Three babies were born to family or friends this month; two on the same day – a second child for one, a third child for the other. My sister is now halfway through her second pregnancy. There is growth, birth, and life all around. To women of all ages, and situations. There is hope in this, or there ought to be.
On New Year’s Day this year, I swam in the sea before breakfast. I was alone, save for one dedicated swimmer doing freestyle farther out. The beach was deserted. My family, and everyone else on the island it seemed, was still asleep, or at least starting the day slowly. I bobbed in the water, soaking up the sunshine, feeling like I was washing the old year away. Letting go of a year of disappointment and starting fresh. Only hours before, while trying to glimpse the fireworks launching off the pier as the clock struck 12, my little sister embraced me and said “this year, this year is your year”. I hoped it was.
Ten months later, and I look back on that moment in the darkness, and the cleansing saltwater and sunshine of the next morning, with a mingled sense of grief and betrayal; of frustration and bemusement at my naivete. I thought it was as simple as letting go, of washing the old year away, and that hoping and believing could be enough. I know now that my body was fighting a vast web of inflammation, and that every attempt to conceive a new life was destined to fail before it even began. That even now, though the web and its tugging, dragging pain is gone, my body is still healing, reprogramming and striving for balance. That though I do my best to support it, I cannot control it.
It will take time, as much time as it takes. It won’t happen this year; it might not even happen next year. The days will come and go, like tide after tide – beyond my power and control. All I have is today, and this moment, and these choices. To take the medicine, to turn up to my appointments, to wait, to hope.
One in six couples are infertile – 16% of couples. 1% of births are the result assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF. The lady over the road had both her children through IVF; my sister was taking that route not so long ago. These roads are not so rare, these stories are not so uncommon. Everyone knows someone who has walked this path. Why then, does this feel like such an isolated journey? Why does it feel like such a loss, a failure, a betrayal of the deepest, most primal kind?
We have not even really begun, and yes, I know that there are women who have walked miles further than me on roads far more difficult than mine. I have no cause to feel this so intensely, not just yet. I have not faced such big losses, not yet. But I could. And it’s likely I will. Even with IVF, our chances of conceiving and carrying to term are only around 32%. Compare this to the average fertile couple, which has a 25% chance of falling pregnant every cycle without any assistance, and 60% of them will fall pregnant within a six months.
We began with such effortless optimism, such hope and excitement. Now, optimism and hope are things we have to consciously choose, and excitement will be put on the shelf and saved for later. We approach the process not with expectations, but intentions. We practice mindfulness. We strive for rationality, for acceptance, for that beautiful word: equanimity. These are all things I’ll be exploring in coming posts. How to be mindful, to cultivate intentions, to seek equanimity. Despite the sadness and dejection we do feel sometimes – which I’m sure is evident in everything I’ve written in this post – there is space for these ideas, and the stillness and groundedness they can bring. I know that, for us at least, and for others out there facing a similar path to us, we aren’t going to float through conception on a bubble or cloud – it is not likely to be light and effortless as we once dreamed. Somehow, I will find peace with that, and beauty in the journey – slow and plodding though it may be.