Welcome everyone! It’s week eighteen of the “On Being Childfree” blog series and it’s wonderful to return after a little holiday break. The last two Fridays I’ve been absent whilst living it up in Las Vegas and it felt like the right thing to do because I want to offer and provide support to my posters who are kind enough to share their stories. This week I’m delighted to welcome our first male perspective, Matt. He writes so eloquently about the experience of undergoing unexplained infertility with his wife, it’s a total honour to be able to provide this platform. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
We Are: Matt and Sarah, 35 and 45
Home Is: Birmingham
We Do: Teaching
This is a story I never really thought I’d share. But a friend told me about this fantastic space that Lins had created to share stories of people who were facing a life without children for whatever reason and it sounded intriguing. What’s struck me though in all of the stories I’ve read (which are so moving and eloquent) is the distinct lack of a story from a male perspective.
I feel quite nervous speaking up but I’ve found hearing from everyone else so…inspiring? That’s probably not the right word given the circumstances but maybe courageous is more appropriate. I knew I could do it too.
To cover our story in a quick summary, my wife and I have been diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” – probably one of the most frustrating scenarios you could imagine. That’s not to dismiss or demean anyone else’s situation, far from it. Anyone who goes through the struggle to conceive has my biggest admiration. But it feels like sometimes constantly coming up against a brick wall, an intrinsic lack of traditional medicine’s part to come up with a proper rationale, other things we can try. My logical mind can’t process that this can be “unexplained”.
We met through work almost 10 years ago, that pair that I’m sure people were probably having a good old gossip about before we even knew there was anything to gossip about. Or maybe we did and didn’t really know what to make of it. She’s 10 years older than me you see, I was 25 and she’d just turned 36 and we’re now 35 and 45 respectively. Whether we want to admit it or not, time is not on our side.
I know a lot of heads were turned by our unconventional situation but I’ve got an old head on my shoulders having been through a lot when I was growing up and she still is the most young at heart, vivacious person I know. Her smile enters the room approximately 5 minutes before she does and if possible I love her more now than I did then but it’s not been an easy path.
She always assumed our flirtatious banter was just a bit of fun and as a result it took me a while to convince her I was serious about a relationship. She had all the usual concerns I suppose that women do – that when we got older, my head would be turned by someone 10 years younger than me, ergo 20 years younger than her. Yet somehow I guess my rogueish charm won her round and we married 18 months after meeting. She was amazing and said she never wanted to rush me but I knew I wanted a family even then and so we both thought there was no point in waiting.
It’s fun at first, as I’m sure so many of you will know. Throwing caution to the wind – any excuse right? But after 8 months of nothing happening we decided to head to the doctors and the tests began. Remarkably everything came back clear for both of us and we were told to just carry on trying. It felt like a relief but on the other hand frustrating that there wasn’t a cut and paste answer that would give us an explanation.
And from that point on, some of the fun went out of it. It’s relentless, like nothing else I’ve been through. Month after month of timing, disappointment, losing each other a little bit, finding each other again. It literally becomes all-consuming and it’s not the easiest thing to talk about with those around you either (another reason why I truly appreciate what Lins is doing, this NEEDS to be less taboo and more readily supported).
We went back to the doctors and explored our options, which turned out to be IVF at cost to us because of her age. That in itself is a bloody lottery, simply coming down to which healthcare trust you’re under. So we did what needed to be done, threw everything at it and lived in hope. The stats are always there once you’re at this point in the journey but it’s actually not good odds – only 30% of couples will fall pregnant through any kind of assisted conception. We’re one of the 70%.
We’ve now been through our 5th and final, unsuccessful attempt. We’ve given so much money over to this, so much time, energy, hope. Of course if it had worked it would have been all completely worth it but the truth is it also nearly breaks you, both as individuals and as a couple. I’ve cried alone, we’ve cried together. Angry, resentful. Every time you come across another story about a child dying through being abused the world just seems like the most unfair place.
Our friends and family are of course as supportive as they can be but the endless platitudes are just SO unhelpful. Please I beg of you reading this, just be there for the people you know going through something similar. It may feel super awkward or uncomfortable for you if you don’t know what to say or how to act, but don’t offer up empty words such as “there’s always adoption” or “once you stop trying it can happen naturally” they’re honestly just the most impersonal, redundant phrases to offer. This is not your hurt, it’s theirs.
Through all of this she’s been amazing. We’re often told that men don’t talk about these things because they’re the strong ones and women are the weak, emotional ones but God knows, I don’t know a single weak woman. Every woman in my life is the most bad-ass person you could ever know. Men get scared. Men worry. Men cry. Women carry on. They smile, reassure everything will be ok, they’re SO strong. There’s a reason it’s a fact that women are more likely to live on once their husband passes away rather than the other way around.
Where does this leave us? Somewhere between desolation and hope if I’m completely honest. Taking time to mourn what we’ve been through, but also appreciating the strength its given us. I have no doubt we’ll be ok and that even though this future isn’t one we expected, is life? We go through it taking it for all granted but really, we’re just all balancing on a knife edge trying to make it safely through each day. I believe that if our path is not meant to be parents, it’s because there’s something different out there for us. In time we’ll work out what that is.
Thank you so so much to Matt for taking up the baton to be the first male guest poster. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Matt’s story, leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.