- Published: 1 June 2021
- ISBN: 9780143774976
- Imprint: Penguin
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288
- RRP: $35.00
Navigating the Emotional Journey Through Assisted Fertility
We recognised it could take a while but decided that if it happened quickly we would be able to cope. So we stopped contraception and we began hoping. We had friends who had been down the route of unsuccessfully trying to have a child and had witnessed their sadness and pain, and hoped this was not our lot also. After a year of trying we headed to the GP and had some initial tests, and all seemed to be okay until it was found that my fallopian tubes were blocked. With the problem identified we were referred to Auckland for microsurgery, which was the only option as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) was not readily available in New Zealand at the time. We hoped after the surgery all would be well, and indeed I seemed to conceive readily. But sadly I miscarried many pregnancies and Alan and I began to adjust to our lives
without children. We were both moving forward in our careers and decided to focus on that for a while. I did some further counselling training and set up a private practice. My sense of myself as a woman was challenged, and fortunately Alan was reassuring. Yet the shadow of my infertility and grief stayed with me and my envy of those parenting was always present. I was open with people about our infertility and talked with some groups about the grief of infertility and the strategies we were using to cope. Through one of these talks, we were offered a child to adopt, who became our elder daughter. Her birth mother, also a Sue, was 36 weeks pregnant. She gave us the greatest gift of becoming parents after six years of trying. We remain firmly connected with her, and our daughter has always known of Sue’s place in her and our lives.
A few months after we adopted we became pregnant and this time I held the pregnancy for 30 weeks. Our second daughter was born weighing under a kilogram and having to fight to stay alive. Our two daughters have been our joy since.
When we discovered I had fertility problems I sought information through reading. I learn, and am comforted, by reading and talking, as are many people. Those were the days before the internet, and I quickly discovered that there was almost nothing available. Finally I came across Barbara Eck Menning’s 1977 book, which I had sent over from the USA. I carried this book with me to refer to it when I felt unsure, and it reassured me for the six years until we became parents.
My role as a counsellor, first in education and then in private practice, stood me in good stead and I seemed to attract clients with fertility issues. My own first book, Infertility: A Guide for New Zealanders, was written in the days when there was little available about infertility in New Zealand. Not long after publication a job became available in a leading fertility clinic in New Zealand and I applied. At this time I had been a counsellor for nearly two decades and had written in the fertility field. I accepted the role of fertility counsellor in early 2001. During my 20 years in the role, I was aware that less than a quarter of the clients who attended the clinic made use of the counselling service. One woman commented that she would rather read at home about how infertility would affect them. But there was not a lot written about the emotional impact and how to cope with infertility, so she came to counselling to find out if she was the only one with these feelings and how she could get through this experience and still function well within her life. At the end she said, ‘Why don’t you write this down for everyone? We all need the opportunity to access information in the way that suits us.’
And so this second book came about. My hope is that when someone picks up the book they will dip into the sections that are relevant or of interest to them rather than trying to read the whole book. Some people might find they start in one place, put the book down and as treatment develops read a different section. I hope the families and friends of the people struggling to be parents might find this book useful also.
Everyone has hard experiences in their lives; infertility is simply one of the hardest of all. The wish to parent is a biological drive as well as an emotional desire. When someone who is experiencing infertility sees the joy created by others’ news about a pregnancy or the birth of a baby, they wonder if they will ever feel this joy. What is a joy for others brings sadness and despair for those wanting to be parents, who may feel excluded from the experience and from belonging to a group of people called parents, whom our society values.
As they should, pregnant people and new parents become thoroughly engaged by the miracle that is happening for them. For new mothers, especially, the child becomes their life as they care for him or her, and it is the topic of conversation they enjoy most of all. It becomes difficult for the new parents to maintain the earlier levels of variety of conversation and activity with their non-parenting friends. Their lives now focus around being a parent and their baby’s needs.
At work, we constantly see both female and male workers taking parental leave and sharing photos and news of their children, and with workplaces largely open-plan these days, it is hard to avoid hearing these conversations. Holidays such as Easter and Christmas are often child-dominated, and many work functions involve employees’ children, which can be extremely hard for those of us who have, so far, had no luck becoming parents.
All people experiencing fertility problems are different; each person will have needs and ways of being that are particular and personal to them. Some couples wish to find others with similar fertility issues, hoping to develop new friendships within the infertile community. One out of four couples have some level of fertility challenge, so it is relatively easy to make connections, and the consumer group Fertility New Zealand has support groups in most main towns in New Zealand.
Many couples begin by sharing their situation with a few confidants within their family or friends and getting the support they need there. This may be an entirely new situation to all the people they talk with, but the support they reach out for will help them manage their lives. Other couples are private and wish to deal with infertility largely on their own.
There is no right or wrong about these coping styles. Each style has benefits and disadvantages — probably the most important aspect is that the couple talk to each other and agree on how they will approach the issue.
There will be some people who wish to have lots of information about what is happening to them and the treatments they are offered. They feel knowledge will improve their capacity to do the treatment successfully and to understand what the medical staff are talking about. Others feel knowing too much and understanding the risks and successes of treatment will raise their anxiety and they instead wish to proceed knowing just the basics and trusting staff.
Undertaking fertility treatment will create a raft of emotions for every person, including uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, sadness, fear, hope and quite often joy. Staying strong and caring for yourself and each other is important. There are suggestions of things to think about and things people can do to take care of themselves both within and at the end of chapters.
My hope is that I have been able to recognise and include the many different groups who use fertility services. In the time I have worked as a fertility counsellor, single women making the decision to parent by themselves rather than miss out, and same-gender female couples, have become frequent users of the clinics, and in recent years there has been an increase in the number of same-gender male couples. These people seek the help of a donor and, in the case of men, a surrogate. They come to the clinic like any other couple, needing the skills and help of the clinic to become parents. Their journey is often more complex than that of heterosexual couples. There are sections within this book that provide information specific to each of these situations. Each clinic also helps a range of different ethnicities and cultures, and I hope I have acknowledged some of the issues faced by various cultures within this book.
I hope that as you read this book you find information, ideas and suggestions throughout that will help you maintain your sense of self and connection to the world. The book is not a replacement for counselling, it is an addition to the expert help the counsellors provide. I hope the book works alongside your treatment to support you, and provides comfort and help as you proceed through your journey.
Infertility changes the way people see the world. It challenges assumptions about having children and being parents. And it challenges and may change your relationships with family and your friends. It seldom only affects the people in the midst of the experience. As with anything we do in the world, if this is your pathway, make it work for you. Become informed and make the lifestyle changes that will support you along the journey and enhance your chances of becoming a parent. I wish you well in the journey and hope the outcome will provide you with a life you can embrace.
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