The great conception question
There was a huge response last week to Martin Fitzgerald’s article about the problems he and his wife are having conceiving. Here, we run a selection of the feedback, and he reflects on the messages of good will, solidarity, support and hope he received from readers
IT’S BEEN just over a week since I wrote about our attempts, and failures, to conceive.
The original decision to do so was not an easy one.
I was anxious about telling people about the embarrassing moments, and ashamed to have to admit to the sadness, failures, and jealousy. I feared that there would be no response, and I would regret having ever opened my mouth, leaving us to carry on alone, but exposed.
The responses were overwhelming. People with no personal knowledge of infertility sent their best wishes, and people with experience of it shared their very intimate stories.
My wife and I spent the evening reading the messages, and each one we went through justified our decision.
We felt validated, and reassured. We felt unburdened, and supported.
The boost they gave us brought it home how much we really did need that support, and just how isolated we had started to feel. The tangible relief in the words of some of the messages illustrated just how much everyone in this situation needs some help, and how much they long for someone to tell them they have that backing.
Men identified with the absurdity and the paternal desire, women were grateful for a peek into their partner’s frame of mind, and everyone recognised the need to be more open, frank and honest.
They show us that infertility doesn’t discriminate. Your nearest infertile is not some demented woman trawling the maternity ward looking for a newborn to put in her handbag, its your neighbour, your work colleague, your friend.
The messages we received reconfirmed to us just how common this is. Its easy to use a statistic such as “one in six couples need help conceiving”, but only when you see a list of messages from people with real names, and real stories of failures and successes, can you get a feel for how widespread these problems are.
The number of those affected, and the amount of open discussion are extraordinarily out of proportion.
The responses made me see how much people on the periphery of the problem want to help. Often family and friends get privately berated for not saying the right thing, not saying enough or saying too much. In reality, they don’t have any answers, they just want to show that they are behind you, and are there if you need them.
How can we expect them to have the perfect sound-bite reaction to something we keep so close to our chests?
For those who are part of this hushed infertile underworld, a silent community, the reward for speaking out could be so much more tangible than just emotional support. If more people felt comfortable enough to take their whispered discussions away from their kitchen tables and into the public domain, people in positions of influence would eventually have to listen.
One in six couples equates to a lot of people, or more importantly a lot of health insurance customers. Irish couples certainly deserve at least the option to be covered for the full range of fertility treatments if they are willing to pay the premiums.
Of course, there is always the dream that such treatment be made available through the public health service. The idea that there are couples, who are so committed to raising a family that they would put themselves through these procedures, and yet are being completely denied because they don’t have the finances, is a very sad one.
The tax relief for these expenses has already been cut. If we don’t make ourselves known, we will never be served.
I’m glad that what I said last week gave a handful of people the feeling that they dont need to be isolated, and are supported enough to add their stories here. I hope that in turn, each one will help another handful of people to do the same.
I know just how vulnerable you feel at the moment you begin to tell someone your story. The feelings of anxiety, fear of exposure and even shame have stopped me on many occasions, but the positive reaction in the last week has made all that disappear.
Infertility is one of the last taboo subjects of Irish society. I want these responses to be a small part of something bigger that helps to change that.
I want them to hold value for others like they have for my wife and me.
I believe they will.
‘I’m living life to the full and not putting life on hold in the interim’
“This is the first time I’ve read an article on infertility from the male perspective (doctor’s reports, journals etc excluded!). Thanks for writing it, with your off-the-cuff humour and your honesty.
“My husband and I have been in a similar boat for the past seven years! Yeah, seven! Everything you wrote is just so familiar. If it doesn’t destroy you, it definitely makes you stronger and, in my case, it has made me as an individual and us as a couple stronger.
“If I’ve learned anything at all in this time, it’s that you don’t always get what you want in life but it is how you make the most of what you have that counts. Wisdom and acceptance comes with time though – there’s no quick fix.
“It took five years and one miscarriage for me to get there. Normally I’m a fast learner, but not where this was concerned. I still hope, but I’m living life to the full and not putting life on hold in the interim. Once you decide to hand over the burden to God, destiny, nature or whomever/ whatever you believe in, serenity returns and the constant mental strain disappears.
“I sincerely wish you and your wife the very best and hope that you will have the little miracle you so desire.”
‘I laughed out loud when you mentioned the “solo sex act” ’
“My wife and I were in the same situation some years back. I laughed out loud when you mentioned the ‘solo sex act’. I remember it so well.
“We were 13 years married and then a miracle occurred. Well, two miracles. We adopted our twin daughters, and later our son, and they are the loves of our lives.
“I don’t know whether you have considered this. I won’t call it an option, because I believe that what was meant for me didn’t pass me by, and I absolutely love my kids to bits. I wish you and you wife all the best.”
– Ciaran Williams
‘Reading your story is like reading my own a few years ago’
“I am sitting here in Savannah, Georgia reading your story. I’m from Dublin. Reading your story is like reading my own a few years ago, with my poor old hubby handing in the cup. Unfortunately, they are less than private over here when you are handing in a sample. I had all the tests too and we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. It took us four years. I went on babycenter.com, put in my ovulation info, they gave us a date to go for it – and bingo it worked. We now have two boys and one on the way.
Don’t give up hope. It’s horrible and distressing and that just makes it worse.
- Tanya Wallin
‘Don’t let the IVF doctors put you off for too long’
“I have been an IVF nurse co-ordinator for 13 years and your article still brought a lump to my throat. You have managed to portray all the pain associated with infertility in a humorous but touching and very real way. Your article is excellent. We see this pain in couples’ faces everyday.
“Thank you for being honest and open about this all and sharing it with other people going through the same experience so they know they are not alone. It can be very isolating for couples.
“Unexplained infertility is the most frustrating diagnosis to get. Please be aware that the most crucial factor in being successful is your wife’s age, so don’t let the doctors put you off for too long, trying at home without being more proactive, as her best fertility years might be slipping away”.
– Anna Hosford,
Barbados Fertility Centre,
Christ Church, Barbados
‘I told my husband that kids would be the icing on the cake’
“ We too are two years down the line and are doing IUI at the moment. We knew when we got married we would have problems, but, like you and your wife still holding hands, I told my husband when we got married that kids would be the icing on the cake.
“I’ve won the lottery already in meeting him and I just keep reminding myself of that every month because I know it still holds true. “
‘It’s so important that the topic of TTC (trying to conceive) is aired’
“ You so clearly articulated the pain of long-term TTC (trying to conceive). It’s so important that this topic is aired.
“All of us who struggle daily with well-meant inquiries about the pitter-patter of little feet, and smile glibly though the pain, salute you for your honesty.”