Since blogging about baby loss, I have learnt first-hand how certain hashtags can open your awareness of communities that you never even knew existed; #babyloss, #babylossawareness, #stillbirth all became a lifeline to me when Orla died, and through these hashtags, I have also come into contact with the huge and supportive online fertility community. #TTC (Trying To Conceive) has more than one million posts on Instagram, and behind each use of this hashtag is a story – a person sharing their own struggles and emotional journeys towards parenthood.
Sarah, ‘a crazy cat lady who loves tea, cake, Netflix and jigsaw puzzles’, is just one of those people. Sarah blogs about her experiences here and she and her husband have been trying for a baby for nearly 4 years. Since December 2018, they have undertaken two cycles of IVF, but sadly both ended in chemical pregnancies. They are currently undergoing some further investigations before hopefully embarking on transferring their remaining two embryos. Sarah said:
‘1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant, but it is still so rarely talked about. I created an infertility Instagram account to connect with others going through IVF and fertility struggles and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. I started writing the letters to our future babies to document my infertility journey in the hope that one day I’ll be able to read the letters to our children and show them how special they are.
I was so touched by Sarah’s photo that she chose to share of herself and her husband. It was taken just two days after they found that their second IVF cycle had resulted in a chemical pregnancy:
‘We plastered on smiles to attend a wedding and I think it goes to show you don’t know who that 1 in 8 couple might be and what they might currently be going through. We get pretty good at putting on a brave face. So firstly, I would ask people to keep that in mind, and maybe not ask the couple who have been married 5 years why they don’t have children yet. Secondly, I would urge people going through infertility to seek out a support network that works for them whether that be social media, a forum, a charity or a local meet up, The Fertility Network is a great place to start.’
I feel incredibly honoured to share this beautiful letter. And if you too are on your own fertility journey, please check out Sarah’s blog and The Fertility Network as well as the many pages behind the fertility hashtags. I hope that they will help you feel less alone in the same way that the baby loss hashtags helped me.
Dear future babies,
I wanted to write this letter, so you would know how much you were loved and wanted and how much we went through before you were even born. It’s coming up to four years now since we decided the time was right for us to start a family. At the back of my mind I’d always suspected it wouldn’t be an easy road for us, but I dared to hope we might be one of those lucky couples that fall pregnant on the first try. It was fun at first and I started to learn more about my body. Making a baby really is fascinating but when you break it down, with all the factors that come on to play, it’s a wonder anyone ever falls pregnant.
After about six months I decided to go to the doctor. I was referred for ultrasounds and blood tests and that began our infertility journey. What I found the most difficult was the waiting. Waiting for an appointment, waiting for results, waiting for my next period, hoping it wouldn’t come. I became obsessed with researching everything online, trawling forums to see if anyone else had a sore elbow and it turned out to be a sign of early pregnancy!
In December 2015, after a year with no success, I was told they suspected one of my fallopian tubes was blocked. They don’t know exactly how that happened but decided the best course of action would be a laparoscopy (key-hole surgery) to get a good look at what was going on inside me. That surgery confirmed a blocked left tube, but the right was open, so I was prescribed a fertility drug called Clomid for 6 cycles. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful, and we were told IVF would be our only option and to go away and lose some weight to qualify for NHS funding. However, in the months that followed, I ended up in and out of hospital with a severe PID flare up (pelvic inflammatory disease) and pelvic infection which caused the previously open right tube to block. The only way to stop the infections coming back was to have both fallopian tubes removed, essentially an unwanted sterilisation. I was devastated. It was hard knowing my body had yet again let me down and prevented me from doing what should be the most natural thing in the world. I felt so guilty that it was my body that didn’t work properly, I was the one holding your us back from our dream. I had to give up on any chance of a natural pregnancy and that was a hard pill to swallow. That said, I am forever grateful that we live in a time and place with the science and technology that allows us the opportunity to have a biological chid.
It’s true what they say that if you can’t have something it makes you want it that much more. We had friends fall pregnant around the same time we started trying, and it was tough when their babies were born 9 months later knowing we should have been joining them, knowing for them it was easy. I wasn’t prepared for the intense jealousy and bitterness I would feel when someone announced a pregnancy or had their beautiful baby. It’s ugly and undignified and at those times, I felt like the worst person in the world. My heart would start to pound if I saw an ultrasound photo posted on Facebook or found out another person had an ‘oops’ baby. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve have to run to the loo at work for a secret cry.
I learnt so much about the reproductive system, I think I could teach biology. In the early days I would bore your dad with the details and I could see him glaze over, but I needed an outlet for everything I had going around in my head. I would get annoyed with him sometimes, because he didn’t understand it all, but it wasn’t his fault! It’s was a very lonely time, it was something we’d kept just between us and I felt like he was the only person I could talk too. After we found out I had to have the surgery we did start to tell our close family and friends, not all the details, but it was nice to finally be able to talk about it with more than one person. In January 2017, after we were told we would need IVF, I started searching infertility and IVF hashtags on Instagram. What I discovered was an amazing community of supportive, kind and courageous women (and some men) sharing their experiences. I set up a separate account and immediately felt like a weight had been lifted, I could post my experiences and finally other people understood what I was going through. Infertility is an exceptionally lonely place to be and although it sounds cheesy I can honestly say that community saved me. We’ve arranged real life meet ups and there are two ladies in particular who I speak to everyday and I now consider two of my best friends.
We used to have to endure the endless questions from people asking when we were going to have a baby and I’d want to shout, “WE WANT ONE MORE THAN ANYTHING”, but instead we’d smile nod and politely say “maybe one day”. People don’t mean to upset you, but it can be insensitive and frustrating. Worse still, were the people that did know and say things like “just relax and it’ll happen” or “make the most of not having kids” or my personal favourite, sending unhelpful articles from the Daily Mail. Sometimes even complete strangers would feel the need to ask us about it.
I would get frustrated as milestones came and went, the month I knew I wouldn’t have you before I turned 30 or before our 5thwedding anniversary. When I realised I wouldn’t be able to announce a pregnancy that Christmas or that you wouldn’t be born the following year. The uncertainty made it so difficult to make future plans when I was always thinking “oh we might be pregnant or have a baby by then” but at the same time we had to try and make the most of the time and not just spend it ‘waiting’
I found it hard thinking I was letting my family down, I think I wanted to give your grandparents a grandbaby nearly as much as I wanted one for myself. I would daydream about ways I could surprise them with our pregnancy announcement when the time came, but it never happened. Our families were very supportive when we told them though. My sister said that having a baby didn’t define us and that if we had one it was a bonus but they loved us for us. Still I found it hard to handle their expectations. I just can’t imagine not having children and not giving my parents a grandchild, knowing how much joy it would bring.
Your dad has been amazing during the whole process. He was always there to wipe my tears, I sometimes ask why he doesn’t get as upset as I do, but he says he had to be strong for me because if we both fell apart where would we be. I felt guilty and I told him on many occasions to go marry someone else. About two years in we started saying you would be ‘worth the wait’ it was like our little catchphrase that we use to each other to cheer us up. It reminded me of when your dad used to say ‘only fools rush in’ in response to people asking him about getting married before we got engaged. I know it will be a worth all the pain, endless tears and heartache to just hear your heartbeat for the first time, see you on the ultrasound and hold you in my arms. I look at your dad and I know he’s going to be a brilliant dad just as he is a brilliant husband. I want to give him this so much and I’m so eager to watch you grow up with parts of both of us. I know you will inherit all of your dad’s qualities and hopefully some of mine too.
One evening we’d been out with friends and they told me someone in their family was pregnant, it was an accident and they could barely afford the pregnancy test let alone a baby. It made me so mad and so sad that the universe gave this couple got a baby and not us, we could give a baby so much love and stability and it would make so many people so happy, it just seemed so unfair. When we got home I started crying and your dad just hugged me and said, “I know”, neither of us had to say a word, we both just knew. I don’t think I’d ever loved him more than in that moment. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anyone else, he makes me smile and laugh and sometimes drives me insane but I’m so lucky to have him, I’m trying not to lose sight of that despite everything and to show gratitude for everything we do have when I can.
I can honestly say I haven’t had one day in the last four years where I haven’t thought of you in one way or another. I think your dad is able switch off from it a bit more, lucky him, but not me. I think about if you’ll be a boy or girl, what your name will be, what you’ll look like, what the world will be like for you when you grow up, if we’ll be able to give you a brother or sister. Then I think what if it’s too hard, what if we have our long-awaited baby and then regret it, what if I’m just not cut out to be a mum. I want to raise you in a perfect world, where you are not discriminated against but have equality, acceptance and amazing opportunities. I hope you will be strong, considerate, kind, caring and generous. I know you’ll be able achieve anything and I hope you’ll always know that we love and support you no matter what.
Sometimes a song will come and make me cry because the lyrics will make me think of you, sometimes I feel so scared at the thought of going through it all again and it still not working. I think back to the day I got my last positive pregnancy test and how happy we were even if we didn’t quite believe it was real at the time, even though it was taken from us a few days later. There are dark days of course, when I think about all the what ifs, what if we can never have biological children, what if we get that elusive pregnancy but miscarry again, what if we have to give up on IVF due to the cost. It’s hard to drag myself back from that place but we have to try and stay positive. I know I am a very different person now than I was four years ago due to the struggles we’ve faced, I’ve discovered a lot more about myself and I feel like I’m stronger than I ever thought possible and have a lot more empathy for others. For now, I have to focus on the end goal and that is meeting you.
So, I’ll leave it there for now my darlings. In writing this I hope you realise that you were so wanted, yearned for and loved by everyone. Please know that you are all I think of during every step of the way and I will not give up hope for you. Our journey to you has already been such a long one, I have faith that it will all make sense once we finally meet you. I am choosing to believe that our next round of IVF will be the one where we get to bring you home. Maybe you are testing our commitment to you so please know how much we love you and that we are trying to be as patient as possible in our wait for you. Everything I do is for you and I know you’ll find a way to get to us, when you do you’ll be our greatest gift. Whatever happens, we are ready when you are, whenever that might be and in whatever way you choose to join our family. I truly hope 2019 is the year that will be on your birth certificate.
This isn’t the end my babies, this is just the beginning.
Love always, Mum xx