UK-based Gulf News reader Aisha Balesaria is one of the estimated 186 million people in the world who live with infertility. After 11 cycles of In vitro fertilisation (IVF) that resulted in multiple miscarriages and embryo losses, dealing with emotional turmoil and a society that places a lot of pressure on pregnancy, Balesaria found her centre and began to embrace childlessness. This is her story…
When I learned that IVF was the only way I’d be able to get pregnant, I didn’t comprehend the gravity of it. Injecting medication, ingesting hormones and inserting pessaries was a lot more than I envisaged. The reality was torture and I pinned all my hopes on science to get me pregnant. For 15 years I’d complained to doctors about the agony I was experiencing and it was only when I couldn’t fall pregnant that I was taken seriously. It appeared that pregnancy was of more value than my physical health. I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in various locations throughout the body. My organs were sticking together causing severe pain, fatigue and infertility.
When I began trying to conceive 11 years ago, the narrative was “never give up”. Determined, I convinced myself I was never going to be an ‘IVF fail’! Unfortunately, infertility thought otherwise and each unsuccessful round of IVF was a huge blow that took me further away from my dreams of motherhood. Most people outside the infertility loop underestimated the trauma it caused and even fewer understood the depth of my pain. People were swift in telling me how to ‘heal’ or ‘fix myself’ and most of the time I felt deprived of compassion and empathy. Infertility is a medical condition that can’t be treated with ‘relaxing’, ‘thinking positively’, ‘manifesting’ or ‘eating avocados’ - it would be much simpler if these ‘remedies’ worked. Infertility is way beyond our control and each person’s situation is unique. It was exhausting hearing, “keep going”, which flowed so easily from the mouths of others when they had no clue how it felt living in an infertile person’s shoes. There are so many assumptions surrounding infertility included the false narrative that the effort you put into trying to conceive will determine the outcome. Wrong! I’ve seen it fail in the best circumstances and work in the direst situations. This, dear loved ones, is the reality of IVF.
My 10-year struggle to conceive was becoming more difficult; four miscarriages and numerous embryo losses made my path to motherhood more uncertain leaving me exhausted, depressed and anxious most days. The medication became more intense and my mental and physical health deteriorated. Endometriosis had spread to further places in my body and I was bleeding rectally during menstruation. The pain was excruciating. I no longer recognised who I was; infertility, treatments, clinics, blood tests and trying to conceive were all I knew and I was scared what would be left once I stopped. Was I enough?
Stopping is not giving up
Deep down I knew my trying to conceive days were numbered, the constant knock backs becoming harder to bear. Why wasn’t this working for me, I wondered? I’d already undertaken over 11 IVF cycles with no live birth. I was running out of options. I banked more eggs in the hope that the next stage would increase my chances of pregnancy success. Devastatingly, my eggs failed the stress test when thawing and it was at that moment I knew my path to motherhood was permanently over. No longer able to endure the disappointments or the financial hits, my husband and I waved goodbye to our dreams of becoming parents. We were completely heartbroken.
He adds: “When to stop fertility treatment is not always clear-cut, but there are pointers that help one to recognise the point at which ‘enough is enough’ and to culminate the fertility treatment. These are:
· The drugs used in the fertility treatment is causing painful or adverse symptoms as this can have a negative physical or psychological impact.
· When you are already in debt and have financial restrictions and cannot afford further treatment.
· You cannot remember the last time you did something that did not involve the fertility treatment.
· When you are obsessed about your infertility, so much so that it adversely affects your social life, your job and your relationship with your partner.
· When you exhibit signs and symptoms of depression, loss of confidence, fatigue, guilt, self-loathing, poor concentration and memory loss, sleeplessness and anxiety
The decision to quit was a painful one that came with many questions; “have I done the right thing?”, “will I regret it?”, “how will I live without children?”, “did I do enough?”. The transition to beginning an involuntary childless life was challenging and I approached my path to healing in many ways; faith, therapy and coaching helped enormously.
Therapy has had a huge impact on the way I live my current life. Being able to sit with someone impartial was immeasurable and it lifted the grief that overwhelmed me for a very long time. Lastly, coaching enabled me to think of a life beyond parenthood and I began exploring what I wanted my future to look like.
Eventually, I realised stopping trying to conceive is a perfectly valid option when you’re infertile and in the same way alternate paths to parenthood are suggested, so should walking away without a baby! It was during the healing process that I started to believe ‘Aisha’ (me) was much more than her reproductive system. ‘Unlearning’ social constructs became my greatest aid when transitioning to a childfree life and I was determined that this life (the only one I’m getting) would be one I loved. With that in mind I founded mindbodyrevival_coach and began supporting those struggling with chronic illness, infertility, miscarriage or involuntary childlessness through 1:1 coaching. Making a difference to ‘one life’ wasn’t enough for me. Through writing and speaking I’ve been able to connect with, and help more individuals who have their own stories of grief and loss.
Many South Asian and Middle Eastern women experiencing infertility have to deal with further layers of culture and tradition. It’s already a difficult journey without shame, taboo and stigma being added to it. I’ve spoken openly about the effects of infertility and involuntary childlessness when you’re from a minority group. I’m hoping more people from marginalised communities will feel understood and less alone knowing infertility is not their fault.
Living a life unexpected
Accepting a life you didn’t choose takes time and I put as much effort in the life I’m leading as I poured into trying to conceive. Naturally, grief and joy will co-exist, one pulling more strongly than the other some days as it would in any other situation where grief is overwhelming. I learned to grow around my grief and surprisingly, it no longer takes up the space it did. I began to fill my life with things that were meaningful (this looks different for everyone). My husband, cat Peaches, family, friends, travelling, coaching and the work I do creating community, makes my heart full.
I’m often asked if the life I’m living is a happy one and the short answer is YES! These are the days I’ve prayed for. My life’s no longer on hold and the freedom that came with stopping feels incredible. Back then I had little room for gratitude because pain took up so much space, now I feel thankful for the smell of clean washing (a sign I’m healing).
I’ve reached a point where I’m no longer interested in convincing people of my worth, and being unapologetic about who I am is the real ‘glow-up’ after infertility. The truth is there are no silver linings to infertility, it’s something we survive – not get over. I can never move on, because my story is too meaningful to forget. However, with support, self-awareness and determination, moving forward has allowed me to live a meaningful life. Can an infertility story have a happy ending without a baby? Absolutely!
I have managed to get through the depths of grief and I’m living an enjoyable life with the things that I choose to fill it with. If your infertility story is about to end without a baby, I want you to know that there are varieties of a happy life. Search the hashtags #embracingchildless #childlessnotbychoice #childfreeafterinfertility for community and connection.
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