TRIGGER WARNING: Miscarriage and infertility


Pressing ‘post’ on my repeatedly re-drafted baby announcement, a flutter of excitement settled over me. Within minutes, hundreds of likes and sweet comments had appeared on the 12-week scan of our unborn daughter, an image nestled on a pair of fluffy baby booties.


What those commenters didn’t see were the years of turmoil my husband Andy and I had gone through to get pregnant and make that announcement.


One in seven UK couples needs help conceiving, and yet, the unfair shame and taboo of infertility persists, with difficulties falling pregnant, miscarriages, and torturous IVF hidden in plain sight until we’ve hit the 12-week mark with a miracle baby finally – and firmly – on board.


In announcing my pregnancy, I’d waited not just 12 weeks to share, but four years. Behind that photo were multiple, painful surgeries to mediate the extensive damage endometriosis had wreaked on my body, 18 months trying and failing to naturally conceive, and three rounds of IVF.


Image: Shutterstock


The first cycle had landed me in hospital due to OHSS – a rare, painful and potentially life-threatening IVF risk. For three weeks, I kept a diary of heartache from hospital, writing to my embryos that lay frozen in a lab 1.6 miles away. Our parents and my best friend knew, but all those hours alone with my physical and emotional agony needed much more support than the few people privy to our situation could possibly give.


These were also the same people who were themselves heavily invested and upset for us – and leaning on someone who is hurting for you feels cruel, so you put on a brave face and try not to inflict the full force of your agony on them.


Six weeks later, as I took a cab from my office to our work Christmas do with five colleagues, we passed the very building holding my six embryos and I cried silently. Nobody in that taxi knew the longing, failure and depression I felt.


All I wanted to do was sob that night, and I did – secretly in the toilets, or facing a window with the tears I couldn’t seem to control – before somehow pulling myself back together to field the inevitable questions. ‘Why aren’t you drinking? Are you PREGNANT? OMG!’


No. No, NO. I was in fact preparing for another cycle of IVF and had to pretend to enjoy the drunk festivities happening all around.


Social harms


Society tells women to keep our mouths shut if we can’t fall pregnant – and when we do, until the risk of our bodies failing us in pregnancy has diminished in the second trimester. I use the word failing ironically, of course, because you can only fail at something you have control over.


Miscarriage isn’t a failure, it’s a devastating loss. It’s grief. It’s hell.


So why this enforced silence about it all? It’s damaging and isolating to perpetuate this societal idea that falling pregnant or staying that way is so easy when for many people, it’s not.


Image: Shutterstock


Earlier this month, This Morning star Sharon Marshall revealed her difficult journey through IVF to motherhood, and explained how she’d kept it to herself, triggering depression and sadness through her 40s. She said she ‘doesn’t know why’ she kept quiet, but that it shouldn’t be this way. She’s right.


More people than ever struggle to start a family, and coping with infertility, the rigmaroles of IVF, those repeat negative pregnancy tests, miscarriage and baby loss is so hard already. But doing it alone, secretly, and silently? That’s an unfair taboo that adversely puts pressure on women – and I, for one, am done.


Infertility: The number

  • 1 in 7 couples struggle to conceive naturally, with 30 per cent experiencing male factor infertility, and 40 per cent having disorders on both sides
  • 1 in 10 women have endometriosis
  • 1 in 10 have PCOS
  • 28.9 is the average age women in England and Wales have their first baby
  • 3 is the average number of IVF cycles it takes to fall pregnant. Of the women who have three cycles, only 34-44 per cent actually have a baby
  • More than 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage
  • 1 in every 225 UK pregnancies ends in stillbirth


Andy and I had IVF throughout 2015 and 2016, after secretly trying for a baby for 18 months in the run up to our wedding. Previously, I’d undergone multiple operations to give us the best shot at conceiving, and I’d told Andy about my potential infertility on our third date so we could both go into our friendship-turned-relationship with eyes open.


Yet, the only people who really knew about our joint fertility journey two years later were our parents and my boss, informed becuase I had to be out of the office all the time for appointments at the IVF clinic.


The strain of carrying that despair and longing, especially when things went wrong, was hideous. The mental effort it took to look normal and happy, not sad and defeated, as baby announcements were made hours after my second IVF cycle was cancelled due to me developing shingles from the stress… It was so hard, and it’s not an experience I’m willing to repeat.


Trying again


Today, I’m 35 and I’ve spent the last six months coming off all my many painkillers and endometriosis- suppressing hormones in preparation for baby number two.


Our daughter Millie, a miracle conceived through IVF, is now five and started school in September. I’m ready to try for another baby, but having felt the emotional damage of doing it all in secret previouly, I won’t be keeping silent this time around.


Now, any friends, contacts, editors I have a chatty relationship with or new mum friends at the school gate, are getting the unfiltered truth if they ask my news, or how I am.


Image: Shutterstock


I don’t have the mental fortitude to keep my feelings and worries stuffed inside this time round – and I wouldn’t keep quiet even if I did, for I know first-hand how hard the process of IVF is, and how much emotional support you need to get through it unscathed.


They say it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes, it takes a village to get you to that point in the first place. Hiding your story from your village will only make you feel alone and unsupported at a time when feeling that way is the most damaging thing you can experience.


Challenges ahead


We’re going to try naturally for another six months, then hit the IVF again in June. Our chances of conceiving naturally are less than ten per cent, thanks to severe endometriosis, PCOS and my husband’s male factor infertility.


I already have a plan in place with my wonderful IVF consultant at CRGH, London, and all of these timelines and plans bring me comfort. But better than that, being able to confide in the women in my life, no matter how close we are, is already making this journey feel less awful.


Image: Shutterstock


My best friend knows our plans and holds my cautious optimism in her heart, ready to dip into hopeful fantasising at the drop of a hat. My sister-in-law supports me every month when the ‘eek, my period is late’ excitement turns into ‘it was negative’ disappointment. Mum-friends old and new are sharing their own stories of pregnancy difficulties with me and, even though I know the stats and how common it is, I am still shocked to hear how nearly everyone I know has been touched by either pregnancy tragedy or difficulty.


Instead of an emotional void, this time there is a net around me. It is a net of hopeful, cautious, kind, loving and compassionate people, all ready to catch me. And what a difference it is making already.


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