Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. But for me infertility is much more than that. It means that one of your basic functions as a human being is nullified, nonexistent and void. It creates a hole in the heart the size of a black hole, and like a black hole it sucks the existence and the vitality out of you into nothingness. At times I found that I had to justify myself for this pain, ignore it and keep it well in check so that others wouldn’t feel offended by it. I was oblivious to the real impact that it has. I was in denial of it. But also at times I felt like I needed some facts to wield so that given the scenario I was armed to speak about the facts surrounding it. Not just with my feelings but with knowledge of real studies about the impact that infertility can have in people’s lives. So here they are. Perhaps you can use this when someone minimises your suffering.
Couples who don’t conceive are 3 times more likely to separate or divorce than couples who do conceive
Phew. How about that? So not only I can’t bring people into the world but also I am at risk to not have someone to share that pain with. Very real. Once a friend of mine asked me tentatively ‘do you think you would have broken up with him if you hadn’t had the miscarriage?’ I was deeply offended by the question. I then thought about it at home and realised that perhaps we wouldn’t have broken up, no, probably not. That made me feel so alone and destitute. The realisation that some of my relationships would have been completely different if I have had children with them. I could envision an universe where I wasn’t alone, where I had children and a husband and we were happy. But I didn’t live in that universe. I was alone, infertile and f****d by the world. The divide caused by infertility in relationships is so brutal that it can wreck then strongest of relationships. I’ve always been in awe of people that manage to stick together no matter what. But I wasn’t one of them. Some of my relationships crumbled. Most recently I have had the opportunity to work on the issues that arose in my current relationship due to our struggles, our relationship has been in peril a few times. But this time, it is afloat.
Infertility is a trauma defined as ‘exposure to an extremely distressing experience that involves witnessing or undergoing an actual or perceived threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity, or to a member of one’s family or close relation’. (Jaffe & Diamond, 2011)
This simply leaves me wordless. Next time that someone says that you need to relax and try calmly or go on holiday, please show them this. Maybe you’ll be able to stop questioning your own distress. This is REAL. Not to even speak of the grief involved in multiple failed fertility treatments and miscarriage. That just multiplies the trauma by a thousand. But even without that. Infertility is trauma and, as such, plenty of people have ongoing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. A little present for you. Thanks ‘Tility.
A study of 488 American women who filled out a standard psychological questionnaire before undergoing a stress reduction program concluded that women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.
Just in case there was any doubt about that last one. I must confess I was deeply shocked when I read this. We are en par with terminal diseases? What? After this, it is shocking to me the little support available, the lack of free counselling services without endless waiting lists. By the time we get a free counsellor, we are chicken fried. Now, that’s soda pressing.
Women who did not have a child after an initial fertility evaluation had a >2-fold (HR: 2.43; 95% CI: 1.38–3.71) greater risk of suicide than women who had at least one child after a fertility evaluation. Women with secondary infertility, i.e. women who had a child before a fertility evaluation but did not succeed in having one after, also had an increased risk for suicide (HR: 1.68; 95% CI, 0.82–3.41)
I can only speak from my experience here. I have felt suicidal during this process. Multiple times. There was a time where I was taking very strong antibiotics that killed off all the bacteria that I owned. It was a dark dark time. Dark thoughts that I dare not relay in here. I wrote a song about this called ‘Dread’. Once I phoned the Samaritans in desperation and I felt as if my call wasn’t warranted. After all, I have a roof over my head, I have food and a loving partner. What am I really complaining about here? I guess what I am trying to say is that I was worthy of that help. I needed it and I took it and I am not ashamed to admit it. Let us vanquish all the taboos in the world.
Individuals who learn they are infertile often experience the normal but nevertheless distressing emotions common to those who are grieving any significant loss — in this case the ability to procreate. Typical reactions include shock, grief, depression, anger, and frustration, as well as loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of control over one’s destiny. Relationships may suffer — not only the primary relationship with a spouse or partner, but also those with friends and family members who may inadvertently cause pain by offering well-meaning but misguided opinions and advice. Couples dealing with infertility may avoid social interaction with friends who are pregnant and families who have children. They may struggle with anxiety-related sexual dysfunction and other marital conflicts.
I remember swimming in this sea of unfettered emotions. Unable to put my finger on it till my counsellor mentioned the stages of grief. I was fascinated. I felt less alone when I understood that my emotions were normal and I wasn’t some sort of deformed monster. I lost all my confidence and self esteem right when I was looking for a job. When I needed it the most. I went to an interview in which I taught a lesson and I couldn’t control the class. I crumbled, I cried (after the lesson) and beat myself up afterwards cos I had lost all my confidence. Maybe I just need some TLC. But where is my support network? I’ve been accused by members of my family of drifting away and isolating myself. And I still don’t know if I could get them to read this article. But if they do, then I am sorry we have drifted apart. Maybe it is normal that I have cut myself off from the world. There were a few times that I felt I was going to have a panic attack in the presence of pregnant women. This feeling was heightened after miscarriages. It was unbearable and of incredible magnitude. I have often had to hide these feelings, as they are not socially acceptable. The Lockdown has been a blessing to me. Thanks Covid. There was also a time when I said to my younger sister, “I think I have lost my sense of humour”. She said “I am going to show you that you haven’t”. Then proceeded to pull a face we call the jackal’s face (a sign that means we are up to no good). I couldn’t stop laughing. Thanks Techi, because you showed me that I haven’t lost my sense of humour. Invaluable.
Although the psychological challenges of infertility can be overwhelming, most patients ultimately reach some type of resolution — whether becoming parents to biological children, adopting children, or deciding to build a life without children. But this resolution is usually hard won, and patients may feel forever changed by the experience of infertility.
Phew. A little bit of hope for us. I was telling one of my best friends the other day that if I could travel back in time, I’d go back to a time where I didn’t have a care in the world. I wanted to run away from the path I have chosen for myself. A path with many thorns but that I wouldn’t change even if it changed me. ‘Tility has made me more empathetic, more of a fighter, more full of love and care than anything ever would and I daresay more humble?? Haha. ‘Tility has made me love myself for who I am and not for what I want me to be. I like to listen to Shakira’s song ‘Try Everything’ where she says she always makes the same mistakes. I will always make this ‘mistake’. I will always choose suffering over the easy path. I feel honoured to be part of this community and to be able to contribute to it with my experience. So give yourself some TLC, enjoy the Lockdown and wield the weapons that we need on this war. We are almost there.