“Hi Sita, we have received the result of the pregnancy blood test; unfortunately, it’s negative, we are all very sorry” is a phrase I have heard all too often. It’s a call I dread, one that tears open my wounded heart to bleed free each time.
The reason for this ache is infertility – the dark secret that our society tends to hide in the closet, afraid of its ugly head popping out when in company. It’s not that we are only ashamed of it; it’s also because we do not know how to handle it.
As I write this article, it has only been a day since I last heard the phrase above. Our second attempt at an embryo transfer using a donor egg had failed. And as of 2 months ago, I have been living with infertility for 7 years. What exactly does 7 years of ‘trying to conceive’ involve, you may wonder? Other than my life being taken over by the baby-making project, for me it has involved a whole bunch of things.
Hundreds of medical tests (I once had 21 vials of blood drawn out – no, this is not something I would joke about), nutritional advice, various supplements, hypnotherapy, theta healing, acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, meditation, spirit babies, energy work, a laparoscopy, dye test, immunology testing, a hysteroscopy, an endometrial receptivity analysis (ERA) test, injections after injections and IVF. Multiple IVFs; followed by two donor egg cycles. (All the while, hoping and praying each month that I’m pregnant.)
For the longest time, I would keep this journey to myself, only revealing certain bits to a few individuals. It is so personal and unless you are in a similar position, there simply is no way you can begin to even understand. Then last October, circumstances prompted me to share my story. We had just been through a gruelling 9 months of IVFs with no success, and gossip was rife. Before anyone else made my story the headline of their storytelling, I thought I’d better take the lead role. I started writing, sharing aspects of my journey on my blog.
A year later, I am still here, with no baby in hand, but with a whole lot of other treatments under my belt. As of today, I can account for four IVFs, one ERA test (a mock embryo transfer test), two donor egg cycles and a total of four embryo transfers. And I have never been pregnant. Not once in all these years.
Since sharing my story, many people have commented on how ‘brave’ I am to let it out. Brave, because our society and culture at large, considers it taboo. Because we tend to prioritise and celebrate having offspring and everything related to children. But living with infertility is brave in itself. Having just received the news about my non-pregnancy, I am currently in a state of pure anger. I feel robbed and violated. I am infuriated and this fire is burning deep inside me. Anger because I cannot believe just how unlucky we (my husband and I) are. Anger because it is not fair. Anger because scientifically, they have solved every ‘problem’. Anger because spiritually, I have done the work. Anger because there is no explanation for it not working. Anger because I have no one to blame.
And I am tired; tired of society only measuring success and happiness if you fall pregnant. Tired of society only ever celebrating when there is a pregnancy announcement. If we, infertiles, still have to dutifully mingle and live within society, then it’s about time society takes responsibility and accepts the ugly, dark side of fertility. It is a burden we should be allowed to shed.
In a few days, this anger too shall pass. For I have been through this cycle many a time before. Writing is my way of letting off steam.
Infertility is always about compromising and learning to accept. Over the years and with great difficulty, we have come to accept that we would not get pregnant naturally. Then, after several failed IVFs, we came to accept that we would not be able to conceive using my own eggs. Now, after two failed attempts at using donor eggs, how do we bring ourselves to accept that perhaps this may also not work?
Bravery comes in various forms. My body is brave – it has repeatedly taken a physical beating and bruising with hormones and injections – but has survived and thrived. My mind is brave – after all these years, it is firm, has a voice and pulls me through each time. My spirit is brave – it has not been broken and is still willing to pursue and achieve what we desire the most.
Being brave also means re-adjusting to a major shift in life expectations. Bravery is to continue being a dutiful daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and sister. It means getting on with our responsibilities both in society and in family life. It means attending birthday parties and family gatherings, whilst supporting others in their happiness and success at falling pregnant, even though you can no longer share in their happiness as it is a stark reminder of what you desperately want, but don’t have. Bravery means working hard at everything you do, whilst making sure that your business prospers to secure the future of the children within the family, even though those children may not be your own. Bravery means to carry on because that’s all you know how to.
I know, there may come a day when we reach the end of our pursuit. When we will have to accept defeat and to move on. And on this day, we will have to be braver than ever before. But I know that I am not alone in this; for I have my husband beside me, along with my mind, body and spirit to lead the way. And we will be the bravest of them all.
(This is the original article that I wrote for the online magazine, GRIT. The theme for the Winter edition was ‘Becoming Brave’. Have a read of the ‘shorter’ version at GRIT.)