What motherhood feels like after years of infertility

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It's hard to explain what it feels like to see two lines come up on a pregnancy test stick when you've only been seeing one line for almost a decade.

But on that Sunday morning when I saw those lines, I felt a bolt of adrenaline. A flash of fear and panic, mixed with utter relief. I ran wildly around the house, like a dog in a storm. Then Mariah Carey's Vision of Love came on the radio, tears fell from my eyes and they wouldn't stop.    

Since that day I've had a lot of days that a million other mothers the world over have experienced. Days of pure happiness combined with exhaustion, anxiety, sloppy toddler kisses and tantrums.

There are crumbs of food everywhere in my car. Bags under my eyes that I think are just my face now. My house has changed into somewhere that has paintings on the fridge.

I am now a mother. Of two, incredibly. Something I always wanted. 


And yet. 

I cannot forget my years on the outside. The exclusion from the parent's club. The avoidance of baby showers. Crying in my car on the drive home after yet another pregnancy announcement at work. Switching over nappy ads on TV.

Trying to have a baby and being unable to is a silent hell, an experience that leaves scars.

"The effects of infertility absolutely qualify as a trauma experience for many people who suffer it," says Dr Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit. "It can cause relationship and financial stress. You can feel socially isolated, obsessed, self-critical. It can leave you feeling like you're endlessly processing all those intense emotions." 

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In fact, research has found that the level of psychological distress expressed by women with infertility was equivalent to women with cancer. I know that will sound incredulous to some, as infertility is not a life-threatening disease.

But let me say that my own experience of it took me to a dark place mentally, where I did not want to get out of bed some days, and at times left me wondering if my life was worth living. 

Then, my final try at IVF worked. But my distress did not disappear overnight. During my pregnancy I was incredibly anxious. I did not buy any baby stuff until two weeks before my son was born in case he never arrived.

And in the weeks after birth I had recurring nightmares of losing him, or being able to hear him cry but not being able to reach him, and one of him dying. 

"With trauma experiences you can get what's known as a 'sense of foreshortened future' where it's hard to imagine reaching different life stages", explains Boyes. "And you have a sense that life will be cut short."

Infertility can also cause anxiety both during pregnancy and after the baby is born, when some people can become overly protective of their children.

"Be aware of how your thoughts and feelings are affecting your parenting, but don't go overboard with thinking your anxiety is somehow dangerous to you or your child," says Boyes. "Do a reality check about whether you're a good parent overall." 

On the flip side, my experience has also made me a very sensitive and grateful mother.

I guess I have a kind of survivor's guilt too. I don't over post on social media about my kids, as I know how painful it can be for women who are struggling to conceive. And I do remind myself when I'm up all night dealing with gastro in one child and teething in the other, how lucky I am to be doing this at all.

I'm acutely aware what so many would give to be able to rock a crying baby in their arms overnight. To have a house strewn with toys and washing. 

So, to all the women reading who are longing for a baby, I want you to know that you are not forgotten by those who go on to be successful. We will always be rooting for you and hoping that you get your two lines too. 

Tara Ali is a British-born writer, currently living on the Central Coast of NSW - tarayasmineali.com