How unexplained infertility taught me about fragility, vulnerability and resilience.
Right now, from the outside-in, it could look like my journey to motherhood came naturally.
We (my partner Tom and I) are three months into parenthood with our daughter Sibella. And we still can’t believe she’s here, earthside.
The love I feel for her is all-consuming. I love that she’s starting to look more like a mixture of us and I find myself staring at her beautiful little hands and features while she sleeps. There’s already a sassy streak in her, and we can’t wait to see the person she becomes.
But I feel compelled to also acknowledge the three-years of trying that came before her arrival. It was the IVF treatment, the endless doctors’ appointments and tests, the rollercoaster of hope and heartache.
With this being our first Mother’s Day, I want to take the opportunity to contribute to the conversation, especially for the woman who’s currently going through it. Turns out, there are so many of us who do.
It’s a sad reality that women feel wrought with shame, fragility and brokenness when they face infertility. I was no exception. Having open dialogue and creating a safe place to express – or at least explore - these struggles, without stigma or judgement, is so important. I hope me sharing some of my own personal story can help with this.
Every experience is so different. For us, we tried to get pregnant naturally for almost one year before seeing a fertility doctor. After doing rounds and rounds of tests and being diagnosed with unexplained infertility, IVF was the next obvious choice.
I remember being so excited, thinking pregnancy was just a few months away with IVF underway. But it wasn’t the case. My first IVF cycle ended with me in ICU with a reaction to the drugs, so we decided to go away for a month, take a break and reassess things.
From there, I had a number of fertility procedures, got acupuncture three times a week, saw a kinesiologist and even went to a psychic. There was no stone unturned! Then we went back to IVF at a new clinic, buckled down and agreed we wouldn’t stop until we got our baby. After more complications with our cycles, on our fifth embryo transfer, it happened: a miracle.
But we went through a lot before the miracle.
When I was ‘in it’, my infertility was all-consuming, being my first thought in the morning and the last at night.
It’s not just the sadness of not having a baby. It’s the constant doctors’ appointments, blood tests, procedures, phone calls, second-guessing (and going down online fertility forum rabbit holes), the financial burden, social engagements and the rehearsal of repeated small talk. That all becomes really devastating when it adds up.
I kept having to remind myself that the only way out of this difficult time was to go through it. And I was so lucky to have Tom by my side for everything. He was going through it all, too, so we had to have each other’s back unconditionally.
The first time I got a positive pregnancy test, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Shock ensued. I pretty much fell to the floor in my hallway, blubbering with tears for a solid 10 minutes. Unfortunately, there were a few more twists and turns to come before we had a successful and healthy pregnancy. It’s a very precarious situation, even when the ‘good news’ comes.
Having open dialogue and creating a safe place to express – or at least explore - these struggles, without stigma or judgement, is so important.
When we found out we were eventually pregnant again with Sibella, we had to remain cautiously optimistic. While those first 12 weeks were incredibly challenging to get through, it finally became real when we could share our news with people.
In tandem with all of this, I was running Friends with Frank (with the help of a remarkable team). I felt so lucky that I had the business to keep me going. The business wins buoyed us and built an unwavering resilience in me. Being vulnerable (or at least trying to be!) with my team and letting them know what I was going through was also such a weight lifted off my shoulders. They were a huge support.
For other women working on pregnancy and career, be kind to yourself. You’re dealing with so much. I don’t know how we do it, but we do. Maybe it’s enough to just know that this process is natural and far more commonplace than you might think. Oh, and you are so not alone.
I know each work situation is different but try to find some space to put yourself first. To honour your emotional and physical need for self-care. Ideally take a day off here and there. And if you can’t, still try to find the time for an indulgent massage or some yin yoga (a great way to unwind on a Friday evening!).
Unfortunately managing your working life is just one of the big challenges to face. Social media can become like an emotional minefield, because it’s full of happy and celebratory moments – many of which, when you reach a certain age, naturally involve babies and children - while challenges and vulnerability are less visible. So for me, it was a matter of recognising this, and avoiding social media (as much as I could).
The journey is also tough for the partner. While they are spared the physical demands, it’s still a major emotional slog, simultaneously supporting you while facing their own disappointments and frustrations. I was lucky, my husband Tom and I have been together since we were 17. He knows me better than I know myself, and we were very much in it together.
I also have the most magnificent friends that got me through the worst days. They respected and understood my invite declines or lack of social stamina, surprising me with massage vouchers after I’d had an IVF cycle. I value these friendships more than words can do justice.
For other women working on pregnancy and career, be kind to yourself. You’re dealing with so much. I don’t know how we do it, but we do.
But here we are, present day. There’s no sugar-coating it, Mother’s Day for the last three years has been seriously shitty. But this year I am so extremely grateful to be celebrating it with our beautiful baby. We’ll be keeping it pretty simple, with Tom, Sibella and I heading out for a special breakfast, followed by lunch with my sisters, Sibella’s cousins, and their incredible Nonna (my beautiful Mum).
If you know someone struggling with infertility or IVF, tactfully ask them how they are going. Even at the sensitive times, and even around Mother’s Day, I can almost guarantee you they will appreciate your simple acknowledgement of ‘the thing’ itself. Sometimes, giving it a name, calling it out and carving a safe space for intimate, honest conversation is the best gift you can give to someone in its throes.