This post has been difficult to write. It is about baby-making. Hold that thought: I’m not going to tell you about the birds and the bees. I’m confident you probably have a rough idea of the physical actions required to get all the ingredients in the right place. What you possibly don’t appreciate is what an absolutely miraculous process it is, to go from having the ingredients to actually creating a little human bean.
We have some experience on the subject. Babbler took quite some time and magic to make. Before he appeared in the world, we had lots of waiting, prodding and probing, questions, tears, not a single positive pregnancy test, multiple rounds of IVF and we suffered a miscarriage of what might have been twins.
Making a baby can be quite a difficult «thing to do». And like all good things in this world, the more you want one, the tougher the wait, and the harder you fall when you don’t get one. You can’t just have a baby.
Starting a family
Starting a family is one of those things that seems completely alien when you contemplate it for the first time, a far off pipe dream, something you do when you’re “older” and “ready”… One day, quite suddenly, the people around you start to get married and couple up, everywhere you look you see bumps, and buggies and babies, you eat your body weight in pink and blue cupcakes, you start to enjoy perusing the baby clothes in your favourite stores, you start waking up early and you realise that you would rather be snuggled up at home than out somewhere loud and sticky-of-the-floor. You have a job, you have some semblance of a home and potentially even a car. BOOM, just like that you realise that the time has come. You are “ready”. Exciting! Scary. Let’s go! What do you do?! Having paid close attention in sex education you know that anything more than touching fingernails with your partner in crime could result in a bebe, so grappling with that possibility, you throw caution to the wind *in a completely controlled way* dive in and commence le proces.
Let’s make a bebe! One day goes past. Of course you buy a pregnancy test and immediately start to feel nauseous, and you are frantically prodding your boobs, because you are fully expecting to fall pregnant on the first go. Except that it is rarely that straightforward. Sorry. No, your cheap pregnancy test isn’t faulty. No, your expensive one that tells you in actual words, not lines, that you’re not pregnant isn’t somehow confused about the bit of urine it sampled. You’re just not pregnant. Not this month. You feel a bit silly, perhaps a bit sad, but you pull your big girl pants up and crack on to the next month. After all, it’ll probably happen next month. And that fits in better because, well, you have got that party this weekend you really want to go to, and then there’s that wedding next month that you just couldn’t be pregnant for, so it’s all fine. Good.
In fact, if you check the NHS website, it tells you that 80-90 out of every 100 couples trying to get pregnant will fall pregnant within one year. One whole year. First, that is potentially up to 12 long and disappointing months of “trying”. Each month is made up of a familiar cycle: it begins with the period (doom), then waiting for ovulation, the ovulating days, and then the phantom pregnancy times, also known as the “two week wait” – the days you spend waiting for your period. The days you wonder if you might, possibly, be making a baby. Just FYI that’s about 168 days of the year that you’re waiting. That’s a lot of waiting for those with a propensity towards impatience…. Second, that means that 10-20% of couples will take more than a year to conceive. They may need help. They may never conceive.
They may never conceive. Have you ever thought you might not actually get to have children? It’s quite a dramatic leap to go from trying not to “accidentally” get pregnant by fingernail contact, to contemplating that you may actually never have a child. I don’t remember that coming up in sex ed.
For some people, that’s perfectly fine. Ideal actually. But for others, that wasn’t in the life plan. You assumed you could have children. Whenever you felt like it. As you start to look around you, you realise there are indeed many couples that don’t have children. You had perhaps assumed it was their choice, that they didn’t want to have any kids, but now this new knowledge makes you think twice. You cannot assume anything. If there’s one major lesson I’ve learnt through all of this it is never assume. Don’t assume that everyone can just have a baby. Don’t assume that people have chosen their current situation. It may look like they just don’t have kids, or haven’t got any yet, but there is almost certainly a story there, a journey. Also try to avoid asking. I used to think it was perfectly normal to ask newlyweds when they would be trying for a babe. It’s the logical next step. Is it? If they want to talk about it, they will do so in their own time and in their own way. It is not an easy one to talk about, it is personal, it is often complicated, and if there’s one major benefit of all that we have been through, it is the awareness of the struggle. The struggle is really real. We now have enough experience to put ourselves out there, if you need to talk. We can, I hope, relate to, and offer support to prospective parents in all their shapes and sizes. And I hope this post will help a little.
According to the same NHS page, one in seven couples in the UK will suffer “fertility issues”. Those may be complications, difficulties, bits and pieces that are missing or not working, or blocked, but perhaps could work, they just need some help. Then, of those one in seven, 25% will have what is known as “unexplained infertility”, i.e. the common causes of infertility are not applicable, but there is no other medical explanation available. So there’s something wrong, you don’t seem to be making the babies, but there isn’t actually a medical reason pourquoi. i.e. there isn’t much that the doctors can do to help you. Technically, we fell into this category. Years of “trying”, plenty of questioning, eating well, bouts of not drinking (alcohol may affect fertility) trying to be calm (stress may affect fertility) and keeping track of what was happening when (knowing when your ovulating can help to ensure you are targeting the right days), but all to no avail, meant we were inexplicably infertile.
What do you think? We were hoping to have a family together. Should we be together? I started to wonder if it meant we weren’t well matched as couple. Perhaps the French and Yorkshire genes just don’t work. C’est trop. Rational thinking fell to the wayside as I watched bumps growing and buggy’s crashing into things around me. More scan pictures, more happy announcements, more people telling me they were winning on the fertility ferris wheel. Thankfully, we were very happily married, and everything was still quite new and joyous. The monthly let down was really just a few hours of sadness followed by a rapid assessment that it was probably for the best, copious amounts of chocolate and realisation that I had lots more important things to do than having a baby that month. Any misery I felt I managed to keep to myself, any misery Monsieur FF felt he also bottled, and we thoroughly enjoyed and relished spending time with our family and friends and their growing families. We didn’t really talk too much about it. Then time went on, our efforts became more concerted, our abstention from the vices of life more marked, and our patience for bebe FF increasingly failing.
One of the hardest things about infertility struggles is knowing that people are rooting for you but that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to help. Can you give me a baby? Nope. Our parents waited patiently for our grandchild offering, and waited some more, and then they quietly started to worry and then, once they knew that there was potentially some cause for concern, that we were trying, and were not getting, they offered their support and their love, but it couldn’t take away the angst we were experiencing. It is so personal, so intimate, and yet once it is out there, it is so exposed.
Those that you share with know that you are trying, and that it is not working. It’s not funny. You don’t need to “try harder”. That doesn’t feel good. It is impossible not to feel like a failure. I was, at times, embarrassed. People would ask, casually, or directly, if we were planning to have children, and we would respond that we weren’t ready, or we weren’t really trying, or that we had a plan, something, anything, other than saying that we don’t seem to be able to have a baby.
Would we ever have a family? Our respective families are sizeable, and for all accounts conception came without any issues for our parents. There was no waiting, no struggles. If you haven’t struggled to conceive, you simply do not know how it feels. I’m sorry. You are lucky. It’s not a case of “doing it more often” or “trying to be less stressed” or indeed “eating more salt”…
Just as another factoid, even if you hit the exact right times with the exact right mixture, and you’re under 35 (age is another major factor in the fertility Ferris wheel) then you still only have around 25% chance of conceiving. And let’s not forget, conception doesn’t necessarily equal a bebe.
So where do you go from inexplicably infertile? In our case, we were advised to “try” IVF, in vitro fertilisation, as a means of identifying where things were working and where things might be going wrong. What is IVF? Technically:
During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.
Actually: you have a controlled menopause, loads of injections, you are stimulated to produce as many eggs as your ovaries can muster, more injections, then the eggs are vacuumed out of you whilst you are sedated, they are mixed with the contribution from your other half or a sperm donor. A few days later, if all is well, the mixture is then returned to your womb, in the hope it will get comfortable and decide to stick around. Your mixture might be 3 days or 5 days old, and could be fresh, or frozen. You are instructed to take a pregnancy test around 14 days later, and not a day before. This is the “two week wait” or “2ww“. Websites are dedicated to it. Chatrooms go into overdrive on the topic. Sensible, rational, intelligent women have been known to lose their actual minds during this period. It is ROUGH.
But, at the end of the day, or a long IVF cycle, you may end up with a stock of fertilised blastocysts, or even better a BFP – big fat positive pregnancy test – or, even better than that, an actual bebe. In equal measure, in fact, a slightly higher probability, is a BFN or indeed a pregnancy ending in miscarriage.
I don’t recommend taking IVF lightly. As something we “tried” it wasn’t like taking a car for a test drive. It is by far the most invasive, uncomfortable and emotional experience I have voluntarily walked into. However, I am so grateful that (a) I got the opportunity to experience it, to pursue our dream of starting a family and (b) I am now able to better understand the difficulties and challenges many people face on their own journeys.
The word fills me with sadness. I am just one of literally billions of women that have suffered a miscarriage. One in every four women suffer a miscarriage. Miscarriages come in all shapes and sizes, none any more manageable than the others. There is not a scale of horribleness for a miscarriage, depending on when it was or how it happened, the reality is that – in every single case – you had hope and you lost it. It slipped away. And it was out of your control. Losing something you really want is never easy. It is utterly devastating. Before 20 weeks it is known as miscarriage, and after 20 weeks gestation, still birth.
According to the NHS:
For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in the future.
But, sadly, it is not as simple as just brushing it away and starting again. This isn’t just a medical process that had a bit of an unfortunate ending. You have to wait until you are emotionally fit. You have to wait until you are physically strong enough and your body is prepared to try again. For the women that aren’t “most women”, they may suffer multiple miscarriages. Every pregnancy after a loss is wrought with anxiety and fear, every trip to the toilet could spell the end. Pregnancy is much less joyous when it’s filled with fear and questioning. You dare not get excited, you don’t know what to think, even though every cell in your body is screaming at you that it’s working on something miraculous. There aren’t really any words for the feeling of losing that miracle.
I’m mindful here that I can’t speak to how it must feel for a man to lose a baby, for a partner to lose a baby they weren’t carrying. As the carrier, your body is reminding you every moment that passes that it couldn’t do its job, for whatever reason. It takes a long time for that feeling to subside. A part of you is lost forever, in the same way that a part of you is exposed as it wanders around in front of your eyes.
For anyone out there going through a loss, sending strength, and hope. There is no plaster that patches up the pain, or drug that can block the dull ache you are feeling, but there is always looking forward, and upwards.
Through the difficult times we experienced, the things I valued most were the family and friends that took the time to sit with me, to listen, or to let me be silent. The friends that brought us some food when we didn’t feel like cooking, that invited us for drinks when we had not had a drink for a while, that showed up on the doorstep when we didn’t feel like getting dressed. The comments and support from the heart, allowing us to grieve and recover rather than jumping forward to what happens next. *Thank you to our friends and family that stood by us, shared their positive energy and hope and enabled us to move forwards.*
When you miscarry, you lose a piece of your heart and you make a dent in your relationship. What we also experienced, however, was a feeling of solidarity and a new level of caring we hadn’t felt before. Monsieur FF was so closely by my side through the horror show that was our drawn-out miscarriage, I could literally lean on him at any moment. His strength lifted me, as I was close to falling. We took some time out, some special memories away from our daily routine to realign and refocus. It seems like a lifetime ago back then, but we truly didn’t know if we would have a family. We agreed to start an adoption process. We agreed to go on a mad holiday. And we agreed we would not give up hope or each other. Our miscarriage made us stronger. We don’t mark any dates or talk about what happened now, for better or for worse, we move forward and, as it happens, we are in the incredibly fortunate position to now have had multiple babes. It seems that we struck the jackpot, not once but twice.
Good luck and we are here if you need us.