Joseph and I got married in 2005. We had been in a relationship for several years beforehand and, after lots of travelling (and lots of fun!), we decided it was time to settle down and start a family. We’d always imagined a life with children.
I remember a conversation we had during our honeymoon in Thailand. We playfully argued over how many children we would have. I wanted 3 but Joseph was adamant he wanted 4. I was 27 years old and full of hope.
Our first year trying to conceive
We started trying for a baby straight away. We were both very relaxed about the whole process. I even remember feeling relieved at the first negative pregnancy test as I had a hen party the following weekend and didn’t want to do it sober. The months rolled on and the sacred second line never appeared. After about 8 months of trying, I started to worry something wasn’t right.
After a full year of regular, unprotected sex, we went to see the GP. In a blasé manner, he told us we were very young and that it would eventually happen for us. We left feeling confused and dissatisfied. I booked to see another GP the next week who referred us for some initial fertility tests.
The long road of infertility
I won’t go into too much detail about the next year or so. It was a year of admin, tests and heartbreak. We kept trying but a baby never manifested. We had countless investigations, some painful, some intrusive and some just plain embarrassing.
Throughout our entire experience, no one has ever been able to tell us why we cannot get pregnant. It’s called unexplained infertility. We longed for answers during this difficult time. Every time a test result came back showing there was nothing wrong with us, we felt intense pain. If there is a diagnosis – often there is a treatment. Without a problem identified, the doctors have nothing to solve.
We believed IVF would end our infertility journey
In 2008, we excitedly visited an IVF clinic to plan our first round. We saw the statistics showing that IVF is only successful 29% of the time for women under 35. We naively assumed we’d be one of the lucky ones.
Over the next 10 years, we went through 9 rounds of IVF. We took breaks, to heal and save money. In 2012, we stopped trying for 2 full years to focus on our relationship. Without this break, our marriage would not have survived. IVF worked for us twice but both pregnancies ended in early miscarriage before 6 weeks. Words can’t describe the emotional and physical pain.
Infertility does strange things to your perception and decision-making skills. I wanted a baby so much that, in hindsight, I acted quite irrationally at times. I didn’t think about pain and anguish as factors to be considered. I believed that all the heartbreak wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things – just as long as we got that baby.
I know lots of women who go through IVF and see themselves as mums, and I totally respect that, but I don’t identify as a mother. The only way I can understand motherhood is by looking back at those years of treatment.
IVF is an act of self-sacrifice. I committed my life fully to an unknown hypothetical baby. I sacrificed my thirties to someone else – I just never got to meet and love that someone else.
The final decision
In 2018, my husband and I turned 40. We went on a trip to Thailand, returning to our beloved honeymoon spot. Whilst away, we spent many long evenings sat looking out at the beautiful sea reflecting on what we’d been through.
We talked about giving IVF one last chance, looking into surrogacy and other options like adoption or fostering. We talked about our life and how lucky we’ve been in many ways. We’re both blessed with wonderful families, fulfilling careers, financial stability and a marriage that is full of laughter.
We came to the difficult conclusion that we were going to stop putting ourselves through torture in order to achieve the unachievable. With tears in our eyes, we accepted that not everyone gets their fairy-tale ending and that it was time to come to terms with a life without children. We could no longer cope with our life together being defined by what it was lacking. The pain was too overwhelming.
Our life now
We made that decision 2 years ago and it’s not been an easy road. My life had been fully dedicated to making a baby until that moment, and I felt empty and aimless for a long time. However, with the support of an amazing therapist and an online community of involuntary childfree women, I am healing.
I have found peace with our life as it is. I am happy. I have found meaning in my life.
That’s not to say that an unexpected pregnancy announcement doesn’t trigger pain and sorrow. I still find events like baby showers very difficult. But I look at my life and feel satisfied.
Joseph and I are now defined by who we are. Our life is no longer a puzzle with a missing piece. We have ambitions and dreams again. We’re free.
It means a lot to share my story with Tommy’s. Too often, women are fed the narrative that – if they keep on trying – eventually their rainbow baby will arrive. For those of us who don’t get this ‘happy ending’, it can feel hard to feel at home in the baby loss community. Our grief is still important, even if we’re on a different journey to healing. Our storm has come to an end, but our rainbow looks different.
I’m determined to raise awareness and money for Tommy’s over the next 10 years. My experience of unexplained infertility, IVF and miscarriage has shown me how little the medical establishment understands about reproduction and female health. In this day and age, pregnancy shouldn’t be a mystery.
I believe that more research into early pregnancy could have helped our story come to a different ending.