Navigating rough terrain: a message to women facing subfertility

I am writing this at a moment of feeling overwhelmed and profoundly sad. As a woman facing fertility problems, it sometimes feels that challenges come one after the other, relentlessly. We have to always act like we’re okay, pretending that there is no pain swelling inside of us, like choppy sea, and trying to suppress the waves that sometimes rise up.

I think that we are like mountaineers, endlessly navigating rough terrain. Each day, we never know what new hardship we might have to endure.

Recognising the challenges

It’s important that we regularly ask ourselves how we are feeling, and what happened this last day/week/month that was hard. Each new challenge seems to reveal a different dimension to the pain, but some recurring themes may also emerge, and we should explore them.

Public knowledge

Having, or not having, children is public information. Part of our struggle is the fact that people have a small bit of information about us, but not the full story. It can be hard to cope with the fact that others may speculate, privately.

People say it’s ‘taboo’ to talk about fertility problems. I don’t think that’s the right word. We have the choice, if we wish, to tell as many people as we like. We should certainly tell our nearest and dearest, but would you risk that with any old person? It is extremely personal information. This burden is similar to that of someone who suffered childhood trauma or loss. They will be confronted with seemingly innocuous questions like, ‘Do you visit your family often?’ If they tell a stranger the whole truth, they are unlikely to get the understanding and empathy deserved, and the disclosure may also leave them feeling vulnerable. Do we want everyone to know our business, or just the important people?

Awe and inadequacy

I am forever dumbfounded by the miracle that is procreation. It is totally surreal to me that other couples have sex for a while, and then get this amazing gift. I think a lot about how it must feel to grow a life, and I think about how much I would love my baby, if I had one.

We have to cope with the fact that our bodies aren’t doing what other women’s bodies are doing. We may subconsciously resent our bodies – see them as inadequate; not the body of a mother.

I think about my body as something that has failed me. But this is a cruel thing to say of my poor body, which has only ever tried its best – these feet which walked and carried me through many doorways and adventures and encounters; these hands which greeted and cared and created; this torso that laughed and danced and swam. It has served me well. Though I cannot see, inside, it has worked hard to keep me going. I should love it for what it can do, not what it cannot.

The other thing that can help is to remember, and observe, life’s diversity. It can be tempting to think that all of a woman’s other problems (that she probably has) dissipate once she becomes a mother. Or it can be tempting to believe that motherhood can be the sole font of our happiness, self-esteem, and identity. If we focus on our struggles to conceive, and see the whole world through that prism, we may miss many other important or profound moments. Of course the suffering of others can’t make us feel better, but it can remind us that other people’s lives may not be as simple and straightforward as they look. Hardship comes in many forms.

Wanting to show that we are mothers

I struggle with a kind of subconscious feeling of shame. Rationally, I know it doesn’t make sense, but it nags at me, this feeling that people know I am childless, and the idea that other parents may think I am not interested in their ‘world’ – that I couldn’t be bothered, or am leaving it late. This hurts me because I want motherhood to be a part of who I am – I believe it to be, and I want others to see that this is who I am, too.

But, in truth, I should let go of needing to show anything to anyone else. This kind of empty yearning is rife on social media. The formula goes: others see that I am beautiful, therefore I feel beautiful… others see that I am a mother, therefore I feel like a mother. But it is a trap and lie. However many beautiful photos are posted, exemplifying a perfect lifestyle, the most important person of all may remain unconvinced, that is, yourself. True calm contentment does not need to be exhibited; its benefits are inherent.

We should all stop right now and say, and know, to ourselves that motherhood/maternity is part of who we are, regardless of whether that is known/seen publicly.

Recognising our courage

“Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose.” It is hard to not have when others do have, especially something so fundamental. We do not need to tell anyone else to know that we are courageous. We should be immensely proud of ourselves for trying to find a way to enjoy life – to see pleasure and beauty – even though we face adversity.

We can and must indulge in the pain – regularly acknowledge and articulate, and be kindly with ourselves. And then, we have the choice to give some of it up. This is not because our pain is not valid; it is not something to be ashamed of, or a sign of weakness – this is not about trying to force it away. It is just about seeing the logic of giving it up for our own sakes.

We must cast off bits of the pain as we journey onwards, us mountaineers. If we don’t, we will only accumulate more and more, and it will weigh us down.