Recently, I cried on the beach. I cried in a coffee shop. And I cried in my backyard.
On each occasion I was with a different friend, and in each instance, they’d opened up to me in detail about complications they’d had in their attempts to have children.
Hearing these stories first hand is heart-wrenching.
The sense of anguish. The frustration. The defeat. The blame toward partners. And the blame toward a body that’s not doing what you want it to do.
And in some instances, a forced re-assessment of a much dreamed for future.
I’ve known each of these women for many years – one who’s in her 20s, one in her 30s and one who’s in her 40s. And I have the type of friendship with them where we’ve shared some of the most pivotal and intimate circumstances of our lives.
Yet the challenges they’ve faced when trying to conceive have for the most part been delicately avoided. In a society where we’re Instagramming close-ups of our eyeballs and discussing vajazzling over brunch, the topic of fertility is rarely discussed openly.
So sensitive is the topic that even as I write this I’m struggling over my choice of words to describe it: ‘making babies’ sounds like something my dad would say, ‘fertility issues’ sounds like a pamphlet at the doctors, and ‘getting knocked up’ too trite.
But the reason they’ve opened up to me now, and the reason we’re writing about it on Fox in Flats, is so that we can share what they’ve learnt, to hopefully make the road easier for others.
As my friend Rachel, who tried for five years to have a second child said:
I hope that women and men learn to be more open and are able to have frank discussions about this, as it helps to feel that you are not alone. I really wish this was the case when I embarked on my journey!
Here’s 12 things women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who’ve grappled with their fertility wish they’d known before trying to have a baby:
1. Age does matter
“Before trying to have children, I wish I fully understood the impact that age can have on fertility and that I had of taken action sooner” said Rachel, 43.
And Jo, 36 – who’s been trying to have a baby for over two years – shared her story:
“I put my career first my entire life and then one day I met the guy of my dreams. I was in my mid 30s and suddenly having a baby is all I can think about. But then a year went by of trying and nothing. I’ve definitely got a deep sense of fear and dread that perhaps the fact that I am 36 is having impact.”
TIP: As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to visit a GP for a referral to a fertility specialist if you are:
- Over 35 and have been trying to fall pregnant for over 6 months2
- 35 and under and have been trying to fall pregnant for over 12 months.2
2. Check that everything is in working order
“It is so important not to leave it too long when dealing with fertility issues or trying to fall pregnant. Get the appropriate testing done so you can address any arising issues” advises Rachel. “In my case I had one ovary that was completely blocked with endometriosis, that I was able to have operated on. I would never have known this without an ultrasound.”
3. Get the guys to check their swimmers
One in six couples1 will experience difficulty in trying to fall pregnant, for a variety of reasons. Yet in many cases it’s assumed initially that the issue is with the woman’s body. Often it’s not the case.
Jo, had a number of tests that gave her uterus, ovaries and eggs an A+. The next step was to have her husband tested. She shared her story:
“When the test results came back for him, we were sitting in a bar. The doctor called and he stepped outside. I still get a chill when I think back to his face when he walked in the bar. It was then, that I knew we had a real problem. My husband has deformities in his sperm and a low sperm count. Which effectively means, there is slim to no chance of us ever falling pregnant naturally.”
It didn’t even occur to me that the issue may be with him.
Rachel – who’s partner was told he had ‘low sperm motility’ – emphasised “you can do a lot about correcting some sperm issues, such as slow swimmers, but it does take time.”
TIP: Go together to the GP to both get referrals for routine tests.
TIP: Finding out there’s something wrong with his sperm can be a huge blow to his masculinity. Be extra sensitive.
4. You might start fighting with your partner
A heartbreaking conundrum: you’re so in love with each other that you want to make a baby together, yet you find yourself arguing all the time.
This happened to Jo and her husband after going through reams and reams of tests:
“That was a really emotional time for us. We started to fight a lot and the pressure we put on ourselves was intense and ridiculous. We felt hopeless. You can’t underestimate the headspace and emotional effort it takes to invest in what you deem the simple task of having a baby.”
5. Be open with your partner
Rachel, 43 who tried unsuccessfully to have a second child over a five year period shared: “I wish that I had more sincere discussions with my partner earlier about my desperate desires to have another child – perhaps then we would have started to try sooner.”
And Jo emphasised how important this is: “Both men and women need to rally together. We by default look to the women for her story of struggle but men feel it too. In some cases, they feel it most. It’s imperative to keep that dialogue open.”
6. Sex can become a chore
“Once, my partner even rolled away from me afterward mumbling ‘There, you’ve got my sperm’. The fun, spontaneity and passion had been zapped from our sex life in a bid to shag like monkeys whenever I was ovulating.” said Rachel.
Jo giggled when she shared: “I’ve made an effort to get my lingerie back out, and reinstating some of our old school sexual acrobatics. It’s been good for us!”
TIP: Try to bring sexy back.
7. Open up to others
“It took me a long while to talk to anyone about it but once I did, I realized I was far from alone. It is incredibly common. And one of my best girlfriends, who has been through this exact same situation, is now pregnant with twins. I have not given up. It just gets harder to bounce back each time.” Shared Jo.
“Be flexible about who you share your story with” advised Rachel “I found support, kindness, understanding and friendship in the most unexpected places!”
“And have a supply of quick answers to any unwanted questions so you never feel put on the spot.”
TIP: To get a feeling for what some people might say to you, check out What not to say to someone who’s trying to have a baby and prepare your response accordingly.
8. Prepare your body
Rachel emphasised how important it is for both men and women to prepare their bodies beforehand by taking appropriate vitamins, minerals etc and doing any necessary medical check-ups such as sperm analysis and ultrasounds.
She added: “One thing we learned was that drugs and alcohol have a big effect on sperm and it takes a few months of ‘clean living’ if there are any sperm issues to clear up for men.”
9. Hormone issues can impact women regardless of age
25 years old when she started trying, and dismissed by doctors as ‘too young’ to have fertility issues even after trying for 2 years, Susan speaks from experience: “It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you can still have a hormone problem.”
TIP: Don’t let anyone fob you off if you think something is not right. Insist on a referral to a fertility specialist for further testing.
10. It’s not a given that you will ever be able to have children
These are words that no one wants to read. But sometimes it’s true.
Rachel shared: “I learned that sadly, it doesn’t always work out for everyone. There were so many people I came across that didn’t have children at all that had been trying naturally or having treatments for years.”
11. Seek out information, but be careful where you look
“I found a lot of online support groups that were helpful” said Rachel.
But be careful not to overuse the ‘net like Susan, 28 who said: “If I didn’t have Google during the time I was trying to get pregnant with my son I’d have been a better person. Everyone is different, and there can be a lot of false information online. Just don’t Google everything.”
12. Create balance in your life
“I know it’s hard, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t make it all of your life.” offered Susan, who now has a two year old son. She continued: “Look after yourself, but don’t stop having fun!”
Exercise and alternative treatments can help with this, as Rachel found “I had acupuncture treatments that helped manage my emotional wellbeing.”
And Jo shared her tactic:
I remind myself every month, to be good to me. My nana has told me to “Think Sweet Thoughts”. I am.
What do you wish you knew before trying to have children?
- Fertility Society of Australia http://www.fertilitysociety.com.au/ Accessed 07/12
- YourFertility.org.au http://www.yourfertility.org.au Accessed 09/12