Our experience: fertility struggles are emotionally taxing and we must talk about them

There seems to be an unspoken consensus that such matters ought be kept secret. Yet we believe that the benefits from not suffering in silence outweigh these risks

In March 2019, a few days before Alexandra’s birthday, we chose to write about our struggles with depression. It’s been more than two years since we published that article and we are still very committed to share more about this and other challenges that few dare speak about.

We shared our story as we strongly believed that we might give others a little hope and courage. We are amazed by how much the simple act of sharing has proven to be a source of encouragement for others. We do not aim to solicit any sympathy towards our situation but rather kindle some empathy towards yourself and others around you. This small deed gives us purpose.

The two years since we wrote the article have been far from uneventful; from the forms of isolation as presented by a nasty pandemic to the death of a most beloved parent. Another significant  emotional challenge, which we’ll explore in this article, came from facing 2 miscarriages. That’s right, we’re talking about the “thing you apparently should never talk about” – miscarriage.

Perhaps as a precautionary tale, during our education we are all told that having sex, protected or otherwise, inevitably leads to babies. Yet this ‘obvious fact’ turns out to be far from the truth. If there are no issues with infertility, and that is a big if, around 50% of young couples will become pregnant in the first six months of trying while the remaining 50% will find success within the next 18 months. [Source: https://ivi-fertility.com/blog/infertility-in-europe/].

While this is no way an encouragement or endorsement for pre-marital sex, we are simpy giving you the heads-up that when you really want to have a baby, having a child might not simply ‘happen’ for you.

In our case, the whole process has been a struggle for over two years now. We have done the necessary tests which seem to confirm that ‘everything appears to be in order’. Some tests are less uncomfortable than others, for example for me [male], all it took was an awkward delivery of a sperm specimen to level -1 at Mater Dei. I still chuckle at the many jokes that came to mind during this unconventional ritual – some humour went a long way to relieve the unpleasantness.

For us, it appears that complications arise at around the 6th week of pregnancy. The fertilised egg gets inexplicably discarded and the pregnancy fails. Such an event poses several health risks for the mother. A miscarriage has a heavy toll on both physical and mental wellbeing – especially for individuals who have dreamt of bearing a child for most of their life. Such loss can be a traumatic experience.

An important aspect of this ongoing challenge has been the great support we have received from relatives and friends. We told them the good news as it happened and we also shared the bad news when it hit us.

There seems to be an unspoken consensus that such matters ought be kept secret – perhaps to avoid some form of judgement, gossip or discrimination. Yet we believe that the benefits from not suffering in silence outweigh these risks.

The occasional misplaced or inappropriate remark remains, and at times these may trigger a flurry of emotions, but it is good to know that people generally mean well. I have observed several minor things that people should and should not do if they care about being somewhat empathetic towards others;

  • Make no assumptions as to why someone does not have kids. They might not want kids or they might not be able to have kids. One is a choice, the other is not. Generally, mind your own business but remain approachable if a friend or relative chooses to open up about his or her experience.
  • Do not get upset or judgemental if some friends appear to be less excited when you announce that you are expecting a baby. They are surely happy for you, but they may be overwhelmed by the reality of their own journey. Your announcement might be a stark reminder of what they cannot have, and this can be painful.
  • DO NOT tag your third @ on Facebook on a post about pregnancy! Even if it is a man.
  • Couples leaving the hospital with newborns need to walk through the same waiting room for miscarriage outpatients. A small adjustment to this configuration might go a short way to slightly soften the pangs of pain from such an experience.

We are now more than two years into this journey of ‘trying to get pregnant’, and we have friends who persevered in their attempts for many more years.

My recently deceased mother also had two miscarriages before going on to give birth, and raise, four strong men. This was before the big advancements in our understanding of fertility and also before the introduction of highly effective treatments.

I personally rest easier knowing that there is a very viable alternative – the idea of giving a life of love and opportunity to a child through adoption. If the circumstances of life are such that a biological child is not an option for us, we will be equally thrilled to grow our family with an adopted child.

Alas, the pain of not being able to pursue a goal which you are very well committed to, is very real. Whatever the outcomes, I personally believe that there are many things in life that can provide fulfilment and given the context of your life, no option is more valid than others.