before now. Feeling fine and really excited. 18 weeks now so really starting to believe I will have a baby by Christmas. How are you and your boys?

  6. OMG ! 18 weeks already, this is flying by. Did you find out the sex? All is well here, Rian is 5mths now and has just cut two teeth in the lower front. I know, a bit early to cut teeth. He is just gorgeous and we are all on top of the moon. My doc keeps asking me if I am ready for # 3 but I don’t think that will happen. Please post and fill us in on your journey!!!
    Mind yourself.
    Denise

  7. Denise – so glad to hear everything is going well for you. At least if your doc thinks #3 is a possibility then that door is open to you. It is a tough decision, especially when Rian is so young – good luck whatever you decide.

    Had a scan today and……….it’s a boy!!! No question about it, I could see before obs said anything! I know there’s still a long way to go but just can’t believe I’m having another baby, I’m so excited!!!

  8. Oh Brilliant Fiona!!! another boy how lovely. Anna will be a wonderful big Sister. This must all seem so surreal after the hard journey you had. I know it is for me, I still look at Rian and thank my lucky stars that I kept trying. I swear to you the forums and blogs I joined (i.e. The waiting game) helped me pluck up the courage to keep trying, especially your story. Thank God for the internet and Thank YOU!

  9. Just read that you’re having a new little boy ! Great news altogether Fiona. Glad that all is going well with him and that you’re feeling positive now. All the best.

  10. Hi Fiona,
    The irish indo article was my first introduction to you and I immediately went out and bought your book. It was the best thing I could have done. I had just had my second miscarriage after a year and half trying for our miracle baby. All babies are miracles of course, but this was my own special miracle, because after undergoing chemotherapy five years ago for breast cancer, I was told the chances of conceiving a child were almost non existent. Of course, losing the baby devastated me, but I now feel ready to start trying again, and that is where your book has been invaluable. It is so easy to understand, so practical and so helpful. I would recommend it to anyone. I have written on my own blog about how confused I felt when I started to read fertility blogs and message boards. I felt that everyone was speaking a different language to me and so I was delighted to read your helpful list of abbreviations of the language of TTC. Armed with your list, I too can now speak TTC fluently!
    http://diaryofamiracle.wordpress.com/2009/08/01/do-you-speak-ttc/

  11. Ah Denise, the support on blogs and message boards is amazing but in the end, YOU did it. But it is still so lovely to hear that I helped in a tiny way!

    CNFC – thanks!

  12. Marie – I am so sorry to read about your miscarriage. It is a horrible experience for anyone but after everything you have been through, it must have been unbearable. I’m glad to hear you are ready to go again and hope your journey is quick and as pain-free as it can be. So glad that the book has helped – TTC can be a different language at the start. Tbh, I hate a lot of the terms but I suppose it does make a messy business easier to talk about!

  13. I am so so sorry too to hear your news. I have experienced the same thing and nothing prepares you for the heartbreak – even when your expecting it to be the case. I suffer from PCOS so i knew i was bound to lose my first one, but still prayed it wouldnt be the case. Even tho i thought i was prepared for my loss to come, nothing could of been further from the truth. Over a year on my heart is still breaking, the due date been and gone, the first birth date been and gone…. Your article has given me a lot of hope, thank you for sharing your feelings in such depth. I felt like i was overreacting in my mind, that these intense emotions about the whole process and treatment were just me blowing things out of proportion (including the fact that my hormones are the craziest ever – due to my illness) but now that you have detailed your thoughts and feelings you make me feel part of a community of brave woman, facing a hard road ahead, and your strength inspires me. Thank you for a fantastic post and i will be back to check on further updates. 🙂

    H

  14. I have just come across your post – i am so in the middle of what you are describing and the future does not look bright – I was searching for a little bit of sunlight in an otherwise miserable existance for me. 2 MC – the last 9 months ago and nothing since – nothing and no kind wowrds can help me – but thanks afor sharing it makes me feel good for you and now i am going to search for your book,

    X

  15. H and Lorraine – I’m so sorry about your losses. It is so unbelievably hard to have a due date come and go and still no pregnancy. I was so envious of people who miscarried and then got pregnant straight away and were able to say “If I hadn’t lost that baby, I wouldn’t have the one I’m carrying now”.

    H – no way are you overreacting, it is the hardest thing I have ever had to go through and even though my story has a happy ending, I will never forget what it was like. The problem is other people acting like you should be over it and you should forget about it when you probably can’t think of anything else.

    The very best of luck to both of you, I hope it happens for you as soon as possible.

  16. five years and three months have passed with no pregnancy. not even a chemical one or phantom one!
    i think i have actually gone mad. today i felt envy over a friends miscarriage.
    im glad the winter means more layers, those bumps get covered up more so i dont feel so accosted on these dark days.
    my sis in law is pregnant again and i have fallen out wit my inlaws cos i haven’t jumped for joy every time her pregnancy is discussed. so i decided to be honest. i told my mum in law i was happy for her but sad for me. that i felt down every day, cried every morning and evening and was no where near acceptance of my own infertility and that her success emphasised my failure…..and guess what?
    she told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. my own mother has told me its time to move on, that nobody gets what they want in life…..cheers and fxxk you all!
    ehm, exscuse me but she didnt

  17. Oh hon, it is just so, so unfair. And nobody understands that it is impossible to move on from the loss of a child, especially when they don’t even see it as that.

    I used to feel jealous of people who had “only” had a miscarriage or even those who got pregnant on their first IVF. It is completely irrational and, like you said, based on how you feel about yourself, not the other person.

    You have gone through so much, I hope things start to get a bit easier for you, one way or another.

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