I'd always imagined I would slip into pregnancy gracefully; a swan dive into the cool, welcoming waters of the next stage of life. I would decide I was 'ready' (ha!) to become a parent, I would fall pregnant pretty quickly, naturally, like everyone else I knew, and I would marvel at the miracle of life as it blossomed inside me. Right?
Wrong. My attempts to enter this exclusive club of impending motherhood were like replaying a painful slap in the face, over and over and over again. For more than two years, I bounced off the surface of this elusive state of being like a water-skier hitting the water, the liquid turning to cement as I fell. Tests were run. Answers eluded us. Eventually, my guilt (what's wrong with me?), panic (really, what's wrong with me?) and desperation (seriously, what is wrong with me?) led me, like so many others, to IVF.
I kept a diary of that time – as a writer, I guess I felt that it might help somehow to keep a record of what I went through. And to be honest, I was just…lonely. I didn't know who talk to or how to say what I was feeling.
My amazing husband was there with me all the way, of course; as was my family, and some close friends. But there's something brutally and unfairly shameful about feeling that you're failing in such a natural purpose: the creation of new life. And shame – even undeserved shame – has a horrible way of making you retreat into yourself, away from the people you feel you've failed; away from the people you feel will pity you in well-meaning whispers; away from everyone you care about.
So I wrote it all down, and I kept it mostly to myself.
My husband and I are now proud parents to our 18 month-old son. He lit up our world the second he entered it, and I am grateful for him every single day. Ironically, it turned out after all of this that I had no fertility problems; the issue, only discovered as they prepared the egg for implantation (despite earlier testing), lay on my husband's side. We were lucky – I fell pregnant on my first cycle and, after a few scares and hiccups along the way, we welcomed our son nine months later. But the pain and the shame and the weird sense of secrecy I felt around the whole idea and process of IVF has never really gone away.
So when I came across a podcast the other day from Leandra Medine – otherwise known as the Man Repeller, the very cool, witty style blogger renowned for her down-to-earth attitude – I was shocked to find myself listening, tears rolling down my face, as a few searingly honest, simply-spoken words brought it all rushing back.
She may attend more FROWS than the Olsen twins and be one of the most-photographed style influencers in the world, but at the heart of it all, she's a woman. Trying to fall pregnant. Going through IVF. And feeling all the feelings of frustration and shame and why-me and when-will-this-end that I, and no doubt many others, felt.
I think it was the tone of her voice that got me: that first 'Hi', strangled with sadness, before she went on to share how she'd just – that day - learned her recent egg implantation hadn't been successful. She described how her heart had sunk, and how she'd let it sit there while she examined her feelings. How she was trying so hard to work through it all, find a constructive way through the pain.
She described that raw sadness that overcomes the body when you learn that you're not pregnant, again. How she felt like a 'loser'. How she was angry. Tired. How much she was willing to give up to have a child.
I could feel it all flood my body again: I'd been angry at that time, too. At the doctors who were supposed to have the answers to it all; even at my husband, because while he was the one holding my hand, I was the one being poked and prodded and blood drawn and body basically completely and utterly invaded. I was angry at how everyone else around me was falling pregnant naturally, without having to seek out a cold, scientific solution to an elusive, human-shaped issue. It wasn't right to be angry at any of these people, but it was real nonetheless.
As Medine continued to talk, her words tumbling all over each other and punctuated by cracks where tears threatened to take over, she took me back to that rollercoaster of hope and disappointment; of nervous optimism and desperate determination.
But this time I was on that ride with someone else going through the same thing, and it was both confronting and cathartic. She's a braver woman than I am: in a later podcast, she reflects on the process of sharing her pain when it's raw and unedited – not drafted and erased and re-written, like my words have been.
As Medine writes in her intro to the podcast, inspirational tales of triumph over all this adversity are all well and good, but it's also important to seek ways of dealing with the now; the muddling-through part.
So while I wish I could say to anyone going through these struggles to ignore the people who'll tell you to 'just relax and you'll fall pregnant'; or that while there are no guarantees, we have a better shot at pregnancy now than we might have generations earlier, thanks to these scientific advancements; or that it may feel cold and overly-medicalised, but that all falls away if you're lucky enough to hold that baby in your arms at the end of it all – I guess that's besides the point.
Anyone who's never gone through all this may ponder the wisdom of 'dwelling' on these feelings – and of course, some people dealing with fertility issues may not wish to share their experiences at all. But for those who do, I'd say there's comfort in sharing real, sad, horrible emotions and just recognising them for what they are. There's comfort in the many comments from Medine's followers, praising her honesty and her search for empathy; her refusal to lock it all away and pretend it doesn't hurt or that she shouldn't talk about it. She found, a few weeks later, that the sharing had helped, even if the situation hadn't changed.
So if you're going through fertility struggles, or you've started IVF and you don't know what your future holds and everything hurts both inside and out, please know that you're not alone. We may not all talk about it, but if you look for the stories of other people who've gone through it, they are out there. They won't solve your pain, or clear your path, and they won't be exactly the same as yours - but they will hold your hand along the way.