The Emotional Struggle of Infertility & Childlessness

Today I am dedicating my blog to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward releasing on April 17th. For five weeks 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma.

Yesterday Susan shared her story and tomorrow we will hear from Lisa at Life Without Baby. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward.

“When our dream has cost us so much, emotionally, socially, spiritually, physically and financially; imagining a happy and fulfilled life without children can feel impossible.”

From a young age, we gather all sorts of messages and expectations from parents, media, peers and society which assume someday we will become parents. For many people, including me, they saw parenthood as an essential part of their identity in the future. For others, being a parent is their primary goal and it’s sad that those who choose to remain child free are subjected to inappropriate assumptions and affected by the pressure from society’s views on their decision to procreate.

Our script or ‘internal dialogue’ that starts to develop inside our head, from about the age of 5, is based on all these external messages and beliefs. Gathered from our parents, family, friends and the world around us; it’s no wonder that when things don’t work out the way we imagined, life starts to get a bit tricky and our emotional health suffers.

For the 1 in 8 people who struggle daily with infertility, undergoing fertility treatment can feel all-consuming and affect every aspect of our lives. With all the personal and social pressure to ‘have it all’, it is perhaps unsurprising to hear that infertility has negative psychological impacts on many facing the daily challenges of infertility. Anxiety and depression are common amongst those facing fertility issues with feelings of; sadness, frustration, hopelessness, inadequacy, guilt, shame and suicide being felt in many cases. In fact, there are studies which now suggest that, as a group, women with fertility problems are just as depressed and anxious as women suffering with cancer. Having fertility issues and knowing you are going to remain childless can indeed, at times, feel terminal.

“The disappointment of failed fertility treatment was one of the hardest things I had to deal with, the media only tend to show us the miracle baby stories so I thought it would work first time….I was wrong”

As well as external expectations from society as a whole, we often also fail to recognize the grief caused by infertility. Those struggling to conceive therefore tend to hide their sorrow, which only increases feelings of shame and isolation. The loss of ‘our dream’ and ‘the life we had always imagined’ can be impossible for others to understand. Acknowledging and honouring our feelings is the first step in our recovery.

Moving from a place of utter devastation, at the realisation that I was never going be a Mother, to a life of purpose, fulfilment and joy didn’t happen overnight. Having spent the best part of a decade trying to conceive and start a family, suffered two miscarriages and 11 failed assisted conception cycles, I got to the point where I wondered if it would ever be possible to experience any ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ again.  I couldn’t imagine being able to look forward to anything in my life, I felt sad, empty and depressed. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore and felt that infertility had taken over my life and identity.

It seemed that the years spent undergoing assisted conception (Clomid, IUI & IVF) had taken its toll, emotionally, spiritually and physically, and all of my hope had finally disappeared. What did I have to look forward to? Every aspect of my life had been affected by the process, from my career, to holding back on moving house and booking holidays just in case treatment worked. It was hard to get my head around even starting to think about an alternative life. The treatment had taken up so many years of my life and moving on from the dream of becoming a mother felt impossible.

Moving forward…

Given everything I had been though, realising that these feelings were ‘normal’ and that I wasn’t going mad was a huge relief.  After wallowing for a while, doing lots of self-discovery work and getting appropriate support, I felt a strong desire to turn my painful situation into something positive. Knowing that there were so many other people out there in the same circumstance inspired me to create my own Childless Support Organisation: The Dovecote.

With much stigma a taboo around being childless, I wanted to reach out, connect and support others who had found they were childless by circumstance too. Realising there was a light in this darkness was absolutely life changing. A shift in focus enabled me to begin to start looking outwardly, focus on what I could control and see the opportunities I could never had imagined. Coming out about my infertility and involuntary childlessness was possibly one of the scariest but most liberating things I have ever done. Sharing my story and being vulnerable has proved to be one of my greatest achievements. I’m now able to speak, write and work with others to make a positive difference to the lives of those dealing with involuntary childlessness. I have learnt that I can mother in different ways and that whilst I don’t have children of my own I’m still no less of a women.

We all have our own unique gifts, sometimes these gifts can come from our most painful experiences. Using this experience in a positive way has turned my pain into my passion and I’m a much stronger person for it.

Kelly Da Silva: Founder of The Dovecote.org

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