Three people at work have asked me if my pregnancy was planned. They were all younger women, without children.
It has stopped me in my tracks each time. How to convey the utter pain and desperation I have felt, wanting a child for years, when it wasn’t my time? “Yes” doesn’t cut it. Even a variation on “very much so” leaves me feeling hollow.
There are many reasons why people who are viscerally desperate to have a baby cannot have one. When you tell someone you have wanted a baby for so long, there is an assumption. But it’s not just down to infertility.
Infertility is a big one though, so let’s start there. I genuinely wonder how many people in their thirties, as I am, do have unplanned pregnancies these days.
My social bubble is at the other end of the spectrum; I know of more couples having trouble conceiving and/or needing IVF than those with ‘straightforward’ conception.
Between 1973 and 2011, men’s sperm counts fell by more than 50 percent. And this wasn’t just one study, but a meta-review of 185 research studies looking at sperm counts over the past four decades, in more than 40,000 men.
I feel very lucky that we didn’t need to go down the IVF route, but that makes things sound simple. In truth, I have felt a deep pain over five years at it not being my time, for a different reason.
Curling up in a ball in bed in the dark, ugly crying, when others announced their pregnancy. A literal physical ache in my belly, an actual sensation of pain of longing. Hating myself for not experiencing pure joy for others. Resentful every time a pregnant woman complained of needing the toilet more or not being able to eat brie, like I wouldn’t give my right arm to be exactly where she was in that moment. Therapy and counselling, where therapists didn’t empower me to get through it, but reassured me that my feelings were totally normal and acceptable. Like that helped. Yes, it was planned.
You can only tell a select few what you’re going through, and you have to get on with life. You can’t press pause on everything else until it is time. Turn up at work, to parties, to coffee catch-ups, and act normal. Never mind that a baby shower causes a searing pain inside, and you’re fighting back tears at every moment. It’s not about you. Yes, it was planned.
Broadcaster and journalist Emma Barnett discussed this awkward topic on the ‘How to Fail With Elizabeth Day’ podcast in April this year, and I clung to her words because it finally felt like one other soul in this world was with me.
She spoke of people who seem to suddenly forget the pain they went through to conceive once they become pregnant or parents. She explained how we can use that pain and choose to be empathetic to others who are still in that same boat: “You do have a choice […] how you control that message and break certain bits of news around pregnancy, children, and all of that, to your friends. What you can control is how you speak to your friends, your nearest and dearest.”
And, she went on to say, “I haven’t and will not post photos online of [my] child and me because I just don’t understand why, when people struggled [to conceive…], how they end up doing an entire social media feed full of their kids. Like, you used to look at that stuff – I used to look at that stuff – and feel like SHIT! But you still do it!”
I am ever mindful now that I am pregnant that I have no idea what my colleagues are going through personally. Whether they’re single or in a relationship, younger or older, you just can’t see if someone is going through this pain. As the woman who is pregnant, I’m also the last person they’re likely to tell. So I’m mindful to not make a conversation about my pregnancy, unless someone else initiates it. I would never complain, even jokingly, when things are inconvenient or uncomfortable, if I don’t know what that person is going through themselves.
When we did start trying for a baby, it was after months of preparation; coming off the pill, considering the pros and cons of staying on my other medication, researching and taking a daily antenatal supplement. I tried to take it easy, to ‘relax’ as everyone tells you will magically make it happen. But after so long waiting to start, it felt utterly pointless to wing it. A waste of time that I did not have spare to waste. So a thermometer resided in my bedside table, so I could record my temperature before I sat up in bed. Then I’d head to the bathroom and reach for the ovulation kit, to track my fertility level each morning. Catching that precious fertile window that is measured in hours, not days or weeks. Yes, it was planned.
Again, I was in the lucky position of not having many months like this. Not many months of feeling those telltale period cramps starting up, and knowing that was it for this try. Another two week wait to get the thermometer and ovulation kit out again. Time never moves as slowly as when you’re waiting out two pointless weeks. I managed to stay upbeat each time, seeing my period as I sign I was healthy, an opportunity for a fresh start. (This fortnight I’d go to the gym more, eat more vegetables, give my baby a better start in life). Still unable to tell people you see every day that you are going through the most challenging, most heartbreaking experience of your life, and having to turn up and perform regardless. I can’t pretend to understand how it must feel for that to go on and on. Perhaps never ending. All hope extinguished.
So, for those asking… perhaps, don’t. It’s really none of your business, and the question may be a lot more harrowing for the other person than you ever gave a thought to.
Yes, it was planned.