Last year, I was one of the millions who tuned in and watched the award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale. I had loved the book and was excited when it was turned into a TV series. A dystopian novel written in the 1980s, the story takes a look at the environmental and societal problems (pollution, stress, diseases, etc.) that caused an epidemic of infertility in the world. There are a number of parallels between The Handmaid’s Tale and the real world today. The rise of infertility for starters – something I know too much about.
My husband and I have tried for more than two years now to get pregnant, but without any success. Two years may not be so long in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re months away from 40 (a geriatric mother – according to medical professionals) and feel your biological clock is well and truly ticking, two years feels like a lifetime. People around you will remind you that the average age of women having their first child is steadily increasing every year and will recount tales of women in their early 50s having a baby for the first time, but none of this really makes you feel any better when you want a baby and are running out of time.
There are a number of parallels between The Handmaid’s Tale and the real world today.
Before trying to get pregnant, my husband and I went through all the fertility health checks and did everything the books recommended to prepare for starting a family, but nothing prepares you for when it doesn’t happen and no one can tell you why!
One in seven couples may have difficulty conceiving. If the results of all tests come back normal and a couple has been trying to conceive for at least one year, the diagnosis of unexplained infertility is made, which is what happened with us – along with 20 percent of those diagnosed with infertility. The lack of a medical cause means there is nothing specific to focus on, and every month there is always the chance you might just be pregnant. Cue comments like: “Just relax. It’ll happen when you least expect it.” If it were as simple as just “relaxing”, I’d be going for yoga and a massage every day.
After tests ruled everything out and, given my age and the fact that time isn’t on our side, our doctor put us on a fertility plan and a drug cocktail for an initial six months. Every month, I took my prescribed drugs on specified days. The ones I took on the first three days of my cycle gave me a constant migraine each month, which could not be shifted by any painkiller. My skin broke out, I had mood swings, I gained weight, and, despite vowing it would never happen to us, we became addicted to counting days.
My least favorite time of the month were the days when I had to inject my stomach to trigger ovulation, which later on progressed into injections on consecutive days of the month – up to 12 in one month. We tried to make the best of the situation. One of my “best” memories from this time is of the pair of us hysterically laughing after I’d spent an hour refusing to have the injection. My husband grabbed me and pinched the skin on my stomach so hard that I didn’t notice he’d given me the injection at the same time. We’ve had to laugh or we would not have survived otherwise.
I’ve done a few weird and wacky things and have tried every alternative and holistic treatment out there – acupuncture, hypnotherapy, healers, fertility tea, handstands, aromatherapy, crystals. You name it; if Google mentioned it, I’ve tried it.
My husband and I have had to have “that conversation”, the one in which you discuss what you would do if you can’t have children, and talk about the possibility of building a life just the two of us. I’ve sobbed and asked if he would leave me. He’s re-assured me that he won’t and that he’d rather have a life with me even without a family, but on a bad day the doubts overwhelm you. At least we’ll get to travel, sleep late, and not worry about school fees, right?
Six months on the prescribed cocktail of drugs turned into twelve, and then we had no choice but to book in with a fertility clinic to discuss next steps. The drugs and processes got more intrusive and, after two rounds of treatment, we agreed that enough was enough – at least for now.
I have my own business and a demanding job, and the whole time I was miscarrying I had to carry on like a normal productive human being.
Four months after we stopped “trying”, I found myself bent in half, crippled, in the worst pain I had ever experienced. Later that evening, I started bleeding heavily. It was the wrong time of the month, so I messaged my gynecologist. Receiving the news that we were pregnant were the best ten minutes of our life. My husband hugged me so hard; I’d never seen him so happy. I did the maths in my head and realized that I’d give birth a month before my 40th Birthday too – I’d be a 30-something mum!
But our joy was short-lived and the blood tests came back saying it wasn’t a viable pregnancy. Many women experience miscarriages, many don’t even know they’re happening, often mistaking them for a late period. What they don’t tell you is that you’re technically still pregnant but playing the waiting game until you aren’t anymore, which, in my case, was a long and torturous week.
I have my own business and a demanding job, and the whole time I was miscarrying I had to carry on like a normal productive human being. The day I found out I was going to miscarry, I had a big new-business pitch scheduled that afternoon. The day after that, I had to host a big media event. I carried on with my preparations and parked dealing with the loss.
Today, people (including the doctors) tell me that, “If it happened once, it will happen again,” which is probably true but also not terribly helpful.
No one ever prepares you for dealing with infertility, something that is totally out of your control, and the whole process is emotionally draining and stressful. There are times when I don’t want to get out of bed for days. I’ve screamed and sobbed at my husband, and I even threw a cup of tea at his head (which thankfully missed). I’ve avoided a lot of our well-intentioned friends and family, too, as I couldn’t bear their questions.
One thing that I have discovered, however, is how important and helpful being open and honest about what we are going through can be. I’ve discovered that so many people are going through exactly the same thing, and they’re usually the ones you least expected to. By being open and sharing my experience, I’ve met a whole new support network of friends who know what it is like to be poked and prodded, the pain of sobbing silently in the work bathroom as you get your period again, and the fear of not knowing if you will ever get pregnant.
Four months on since my miscarriage, I feel genuinely hopeful that we can conceive and that we will be parents one day. Here’s to 2018 being our year.
Natasha Hatherall is a Dubai-based PR and the founder of TishTash Marketing and PR.