In early 2016, when I was 28, newly married and had just started my dream job, my husband Andy and I found out that we wouldn’t be able to have children naturally. He’d had cancer at 18, and gruelling radiation and chemo had left him infertile. Luckily, he’d had sperm frozen at the time, but we were advised that our only chance of starting a family would be via IVF. Factor in a late diagnosis of PCOS for me, and suddenly the arrogant assumption that I’d always have a family of my own became a distant pipe dream.
The moment we found out we were going to need IVF, I pored over internet forums and Instagram infertility accounts. I was struck that, alongside the pain of infertility, people could be pretty insensitive about your situation too. Women online would share how upset they’d been by throwaway comments from friends and family – whether it was someone telling them to “just relax" and they’d get pregnant, moaning it took them “a whole three months to conceive” (sorry, can’t relate) or, the classics – “why don’t you just adopt?” or “kids are a nightmare – take mine and then you won’t want them!”.
The comments section would overflow with empathy and anger at just how insensitive people could be. So, alongside being terrified of IVF, I was now worried about telling my tight group of trusted friends (including one amazing guy) about what we were going through, in case they suddenly transformed into insensitive dickheads. Spoiler alert: They didn’t. They were my lifeline.
At first, it was the small things – the collective whoop in our Whatsapp group when I announced we’d collected 30 eggs at my first ever egg collection. Their messages urging our little embryos on as we waited for them to grow in the lab. The laughter when I told them about all the bizarre trappings of fertility treatment - the ‘Dildo cam’ I had to use at every appointment to check on my ovaries were responding to drugs, and the ‘bum bullets’ (aka progesterone tablets) you have to take, um... up your backside. The little check in messages, or positive comments like “you’re so brave and strong” and “we are so proud of you” really egged me on when I was out of my mind on hormones and nerves during the two week wait.
Then, as we had to take on more rounds of IVF, and we didn’t get the results we wanted, they helped with the bigger, more painful stuff.
The day I had a very early miscarriage and didn’t want to see anyone, two of my oldest friends who live hours away both sent me a box of cupcakes, and mounds of chocolates to eat in front of Netflix while I sobbed. I had a friend turn up at the hospital, two hours from her flat, when I was bed bound with ovaries that had swollen to the size of oranges after a serious reaction to IVF medication.
Every time a round failed, I couldn’t face breaking the bad news to everyone, so I would tell one friend who I could count on to spare me the pain of doing it myself.
My friends arranged fun trips, like a getaway to Dorset with lots of wine and good food, so I had something to look forward to after a failed round. And they always, always listened when I droned on about new clinic choices, or the benefits of an alternative type of fertility treatment, or the unfairness of it all.
As we got older, more rounds of IVF failed for us, and my friends began to start their own families. Yet, throughout, I was struck by how sensitively they handled things with me. If someone got pregnant, they would message me privately to let me know - acknowledging that it might be tough to hear the news - rather than just dropping a “surprise!” in the Whatsapp group or announcing things on social media. Of course, I was happy for them – so, so happy for them - and I felt bad that they even had to think twice before sharing it. But I was still touched all the same.
One of the things I was most worried about with IVF was feeling jealous and angry about other people’s pregnancies, but overall I've found I have been truly happy for them. Weirdly, celebrity pregnancies seem to annoy me more. With every new announcement, I've focussed on trying to be as good a friend as I can, understanding they're going through a mad, life-changing time. I want to support them and celebrate their good news, because - hey - at least someone's getting pregnant. The fact I’ve felt so loved and encouraged myself has made it easier for me to do the same back.
Of course, not every day is rosy. IVF hormones and the constant black cloud of infertility make you irrational, sad and angry. One day you might have a little cry after seeing someone’s cute kids, or do a bitter internal eye roll when you hear someone got pregnant, again, with no trouble at all! It’s deeply painful to feel like that about the people you love. But it’s also totally normal, and it does often pass with the fog of hormones (or with counselling, if that's what you need).
I know I’ve been lucky with my group of friends. Infertility can be hard for people who have never experienced it to understand. Even for those that love you, it can be hard to know what to say.
Mostly, I've learned, people have your best interests at heart. But it’s hard, when one misjudged comment could knock you from your emotional knife edge. Counter that with the fact I also don't want people tiptoeing around me, feeling unable to talk about their kids (a very real part of their lives), and it can feel like navigating a minefield in some ways.
But I’m so glad, four years on from reading those forums, that I decided to open up to my friends. Infertility is a pressure cooker of hope, disappointment and stress – and sometimes you need to speak to someone who isn’t just your partner, to get things out of your head. I can truly say that without my friends rallying around me (and all those Whatsapps), I don't know how I'd have got through it.
Every day this week, to celebrate International Women's Day, we're sharing another story of the power of female friendship. See below for more.
Follow Lauren on Instagram.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like