• Nicole

My infertility journey has happened in the shadows of work for the last 9 years. It has never been something I felt comfortable talking to my various bosses about. When I was going through IVF I was sneaking off to appointments, as if I was off to get a sandwich or had a meeting in another building. I was hearing news about the progress of my embryos and making huge decisions, such as which sperm donor to use at work. I remember the embryologist telling me about the letter my sperm donor had written to any perspective children in the office stairwell.

When I was pregnant, I would imagine my joy at being able to let work know I was taking maternity leave. I couldn’t wait. I had always worked out when my maternity leave would start almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant (I’ve had a few boring jobs!). When I lost my babies, only once did my boss at the time know. I didn’t take time off, since I felt leave wasn’t warranted, I wasn’t ill and I felt that others would not think it was a real bereavement. I could luckily work from home, which I did since I could not face the world.

I was always worried about talking to my bosses about what was going on privately. I was worried it would jeopardise any future career aspirations. I felt if it was known that I wanted to have a baby, worse, that I was actively working towards this goal, that I would be overlooked for opportunities, for promotions. I have stayed far too long in roles I had no interest in because I wanted to hold on to a decent maternity package.

Work was what made me so good at hiding my true emotions. I had to. I just pasted on the work face and cracked on with the day, regardless of the often devastating news I’d learnt that day. But I also owe a lot to work, which gave me a focus when life didn’t make sense anymore and friends at work kept me going, even when they were not aware of what I was going through. They were a distraction. I could be ‘normal’ for a while.

Now I am working towards adoption and I’m finding it even more difficult to talk to my boss. When do I have to say something? Its so ambiguous. If we get approved in December, then I have no idea how long it will take to be matched with a child. It could be really soon after. Our Social Worker matched a child with a couple one week after their panel, but it potentially could take months. I really hope not years! I won’t have the nine months of pregnancy to figure it out. If it’s a quick match, we may have only a few weeks notice before we start the process of getting to know our future child. Then I’d feel I’m really landing my boss in it, they will have no time to prepare or advertise for cover. But, if I tell them now and nothing happens for the next year, then I may not get an opportunity or when a new project starts, I may not be asked to lead it.

I know that the world of work is meant to have moved on, in terms of women’s careers and yet still I don’t have the confidence to be open about it. I don’t want my boss to think of me as out of the picture already, when potentially I will still have a long period of time working with them before I do take adoption leave.

I hate that work has played such a huge, silent and oppressive part in my journey to motherhood. I’m not sure how things could change, if the shoe were on the other foot and it was my business, would I entrust it to someone who has a higher priority? Or someone who may not be here long enough to see a project through? Probably not. But, would I want to know that someone’s world had crumbled and that if they seem distant its not because they are disinterested in what they are doing but because life outside work has taken a downward spiral? Yes absolutely. I would think it was my absolute duty to support this person. It’s a fine line and I don’t think equality in the workplace is anywhere near close to facing this.

Work is such a huge player in the infertility game, but its usually not even discussed in the workplace. Women carry the weight of needing to continue performing at the same level when they are sometimes going through the toughest moments of their life. It has in the past shaped whether I have taken a job or not because I wanted to ensure I had a ‘safe’ job with decent maternity pay. Decisions I have sometimes regretted. I have held back from some options because I knew that I would soon be off on maternity leave. Only for that ‘soon’ to drag on for years. It is still now shaping what I do and career conversations I am having with my boss, unable to be entirely open about my short-term work plans. Not to mention the strain infertility, baby loss and fertility treatments can have on partners who will also not be getting support at work.

I think infertility should be talked about more in the workplace. It is such a difficult path to tread anyway, without the added pressure of having to sneak about or having to stay quiet about something which is so life changing and consuming. I’m not sure if I’m just more aware of it now or if more people are actually having treatment, but if it’s the latter, then the workplace needs to move with the times. If those conversations were happening more widely, perhaps I and thousands of other women walking this path, would not be holding back but could have meaningful career conversations with their bosses about real options and choices. It would also make dealing with the disappointments and heartache easier. I guess this is linked to the taboos still hovering around infertility and baby loss. Another reason these things need to be bought into the open.

Workplaces are getting more engaged in the idea of supporting colleagues, for instance with mental health issues, I think its only a matter of time until fertility struggles are also recognised. I have actually taken the opportunity to speak up in a focus group who were looking into maternity and adoption leave at work. A far cry from actually speaking to my boss, I want to be part of the change but still value my career.

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  • Nicole

This morning, for the first time, in I think years, I noticed my reflection in the bathroom mirror and I stopped and really looked. For such a long time now I’ve been a passing figure. I’ve not really looked at myself. I’ve not had much love for the person looking back at me, she let me down. To top it off she ate a whole lot of chocolate to cheer herself up, so gained a fair bit of weight!

I think the way I dealt with my grief was to push it to the back as much as possible. This made going into work easier, it made social interactions easier. When I lost my pregnancies, my whole world shattered every time, the only way to keep living normal life was to push that back as much as possible. I banished the broken me and replaced her with a more personable, palatable and acceptable version.

I have felt so much shame on my journey to motherhood, because of my inability to find a partner in order to have a family, then my inability to maintain a pregnancy once this was achieved and finally my inability to get over the loss of my babies. The miscarriages all happened at home, painfully. The memory of them filled me with resentment that I hadn’t stopped them, I hadn’t held on well enough. I felt like a failure and blamed myself for everything which happened during the hardest few years of my life.

My babies were all lost within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and therefore not recognised as a life and yet I felt like I had lost a fully formed baby. I mourned the baby they were to be. I had waited so long to have my children and loved them from the moment I knew they were there, which was usually before taking a positive test. I had lost my future, my family and my motherhood. Can you be a mum if the baby is not recognised? The two didn’t coexist well and I convinced myself that my grief must be invalid and I must somehow be extremely weak to not be able to just move on.

The anger I felt at the unfairness of losing all my babies was internalised. I stopped liking me. I also assumed others would too. At the time I didn’t reach out to any organisations to get any support. Part of me felt that the worst had already happened anyway, my baby had died, nothing could make that ok, no one could help. Part of me also felt that I didn’t deserve any help on this, I should have done better. I should be stronger than this. Worse, I felt that no one else would think I had lost a real baby. Just a pregnancy. A dream.

I also found being around new mums, or pregnant mums very difficult and again internalised that as me being an awful person. How could I feel jealousy over something so beautiful, so natural. I felt it must mean I resented others’ happiness. Now I see that I had miss-read this feeling. I had made no allowances for my grief. Anger is a huge part of grief. The anger I felt at losing all my babies, the anger of each new piece of bad news about my fertility, the anger at the unfairness of it all had nowhere to go. So I internalised a lot of it. Seeing pregnancy and new-borns was just a huge trigger to my grief. The feelings of sadness and dread were not jealousy but pain at my own loss. I wish I had understood that then, instead I felt shame about being bitter. Now when I think on it, I realise this was part of my grief. I was struggling to accept a really difficult situation.

I felt my hurt was unwarranted, since I’d not actually lost anything real. My heart screamed at me that I was wrong. I had lost so much. I ignored my heart and did my best to ignore me. I tolerated me, but gave myself very little empathy. My confidence and trust in myself were destroyed. I couldn’t be trusted to do what everyone else manages, what I was born to do as a woman, carry a baby. I felt like a failure as a woman and a mum.

I saw a counsellor who really helped, he accepted my sadness and by doing so, showed me I could accept it also. I finally felt my pain may be valid, this was a real loss. I started writing what I was going through, which helped me process it. I could see it through a different perspective and finally offer some empathy to myself.

Grief took over my world for years, and was compounded by each new loss. I was overwhelmed by it. I couldn’t see through the fog of loss and yet my internal dialogue was truly hurtful. I would never have spoken to someone else how I spoke to myself.

It has been a very slow and gradual shift but I have become kinder to myself. I recognise the losses I went through and the life-changing situation I found myself in. Although this shift happened internally, I still didn’t notice me, the physical me, the part of me I still blamed for my miscarriages. No cause was ever found in the tests which were undertaken, but in my view, the evidence seems to lean towards an overactive immune system. I didn’t know how to go about forgiving myself for killing my babies.

This morning felt different. As I looked into my reflection, I recognised her. Her kind blue eyes looking back at me. I always loved their colour. More grey than blue really. A warm grey, if there is such a thing. Their edges crinkled up in a smile, for me. Those eyes who have always been there with me. In my darkest moments. She has stood by me. In my loneliest moments she was there. Looking out at me. Living it all with me. Loving me. I remembered I liked her.

I hope this is a sign that I am on the way to forgiving myself for what was not my fault. Even just writing this I feel a bit of weight come off my shoulders. There it is in black and white. It wasn’t my fault.

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  • Nicole

From my earliest memories, I knew I was a mum. Its who I was destined to be. I would have children. The rest was all rather sketchy and changed over the years, but motherhood was never, not once in question. Since then, its likelihood has been questioned a great deal.

I wasn’t sure about sharing my story. Most people share once they’ve achieved their happy ending, it provides hope to others, but I’m still waiting for mine. However I have felt so alone during this that I really want to provide some hope and support to anyone experiencing what I did. The truth is, infertility is a painful and emotional rollercoaster journey, filled with hope, despair and often loss. It requires strength, resilience and compromise.

There is a lot of judgement, not only by those who have not struggled, but amongst other women who may have experienced some issues, if not exactly the same as others. I also found judgement and a lack of compassion among medical staff who should have been there to support me. There are so many who do not understand the difference between not having children and childlessness. Its a hugely painful difference.

I’ve also learnt a lot myself along the way, about infertility; about loss; about resilience and identity. I started off naively believing that egg and sperm equals baby. I had to learn the hard way that for hundreds of women this is not the case. I found myself in a position where I felt my rightful place in the world, the life I should be living; the one i deserved to be living, had been snatched away from me.

My quest for motherhood has passed through some difficult, painful and heart-breaking hurdles, namely Endometriosis; IVF; a low egg reserve and recurrent miscarriages. After being told that I would miscarry any pregnancy, we needed to think of alternatives. Accepting we needed an alternative was difficult for both myself and my boyfriend. Motherhood never felt optional to me. It always felt like a core part of my being and identity.

I think infertility is talked about more now than when I started my journey. I felt the perception was that if you are in your late 30’s or 40’s with no children, then you were somehow to blame, you had put your career first. Or, if you had suffered some sort of infertility, then perhaps you had just not tried hard enough, or weren’t relaxed enough. I was offered a lot of advice and solutions from people who did not know or understand the reasons for my infertility. I have so often wished I could tell people this isn't what I chose. I would have had children in my 20's, had it been down to me. Only by sharing stories will perceptions and knowledge about this be changed. I am hoping to share stories as we embark on our new adventure of adoption, but also cover some of the elements of our journey to get here to raise awareness but also offer a supportive hand to anyone still living these moments.

Initially we looked into fostering-to-adopt, where you become a foster parent to a new-born, then, when the court agree the child should go up for adoption, you become their adoptive parents. There is always a chance the court decides that the baby should go back to the birth family. I could not bear losing another baby. We were also told this meant you have to wait longer before being able to adopt another child. I am done waiting! So, we agreed to adopt a child already in the system.

For a long time my head knew this was the answer, but my heart couldn’t fully commit. What about the new-born of my dreams? Slowly, my mindset changed. I remembered that what I wanted most was to be a mother. I wanted the every-day, the caring for little beings, the smiles, the giggles, the tantrums, the bedtime stories, the school runs, the family days out, the Sunday dinners, the Christmases. The full shebang. To make a family. It didn’t matter how. I started to think my babies were out there. They were waiting for me and I was wasting time concentrating on what I had lost. The cliche is true, I had to close one door to open the next. Holding on to the dream of carrying my own child was holding me back from motherhood.

Slowly I shifted from heartbroken, to impatient. I just wanted to meet my children. We got in touch with Social Services and started the process. We have had some frustrating set-backs, we were not allowed to start Stage 2 because we were having work done on the house and due to delays with the builders and complications with the house due to incompetent Architects and now Covid-19, the process has taken a lot longer than we hoped.

Adoption feels the most out of reach method to motherhood. Whether you are trying naturally, or doing IVF, or even using a surrogate, you are involved in the process. Physically. With adoption it feels quite theoretical. Separate. There is a lot of reading and talking, but you don’t actually get involved in the making of the family until after you have been approved. Sometimes it has felt like the day may never come.

We started Stage 2 last week, our panel date is booked. The last leg on the road to motherhood. This feels monumental.

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