Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

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In the UK this week it’s National Infertility Awareness Week (I think our one is in April), so I thought it would be a good time to continue ‘breaking the silence.’

In Australia, it’s estimated that one in six couples suffer from infertility, which is a heck-load when you think about it, yet no one really wants to talk about it. And trust me – I completely understand why. When you first decide you would like to bring a bundle of joy into the world you tend to keep it fairly private. You imagine breaking the news to your elated parents and friends, and there being hugs and kisses and joy and rainbows all round.

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Image courtesy of Giphy http://gph.is/XL2weq

If the people around you already know that you’re trying some of that magic will just disappear.

So what happens when it doesn’t happen? This is where it gets tricky. As you get slammed down each month (rather inhumanely by a Carrie-style blood bath) your anxiety and depression levels grow. I remember I spent our entire first year wedding anniversary sobbing. We had been trying for six months and I had hoped it would be a day to celebrate the new life our love had created. It wasn’t. It was a day where a new, unperceived darkening reality was beginning to envelop us.

There are so many misconceptions about infertility it’s hard to know where to start. The reality is if someone shares with you their struggle to conceive they have probably already been trying for quite some time, and they’ve probably read every solution Google has to offer.

While (most) people don’t have bad intentions – trust me, there are some that just love to stick the knife in – many of the things that people say reinforce messages of blame or shame back to the couple who are already heavy with feelings of failure.

I was planning on including a big list of all the comments I find hurtful but then I came across an article that did it a lot more sensitively than I ever could. The “Infertility Etiquette” guide on the National Infertility Association’s website is a really helpful tool if you are struggling to know how to respond to a friend’s infertility. It spells out what not to say, but also explains why not in great detail.

Believe it or not people do actually feel entitled to say things like: “Maybe you are just not meant to be parents” to which my response would be more likely to involve slapping the fertile, smugness off their self-righteous faces than the well-reasoned response given in the article, so I do really encourage reading it.

In the meantime I guess I’ll get back to “Just relaxing until it happens.”

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Image courtesy of Giphy http://giphy.com/gifs/AFjfPUJ0mjWJG/

x

Reality Hits You Hard

Well after the last heavy post I thought it might be good to backtrack a bit and share a little snippet of our story. If you can’t be bothered reading you could just watch the clip from ‘Up’ which basically tells the first half of our story in heart-wrenchingly beautiful detail.

Mr. Lady Breaks (who coincidentally doesn’t exactly like being referred to as “Mr. Lady Breaks” because apparently it a) “sounds like he’s a lady-man”; and b) “sounds like he breaks ladies”) started dating me back in 1999. I was 14 and he had just turned 15. I’m not going to bore you with too many soppy recollections of high-school romance, but to say it felt like the most normal and natural thing in the world.

So we dated and dreamed about our future. There was going to be retro cars, murals on the walls, and two studios (one for music and the other for art, obviously). We would own a weatherboard cottage and a café and together we would change the world. We picked out songs for our wedding and names for our children. We couldn’t wait for our adult life to begin.

At my 16th Birthday in 2001

At my 16th Birthday in 2001

Needless to say, most of these things didn’t happen (well, my first car was a 1967 HR Holden but we – ironically – sold it to buy a “family car” when we started trying). We did get married, but finance and reality limited life and dreams – as it seems to do to everyone.

Man, I loved that car

Man, I loved that car

What was never expected though was infertility. We were young, really young, and healthy. In fact the doctors refused to even test us at first. Then, after eighteen months of trying, we were referred to reproductive specialists who told us that there would be a very long ladder of options available to us before we would need to consider something as serious as IVF. They were wrong. After the results came back it was clear that IVF would be our only option to ever conceive.

I realise at this point of the story it might be handy to say what the problem actually is, but I’m choosing not to. It’s not that it’s a closely guarded secret at all; it’s just that it doesn’t really matter. The thing about struggling with infertility as a couple is that you struggle as a couple. Infertility is a shared disease – if one person is diagnosed, both are diagnosed. Yes, one may be technically fully able to procreate, but, as we know, it takes two to tango. Also, there is a big, burdensome load of blame and inadequacy that comes with being The Infertile One (read: the reason behind all the pain and sadness), which I’m sure I will discuss some other day. So suffice it to say that “we are infertile.”

Anyway, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of deciding to do IVF today either, as it was quite a huge decision that took over us a year, but just know for now that we tried and failed. Of course it’s something that we could keep trying but for that damn ‘finance and reality’ thing again.

The thing I really wanted to share today was how brutally unfair the whole thing felt/ feels. Having grown up in a broken home, I really longed for that stable family unit. Part of the reason I loved Mr. Lady Breaks so much was that I knew he would make a great dad, and I doubted he would ever walk out on his children. I could give my children something I never had, and I could finally experience the much-lauded nuclear family thing. But, of course, life had other plans.

Mr. Lady Breaks (the name is sticking, so get over it) and my story isn’t over, but we just have no idea the direction it will go. We have come to so many closed doors and dead-ends after almost eight years of fighting and struggling that we hardly know how to dream anymore.

But the story isn’t over, and we have to keep dreaming. We need to fill our own Adventure Book (‘Up’ reference) and I love the fact that you are now along for the ride. Thank you.

x

How Does it Feel?

I am so very hesitant to post this.

I’ve been weighing it up all weekend, trying to decide whether now is the right time or not. I think I’ve decided that there will never be a perfect time and I just have to trust that it reaches the right people.

Basically it’s something I angrily scrawled down late one night just before we started IVF. I want to be clear that time has softened the severity of pain I feel – yes, the pain still twinges and burns, but it is no longer agonising. I have had to learn to accept what has happened, and derive my happiness from other things. Some days I do better than others, but overall I am much, much, much happier.

When I read what I wrote five years ago, I almost can’t believe that it was me. There is so much resentment, pain, anger, disappointment and jealousy. It’s really not pretty! But I’m sharing something so personal and so raw in the hope that it helps articulate what failing to conceive for years feels like. Well, even more basic than that, I’m sharing what grieving can feel like.

It is my hope that this story is able to voice the pain that other couples are silently enduring right now.

It’s probably an uncomfortable read, especially if you’ve never seen this side of me before, and for that I apologise. Also, beware of the over-abundance of adjectives and melodrama; I was in the middle of a Literature degree at the time!

Ok – Brace yourselves!

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27th December 2008

IVF.  So this is how it begins.  We have spent the last three years trying to come to terms with the whole thing.  Infertility.  That dirty, rotten, seldom-spoken, sympathy-ridden, gut-wrenchingly painful word.  That word that consumes every breath, every thought, every growing belly, or rolling pram or playground or commercial or waking or sleeping.

Infertility.  It is the demon child that grows within you, but only grows and grows and threatens to burst you apart from the womb to the heart.  It is the devil inside that mocks, taunts, burns, throbs and feasts upon any moments of happiness.  And, as each month slithers past that beast takes even more of you, even though you were quite sure there is nothing – no dream, want, need, or yearning – that it hasn’t already devoured.  But, as surely as winter follows autumn, the pain can deepen.  Suddenly, sharply and with increasingly regular intensity, the infertility tumour within you bursts forth like a volcano, spitting and spewing hate and hurt into the faces of all those around you.  It takes all.  It destroys the truest parts of you.

But, most of all, that awful monster within scrapes.  Day and night.  Long lazy summer afternoons and bone-chilling mornings.  It writhes inside, grating its sharp yellowed claws along your insides.  Dragging itself down your spine then tearing back up through your stomach, trying to fight its way out of your barren cage.  But you know it can never be born.  No.  That gnawing pain, those tears that are only seconds from your eyes, they are yours alone to own, yours alone to carry.

How has three years passed?  Three Christmases, three Easters, six birthdays, countless dreams.

“Don’t worry- you can have mine!” Well-meaning, insensitive friends tease.  Or, “Are you sure you’re doing it right?”  Oh, for goodness sake, sometimes I just want to hit people. And for the countless people that find it fit to remind me that, “Once I’ve got them, I’ll long for the days without them” – Thanks – but I think I would sacrifice any asset, any career, perky breasts or quiet nights for a touch of flesh I’ve made, tiny fingers reaching for me, cries of trust and longing, need and urgency, a toothless smile and those chubby, ticklish thighs that are mine.  Mine.

But even as you think those greedy, guilty thoughts you can almost hear all those “real-life mothers” chuckling quietly with nostalgic sympathy for you.  If only she knew, they tut.  Those nappies, those screams, those rotten loud toys, the spoiled Pumpkin Patch jumpsuit that was just washed, those sexless screaming nights, every shopping trip, every girlfriend visit, every loss of liberty, every wanting hand, everything.  If only she knew.

And, yes I agree, if only I did.

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Phew! You made it through that roller-coaster of anguish! And so did I, thank God. And that’s what I really want to reiterate if you are grieving right now – you can make it through. I’m definitely not at the end of my journey yet, and I doubt I ever will be, but the intensity of the pain has decreased, and my strength has increased ten-fold.

Again, I thank you for being brave and open enough to walk alongside me and many other couples.
x

Lady Bakes

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If there’s one thing I LOVE it’s sugar. I know that’s really bad and I shouldn’t be promoting unhealthy living, but I just love it. Desserts, baking, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, chips, lollies – I can’t help myself.

If you come to my house don’t ever expect a meal from me (that’s Mr. Lady Breaks job), but do expect some sweet sugary thing to be on offer.

I find baking to be so relaxing and therapeutic, you can be creative and get a sugar hit at the same time – what’s not to love? I am literally one of those people who looks at the dessert menu first, and who would prefer to eat dessert first.

So I thought I share what I am trialing in the kitchen this month.

I’ve always loved my Nanna’s cheesecake, and I make it religiously all Spring and Summer every year. It’s so simple and easy and nice. Anyway after seeing a layered version on Bake-a-Boo, I just had to try it out for myself.

This is how it turned out. Not as perfectly wonderful as Bake-a-Boo, but fun for a first attempt.

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Bake-a-Boo individually flavoured each layer, which I chose not to do for taste reasons, but next time I want to try and get the layers more even and a little thicker.

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After eating this cheesecake Mr. Lady Breaks suggested trying to do a swirly one. So I did. I just treated the cheesecake like a marble cake and swirled the colours together.

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Personally I think I would have preferred the colours to be more pastel, especially after Mr. Lady Breaks told me that it looked like the imaginary food in Hook (!), but it will definitely be something I try out again.

Wishing you a very sweet weekend, and thanks for all your support in the first week of my blog!

xoxo

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You Just Didn’t Get What You Want

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‘You know, a lot of us don’t get what we want – you just have to deal with it.’

Oh, the amount of times I have heard those words! As if starting a family with someone you love equates to missing a promotion, or settling for a cheapo white car instead of the steel grey four-wheel drive you imagined. As if desiring a baby is some switch that I can choose to turn on or off, rather than an internal pull I have no control over.

I wish it could be neatly placed inside the box of all the things I’ve wanted but never gotten. I really would like to live a happy and fulfilling life even if I’m never a mum. And I am trying to. But what people who say this to me don’t understand is how the struggle and failure to conceive or adopt has permeated through every aspect of me.

What I mean is that even though having a baby isn’t actually my whole world, it has affected my whole world. It’s like my barren emptiness is mirrored back to me everywhere I go, and with every person I meet. No one does this to me purposefully, I just simply can’t avoid Huggies commercials, pregnancy photos, or standard introductory questions, which makes it rather hard to “just deal with”.

Infertility has riled against my identity as a woman – my femininity, my sexuality. Many women talk about the strength and beauty of their bodies because of what they are capable of, they’ve grown and stretched, created, nurtured and protected.

It places boundaries on friendships, it puts stumbling blocks in conversations. It confronts you at work, in parks, on the train, in the rain (sorry, I couldn’t resist a Dr. Suess moment!)

But seriously not having children slowly excludes you from a world you desperately long to be a part of. Your views are discounted, you are not invited to parties, you can no longer attend coffee catch-ups, and people feel awkward talking about their children in front of you.

In fact people are so fearful of saying something offensive that they stop talking to you at all. And can I blame them? Even now I am having a tanty about how something people say to me gets on my nerves. It’s bloody hard to walk this journey with me, so some just give up.

But giving up just makes me feel diseased, and like my imperfection can’t fit in your perfect world.

Thankfully, there have been some who have pushed through the awkwardness, and welcomed me into their hectic, messy, loud, bright lives, and I’m so thankful to them (love, love, love them).

It definitely takes effort on my part as well. The deal is mutual respect and a whole lot of honesty. I will hear you vent about your kids, I will hear you coo over your kids, I will fit in with naptimes. I just want you to be real – don’t feel like you have to pretend you live on a cloud of gratefulness just because you procreated. But also don’t expect me to “just get over it” when I see what I’m missing out on.

Just walk with me.

X

P.S – I just showed this to Mr Lady Breaks and he said I should end it with “Bah Humbug!” I really don’t mean to come across like a Negative Nancy – I’m just trying to tell it how it is. I am extraordinarily grateful to everyone who, despite never being personally affected by these things, is genuinely seeking to learn more about how it feels. That is pretty darn amazing, and I feel incredibly honoured that you are allowing me to share my deepest thoughts and pain with you. You are making my life brighter and “walking with me” every day, thank you!!!

Puppy Love

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Firstly, apologies if you don’t like dogs. Secondly, why wouldn’t you like dogs?!

My Bandit came to me on Mother’s Day 2008, two years into my infertility journey.

Mother’s Day is generally a fairly difficult day for me – not only am I confronted with what I so obviously lack, but I am also reminded of what a ‘reward’, ‘blessing’, ‘inheritance’, ‘gift’ and so on children are. And of course they are, there’s no denying it, but it always makes me think that I haven’t worked, prayed, or fought hard enough to deserve such a great reward. And then I think of all the jerks who abuse their kids and the logic gets all screwed up again.

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So anyway in May 2008 I received my first and only Mother’s Day present. Mr Lady Breaks pulled a lot of strings to find me the dog of my dreams – a French Bulldog – for a (somewhat) affordable price. Bandit basically lived on my lap for the first few months, whether I was at driving, working, or watching lectures at uni, which was exactly what I needed. Of course then he grew too big and slobbery for lecture theatres, but he’s never grown out of wanting to be constantly by my side, drooling all over me.

Bandit came and helped heal a gaping and growing hole. No, he’s not a baby, and never will be, but he is a loyal, kind and loving distraction. He is an endless pit of love, slobber, farts and strange yodelling noises who keeps me company every day. He is naughty, loud, allergic and a little OCD, but he is also something to love and care for, and he is a lot of fun.

x

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Capture Your Grief

Day 22. Words.

Today things start to get a bit (more) personal. Below is an excerpt from journal entry from a 21 year old me – bursting with hope, faith, innocence, naivety and sickening youthful optimism.

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It reads:

12 June 2006

I would like this book to be my pregnancy journal. I’m actually not pregnant yet but I want to write down my feelings about having a baby. We have tried for 6 months to conceive and, although my baby doesn’t exist in the natural, I love him or her with all my being. Already I treasure my future children inside my soul and desperately long for their arrival. In fact thinking about them consumes me – I yearn to touch them, kiss them and watch them grow… I am satisfied yet impatient in the knowledge that the Lord is slowly, steadily crafting these perfect angels in his mind and I am eager and terrified of the fact that one day he will entrust them to me. I hope I do a good job.

Of course the rest of the journal remains unused and blank, but I’m determined that my life doesn’t.

‘Capture your grief’ is a great initiative by Carly Marie Project Heal. It is a daily photographic challenge for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month designed to explore grief and raise awareness around baby loss. The theme for October 22 is words, which is kind of perfect for me.

Except… I’m not sure if I really belong there. I’m not sure if my grief could ever compare to holding your stillborn child. In fact I know it can’t.

And while it’s never helpful comparing grief with grief, I have a constant feeling of exclusion from nearly everyone. I don’t fit in either box – I’ve never been a mother, but I’ve fought for my child for the longest time.

Yes, I know the feeling of longing desire for a child probably better than many, but I don’t know the feeling of absolute need for that particular child, the one who was gone too soon.

I have seen my perfect four-cell embryos created outside my body flickering on a screen filled with life and potential, but I don’t know the elation of a positive pregnancy test. I don’t know the slamming pain of miscarriage, but I know the drowning quicksand of constant failure and hopelessness.

And I think that’s the problem with infertility, you’re always in the middle somewhere, stuck in some vast, heavy no-mans land.

You are constantly grieving and constantly hoping, yet there is nothing solid to grieve or hope for. It’s a tug-of-war between two maybes – maybe you will be a mother one day, and maybe you won’t. You are pulled along, year after year, tirelessly chasing a dangling carrot that you just can’t catch. It’s exhausting and debilitating.

So how can you grieve for something that may not be lost? For me, it’s about acknowledging that some dreams are over and grieving that. The dream of being a mum in my early twenties, the dream of having babies alongside my best friends, the dream of natural conception.

But when, if ever, should you grieve the entire fruitless dream? ‘Never’ is too unrealistic and discounts the constant suffering, but ‘now’ is too pessimistic. My only answer at this stage is to somehow have other dreams as well, something else to cling to and strive for through the path strewn with landmines of failure.

Lady Breaks is what I’m clinging to at the moment, it’s helping me ‘Capture my Grief’ by being honest and vulnerable with it. It sucks and it’s nasty and uncomfortable but it’s also real and a very big part of me. ‘Capturing’ it means making it visible and accessible to others, hopefully giving a voice to other people’s pain.

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