Jessica Hepburn, one of the UK’s leading voices on fertility, shares her thoughts on infertility for family, friends, employers and YOU.
Infertility is Hard.
I know – I’ve been through 11 rounds of unsuccessful IVF.
In fact, it might be one of the hardest experiences anyone goes through in their life.
Why does it hurt so much?
- We’re all taught in school that getting pregnant is easy; that we shouldn’t conceive until the time is right. So, when you come off contraception and it doesn’t happen, you quickly start to think there’s something’s wrong. The longer it takes, the more inadequate you feel, and fearful for the future you become.
- Suddenly it seems as if everyone around you is getting pregnant but you can’t. Pregnancy announcements at work send you crying to the loo. Facebook is full of baby scans. And social events with friends and family – from christenings to Christmas – become difficult to attend as you constantly have to put a brave face on.
- You start to feel as if you’re living your life in limbo. You can’t make plans for the future as you don’t know what it holds. And your biggest fear is that if your dream of becoming a parent doesn’t come true, you might never be happy again.
If you are experiencing any of these feelings – it’s important to know that you are NOT ALONE. They are common to anyone struggling to conceive. They are real and they are natural. Knowing this might start to help.
And here are some other things which I would love you, your friends, family and work colleagues to discuss. I’ve posed them as questions, and perhaps you can find a time to talk about them – over the coffee machine or water cooler – because talking definitely helps.
‘Melanjoy’ – what is it?
If you’re living with infertility and someone tells you that they’re pregnant, I describe the way it makes you feel as ‘Melanjoy’ – which is a combination of the words ‘melancholy’ and ‘joy’. That’s because in the English Language there isn’t a word for feeling happy for someone and sad for yourself at the same time. But it’s a genuine feeling. Do you agree? What would you call it?
Infertility and Miscarriage – are they real losses?
I describe infertility as the ‘pain of never’ (the hardest part for me is that I may never hear anyone call me ‘mum’). But it’s difficult explaining to people the loss of something you’ve never had. Equally, it’s hard to voice the grief of a miscarriage, especially if you hadn’t told anyone yet that you were pregnant. However, I believe that infertility and miscarriage are akin to any bereavement and you should be entitled to specialist help and compassionate leave if you need it. Discuss!
Words – why do people always say the wrong thing? Could it be for the right reasons?
I think it’s vital to talk more about infertility and baby loss because, through this, we will find better ways of asking for the help we need, and supporting each other through it. When a friend, family member or work colleague says: ‘you just need to relax and it will happen’; or ‘you’re lucky you haven’t got children – you can have my kids if you want them’, maybe they don’t realise how much these words hurt. Could they just be trying to help? And if they do hurt, what do you want to hear instead? Maybe nothing except: ‘It must be hard, and I’m here to listen if you need an ear.’
Finding the best support for you
Things have changed a lot in the treatment of infertility over the last few years and the good news is that there’s now much better understanding of its impact on people’s mental health. There is also lots of support available.
Everyone is unique and will benefit from different things at different times. If you’re unsure what you need then talk to a Peppy Fertility Practitioner who can help guide you in the right direction. But here are some ideas that you might want to explore yourself.
- Talk to a trained Fertility Counsellor either on your own or with your partner. The British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) has a list of professionals who can help you process your experience and emotions.
- Join a support group – live or online – The national charity Fertility Network UK has a list of groups.
- Join the huge ‘Trying To Conceive Community ‘ on social media. There are lots of amazing people on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter who are currently going through or have been through infertility. Sharing experiences and supporting each other can generate a sense of solidarity. But social media has its down sides too, so make sure it feels like it’s helping not hindering you.
- Read a book; listen to a podcast; or watch a TV box set. There is now lots of creative content available based on the stories of people who have been in the same shoes. This can be very inspiring.
Don’t give up on ‘Project YOU’ for ‘Project BABY’
I lost a decade of my life to what I call ‘Project Baby’. So now I always advise people not to give up on ‘Project You’. This means prioritizing your own self-care and pursuing the other goals you have for your life. One of the daily practices that can really help with this is starting a ‘gratitude journal’ or a ‘book of joy’. Write down one thing a day, however small, which feels like a blessing or brings you happiness, and focus on finding more.
Exploring alternative routes to parenthood or a fulfilling life without children
My final piece of advice to anyone living with infertility is this. I truly believe there are many different routes to parenthood. It’s also possible to have a fulfilling life without children. It may not be what you dreamed of and you may always have a scar on your heart but, ultimately, if you do the work to come to terms with what your life has thrown at you then you may even end up feeling that it was ‘meant to be’.
I went through 11 rounds of unsuccessful IVF and am still childless. But I have made the decision to try and turn my sadness into something good for myself and other people. So, I’ve written two books about my pursuit of
motherhood and through that process discovered I loved creative writing. And I’ve taken on some of the world’s most iconic physical and mental endurance challenges – including swimming the English Channel and climbing Mount Everest – to raise awareness of what it feels like to struggle to conceive. These are experiences I might never have had if it weren’t for my infertility and they have enriched my life enormously.
The pain of my infertility will always be with me. But life is worth living. It can still be a joy.