“Please, please be positive,” Jenny whispers as she checks the home pregnancy test for the tenth time in 30 seconds. When the test line appears, Jenny holds her breath.
Eventually, she breathes again but the test result is clear: Jenny is not pregnant. Six years and 72 home pregnancy tests have braced Jenny for the disappointing news. Jenny bursts into tears as the truth of the test hits home.
Jenny’s haunted cry, “Why can’t I fall pregnant?” echoes through the house.
Jenny is one of the millions of women all over the world feeling the same angst every day, desperately wanting to be pregnant and to have children.
According to the NHS, roughly 3.5 million people in the UK are struggling to conceive a child.
For couples who have been trying to conceive for more than 3 years, the chances of getting pregnant naturally within the next 12 months is at most 25%. Not every couple can have children.
An emotional rollercoaster awaits any couple having difficulty conceiving. The journey towards accepting infertility is not an easy one, but it is possible to come to terms with the grief of not being able to bear children.
There are certain times and places when the urge to have children and the grief in not having children of your own will still hurt. You can move towards an acceptance where the grief is not overwhelming.
One day you can feel like you are soaring through the clouds as you think the dream of holding your baby in your arms is one step closer; the next you can be on down the downhill part of the rollercoaster due to a negative test, your period arriving, or even your hormonal imbalances kicking in.
Often a woman who desperately wants a baby will find it extremely difficult to join in enthusiastically congratulating another woman on her pregnancy.
She can feel ambivalent about a sister, sister-in-law, friend, or even associate falling pregnant. Of course, she knows it is wonderful for that person, but deep down she is asking herself, “Why not me too?”
It is not only seeing other pregnant women that can invoke these feelings.
Seeing a mother with a baby in the supermarket, a child playing in the park, or kids excitedly chattering on the bus can bring the longing for a child so close to the surface that a woman who was happy and laughing just minutes before can have tears running down her face.
It is amazing how many pregnant women and women with young children an infertile woman who desperately wants children will notice every day.
If your infertility is due to a hormonal imbalance or diagnosed medical condition, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you could have hormone swings to contend with too.
Women with PCOS may not have a regular cycle, so when others are counting the days in a 28 day cycle, it is nearly impossible to know when you are actually ovulating at all. Some women with PCOS can have 10 weeks between periods.
Even women with regular cycles who are experiencing difficulty in falling pregnant will experience highs and lows.
One woman will optimistically stop doing stomach crunches at the gym on days when the cycle calendar says she could be pregnant, just in case, and another will pop vitamin pills to make sure she is as healthy as possible for the baby that must be growing inside her, since she so desperately wants it.
The highs come from the hope that this time, this month, it will happen. Starting a new fertility treatment restarts the cycle of hope. The lows come from the realisation that you are not pregnant after all.
For the first few months of trying to become pregnant, the act of making love is an emotional high, as an expression of love combined with the hope of “We’re making a baby”. In the early days, making love is fun, romantic, and joyous.
For those facing infertility, making love can become a strange dance of “Quick, the temperature is right, we need to do it right NOW”. This can put a strain on any marriage as the act of making love simply becomes a chore to make a baby, rather than the expression of love between a husband and wife.
When the calendar, basal body temperature reading, or a line on the ovulation predictor kit dictates when you make love, it becomes part of the gruelling lows on the emotional rollercoaster.
Recently, Jenny finally found that exciting extra line on the home pregnancy test. She was pregnant! Every day since Jenny has woken up with a smile on her face.
She reads every book she can about pregnancy and follows the doctor’s instructions to the letter. She spends hours dreaming about holding the child from her womb in her hands, thinking of names, and has even started collecting baby clothes.
Two months later, Jenny is back in her bathroom. “Oh God, no,” she whispers. The blood stain on her panties says it all. Jenny’s cries, “Please, no,” echo through the house. Jenny is having a miscarriage. She is devastated.
Couples who miscarry will grieve for the lost child for the rest of their lives, even if subsequent pregnancies carry to term and result in a healthy child.
You simply never forget the foetus that did not survive. Since miscarriage is a spontaneous abortion up to 20 weeks, women may be five months pregnant before losing the baby.
After 20 weeks, the medical profession defines the loss of a baby as stillborn and the parents must hold a funeral for the child. No matter how long the foetus survived, the parents will grieve the loss of the baby.
Unfortunately, many women who have infertility issues will also suffer the agony of miscarriage. According to the Miscarriage Association, there are roughly 250,000 miscarriages every year in the UK.
Most miscarriages happen in the first three months of pregnancy, but they can happen up to the 24th week.
Pregnancy loss from 24 weeks is known as stillbirth. Less than 2 in 100 pregnancies are ectopic, which is when the pregnancy is developing outside the womb.
These statistics show that more than 1 in 5 pregnancies end without the birth of a child child.
Whether you are facing difficulty in becoming pregnant, dealing with miscarriage, or the doctors have explained the impossibility of carrying a healthy child to term for you, the grief is real. Allow yourself time to grieve and to heal.
One of the hardest things to deal with is comments from family, friends, and associates about not having children.
Church members who come up and pray for the family to become a ’real’ family with children, may actually be inflicting pain on the young infertile couple. Comments from friends and family members may be hurtful in ways they never intended. Infertile women really do not want to be asked, “So, when are you planning to start a family?”. The answer is, “Yesterday, if I could have!”
Three months after her miscarriage, Jenny receives an invitation to a baby’s Christening. Jenny bursts into tears at the mailbox. She wants to go to support her friend, but knows it is going to be an emotional time for her personally.
If you know you are going to baby’s Christening, or some other event where you know a baby is going to be a focus of the day, give yourself some alone time to grieve before the day starts. Have a cry if you need to, and then start focusing your thoughts on the positives of the day.
Focus on the baby, the parents, and the people you are going to enjoy seeing on the day. Giving yourself time to grieve about your own situation before the day starts, can help you to share in the joy of the celebration, without having your own grief intrude on what should be a happy day.
Other times, the emotional pain can hit you like the downhill rush as your carriage teeters over the edge of the hill on the rollercoaster - sudden and devastating. On those days, you need to be able to hold on to your sanity by focusing on the strong foundations that do underpin your life.
Remembering how much your husband loves you, and the joy you share together, can help to assuage the despair you feel. Many women find comfort and hope in religion, while others surround themselves with supportive friends.
Sometimes, you do need an emotional outlet for the pain and grief, so give yourself the tools to cope. Journal writing is one such outlet. Sharing your story in an online forum or support group may help you cope with overwhelming emotions.
You may need to get your focus back on your job. If grief constantly overwhelms you, you cannot really enjoy life. Make a list of everything that is important to you, including simple pleasures.
When the dreams about a child you do not have threaten to overwhelm you, get out your list and re-read it. Giving thanks for the blessings you have does wonders for easing the pain.
Focus on the here and now and try to forget the uncertain future as much as possible. Think about what you can achieve today, whether you are pregnant or not. This helps you to keep your perspective.
Finally, after seven years, two miscarriages, and no child, Jenny and her husband decide to explore other options.
Adoption agencies say her husband is too old to adopt a child, surrogacy is illegal in her country, and the specialists at the fertility clinic give her a three per cent chance of actually succeeding to carry a healthy child to term, even with repeated treatments. It looks as though the dream to have a child is slipping further away.
While infertile couples have many options, including fostering or adopting children, surrogacy, and IVF (in vitro fertilisation), there may be reasons why none of these options is practical.
Surrogacy is illegal in some countries and waiting lists for fostering or adopting children can be long, with many bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
IVF is a complicated and extremely expensive option. The failure rate is high. Some couples may try IVF for many years, at a high financial cost every time, with no success. The chance of conceiving during an IVF cycle is about 20 percent, and this can be lower for some couples.
IVF also puts a strain on the relationship with doctors taking over what is naturally private. Some couples choose to remain childless rather than subject each other to the physical and emotional probing of IVF doctors.
Religious and ethical concerns surrounding IVF create a genuine barrier for some people. Whatever the reasons, IVF is not an option for every couple, and the decision of whether to pursue fertility treatments can be agonising.
If you have decided against fertility treatments, such as IVF, or have given up hope, or simply need a break from trying to conceive, take time to grieve about the fact that no child with your eyes and your husband’s nose will come into the world.
Accepting the finality of infertility is not easy, and you may need time, counselling, and help to do so. You may not be ready to give up on your dream of holding a child of your own just yet, however, for those who have opted to stop trying to conceive, acceptance can be empowering.
A current social movement is changing the terminology from “childless” to “childfree”. Although the words are similar, there is a world of difference in the mindset behind the words. “Childless” continually reminds the woman of what she is missing, whereas “childfree” suggests that not having children can be a positive factor in a couple’s life.
Couples without children usually can afford other financial purchases or indulgences, which may be out of reach of parents who have child-related expenses, such as daycare and educational costs, to consider. A childfree couple has greater financial freedom and may be more inclined to enjoy their money.
Childfree women are able to develop their careers and channel their creativity into the business world.
While a career does not replace motherhood, a career can bring great satisfaction to the lives of many women, mothers and non-mothers alike. Enjoying what you do on a daily basis can help you appreciate the joys of life.
Couples living a childfree lifestyle have more time for hobbies, activism, travel, personal development, and volunteering within the community.
Once you accept that having children is impossible, you can be free to put your time and effort into other pursuits. This may even include volunteering and assisting children in other ways, such as running a local Scout, Girl Guide, or church youth group.
Whatever you do, you can lead a full and happy life together with your husband, even if children are not a part of that life. Acceptance of infertility is the key to moving forward on the journey towards a childfree lifestyle. You may still long for children, but you can bear these brief moments of pain.
Like you, Jenny has been struggling to come to terms with her infertility. It has been a difficult journey, but Jenny finally accepted that her life may be childfree. Today, Jenny sits on her boat with the wind flying through her hair.
Tonight, she will do some painting which is her latest creative outlet, and tomorrow, she is teaching her Sunday School class. Jenny shares the joys of hearing childish laughter in her life and she enjoys her activities.
Right now, she is enjoying a romantic interlude with her loving husband. Her husband gives her a grin as he powers the boat through a wave and the echoes of Jenny’s laughter drift across the water.
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