The Handmaid’s Tale, a series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, has just been released in Australia. Last night I streamed it, determined to watch only the first episode and have an early night. Of course, that didn’t happen. What ended up occurring was I watched all ten episodes. It was confronting and terrifying, yet it somehow made my resolve stronger. As a survivor of sexual assault, physical violence and fundamentalist religion disguised as faith and obedience, I am acutely aware that the depiction isn’t a grim warning about what may happen. For survivors it is a remembrance of what has already been, and what we must guard against.
The order decreed in Gilead is the ultimate submission by women. Not having access to money and property nor control of their bodies. It is a world I don’t want to live in. It is a world I have lived in. Having scriptures spouted to suit whatever situation befalls, and to claim it as evidence that the perpetrator is in the right. Women and girls being told that they are here to be pleasing and pleasant, first and foremost. The exquisite rebellion encapsulated by reading, driving a car or etching words of encouragement for those who come after you in your cell.
I vowed that if I survived, I would fight for my daughter to not have to endure a speck of what myself and my contemporaries endured. I was fourteen when I uncovered that grown men were placing bets on who would obtain this child, far away from home. My mental fortitude kept me alive, even as they sought to destroy me, discarded as collateral damage in a war I knew nothing of. I hadn’t been taught the rules, so how could I be expected to play? We must arm our daughters with knowledge, fill their hearts with empathy and love, and make damned sure that no part of The HandMaid’s Tale is a part of their future. I know of too many incidents of women who are infertile sitting in far-right churches, and left crushed after it is announced that yes, it is indeed a fertile church, and one of its members is pregnant with her fifth child. Everybody applauding, amid laughter that God has rewarded this place with ripe fruit. The women who can’t have children or who are undergoing IVF feel as though a sword has pierced their soul upon such occasions. Worth is down to how fertile you are, and home-making lessons are offered and encouraged. The women are kept ‘accountable’ to each other. How exhausting and depressing. Freedom is found when you can be whomever you want in this world. It is not found in your dress, your submission, nor your fertility.
I visited a friend on the other side of Sydney recently,after receiving a message. She had been suffering excruciating pelvic pains, and tests had revealed that she has extensive endometriosis. I made a massage blend to provide comfort to her abdomen and lower back, and grabbed my folder filled with reams of information- gathered from a decade of research-to give to her. Her story is sadly common amongst endometriosis sufferers. She started her periods early, and from the start, they were excruciating. She was misdiagnosed as having IBS, and the resulting diet and medication did nothing to alleviate her symptoms. To make matters worse, she had extensive adhesions, as a result of a burst appendix at eleven. A laparascopy had been ordered, and though they found a mass of endometriosis, they failed to tackle it. As a busy mum, it had now gotten to the point where her quality of life was massively impacted, and something had to be done. She has endured twenty years of seeing doctors, being prescribed the pill to alleviate the cramps, been misdiagnosed, having nothing show up on ultrasounds, and then diagnosed without treatment. She is facing huge costs in order for a gynacologist who doesnt specifically specialize in endometriosis to have “a go” at operating.
My endometriosis journey began at age eleven, when my periods started. They were excruciating and a gynacologist put me on the pill, which did nothing to help. The disease didn’t show up in ultrasounds, and it was suggested that I had a phobia regarding my periods, and was ‘hysterical!’ For at least two weeks every month, I was in agony, and often had to go to hospital for pain relief. I was desperate for somebody to understand, and tell me what on earth was happening. I felt very alone. Endometriosis was suggested when I was twenty, and I was given a shot of a drug made with progesterone. I was told that it was one of my only options to preserve my fertility. The next year was hell. I bled profusely, my stomach swelled and I had continual pelvic pain and migraines.
Twelve years ago, I sought the opinion of an orthopaedic surgeon about my lower back pain. My spine had been severely damaged at fifteen, and I had quite a few operations on my back to keep me walking. After I explained that the back pain became unbearable the week before my period, and started to ease the week after, it was suggested that I may have endometriosis. I was referred to a gynacologist, and he booked me in for a laparoscopy. During the lap, the disease was found throughout my pelvis, in balls the size of oranges. This doctor burnt off the disease. When I went back to him for the post-op consult, I was doubled over in pain. He told me that I was fixed, and disregarded my concerns about my fertility and ongoing pain. He wrote a script for the pill and sent me on my way. I collapsed a month later, and sought out an endometriosis specialist. When he operated, he found scores of blood-filled cysts and extensive disease underneath the scarring (the aftermath of some of the disease being burnt off). He had to perform a radical excision of the endometriosis, to seperate it from my uterosacral ligaments and ureter, amongst many places.
Straight afterward, I decided to start IVF, as it was the optimal time, whilst I had a clear pelvis. Once again, I faced ignorance regarding endometriosis, and was put on drugs that encouraged it to grow at lightning speed. I had to be carried into emergency and was put in the maternity ward for two weeks, whilst they treated me. I was told that these particular drugs were like pouring fuel onto the disease and striking a match. I changed clinics, and with a different drug protocol, I flourished. Despite only getting one follicle, I fell pregnant and my daughter was born. I was so used to being in a great deal of pain, that I had no idea that I was in the late stages of labor when I finally went to hospital! Apparently, that is quite common with women suffering endometriosis.
When my daughter was a few months old, the disease came back with a vengeance, and I had extensive surgery. When she was three, I had another operation, and nearly lost my life. I was taken back to theatre after I bled out, and had life-saving surgery. As a result of the trauma, I went into early menopause. It has been an arduous, lonely journey, and I would hope that pelvic pain in girls is now taken seriously. Endometriosis should be suspected if a girl complains of severe period pain. Go straight to a gynacologist who specializes in endometriosis. The difference in outcomes can be astounding. My friend is saving to have the surgery to give her back her life. Even with being in a private health fund, the out-of-pocket costs can be in the thousands. I stored my daughter’s cord-blood when she was born, such was my terror that she may be diagnosed with the disease one day. It gives me peace of mind that her cord-blood may one day prove useful in the event of an endometriosis diagnosis. For further information, go to the Endometriosis Association of Australia Facebook Page. March is Endometriosis Awareness month, and it’s colour is yellow. Let’s paint the town this sunny hue, living in hope that our little girls never have to suffer in the manner their mothers and grandmothers did.
Softly spoken, her voice redolent with kindness. An English lady whom I only saw in scrubs and cap, highlighting her beautiful skin and soft eyes. We had three frozen sperm and one follicle, that is all. It was my last chance. I woke from egg pickup with ‘2’ written on my hand. There was a chance this follicle may contain nothing; two was beyond all expectation! This lady watched them grow and divide, and I held my breath. One divided too rapidly, and perished within days. The other burst into a blastocyst; which was terrific news! This lady wished me luck during the embryo transfer, and gave me the dish my embryo had grown in.
Eleven months later, I brought my miracle back to meet her, and she held my child in her arms. Years passed, and the scientist moved far away. We became reacquainted on social media. She sent a message that she would be staying nearby this Christmas, and another IVF mum and I planned to meet her with our girls. When I walked in and saw her, I squeeled with joy. My daughter was overwhelmed, meeting the lady whose picture is on our fridge; who carefully watched her as a little embryo. We hugged and looked at each other in wonder. Such a long road from where we started to having a ten year old child! I showed her the dish, and she noted the ‘2’ on the plastic. We had a moment of silence and I appreciated that the women present understood the heartache behind the second number. We talked ‘IVF speak,’ and I laughed that nobody else would understand our conversation!
Our girls both love science, and this lady set up a microscope the other miracle had been gifted for Christmas. We saw extraordinary images of cross-sections of hair, blood and many other wonders. Life-when broken down into tiny segments- really is the most amazing thing! Our girls had to battle for life, and their strength is displayed in their lives today, and shall carry them into their future. We swam in the pool on this hot summer day, the girls playing together as though they are soul sisters. I know that they are. Hours passed as we hurridly relayed what we have been up to; what the girls dreams are for their wild and precious lives.
The odds were mightily against this other mum and I, but this lady helped to see us through, changing our lives forever. How can you begin to thank her for the precious gift she handed us? Humble and kind, I pray that 2017 blesses this lady beyond her wildest imaginings. I hope the same for you all. x
Throughout the years of infertility, Christmas had been a lonely time. I made the best of it, putting on a coat threaded with stoicism. However, when I was decorating the house, wrapping gifts or shopping, there was an acute sense that someone was missing. I couldn’t bear to see children posing with Santa at the shops, and the Christmas music seemed intent on mocking my friends and I. I joined an IVF support group online, and we talked of how confronting Christmas was, and how we were dreading all the reminders. “Bugger it,” said one lady, “let’s get our trees up early!” She demanded to see photographic evidence, and we dutifully complied. There was magic in the way this act lifted our spirits; we were showing that we were still holding on, to both our sanity and dreams. Some of the ladies tragically lost babies, and others didn’t end up conceiving. Still, we all held faithful to our tradition.
Late October, my daughter discovered the decorations in the garage and pleaded to be let loose with them. I held her off until November the 1st. Bless her, she counted down the days, and on the first of the month, she ran in, reminding me that it was time.
We played Christmas carols as we unpacked the tree and decorations. As I looked around at the assembled baubles, a lump gathered in my throat. Each represented a time and place, a year or a particular person. We talked of what each piece meant to us as we worked. ” I need to put all the Christmas things up early, like you did when you were pregnant with me,” my daughter laughed. Oh darling, it started way before I was pregnant, at a time when a precious group of ladies met on the internet to give comfort to each other. We still provide a photograph each year, to assure the others that our job is done.
We need sparkle to lift us up. We need to get out the china and silver, the candles and bling. We need to create beauty. It is akin to standing on a mountain top and shouting that you are here. The more personal strife befalls, the more we need to decorate. It was worth all the work to see this little girl beam with excitement. The season of hope is starting.
I can’t tell you how much the response meant to me after I posted Til it Happens to you. The support was incredible! I was too overcome to respond for a while. People have asked how I got through it all. I suffered status epilepticus at 13, meaning I had continual seizures which couldn’t be controlled. I stopped breathing and was in a coma. It took a long time to recover from this event (it was predicted I wouldn’t). The next year, I met a monster, and was abused. The finale was being thrown off a building at fifteen. My healing has taken over twenty years. There are some things that have helped.
1. I can’t handle violence of any kind. I can’t discuss literature, nor movies, let alone view them, if they are violent. At first, I didn’t want people to think I was fragile. I didn’t want them to see the distress that talking about violence (parcelled as entertainment to the masses), conjured. I would pretend that it wasn’t hurting me. Nowadays, I don’t pretend. I gracefully bow out of conversations and invitations which would bring me into this sphere.
2. I couldn’t leave the house by myself, even to go to the letterbox. It has taken many years and many small trips to gather the strength to go farther afield. I plan ahead, and the apps I have on my phone make my preparations easier. If you are agoraphobic, be kind to yourself. Every little step is a triumph. My major incentive was that I had to get to the IVF clinic early in the morning, and simply had to do it. It made me braver than I actually felt! Now I take my daughter everywhere, and the freedom is liberating!
3. I have had to confront my deepest fears. The ones I was frightened of encountering, as I would surely fall apart. My fears included rejection, loneliness, being left alone and finding out that people weren’t as they appeared. Confronting these fears has been terrifying, and it has hurt. I have uncovered that people I looked up to were abusive behind closed doors. I have been let down and let go, but I have survived. I learnt not to leave myself behind in the process. Comforting myself became of premium importance.
4. People see a smiling, functional adult when you are out and about. They don’t recollect the child kept alive in Intensive Care on a respirator. They came into my life during a different chapter. I know what it took to get to here. The hundreds of hours of physiotherapy, the scores of surgeries… I have to remind myself of my achievements and give myself a quiet pat on the back.
5. Boundaries are a big one for a survivor. I felt as vulnerable as a newborn when I started to make a life for myself. I believed anything anyone said, and believed everyone was a friend. It has taken trial and many errors to come up with boundaries, and to trust my judgement above all else. It was a revelation, to give myself the space to honour my instincts. If a person or situation doesn’t sit right, and makes me uncomfortable, I walk away. It is imperative to do so, as I have a little girl watching me. I need to display good boundaries so she knows that its okay to be in touch with her own. It has sometimes taken me being struck mute in the company of somebody who is toxic, for me to comprehend that my body is trying to protect me by producing physical symptoms. I am free, and thus I get to decide who stays in my life. It may not be anything that anyone is doing. Rather, they remind me of someone from the past. I still have to honour my discomfort.
6. Things will trigger me on a daily basis, and much of it is out of my control. It could be a song coming on in the supermarket, an aftershave I detect in passing. It might be a conversation, or visiting a friend in a hospital where I had prior surgery. Deep breaths are required, and sometimes a visit to the lady’s restroom to compose myself. I tell myself that my anxiety is a natural reaction, and I am doing fine. If I am with close friends, I will tell them that a memory has come up. If I am not, I will breath deeply, find a focal spot to concentrate on, and reassure myself quietly.
7. I will not drink to excess, nor take tablets to blot out a bad day. Sometimes, the memories hit hard, and along with the massive amount of pain I suffer, it becomes overwhelming. Alcohol is a depressant, and thus, is disastrous as an antidote. I will only have alcohol when in the company of friends at dinner, or as a toast of celebration. It only compounds the depression which inevitably comes after overworked adrenals have crashed. Instead, I go for a walk, swim or am otherwise active. It helps tremendously.
8. I will space out at times. When you hardly sleep, and are in pain, it happens naturally. When you put flashbacks or a panic attack into the mix, let’s say I am sometimes away with the fairies! Writing (and preparing for a writing task), also lends itself to spacing out. If you holler at me on the street and I don’t respond, that’s why! I am escaping into my inner world, which is expansive and magical. I nearly jump out of my skin when I am walking along and a car beeps me. I remain jittery for the rest of the day. I am hyper vigilant; always scanning a crowd for danger, even when in my own world. It’s quite a combination!
9. You are allowed to say “no” to a request. You are allowed to rest. I keep going until I can’t, and at that point, I retreat for a bit. I have to. It is a revelation, when you learn that you can keep free spaces in the calendar. Even thirty minutes to sip tea and daydream is heavenly. I need time alone to restore and reboot. Time is precious, and I try to use it wisely.
10. My survival has been an odyssey of epic proportions. I tried to run from the memories. I attempted to smother them, as one instinctively does a fire. The smoke streams from underneath the cloth, and then the flames explode forth in a cacophony of rage. It is like burning off disease, only to have damaging adhesions form underneath. Running doesn’t work, and it certainly doesn’t help. Over many years, I have visited my places of trauma. I have wept and I have released at each site. I only did so when I was ready. You have to be ready. My natural instinct is still to run when triggered, but now I have tools. They come in the form of a laptop, a paintbrush, a pastel. They come to me as bird song, my walking shoes, my friends and my music.
When I was a child, I had big dreams. I had a determined spirit and an acute awareness that what was being done to me was not only wrong, but evil. I felt as though a cannon had ripped through my psyche, smattering me into pieces. Over time, I have laid out all the pieces, and put them into place. I am glued, sewn, fused and grafted together. I was once a china doll. Now I am reinforced and can never be broken again. It takes time to heal. You will want to give up. You will consider yourself beyond repair. You will want to run and you will try to escape your own mind. You will want to give up. Please don’t. The joy of finally accessing the tools to help you cope are worth the fight.
When one is undergoing IVF, it is imperative that one has contact with people who understand what you are going through. I was lucky enough to meet these two fabulous ladies-amongst many beauties-online during my first tenuous attempts. We made each other laugh and we provided shoulders to cry on. Nobody else understood our acronyms, such as epu and tww. Nobody else could get a take on how emotions could swing from giggles and sweetness to unadulterated rage in moments. Louise came and visited me when I had endometriosis surgery in 2007. My daughter was a newborn when Lou came to my door with flowers and food. She had never seen me in person before, and here she was, feeding me lunch whilst I stumbled to the living room, clad in pyjamas with wild hair. That is the gift of friends, isn’t it? You don’t need to put on an act, nor window dress. When someone can see that far into your eyes as to obtain your soul, what’s the point? We can say anything, and none of us bat an eyelid.
We have laughed about ridiculous things, and gasped in wonder at each other’s life events. One of these ladies has a dog who has been uncovered to be a hermaphrodite. It only makes the little dog more unique in our eyes. They came over with their hard-won families and we hung out for several hours. I was happy listening to their chatter, bursting in with occasional mirth at how absurd the conversation was. They walked with me through the hell that is infertility, and I am so glad that they are in my life.
We are planning adventures for later this year. Australia, you have been warned!
We met up with some families this week at Bondi Beach. It’s a lovely trip by bus from the city, and you get to meet some real characters. On our last trip, we came across a regal ninety year old woman, dressed to the nines. My daughter still talks about her, and she has provided a point of reference for the possibilities offered in older age. I had put 50+ sunscreen on my daughter, and myself, though I neglected my neck, to my peril. It was cool and overcast when we arrived, a dangerously deceptive combination. It didn’t take long for the sun to burst forth, in all it’s sizzling glory. There was something special about being at Bondi Beach, particularly when you don’t have the hassle of obtaining parking. A bus is the way to go! The kids had great fun, alternating between the beach and pool.
The next morning, we got up and did it all again, this time going to Balmoral Beach. On the way, we had cupcakes and ice cream at The Classic Cupcake Co. in Double Bay. Oh my goodness! Made from natural ingredients, they were a taste of heaven. I had the Midnight Mint Cupcake.
As we made our way to the beach, we witnessed a near-collision in Double Bay. An inch more and the cars would have hit. The woman who had nearly caused the accident decided to come into our lane in her ostentatious car. My friend beeped at her to warn her that we were too close behind, and the other driver made some very rude gestures! She was perfectly coiffed, aged in her fifties and old enough to know better. Money can’t buy class! The kids ran to the water, whilst we ordered chips and potato scallops. I smiled as seagulls gathered around. I fancy myself as a Bird Woman, whom understands their secret language. “I will give you a chip or two,” I smiled. “Just let me open the box.” Out of nowhere, a seagull swooped and its claws scraped the side of my face. Another one followed suit, and it pecked my face as it searched for a chip. “Little buggers!” I cried! “P*%$ off!” They were vicious; intent on stealing chips, and there were so many gathered that we were forced to move off the beach. I had never seen anything like it! Normally, birds love me! They followed us to a table, and fortunately, a Pomeranian named Romeo gallantly chased them away. The brave little dog received lots of pats from the kids!
We caught a train to an inner-city stop, and as we waited for my daughter’s dad to drive us home, I decided to show my little girl where we once lived. It was a semi-detached house in a grand old street, shaded by towering trees. I got a real kick out of pointing out where our Aboriginal neighbour lived, as well as two elderly sisters, now departed from this world. I stopped at the gate to our former abode, picturing myself at 20. I was writing and had started my business here, creating art for shops in Newtown and the city. I had also started my journey of infertility here, having been given a strong injection which was promised to slow the progression of endometriosis (which they hadn’t determined I had). Instead of making me feel better, it caused side-effects so violent that I was bed-ridden for a good year. It was here I feared I would never have my daughter, and it was here I wished with all my heart that I would.
As I glanced up at canopy of trees, I was appalled that I had ceased to appreciate them properly at the time. They don’t preserve streets and grand architecture as they used to; like they did on this particular street. My daughter was taken with the street art, and the park at the end of the street. As I watched her roll down a hill and perform cartwheels, my throat constricted with emotion. The amount of times I sat on that very hill in that little park… Dreaming of having a child, and of what life might be.
I sat next to her, and told her of the life I lived long before she arrived. I talked of my hopes and dreams, and also of my fears. I hadn’t been back to the street for many years. I can still hear the mail being dropped through the slot in our door. I can still feel the warmth from the old gas oven in the kitchen I painted turquoise. I can see me. I haven’t changed that much, except that I am weathered. We all get weathered along the way, to varying degrees. Distressed and shabbily chic. I am glad I thought to take her back. I hope that the girl on the hill could feel our visitation through time and space. I hope she could sense that she was going to be okay. I hope she could sense the little girl doing cartwheels nearby. I am glad I got too see the canopy of trees, as if for the first time.
I have an extraordinary daughter and she and I share an extraordinary bond. It hasn’t been an easy road, for either of us. It is a dreadful dichotomy, to want a child so desperately, and yet struggle when she arrives. I filled in the requisite questionare when I was pregnant and the alarm bells rang when the matron in the maternity ward saw it. Not only had I had major trauma in my life, but also a damaged body and little help. I couldn’t drive a car and was in a wheelchair in the later part of pregnancy. I felt more alarmed by my score because the matron was filled with histrionics. “How will you cope when you shall be mostly alone when she arrives? What will you do?” she trilled. Crap! How shall I cope and what shall I do? I began to ruminate on these frightening themes. It didn’t help that I had no experience with babies. I could barely recall being a child myself! More people doubted my abilities than believed in them.
I did IVF to have her, and that was an Odyssey in itself. I never thought beyond getting to the epu and then the dreaded tww. That was all my brain had space for. I felt so little, and vulnerable. I had to buy my pyjamas and dressing gown from the kidswear section as despite my enormous belly, I was petite and short. Very short. After my maternity visitation, I booked in for counselling after having been told that I was a prime candidate for perinatal and then postnatal depression. You know what was uncovered during these sessions? I had prepared myself for the pain that would unfurl on my damaged spine and kidneys… I had prepared myself for most matters. What I did have an issue with was boundaries. I had allowed people to run rampant in my life. I felt so fragile after IVF, and vulnerable now. I almost had her at 19 weeks, and it created major anxiety, even after the rupture sealed and labor stopped. I left hospital after several weeks, on high alert. As a result, my life and pregnancy became a free-for-all. All I wanted was peace and silence and I was getting little of either.
When my rambunctious daughter arrived, I didn’t tell anyone save her godparents. I needed time with her alone. Oh yes, noses were out of joint, but at that stage, I was past caring. I didn’t want throngs of people touching her. I needed to get to know her! When the staff took her down the hall for her routine tests, she would roar until she was wheeled back in and then not a peep was heard. She always was a little firebrand who not only knew her own mind, but spoke it.
At home by myself, it was tough. I could barely walk for months, and she had colic. She rarely slept and only stopped crying when in my arms. I was exhausted though enthralled. I tried every available product on the market to ease her suffering. Whenever the colic pain eased, I would search her face in desperation. I wanted her so much; did she not know? The other young mothers I knew all had routines set down for their newborn and they slept. I fell into postnatal depression, and sought appropriate help once again. It made all the difference. I stopped ruminating on my fears of being enough for this wondrous child. By six months, she was a gurgling, happy little munchkin. I was making myself a coffee after settling her to sleep in her crib at the end of my bed. I heard a giggle, and turned around to see my 8 month old grinning at the door of the kitchen. I dropped my cup in fright. She had managed to climb out of her crib, landing on my bed, and then walked to the kitchen. Even as an embryo, she was in a hurry, doing what a 7 day old embie might within 48 hours. I came to know her personality, and she mine.
She hated being in her pram and I found out that she was extremely flexible in rather a stressful manner. I was walking up the hill to a nature reserve, where my car was parked. I heard a strange clunk coming from underneath her pram though persisted with my voyage. To my horror, I found the wheels of the pram had run over my daughter! She had gotten free of the restraints and stood up in the pram! I ran to retrieve her and she was laughing, delighting in the game!
Then there was the memorable time in a play centre. We were attending a playgroup Christmas Party. Only one harangued girl was on the counter and the place was bedlam. I heard my toddler call out, “hi mummy!” To my horror, she had climbed through the third level’s netting and lifted herself through a large hole in the roof. She was now standing on the flimsy net with nothing around her on the outside. Hurridly I crawled through the levels, and retrieved her by her feet. She thought it was terrific.
At four, I thought I had struck gold. I had discovered a meditation cd for children which carried her into the land of nod. Delighted, I put it on every evening. I pressed ‘play’ one night, and got the fright of my life. She had changed the meditation cd for rock music, and put it at full volume. She hid the calming cd and I haven’t seen it since.
I reflect on the tumultuous early days and am sad that I was so filled with fear. Heck, half of it wasn’t even mine! The colic ended, and whilst she was still a very wakeful baby, I let go of any notion that I could control it, and went with the flow. I slept when she did. If I had my time over, I would expunge any anxiety that I was too damaged to do the job of child-rearing properly. I would accept more help. I would try harder to stand out rather than fit in with what everyone else was doing. My daredevil insisted that I chill out, and I grew to understand her capabilities when it came to climbing and general mayhem. She has never fallen, and whilst I have anything to do with it, she never will.
This is a bone of contention for me. I was asked when I was going to have kids continually, for many years. It didn’t help that due to endometriosis, my abdomen swelled and at times I did appear pregnant. At the time I didn’t know that I would require IVF to have any chance of pregnancy, nor that it would be a decade-long odyssey. When people asked about my plans, I felt frozen to the spot. I was already worried about the possibility of infertility, and feeling as though I had to explain myself compounded my fears and pain. It didn’t end when I was undergoing cycles of IVF either. I was regularly asked if it had “worked.” It was akin to being re-traumatized. The pain of it all was overlooked as others made glib jokes. They also commented that I wouldn’t know what business, life nor love were until I had a child.
The queries didn’t end when I had my daughter. Soon after her birth, people started enquiring as to when I was having another. There was advice on not leaving her an only child. There were smirks and comments about how one child turns out. There was criticism and pressure all around me. I almost died trying to get myself prepared via surgery for further IVF. The trauma caused me to plunge into menopause prematurely. Still, the questions kept coming, as did the criticism of having an only child.
I can say with all honesty that as much as I love my child, I applaud that she is becoming an autonomous human being. As each day passes, she is a step further toward independence. I spend 24 hours a day with her, yet we aren’t joined at the hip. I have my interests and she has hers, and we make time for both. At every opportunity, she is off with her friends having fun. It would be co-dependant to expect her to fulfil me, to make me a whole person and to seal a gaping psyche. No child can do that. I had her out of love, with the understanding that she would leave one day. I am the same person I was before, only stronger and braver. I go out more and wont put up with toxic behaviour for her sake as well as my own. I didn’t have her to define me.
I have a friend who is expecting twins. She announced it to me the other day. I had noticed her swollen belly a while back, but didn’t comment. It wasn’t my business. If she was indeed pregnant she would tell me in her own time. She could have had a litany of maladies to explain her tummy, endometriosis included. She already has a few kids, and is tired of the insensitive jokes and commentary at the other end of the spectrum. You can imagine what she is subjected to. It is an extremely sensitive topic for many reasons, and a hugely personal one. If somebody questions you about when you are having kids, offer them no answer if you are uncomfortable. Smile wryly and move away. You already know what it is to nurture, love and toil.
So many emotions swirl around when you discover you need IVF. You go in search of your tribe, uncovering a plethora of online support. I want to address what happens when-after a truckload of heartache- you fall pregnant. The IVF clinic were my family. I clung to them, and saw them most days. I knew all the staff’s names, and it was familiar and secure, this place of dreams. They celebrated along with me upon my positive pregnancy test. I had one follicle. It was a miracle. Upon discovering that my baby’s heart was beating soundly and I didn’t indeed have a chemical pregnancy, I was released. What the? I am not ready! I was sent off to find an obstetrician, to join the ranks of the fertile I had previously avoided and feared. I had been turfed out of my nest.
I found the same online. I was ever-aware that my friends were struggling, and pondered on breaking my news. Everyone was most joyful, but I knew I didnt have a place on the IVF boards anymore. Interestingly, being on the post-IVF boards was painful too. There were ladies falling pregnant again naturally, with their second and third children. I didnt feel like I belonged nor identified with the group gathered for the pregnancy classes at the local hospital either. They had all travelled extensively and then decided to fall pregnant. In my world, that wasn’t an option. I felt intimidated to be around couples who had timed their lives. When they complained about their pregnancies I felt indignant.
I didn’t belong anywhere in pregnancy. I lost contact with those still going through the process, just as those who had fallen pregnant whilst I was undergoing IVF were lost to me. It is such a painful journey, and whilst you rejoice in another’s success, it is a reminder of your grief. In my mother’s group post-birth, I didn’t feel as though I belonged either, especially when they went on to have other babies. I was in and out of hospital having surgery and tests, praying to have a second child. They were lost to me too.
Oh man, the injections and nasal sprays, pills and procedures, egg pickup and embryo transfers, the two week wait, who could I share this with? Only those who have been to this precipice to insanity could understand. Our bond is so strong that a woman I had never met in person called around upon hearing that I had endured more endometriosis surgery in the hopes of having a second child. She came armed with flowers, a meal and a huge hug for my daughter. There are another set of mothers out there, who have been through IVF and had to leave that world, though don’t fit in with mothers who conceived naturally. I am proud to be amongst their ranks. This journey isn’t for the faint-hearted.