INFERTILE GROUND

When your part­ner can’t give you the fam­ily you crave

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - Nicola Szy­manowski, 39, a business owner from Manch­ester il­lus­tra­tion ELISA MA­CEL­LARI

From the mo­ment I met Mark at a wed­ding in 2008, I knew he was the one I wanted to have chil­dren with. And in the early days of our re­la­tion­ship, he made it clear he wanted a fam­ily, too. Four years later, we got mar­ried. Hav­ing watched friends strug­gle with in­fer­til­ity, we de­cided to start try­ing straight away. We didn’t think it would be easy, but we did as­sume that if we had enough un­pro­tected sex, sooner or later it would just… hap­pen.

A year later, when it hadn’t, we vis­ited our GP, who re­ferred us for tests. I never imag­ined that it would be Mark who had the prob­lem, but the GP ex­plained he had a low sperm count. It meant we could keep try­ing, but it would make it harder for us to have a baby nat­u­rally.

I was de­ter­mined that Mark should never shoul­der any guilt – this was our prob­lem, not his – but he did, al­beit qui­etly. He coped by throw­ing him­self into find­ing a so­lu­tion – cue per­func­tory sex dur­ing peak ovu­la­tion and 7am hos­pi­tal vis­its ahead of our first round of IVF in au­tumn 2013. By Christ­mas, I was preg­nant, and it felt as though ev­ery­thing was fall­ing into place. But weeks later, I mis­car­ried twins – a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for any­one, made all the more dev­as­tat­ing by the fact that our dreams of par­ent­hood were tied up in this preg­nancy. I had thought

I’d be spend­ing 2014 nav­i­gat­ing the chaos of new moth­er­hood. The re­al­ity felt un­bear­able.

Months later, I fell preg­nant nat­u­rally, only to lose this baby, too. We stead­ied our­selves for an­other go at IVF the fol­low­ing year but, once again, I mis­car­ried. For the first time, my fu­ture felt like it was be­yond my con­trol. I drifted be­tween bouts of rage and sad­ness, tor­tured by Face­book baby an­nounce­ments and drained by the emo­tional ef­fort re­quired to ap­pear pleased for ex­pec­tant friends – never more so than when three of them an­nounced their preg­nan­cies in a sin­gle day. An in­no­cent ques­tion from a wellmean­ing stranger at a wed­ding or a birth­day could re­duce me to tears, and I’d show my face at baby show­ers, only to break down on the car jour­ney home. It be­came eas­ier not to go, and I be­gan to iso­late my­self. Work­ing as a self­em­ployed travel agent, I had no of­fice to go to, so I could go days without leav­ing the house, forc­ing my­self to eat and sleep – all the while hav­ing sex with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion on the off chance that I’d fall preg­nant nat­u­rally again.

What kept me afloat was Mark. I sup­pose it could be easy to play the blame game when one of you has the prob­lem and the other is seem­ingly fine. But we never did. And pri­vate tests con­firmed my egg count was low, too, ren­der­ing blame even more fu­tile. Be­sides, nei­ther Mark’s sperm nor my eggs could ac­count for my mis­car­riages. We were just un­lucky.

The pain af­fected us dif­fer­ently. He kept a stiff up­per lip while I re­treated from the world. But we qui­etly sup­ported each other. He helped me see that we were in this to­gether and, as painful as it was, we were putting our­selves through it for a rea­son – to be­come par­ents. On his advice, I be­gan to open up about how I was feel­ing. And once I stopped plas­ter­ing a smile over my face, I came to see that my friends could be a source of un­wa­ver­ing sup­port – if only I let them.

Our story has a happy end­ing. On our fifth round of IVF, I fell preg­nant. Though I didn’t dare en­joy a mo­ment of the preg­nancy, in May 2017, I gave birth to a healthy boy. It was only then that I was able to re­flect on the toll in­fer­til­ity had taken on our lives – and we were the lucky ones for whom the pain re­sulted in par­ent­hood. Some spend years liv­ing in this limbo, where you feel so con­sumed with what isn’t hap­pen­ing in your body that you for­get to look af­ter your mind. Even to­day, mak­ing plans feels like a lux­ury – for so long we didn’t. But Mark and I are stronger – as in­di­vid­u­als and as a cou­ple – for go­ing through this.

For more info and sup­port, visit fer­til­i­tynet­workuk.org

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