The silence on the pain felt by women living with infertility is deafening, in a society so focused on women getting married and having babies.
In our country, we do not talk about infertility. Yes, there are some who whisper cautiously about treatments and solutions — medical or spiritual. There are others, who bravely stand up and say that a life without children is not a wasted life. The silence is conspicuous though, when it comes to how a woman dealing with infertility feels — about her body, about the pressure on her to conceive, and about motherhood. Even other women, who have lived through this, often focus only on sharing what treatments and hacks worked for them.
If there has been a conversation about the emotional life of women living with infertility, then I have been left out, because for years now I have been grappling with it, absolutely alone.
Though I have always dreamt of being a mother, I did not want children immediately after marriage. In any case, owing to various factors like busy schedules and other life stressors, it wasn’t possible. As my luck would have it, just as I was ready to become a mother, so was my PCOD ready, to make my life hell.
I had been symptom free so far, with my periods arriving on time. But now I didn’t menstruate for months on end. I would visit doctors and they would give me medication to encourage ovulation and regular menstruation, but nothing worked to help me get pregnant. I was at war with my own body. I hated it for being such a traitor. Despite my best efforts, I was putting on weight. I was angry — with fate, with myself; and this anger spilled out into my relationships. I was easily irritated and would blow up for minor things.
Around this time, people around me started getting curious about my childless status too. People assumed that we were trying to be a “modern” couple who did not want to have children, and I would have to listen to endless lectures, even from people I barely knew, about why I should have a child, and why this was the right time. Irrespective of whether they were doctors or not, they would advise me to lose weight. I would grin and bear it in front of them, and later cry myself to sleep.
Not a day went by without me ruminating endlessly about my failure to conceive. I dreaded missed periods. Every negative pregnancy test sent me deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of my misery. I could not watch videos of cute children online, or walk past the children’s section in supermarkets and stores, without feeling anxious or sad.
Most people had one of two reactions to my infertility. Either they would offer unwanted advice, or they would walk on eggshells around me, in an effort to not cause me discomfort. Unfortunately, both of these were reminders of what I lacked. My reaction was to isolate myself. I was rarely on social media. I would not call even my own parents or my closest friends. At social gatherings or family functions, I kept to myself, because in my mind I imagined worst case scenarios of how they would treat me. Mostly, in public I tried to pretend that my childlessness did not affect me.
In private, I was constantly anxious. It felt like there was a huge rock on my chest. After sending my husband off to work, I would go back to bed and spend the day there crying. My husband could understand my sadness, but did not know how to help me. Frankly, I didn’t know how to help myself.
Maybe if I had a job, I would have been able to distract myself. But for reasons outside my control, I could not work. So I was stuck at home, alone with my constant negative thoughts. I was feeling suicidal. I lost interest in sex, because rather than being a pleasurable activity, it had become a chore.
Above all was the feeling of guilt. Guilt at not having a perfect body. Guilt for being fat. Guilt for not being able to give my spouse the family he deserved. When cousins and friends, some younger than me, would get pregnant, I would be happy for them. But that happiness was always tinged by my sadness at not having a child of my own. And then, even though I never meant them any harm, I would feel guilty. No one blamed me for my condition. Not my husband or my in laws. And yet, I felt like everything was my fault. I can only imagine how much worse it is for the women who are blamed by their relatives for their inability to conceive.
Relatives and friends started suggesting remedies. Some medical, but mostly either quackery or religious. In my desperation, I tried those too. I visited the temples. I spent hours praying. My mother-in-law visited astrologers who assured her that I would have a child, if only we spent huge amounts of money on some ceremonies. We spent. Previously, I had shared a positive relationship with my God. I would enjoy my daily prayers, thanking the Almighty for all the good things in life. Now, my time for prayer, directed by a litany of rituals and prayers to conceive, suggested by various people, didn’t feel comforting. It just made me more anxious and fearful. Religion had abandoned me.
My husband and I tried IUI in an attempt to get pregnant. The process was uncomfortable and awkward for him. For me, it was torture. As the doctors and technicians poked and prodded at me, I felt like an object. A defective baby-making machine that must be fixed. I hated the painful tests and procedures. I felt lost and devoid of all personality. I didn’t know who I was anymore. At the end of all this, all five rounds of IUI failed. Science and Medicine had abandoned me too.
Since then, we have taken a break from the treatments. The failure of the IUI and what I went through during it was a wake-up call to me. I realized that I have to define who I am. I have started engaging myself in things I know will give me happiness. I have decided that irrespective of whether I become a mother or not, I will find satisfaction in life. I now enjoy sex for the pleasure it gives me, not because it is a path to having a family. I am rebuilding my relationship with God.
All is still not well. I wonder about the long term effects of the medications I have been taking. I wonder if this is all worth it. There are still days when I succumb to the pressure and lose my grip. Anxiety, anger and guilt are still a part of my life. I look at the world sometimes, with all its darkness and negativity and wonder if it is better that I do not bring a child into this world. But then I see something good and pure and am convinced that the world is an okay place after all.
My husband and I are planning to try IVF. I don’t know if it will work. Whether it does or not, I am determined to take it positively. It will be closure. At the very least, it will be the end of the road when it comes to putting my body through discomfort and pain.
I have always wanted to adopt a child. Maybe that is God’s plan for me too?
It hasn’t been easy for me to write this. But after a recent conversation with a friend who is also having difficulty getting pregnant, I realized that I had to. I do not want others to feel as lonely and lost as I did.
You may think it is hypocritical of me to complain about the lack of conversation about the topic, but still choose to keep my name secret. However, as much as I may want to talk about this openly, it is still difficult for my spouse. This has been hard on him too. He too has complex feelings on the issue that he is still exploring. A tragic side effect of patriarchy is that no one considers how the men feel in these situations and how they cope. They have no resources whatsoever to reach out to. They are just expected to tough it out. Someday, I hope to attach my name to this post. But for now, out of respect, understanding and kindness for how he feels, I choose to keep it under wraps.
But I had to write. In solidarity with all the women who live with infertility and its monstrous shadow. I hope that I have managed to give some solace to at least one woman who shares this journey. I hope this encourages more women to express how they feel. I hope this prompts doctors and technicians to consider how they can be more empathetic towards the couples who come to them for help. I hope this makes people introspect about how they talk to and behave around women like me. I hope they understand that at the end of the day, we want to be treated normally, like everyone else.
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