For many women, infertility and miscarriage are synonymous with failure, a lack of worth and self-respect. We’re left to feel incomplete and defective because making, having, and carrying a child does not come as naturally, or as easily as we’ve always imagined it should. We’ve grieved alone. We’ve felt isolated, ostracised, hiding our humiliation from a society for which pregnancy and babies are a celebrated norm, despite not being so, for all. For many of us, a future of childlessness, assisted conception, and the desolation of miscarriage, are the painful realities of our “normal” lives.
The revelation that former First Lady Michelle Obama suffered miscarriage and underwent IVF, in order to conceive is, to me, both empowering and deeply saddening. It’s truly encouraging to hear a powerful, hugely influential woman, speaking out about infertility and pregnancy loss; letting others know they should never have to feel “lost and alone”, that it’s not something we should ever have to disguise. Yet, it’s devastating that we’ve, previously, lived in a world whereby it’s taken twenty years, for such a prominent figure, to find the courage to share something, in which there is absolutely no shame.
Infertility is real and miscarriage happens, probably more commonly than we’re led to believe. In the UK alone, around one in seven couples are known to require medical intervention, in order to conceive and, tragically, one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That’s a lot of grief and anguish and broken dreams which, in many cases, goes unspoken.
I never expected to struggle to conceive, to battle with infertility in a war which is all consuming and fought on a daily basis. When facing the world becomes increasingly difficult because we’re surrounded by pregnancy, babies and a perceived judgement that, to use Michelle’s words; “somehow we’re broken”. Which indeed we are, just not in the physical sense; infertility has the power to crush the spirit of those in its clutches, and miscarriage is heart-breaking. And so we do “sit in our own pain”, mourning a unique kind of loss.
Just like Michelle, I believed I’d failed; my husband, my family, the child I was carrying and society. And, just like many others out there, I felt I was to blame too, that I was guilty; wracking my brains to find the something I must have done to wrong the universe, wondering how I could right the past. I’ve since come to learn that it wasn’t anything I’d done. It was merely our life.
No one wants to talk about the dark side of pregnancy and it’s saddening to think that many women have lived for so long, with the secret shame of sorrow. I’m acutely aware that, finding the words, to voice such anguish, isn’t easy; I lived with the fear that I’d be pitied and seen as a weaker, useless version of myself. Or judged, by my lifestyle, or choices, or simply deemed unworthy, because I was unable to procreate. I discovered, the hard way, that infertility and miscarriage are inextricably linked to self worth. Admitting the truth takes a strength which, at times, I certainly didn’t posses, and I know I’m not alone in that; lots of us, Michelle included, have undoubtedly had to face that same anxiety and, grievously, more will. However, had I found the courage in honesty, I’d have learned that, by no means, was I companion-less.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people for whom infertility and miscarriage has overshadowed their lives. Friends I’ve known for years, who have only just admitted they suffered pregnancy loss, or needed the assistance of medical science to start a family. And we’ve been able to talk about it. To share in a loss, which is difficult to understand, to process and to grieve. A part of us we’ve kept buried, beneath the surface of a successful exterior, in case we are seen as inadequate.
But this is, thankfully, changing.
Like all women, and men, who speak out about infertility and pregnancy loss, Michelle inspires hope. Hope that together we can break taboos and banish any, unjust, stigma involved. The hope that by a talented, successful woman raising awareness, more conversations will be started, more support will be given and more grieving, ever-hopeful couples will feel less isolated and afraid.
And so I stand united, and proudly, with Michelle and the multitude of other strong, brave and wonderful women, who battle infertility and live with the shame IVF and miscarriage can bring. My child is a result of science meeting love. I’ve suffered miscarriage. I lost a baby to ectopic pregnancy. And I’m, simultaneously, humbled and proud of my history. I wear my scars with dignity. We are not broken. We have not failed and neither are we alone. We are not infertility.