This is a guest post from our expert patient, Manju.
All of us want our life to be perfect. For most of us , a perfect life consists of growing up comfortably, earning well, getting married to the love of our life, having children and dying peacefully at a ripe, old age. Since we are so used to viewing life through rose-colored glasses, it is hard for us to accept life’s bitter realities. As a result, any deviation from a so-called ‘perfect’ life is viewed as a time of crisis. The inability to have a baby is one such life crisis which can have enormous emotional impact on the individuals concerned.
The sweetest dream of many married couples is to have a baby - a baby who will be proof of their love and oneness, a baby who will make their life a celebration by making it interesting and worthwhile, a baby on whom they can shower all their love and affection, a baby from whom they can get lots of unconditional love and a baby who will propagate their genes and make them immortals. For most married couples, their ‘baby dream’ comes true even though they are not aware of the scientific details of the reproductive process. They get married; enjoy physical intimacy; and one fine day , the woman misses her menstrual cycle followed by a positive pregnancy test. The moment a couple learns that they are going to be parents is one of the happiest and most exciting periods of their life. It gives them immense satisfaction because one of their main goals in life is fulfilled – to procreate! For many couples reproduction is a pleasurable pursuit, which brings a lot of happiness and celebration in their lives. But for some, it becomes a Herculean task , filled with desperation and heart-breaks. What happens when this basic life goal is threatened?
Infertility is one of the most difficult emotional crisis one can go through and is hard to cope with for many reasons. Infertility is a challenge which you face during the prime of your life. Shouldn’t it be easier to fight it as you have the necessary power and vigour to do so? A logical answer should be yes, but the time we have to tackle infertility is also the period during which we come out of our safe cocoon, get married, accept responsibilities and try to build a family. That is the time period during which our sense of superiority is highest. Everything in life seems to be achievable. Life appears rosy. During that time infertility comes as a big blow to all the optimism you posses about life. When people around you seem to achieve their reproductive goal so easily, you are dismayed when you realise that this is going to be an uphill task for you. Your pride dies and humility sets in ! Infertility gives a hard blow to our ego and to face such harshness during our salad days makes life’s journey appear extremely strenuous !
For many women , including me , having a baby is a long cherished dream. Have you ever watched a girl play with her dolls ? I have eagerly watched them and most of the time the little ones like to role play as mothers. The love for nurturing young ones is very much inherent in a female’s psyche , even from a very young age (even from the age of 3 or so). I am sure many of us were a loving and caring mom to our pretty dolls (and I am sure many of us are still so !) and the longing for experiencing motherhood is deep-seated in a female’s mind, heart and genes. I grew up in an Indian setting where motherhood is looked upon with awe, respect and admiration. The air of secrecy surrounding a pregnant woman, the sudden attention she gets, the amount of pampering given to her, the delight she takes in her growing tummy, the way her face glows day by day, the ceremonies performed to highlight her motherhood and all the celebrations associated with pregnancy and child-birth made me dream of motherhood from a very young age. For example, in my hometown they conduct a ceremony at the 7th or 9th month of pregnancy (just like a baby shower) to welcome the young one and to honour the mother-to-be. It is a very colourful ceremony attended by ladies and the best part of the ceremony is that they decorate the arms of pregnant woman with so many colourful glass bangles (it is believed that the clinging sound from the bangles will make the baby happy). The expectant mother with her growing baby bump, glowing face and with the soft sounds arising from her bangles is such a pleasure to look at. I still remember the days where I longed to become a mother just to wear so many bangles in my arms. That beautiful, unfulfilled dream is still alive within me, deeply rooted in my heart. It hurts when that day never seem to come true !
The joy of motherhood becomes complete when a little one arrives. Who wouldn’t love a new born baby ? Even the most hard-hearted person will melt at the look of a young one. I remember the days where I spent my time with little babies - looking and wondering at their perfect features, the beauty of their sudden flashing smile which travels across their lips when they are asleep (my elders used to say that God is showing a bunch of flowers to the young one and playing with her, and that is the reason for that smile), their warmth and their milky smell ! Those were the days during which my passion for having a young one for myself grew steadily. A baby is a wonderful gift which God leaves by your side when you are asleep - that is what I was taught when I was a child and asked where did the baby come from !
My love for young ones did not develop solely by looking at human babies ! We always had pets at home, mostly cats-sometimes several of them. None of our male cats were neutered and female cats spayed. So you can imagine the amount of (re)productive activity that goes on. At least twice a year our female cat gave birth to kittens. The mother cat and her kittens are such a pleasure to watch-the way the mother cat feeds the young ones, the struggle it undergoes to protect them, the happiness with which it plays with them, the effort it puts in to teach them the much needed life skills (like hunting and self-protection) ! Once I even saw my cat give birth and that was a breath-taking moment for me! More than the birth of the kittens, the birth of a mother amazed me ! Our playful cat suddenly became a responsible mom! I have sat nearby a new born calf for hours just to touch it and watch it; ignoring my parents pleas to return home ! All these experiences taught me the happiness of motherhood. I understood that the joy of having young ones is manifold and I naturally craved for it. I felt happy to be a female, I felt happy to be a potential mother-to-be !
I am sure most women, like me, are proud of their womanhood. Many have beautiful baby dreams. What happens when such delicate dreams are threatened? After marriage the only thought I had in mind was to get pregnant as early as possible. When every month passed without anything happening, there was more and more panic. Every menstrual cycle became emotionally painful. I started dreading the arrival of AF. Can buying sanitary napkins become this hurtful ?! Sex became a joyless act which was performed solely to get pregnant. When I was told that without fertility treatment it is impossible for me to get pregnant , I broke down. I stepped into the world of infertility, no, no infertility stepped into my beautiful world and the first thing infertility did was to shatter my beautiful dream - a dream of decorating my arms with many colourful glass bangles !
In the beginning the most difficult thing for me to accept was the word ‘infertile’. This word carries lots of stigma with it. The dictionary gives many meanings for this word like ‘barren - sterile - fruitless - unfruitful – unproductive’. I am sure none of it seems to fit the image I have for myself. Am I barren and fruitless? I remember the day when a papaya tree was planted in my home when I was young. I and my dad planted it. I saw it grow in front of my eyes. We are eagerly expecting the fruits from it. But unfortunately nothing happened. It flowered but no fruits. My grandfather brought some men one day and took away its life ! I was upset and asked my granddad for an explanation and I still remember the words he said ‘what use is a barren tree which cannot produce fruits ? It is just occupying the space.’ Am I barren? Am I just like that papaya tree? Don’t I have a fertile heart and a fertile mind ? How could someone label me as ‘infertile’? I despised infertility and the word ‘infertile’. As time went by I started to accept reality and tried to look for ways to escape from infertility’s grip. But unfortunately infertility loved me so dearly, it did embrace me very strongly !
After infertility set in, my whole world changed completely. Life started to revolve around only one thought - ‘a baby’. Doctor appointments became the norm. Injections don’t cause anxiety anymore. 99 % of internet searches are about infertility treatments. My body suddenly become an object of experimentation (several vials of blood taken, several novel tests are conducted, different drugs are tried on me and what not !) My private parts are poked and prodded by the infertility specialists – ‘do I really feel feminine enough now-a-days’ ? Conversation with my in-laws became very uneasy. The pleasure associated with eating favourite foods are gone, food is divided mainly into two category-foods that help with fertility and foods that harm fertility ! Love-making became a chore – the fruitlessness of the act brought in a sense of guilt. Making love with a baby in mind is the most absurd side-effect of infertility- I wish no one should ever go through it !
Money suddenly became the utmost priority in life. No job - no money - no baby; there is a baby connection to everything in life. Life started to appear very insecure. When everyone around us is striving hard to earn money in order to secure their future, buy a car, and buy a home , we are stuck in a costly ‘baby-making’ process ! Life is no longer under our control and everything has become uncertain. The smooth flow of life is suddenly interrupted and only a baby seems to be a solution for all the craziness infertility has planted in our life.
Babies are gifts from God – this is the thought with which I grew up. That is what the culture in which I am brought up taught me. When baby making became a challenge , the question that naturally came to my mind is– why is God denying me the gift which he gives to everyone around me ? What did I do wrong? Am I a sinner ? Most religions preach that if you do wrong you will be punished by God. Hinduism talks about how your past life ‘bad karma’ could affect your present life. Religion instilled only one thought in my mind - you are a sinner ! Suddenly all my present life wrong-doings (thank God I am not aware of my past life !) became magnified out of proportion. Is there anything else which could damage your self-esteem so badly ?
Infertility did rob me and my dear one’s of many of life’s natural happiness. What will someone do when they hear that their little sibling is pregnant ? That is one of the happiest news to be shared and celebrated, right? For me it brought tears to my eyes ! Even now I feel guilty for how I reacted at that moment ! I was not as mature as I am now. I was not jealous - I just didn’t know how to react. A sudden attack of happiness and sadness at the same time made me cry. I felt toppled from my ‘big sister’ position suddenly. My own misfortune came as a hindrance for the happiness I felt for my sister. I could also sense how difficult it is for her to share life’s very important and very happy news with me – after all, she is my little one who is naturally worried about my emotional safety ! It didn’t end there, and throughout her pregnancy I couldn’t ask her many of the questions a ‘big sister’ would ask. I didn’t have any wisdom about pregnancy to share with her. She didn’t know what to ask me or what to share with me. Throughout her entire pregnancy there was an ‘iron curtain’ between her and me which both of us were very reluctant to lift. But the day I saw her little one , my heart just melted away - haven’t I become a mom too ! Aren’t they my children too?
Infertility is very, very hard to deal with - both physically and emotionally. It can shatter your routine, so-called ‘perfect’ life beyond belief. If you are not careful enough , it can leave you bitter and full of scars at a very young age. It can play havoc with your relationships. Is infertility bad ? Of course it is , when you don’t have the right attitude towards it ! As Khalil Gibran said ‘Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens’.
I am a good person. I love children. Why am I doomed to go through the pain of infertility ? Why do bad things happen to good people ? There are many different answers for this question and hopefully my next post will be on this – ‘WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE – HOW INFERTILE COUPLES CAN FIND THE STRENGTH TO COPE’!