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Nine: Drop the F-bomb - the unspoken impact of infertility

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Yes, we were doing it again. We were going to try for another gayby and it was time to meet the consultant, the nursing staff, sign the papers and pay the deposit. However, this time there were three of us going.

I picked my daughter up from the nursery under the motorway flyover, and caught the train to London. In a busy yet silent train carriage, my daughter pressed her nose against the window and exclaimed loudly, ‘Mummy fuck!’

Sorry what? ‘Look, Mummy fuck’. Pointing furiously, ‘There Mummy, fuck, fuck, fuck’. Oh fuck. Following her chubby finger, desperately scanning the landscape, I see it. Thank god. ‘Fox darling, it’s a fox, a FOX’ (just in case any of the silent commuters were in any doubt) 'it's a FFOOXX!'. Scooping up my daughter I left the train to various awkward smiles.

The embarrassment was quickly replaced with excitement as we entered the fertility clinic. The staff were just as welcoming the second time, making such a fuss of our beautiful daughter, donor conceived right there near London Bridge.

A week later, I had my pre assessment appointment. I insisted I go alone. I felt like a fertility expert and there was no need for my wife to take unnecessary time off work. On arrival I was taken into a side room. From previous experience I knew I found it difficult to focus and retain information the clinic gave, so this time I came prepared.

Sitting there proudly organised, with notepad open and pen ready, a nurse with a kind smile very factually told me I was infertile. Sorry what? You must have it wrong. I’m just a lesbian who needs assistance, I’m not infertile. She seemed a little shocked I didn’t know. She kindly tried to placate me with words such as, well it worked for you before so might happen again and you’re in the right place. Pen still clasped in a now sweaty, trembling hand; I mindlessly doodled one word. Fuck.

I could feel the panic building as I followed her down the stairs to a dark basement room. It was time for the dye pump. I’m sure there is a medical name for it but essentially, legs in stirrups, cervix opened, and a dye is pumped around the reproductive system. It is an unpleasant and, for me, a painful procedure. The dye stings and having my cervix touched let alone clamped opened is excruciating. Watching the dye flow on the monitor the doctor quietened. He had found a blockage. Explaining that a blockage could be a lump, gubbins or just a shadow, he would have to do the test again. Fuck.

The nurse’s face is still etched in my memory. She stroked my hair, held my hand and gently wiped my tears away. There in the stirrups, my brain went into a catastrophic meltdown. I was infertile and had cancer. Thankfully, fifteen long minutes later, the gubbins flushed away and I was left only infertile. I was told we had one last chance at IVF then it was game over. Fuck.

Trying to get pregnant wasn’t an adventure now. It was stressful and uncertain. There are moments during the next few months I won’t share as it is part of, and personal to my children’s fertility journey. But it’s safe to say that period was financially and mentally exhausting. With various undignified procedures, tests, probes, time spent in stirrups (see Blog 4 @WhoSaidRomanceIsDead, so I can avoid the graphic details and being in danger of repeating myself).

The following summer, my daughter and I were again on the busy London train. ‘Am I really going to be a big sister?’, she asked. ‘Yes, you are my love’. I replied, stroking my pregnant belly. Staring out the window of the carriage, she pointed and loudly exclaimed, ‘Good and look Mummy, a F…..’

Fertility matters within the workplace.

When I found out I was infertile, my mental wellbeing suffered considerably. The anxiety, sadness and feeling of biological failure was overwhelming. Historically, I was not the person who would ask for help. I did not want to burden others, lesson my independence or show weakness. These beliefs were exacerbated in the workplace particularly when it came to fertility. At a pivotal stage in my career progression, I worried my vulnerability would hinder future job prospects. Without fertility really factoring in the policies, conversations or support networks it felt a necessity to smile and stay silent.

Regardless of sexuality or gender, fertility struggles can affect one in seven individuals. A study by Fertility Matters at Work and Manchester Metropolitan University showed.

  1. 68% felt fertility treatment had a detrimental impact on their emotional and mental wellbeing

  2. 74% didn’t feel that the topic of fertility was recognised in their organisation.

  3. 72% said their workplace did not have a fertility policy in place

  4. 69% took sick leave during treatment.

Imagine organisations adopting a fertility inclusive and supportive culture. Putting the policies in place, creating psychologically safe spaces, managers having confidence to have the conversations, provisions for partners to attend appointments. We can all advocate for the inclusion of fertility within the workplace and groups like Fertility Matters at Work can help do just this.

Thankfully, I have finally learnt just how unhealthy my beliefs were to my mental health. I now know being vulnerable isn’t a weakness and authenticity is empowering. If you are going through fertility, please reach out and ask for support. A partner, friend, a work colleague who has had similar experiences. For everyone else let's drop the F-bomb and advocate for a Fertility Friendly workplace. #fertilitymatters #lgbtqparenting

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