I Never Thought Unexplained Infertility Would Happen To Me, Twice
You never expect it will be you. Even if there is a family history—an aunt who had trouble conceiving—you never really think it will be you crying on the bathroom floor every month that once again it wasn't your turn. Especially when you are young, fit, healthy, in a loving marriage, and supposedly at your most fertile stage of life.
I remember some medical professionals turning me away because I was ‘too young’ to be considered a concern yet. We had 'only' been trying for 10 months, and it was still early days for a couple in their twenties to worry. Never mind the fact that we were already doing everything we could for ourselves with no luck. If these were meant to be our prime baby-making years, why was it not happening for us?
My GP was brilliant from the get-go. She knew that we wanted to start a family, and that was a valid enough reason for her to take our concerns seriously. She could see the confusion on my face and hear the frustration in my voice. She understood that I wanted to use this time to be proactive rather than wait for the big '3 0' to be considered a more challenging case. And so began the long and winding road of appointments, observations, tracking, testing, waiting, ultrasounds, internal checks, poking, prodding, and praying for a miracle.
Every month was a new route to go down, all ending the same way. Based on all of our diagnostic testing, we were perfectly healthy with no reason as to why we were having trouble conceiving. Unexplained infertility. It was good news, in a way, that there weren't any severe issues, of course. But it sent our frustration soaring each time when we felt no closer to an explanation, let alone a solution to help us reach our goal.
I saw doctors, pharmacists, specialists, gynecologists, herbalists, acupuncturists, traditional Chinese cupping gurus, you name it! We tried every sex position, timing method, and home ovulation kit. I read books, blogs, and my bible. Our church prayed, our emotions were stretched, and our bank account took a beating as we checked what felt like every box on the list of 'why can't we make a baby like normal people?'
Meanwhile, it seemed like everyone around us was getting pregnant. We were a young married couple surrounded by other young married couples, and so it was nearly impossible to dodge pregnancy announcements, baby shower invitations, and birth announcements. I was happy for them all; genuinely, I was. But it felt so strange to be the only one who was struggling.
When I say I was happy for them, I truly was. I remember thinking to myself, even if I never could have my own children, at least I would still have children in my life that I cared for deeply. I quickly adapted the 'Aunty' title, and I loved that. It was hard for me to accept that it still wasn’t our turn, but I would constantly remind myself that I wouldn't wish infertility on anyone. If anyone had to go through it, I would rather it be me.
As the years went by, there was an occasional friend or two in a similar boat, which did help combat the loneliness a bit. However, they all had a diagnosis; and sooner or later, each of them got pregnant. It kind of felt like waiting at the school gate as all of your friends got picked up, and you're still waiting for the late bus that doesn't really have a set time. I tried to celebrate my friends' miracles, even if it was on a slightly different level. I didn't want my own journey to steal any external joy I was still entitled to.
One of my 'coping mechanisms' was that after every negative pregnancy test I would buy something baby-related. A bib, fluffy toy, rattle, or burp cloth. Something simple, but special. It was my physical reminder that I would one day need these items, and it would take me back to this moment of heartache and remind me how hard I fought to get there. It was my way of pulling myself out of the headspace of 'it will never happen' to believing wholeheartedly it would. It helped put a positive spin on a really negative part of the month, and I began looking forward to buying my new little something, which helped me more than I ever expected.
I became quite open about our TTC journey in the end, simply because I didn't have the energy to dodge questions at every social gathering or family function. I was at the point where if someone had a home remedy, a particular prayer, or a magic potion that could work, I wanted them to share! After almost 4 years of unexplained infertility, I was looking for a miraculous breakthrough, so I was opening every door and window I could to let one in.
From adjusting both of our diets to changing jobs to every single diagnostic test you can think of, we went down every possible avenue to try and grow our family. We even explored adoption. Adoption always felt like a better fit for me than IVF. I'm not sure why, as I have nothing against IVF (other than a fear of needles!) and am thankful for so many IVF babies around me; but for some reason, adoption was on our hearts. We attended seminars and group meetings, and our profile was on its second draft when our worlds changed completely.
Two pink lines on a plastic stick changed everything. I didn't believe it, naturally. After 4 years of negatives, you kind of get used to disappointing news. So I took another. And another. And another six after that, too. I cannot put into words the joy we felt. It was euphoric. It was as though the past 4 years of an emotional rollercoaster were eclipsed by pure happiness. And yet to this day, I can so clearly recall the hardships and heartbreak of that journey—it never really disappears. I will always have a memory, an awareness, and a place in my heart for that time and those walking it after me.
As hard as it was to see at the time, I definitely think there was a purpose to all of my pain. Three years after our precious baby boy was born, we found ourselves embarking on the adventure to conceive again, to give our son a sibling, and to complete our family. For some reason, we thought this time would be different. The over-organizer in me planned out how and when we would tell our family, friends, and other loved ones the news. But the first month didn't happen, so I shifted my 'announcement' plans down the calendar, and then kept shifting them.
Now, 8 months later, I sit here writing this with the surreal feeling that my TTC struggle was both forever ago and yesterday all at once. It was the past I overcame, and yet it’s the present I am currently living. I still have no clue as to why we can’t get pregnant again or when that will change. But if I can offer anything to someone working through their own infertility journey, it would be this: feel what you feel, however you need to feel it.
If you need to sob in the shower or cry alongside your best friend, do it. If you need to keep it private or broadcast your battles on social media, do it. You may not be able to understand or change your circumstances right now, but you can control your mindset, and how you feel matters. Don't ever discount your story because it is shorter than someone else's or sounds less traumatic. This is still the hardest thing you have probably ever had to work through, and that makes your emotions valid. Suffering is not a competition. Infertility sucks for everyone, period.
Please lean on the support you have around you, and if it's not nearby then seek it out. Read books, search for blogs, join groups, talk to friends, follow positive figures on social media that build you up. This road is long and hard, but it doesn't have to be lonely.
Sophie Skipper is a wife, mom, and advocate for all things infertility, TTC, motherhood, and mental health. You can follow her on Instagram at @soph.themummalogue or visit her blog at www.themummalogue.com.