I’ve thought long and hard about whether to pen this post but after 12 hours of feeling churned up about the issue I have decided that getting it all out on paper (the laptop version) will help with the processing of my feelings, and maybe serve as an educational and useful tool for a few people out there.
Fertility, or lack of it, is an awkward issue. It can destroy friendships, relationships, and the self esteem of those involved because of the sheer hugeness of it all, combined with the insidious silence that is often associated with all things to do with female reproduction.
I have known since age 23 that I have a fertility ‘issue’, having been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) following years of irregular periods, strange weight gain, body hair and oily skin. I read up on PCOS, took the information to my GP, who ordered the necessary blood tests and internal uterus / ovary scan (fun – not) and confirmed my thoughts. I have PCOS, which means that my ovulation is out of whack. It doesn’t make pregnancy impossible, but it certainly can make it more challenging. I’m fully aware that I may have to go through the horrors of hormone treatment, medication and IVF, and that there is still no guarantee of a child at the end of it all.
It’s always been in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until my marriage to S in 2009 at age 29 that the reality started to really weigh on my mind. S and I visited our GP, whose advice was to ‘get cracking’, which we promptly have done but to no avail yet.
One of the total arseholes about having PCOS is the irregular periods, meaning that 5-6 times a year I have ‘hope’; my period hasn’t arrived for 8 weeks and we immediately think ‘ooh, could it maybe have happened naturally’. Then comes the purchase of a pregnancy test with the heartbreaking single blue line as a result.
This doesn’t just affect me, it affects S deeply too. The only times I have seen him cry during our marriage is when he admits how painful our conception issues are for him. It must be doubly difficult for him; having to comfort me and the (irrational but real) guilt I face, while also feeling heartbroken himself.
I sometimes wonder if people are aware that we are not childless by choice, particularly given my commitment to my career (whatever my career will morph into!) and passion for feminism, choice and women’s rights. The reality is that until re-connecting with S I wasn’t desperate for children (although I did have a plan to have them one day), but once we had started dating again I have been burdened with an overwhelming desire to make a small creature that is part me, part S. I love the idea of having children who look like him, maybe have his personality, or mine, or their own! Yes, I can rationalise that it’s probably hormones talking, but that doesn’t take the pain away.
The reason this has all come to a head is the pain of having to endure another round of “mum’s are the best”, “being a mum has completed me” nonsense that comes up during the commercialised marketing opportunity that is Mother’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem celebrating mothers (mine is amazing), but I DO have a problem with the sheer hype about Mother’s Day that has the opposite effect of a celebration on many people; those who have lost children, those who can’t have them, those who are trying and trying to have them, those who have lost Mother’s, those who have become estranged from their Mother’s, those who were adopted and desperate to find their birth Mother, those who had their children taken from them when it was socially unacceptable to have a baby out of wedlock.
I am grateful that my Mother has always seen Mother’s Day as a commercialised waste of time, and has instead encouraged us to do nice things for her on a regular basis. She would rather us attend her PhD graduation, make her regular cups of teas and have long phone chats, instead of making a big fuss of her on a random day that has been designed to generate $$ for companies.
I make the comparison with Valentine’s Day. I’d rather S made me cups of coffee when I’m working on an essay, gets up in the morning with me when I have to get to the airport early and buys me flowers / chocolate / wine / ice cream occasionally. It would suck to be in a relationship when it was only celebrated once a year. I would likewise encourage those who go overboard on Valentine’s Day to also think about the effect of their celebrations on others. Since struggling with our infertility issues I have become acutely aware that shoving my happy relationship in other people’s faces could actually be really hurtful for those who are going through a breakup, separated from a loved one, bereaved, or single and lonely.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t celebrate the happiness in our lives. But we should also do so sensitively and also keep a look out for our friends and families who have tough burdens to bear and think about their needs.
One further point before I leave you with some ‘do’s and don’ts’ for supporting a friend or family member who has infertility issues. Being a mum is not “the best”. People who say that are unintentionally ostracising and demeaning the work and lives of those who are not mothers. Just because we’re not mums doesn’t mean we can’t be “the best”. It doesn’t make us less loving, less caring, less hard working, less smart, less connected to people, or less valuable. We do other things that matter: we advocate for people, we work as cleaners, doctors, teachers, bus drivers and politicians. I am no less a fully-fledged adult woman because I haven’t popped out a sprog yet.
• Involve us in the lives of your children. Just because we don’t have them doesn’t mean we don’t like yours. Invite us to birthday parties, baptisms, school assemblies etc. When you leave us out but invite your friends who do have children you only ostracise us further.
• Do allow us to say ‘no’ though if it is a bit too hard.
• Ask us about our work and actually put some genuine interest into it.
• Organise a girls’ night, get a babysitter, and keep children out of the conversation.
• Remember that we childless ones can have sleepless nights, stress, and sickness too.
• Pity us. Treat us as human beings with full lives, because we don’t need children to have a full and interesting life.
• Expect us to get super excited when you get pregnant / have a child.
• Give advice on how to get pregnant, or promise that we will get pregnant one day. How could you possibly promise that?
• Tell me a story about someone that I’ve never met with PCOS who got pregnant after trying for years. How could that possibly help me?
• Forget about your childless friends after you’ve had a baby. We’re still here!
• Stick endless posts up on Facebook about your children’s nappies, teeth, sleeping routines etc. No offence, but no one really cares.*
* Ok, so that may be a little harsh, I don't mind hearing about children occasionally but when it's all I ever see it's quite a put-off and makes me assume that you have nothing else to talk about. For me, seeing your posts about kids all day is the other side to you putting up with constant political posts from me.