Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Defining me

Normally when your body lets you down, you talk about having a particular illness - 'I have a cold', 'I have pneumonia', 'I have cancer'. With some lifelong syndromes, you can talk about having that illness - 'I have diabetes', 'I have asthma' - or you can define yourself in terms of your illness - 'I am diabetic', 'I am asthmatic'.

Last month, I found myself a new label. I don't 'have' infertility - I 'AM' infertile. And I think that use of language is telling. This is a lifelong position I now find myself in. My husband and I may or may not end up with a child to bring up. It may or may not have our genetic material, and I may or may not carry it in my womb for nine months. Those are details - painful details that we have to work through as we move from Plan B possibly on to Plan C, then Plans D, E and F. But the pain of being told, as the culmination of 16 cycles of raised hopes and crushing disappointment, that I will never become a mother without the help of a hefty dose of science - and maybe not even with it - is something that I think has changed me for ever.

I'm beginning to learn who my real friends are, who I can rely on for support, and who can be either deliberately or unknowingly hurtful and must be avoided for my own self-protection - I'm dealing with too much myself to be able to make allowances for those people at the moment.

I've also had to battle with my conscience. For a Catholic to be told "your only hope is IVF ICSI" is perhaps doubly painful, because for the first time I find myself truly at odds with my Church's teaching. Do I become one of these 'Cafeteria Catholics' who pick and choose which bits of the Church's teaching they follow? Or do I pick up my cross and resign myself to the fact that the Church says that a loving, committed Catholic couple with a genuine medical problem can't get help for that medical problem, even though that help is available?

Before this became a reality for us, we had discussed the possibility that we might not be able to have children. We had agreed that we would like to adopt, because the important thing is not necessarily to pass on our genetic material, but to make a family for ever.

But nothing prepares you for the shock of the actual diagnosis.

Nothing prepares you for the feelings of utter devastation that go through your mind, that wake you up in the early hours of the morning to lie weeping silently beside your slumbering husband.

Nothing prepares you for the hurt of well-meaning comments from people who don't understand.

Nothing prepares you for the way this one issue crowds all other thoughts out of your mind, the way it consumes you, saps your energy and sucks away your concentration.

Nothing prepares you for the moment your husband apologises for letting you down, and you have to find the right words to explain to him that this is OUR problem, and not just his or mine, so nobody has let anybody down.

Nothing prepares you for the anger and pain you feel when you hear about children being neglected, see parents ignore their babies' cries as they waft cigarette smoke around their heads, hear mothers shout at their toddlers in words that no child should ever hear, and wonder what you did wrong that these people have been able to have children and you haven't.

Nothing prepares you for the moment your husband says, "Maybe we should just give up and accept that we'll never be parents."

Nothing can ever prepare you.

And that's why it's right that at the moment I define myself in a new way.

I don't HAVE infertility.

I AM infertile.


  1. This is such a raw, honest post - thank you for writing this. It has been a couple years since we received our own bad news and went through so much of what you describe here, but your words just bring that all of the pain and confusion back so vividly. I am so sorry that you have had to go through this, and I am wishing you peace and clarity as you figure out what comes next.

  2. beautiful post--when I got my diagnosis, my husband would try to stop me from saying I'm infertile. He didnt want to accept it, and back then, before all the treatment cycles, I dont think he understood the full extent of it. I am infertile.

  3. I am moved by this post. My husband and I are also Catholic and I never thought of myself as a cafeteria Catholic. I never did. Then I tried Clomid, the injectables, and now it's IVF that we're left with. And maybe now I AM a cafeteria Catholic. I can't sleep because of it. I walk around with a knot in my stomach because of it. But I think we are going to do IVF, so I try to be excited about it on my blog. I try to act positive since we've made a choice. But inside it is killing me. We have talked it over with our RE and have worked out a protocol so that we don't destroy any embryos, so at least there is that. It lowers our chances a lot, but I am okay with that. I just feel like infertility has left me questioning my identity.

    Sorry if this is long, but I just wanted you to know that I understand (in some ways) your struggle. I will pray for you.

  4. What a powerful, raw post. I am hoping and praying you find a solution that is acceptable to your heart and your soul.