The journey to having a baby isn't always a smooth one. One in six couples experience infertility, and yet, it is a subject often unspoken. Here, having herself encountered a long but inspiring journey to have a baby with her husband Paul, journalist Verity Craig discusses the subject and why she decided to open up and write a book about their experience to help others
Yes, you did read the above statistic correctly; one in six couples experience infertility. Now think of all the couples that you know and who at some stage may have experienced infertility. But how many have you heard discuss it?
Sadly, for people experiencing this common struggle it is still a taboo subject brushed under the carpet making those going through this heart-breaking time of longing for a baby feel even more ashamed that they 'can't produce' than they do already.
But why don't we open up and discuss it more? For religious reasons and cultural reasons, one can understand why some may feel ashamed. And we read about 'IVF and older mothers frequently' so that's becoming a more common-place admission. It's become almost a trend in the press.
As someone who experienced many years of infertility with my husband Paul, I know only too well the feeling of carefully picking and choosing who 'knows' your shameful secret.
At the time of our journey, we were both business owners and me also a magazine editor. While driving a team of staff (especially with monthly deadlines), it wasn't even an option for me to start informing the masses of our fertility treatments. Only those dear to us truly knew what we were going through. And only each other new exactly.
Blessed, I already had my wonderful daughter Niomi, whom I had raised alone (I had her at a young age.) It seemed so unfair that here I was with a man I loved and was married to who was a wonderful step-father to my daughter, and yet we were being deprived of sharing a baby together.
Ours was also a frustrating one, since like so many others experiencing infertility we were classified as suffering 'unexplained infertility.' We still don't know why.
Over a six-year period we experienced three IUIs (artificial insemination), and eventually 12 gruelling IVF cycles that produced many failed cycles, miscarriages and a life-threatening ruptured ectopic pregnancy along the way. It was a heart-breaking and life-changing journey.
In the thick of it, we discovered that not all clinics offer the same duty of care. Where you go, who looks after you and the technology in the laboratory is all of the utmost importance. Like everyone, we went in blind, but came out knowledgeable. Paul and I have joked that we could do a degree on infertility and IVF now!
One reason people learn through making mistakes during infertility, like us, is once again because people don't discuss it enough in society. We, for example, didn't have anyone to seek advice from. Also, in a world where there are self-help books on virtually everything nowadays, we struggled to find books available on the subject (except medical books, of course written from a medical point of view), which was largely why I decided to take on the task of writing a book about our journey, in the hope it may help others. I kept a journal of everything we were going through, including meetings with doctors, how we were feeling emotionally, procedures we entailed and drugs we were prescribed or offered, and demonstrated how normal mundane life also carried on throughout it all. It was my aim to also produce a short cut for people seeking help; we could be their guinea pigs in a sense, informing them in the book what every aspect of the journey entails.
But of course, my main aim has been that it will contribute to helping us all discuss this topic a bit more; taking away the shame that people often feel, thus taking away the taboo shroud that surrounds the subject.
It still surprises me that in a society where you can read about the most shocking things in today's press, struggling to produce new life still has such a stigma attached to it. The chances are that if you, the reader of this article, has not experienced infertility yourself, someone close to you has at some stage; either a friend, colleague, sibling or even a parent or grandparent.
Another aspect that comes with the stigma of it being a hushed subject, is the struggle that working women can have when experiencing the physical part of taking such strong hormonal drugs during treatment as they are not being able to take any time off of work or even let anyone know at work what they're going through. In fact, women will often have to use their holiday time up, which I find quite shocking (or take unexplained sick days.) If it were an illness or ailment requiring one to take such strong drugs and go through such emotional turmoil (as IVF does), sick time would surely be granted. And believe me, it can leave you feeling physically (and mentally) drained day after day!
There are so many levels on which the infertility journey has shocked me though. For example, Paul and I were also one of the hundreds of unlucky couples not granted even one IVF cycle on the NHS. The reason? Because I already had a child. I have since heard of so many other couples in a similar situation. As a married couple who are business owners, working and contributing to our country, I find it extremely unfair that we (like others) were penalised. Children from previous relationships is not an unusual factor in relationships. So when did we become so moral on the subject of children from previous relationships? I frequently read about cosmetic surgery and the such being offered on the NHS. Is that really moral? Our own GP declared to us himself that he found this 'utterly ludicrous and unjust.' My personal belief is that if anyone (regardless of whether they have a child from a previous relationship, their sexual identity or nationality) is contributing to our country they should be entitled to fertility treatments on the NHS. Wanting to bring new life in to the world with love should be celebrated not shunned upon. Fortunately, we were in the privileged position of being able to afford to go private (albeit a tremendous squeeze at times.) We discussed many a time how awful it must be if you simply can't afford to do that though in that situation.
The reality is, that with our generation of women in great careers (and couples not having to marry the first person that they meet anymore), by default there is more of a demand for infertility treatments. Yes, it's great that we females have choices compared to former generations, freedom and independence. It's just so sad that some now suffer the biological consequences as a result.
In a world where we read the most shocking stories in the news now, I hope that with infertility becoming more of a common-place problem nowadays, we may start to open up and discuss it a bit more thus becoming a sympathetic society for people experiencing the heartache of longing for a baby and start to help those that require the help.
Verity Craig's book titled 'IVF and Infertility, Our Journey,' is available on Amazon £12.99 and on Kindle £8.99.