The first round of IVF was horrendous (Picture: Rob Taylor)
I’ll never forget the feelings of devastation, panic and despair on the day our IVF consultant told my husband and I that we’d never have children of our own.
I was 36 years old at the time and it was in March 2014, after we’d been trying to have a child through IVF for three years.
Not a year goes by when I don’t reflect on just how far I’ve come since that fateful day. Thankfully, in many ways, infertility has actually transformed my life for the better, but it took me a long time to realise it.
During the classic birds and the bees talk at school, no one mentions what happens when those bees don’t pollinate, or those birds don’t lay their eggs. All you learn about is how to conceive – or more importantly in your teenage years, how to avoid conceiving.
No one ever tells you about infertility. But for 3.5million people in the UK – including myself – infertility is a very painful reality.
We started trying for a family shortly after we got married in 2010 when I was 33. After a year of trying to conceive without success, we decided to start fertility treatment on the NHS.
Initially, the doctors seemed hopeful of our chances, but as our treatment progressed everything seemed stacked against us.
The first round of IVF was horrendous. Nothing prepares you for the daily injections, the invasive internal scans and the drugs that wreak havoc with your hormones. Emotionally, I was all over the place.
I got to the end of the first failed round of IVF, hugged my dad, and told him I just wanted to walk forever with my dog, Poppy – escape what was going on around me and get away from the world.
Failing just made me want kids even more. I was frustrated and so angry, I just wanted to be like everyone else.
We had two further free rounds of IVF on the NHS and in each one, specialists could only harvest around four or five eggs and my egg quality was poor. Further investigation revealed I had severe endometriosis, something that had never been identified during earlier testing.
IVF is unbearably lonely and isolating because I became encapsulated in a world of fear. Fear of what my childless future would look like, but also fear of another friend announcing their pregnancy, or another IVF success story being splashed across the papers.
No matter what anyone tells you, there is light at the end of the infertility tunnel (Picture: Rob Taylor)
I would be overwhelmed with feelings of jealousy when friends would discuss baby names or proudly nurture their bump in my presence. They weren’t being insensitive – I realise that now – and many of them didn’t even know we were trying for a family, but if they did, they just expected our story to have a happy outcome.
Looking back, I lost a lot of friendships during that time. I just couldn’t cope with the insurmountable feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. I felt like a failure.
The thing no one realises is how desperately sad you feel. It’s like an all-encompassing sense of grief, only worse because you have no happy memories to cherish. You’re grieving for a life you will never have.
Almost three years after first starting treatment, we were told the devastating news that if we wanted children, the only option was egg donation abroad. By this point, both my husband and I were emotionally exhausted.
So after three attempts at IVF – the last one of which was aborted because I didn’t respond to the drugs – we gave in the towel and I found myself in a very dark place, not that I particularly realised it at the time.
Adoption also didn’t feel right for us. We just wanted to draw a line under our horrific experience and somehow get on with building an alternative life for ourselves.
No matter what anyone tells you, there is light at the end of the infertility tunnel. There’s no quick fix, it takes time to heal.
Even in those early days, I was determined that infertility wasn’t going to define my future. But my life felt ’empty’ and I knew that I needed to find something to fill the void.
For many couples, IVF tears them apart, but we’re lucky, it’s made us stronger. We’ve both been determined to make the most of what we have. We’ve supported each other, and my husband Rob’s encouraged me to believe in myself and to start my own business. Along with my dog Poppy, who has been my absolute soulmate throughout it all, they have got me through those dark days.
It’s been a long and painful road, but I can honestly say I am now the most content and happy I have been throughout all my adult life. Finally, I have found myself.
Coming to terms with infertility has been about finding something to fill the void of childlessness. I dote on my two terriers Poppy and Gertie.
Poppy is 15 now and has been by my side throughout our IVF journey – I honestly wouldn’t have got through it without her. And little Gertie is almost two. Both of them bring so much love and enjoyment to every day – I love them more than anything in the world.
It’s perfectly acceptable to live a life without children (Picture: Rob Taylor)
Six years ago, I also started my own business, which has given me something to nurture and focus on.
Setting up my online dog-friendly directory Dotty4Paws, which advertises dog-friendly places, dog-related services, and products and gifts you can buy for your canine companion, has totally transformed my life, not to mention my mental health. It’s given me purpose. It’s something that I have built myself from scratch and I can feel proud of it.
Being childless has opened a whole new world. I’ve achieved things I would never have contemplated if we’d had children. My dogs and I go on lots of holidays (just the three of us), reviewing fantastic dog-friendly places and writing about them on my blog.
I have regained control of my life and I’ve learned to love it and make the most of every day.
If I had kids, I’d probably be living life at a hundred miles an hour. Juggling family life with brief interludes of ‘me time’. As it is, I can enjoy time with my dogs, go on lovely long walks each day, meet up with friends and take life at my own pace.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s not the life I envisaged, but I look forward to getting up every day and surely that’s what counts.
I feel like I lost years of my life to IVF and that’s time I will never get back. I pinned so much hope on something that was very unlikely to be successful for me.
It’s perfectly acceptable to live a life without children and society needs to recognise that. People need to talk more freely and openly about their IVF failure so that others in my situation don’t feel so isolated and alone.
Being a parent is a privilege. For those lucky enough to have that privilege, enjoy it and never take it for granted.
For those of you like me, there’s only one life. Get out there and live it.
Dotty4Paws is an award-winning online directory that is dedicated entirely to dogs and you can find out more on their website.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.
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