What it’s like to have unexplained infertility in your twenties

The life of a guide writer is a busy one, and writing for pleasure has fallen somewhat by the wayside. It’s been almost a year since I last published an article here, so let me start by apologising for my silence.

Last September, I started my new role as a guide writer for VG247. By some miracle, they decided to keep me on and I’m still there writing guides for games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite on the reg.

During that time, I also kicked my eating disorder to the kerb (mostly) and am now in remission for my EUPD. Fuck me, right? Who thought I’d ever get to a stage where I’d be considered passably regular?

In truth, I have never felt more whole. I have it all: a place to call my own, a job I love, two cats, a supportive husband and, most importantly, my health. But instead of enjoying everything I have right now, I have been looking forward to and planning the next stage of my life: having a family.

“But you’re only 28, you’ve got ages yet!” friends and family have said to me. “So fuck!” I thought to myself, it’s no one else’s choice to make. Truthfully, though, I believed them; at 28 years old, I should be bursting with fertility, popping out bairn after bairn like I’m building a football team.

Instead, it’s been nothing short of a fucking nightmare and I feel like I’ve been fed a lie about my fertility up until this point. So let’s talk about the realities of unexplained infertility in your twenties.

What it’s like to have unexplained fertility in your twenties

For the longest time, I’ve dreaded missing a period. I started on the pill when I was 16 for two reasons: I had terrible skin and horrendous periods, and I was in a long-term relationship with a boy. So sue me.

Now that I’ve left the pill life behind, I expected to fall pregnant rather quickly, because I had done before. The first time was in my early twenties, which ended up in a miscarriage at 15 and a half weeks, and it’s now come to light that there could be scarring which is hindering my current progress.

Since starting to try properly, I have had two miscarriages. One was a very quick and early chemical pregnancy, the other around the 6 ish week mark. I feel a lot of guilt around the latter one, as all my tests were blank white and I had a bit of a bender in a hot tub the week prior. Could it have been my fault? Maybe. Did I give myself room to think otherwise? No.

There are two other factors at play that haven’t been ruled out: PCOS and early menopause. You might think it’s a bit early to be throwing around the big M, but early menopause runs in my family, albeit around the 38-year-old mark. I thought I had at least 10 good years of baby-making glory left, so imagine my surprise when a few blood tests showed my hormones to be all over the bloody shop.

High testosterone? Low testosterone? Low progesterone? No ovulation? Alarm bells are still ringing in my head as I now have to wait several months before I can see a fertility specialist. Then there was the ultrasound which came back clear but came with a warning that there could definitely still be cysts on my ovaries or endometriosis or scarring from the previous late miscarriage.

So far, the best my doctor can do is shrug and offer me some kind words as they refer me on to assisted conception. G’s boys were tested and came back with a glowing report, which meant the issue was with me.

Living with EUPD and an eating disorder means that things are always my fault, at least in my mind. It takes my entire self to get that nasty bitch to shut the fuck up, so imagine my surprise when she bursts through my carefully constructed mental boundaries to remind me I’m absolutely useless.

Which brings me to the other side of living with unexplained fertility: the emotional toll and what it feels like to lose ownership of your body.

Hellblade_ Senua's Sacrifice™_20170810164700

Unexplained infertility: a joyless, lonely life

I totally underestimated the emotional turmoil of trying to have a baby. I knew about postpartum depression and antenatal depression, having suffered it before. I knew that growing and birthing a baby lead to some women to feeling like they had lost control of their body, their personhood and identity.

I also read that it can be empowering, a period for real growth – and not just physically. I like to think I read a tonne of literature that balanced the good with the bad, the hopes with reality.

What I didn’t read about was how lonely, sad and obsessed you could become when trying for a baby. “We won’t do all that charting nonsense, we’ll just have sex a few times a month and it’ll be fine!” we said hopefully, knowing fine well I could go off the deep end with temp taking and ovulation kits and peeing on a stick (POAS) every day from 8 days past ovulation (DPO) on the search for that big fat positive (BFP).

This is the language I’ve become accustomed to trawling the sites that talk about trying to conceive. And pals, I went off the deep end.

There is no week of the month I’m not anxious; I’m either in the unromantic and joyless “quick, let’s have sex as I’m ovulating soon” first two weeks of the month, or in the equally stressful two week wait as I test daily – hourly – in the hope of seeing those two pink lines.

And it doesn’t stop after one test, oh no. You can buy a pack of 20 tests for £2.50, and you’d be correct to guess I was going through them at some rate. It wasn’t over once you got a positive on one of the cheap tests, though.

After that, you had to buy the First Response: Early Response (FRER) holy grail test – preferably the two-pack. But even when you got nice lines on both of those tests, it wasn’t enough. Then – and only then – could you break out the Clearblue digital (CBD) to see the word “pregnant” to confirm what approximately 30 tests had already told you.

I’ve only reached the positive CBD stage twice. I’ve reached the internet cheapies and FR stage a few times, but the digital test always reads the same: not pregnant. Then there are the hundreds of tests that stayed blank, no matter what angle I held them at.

As I said, I didn’t bother with temping and ovulation prediction kits because I didn’t want to become obsessed, right? I wasn’t like those women on the forums who were WAY over-involved, was I?

The reality? My husband standing over the bin I’ve tried to hide that houses dozens of blank tests, wondering if he needs to phone the doctor to intervene. The arguments that end with pointing fingers as we each project our own grief onto one another. The realisation that we’re probably not going to manage this alone, that there is a problem and that we’re ashamed.

That’s the side that rarely gets mentioned at any stage of this baby-making malarkey. And the person you’re trying to have that baby with? It would be understandable to think people are reproducing on their own, the little thought that sometimes goes into how the other person is feeling.

I’ll come clean: when G was told his sperm was fine, as far as I was concerned he was allowed to blame me. Simultaneously, he wasn’t allowed to complain or feel sad because “nothing was happening to him”, but at the same time I was resentful because he didn’t seem to be grieving, either.

How he has felt anything other than “what the fuck?” for the past year is beyond me, really, as we’ve both been in denial about how we’ve felt as individuals, as well as how the other must be feeling.

Which leads us on to the next section quite nicely. We’ve both had the penny-drop moment where enough is enough and we’re finally a team again, though the next while is still going to be a ballache.

The Skellige Isles

Unexplained infertility: letting go and reconnecting

I know of several people who have struggled with infertility, had miscarriages and other loss. They share in my anger, my pain and my hope. For others, the reaction is more akin to me revealing I enjoy chewing glass; I’m met with awkward looks and silence, as they don’t know what to say. Others go the old road of “maybe this is the universe telling you you shouldn’t have kids?” which is just so unhelpful so please don’t.

The truth is, I’m now at the point where I think we need to stop for my mental health. Splitting is a common symptom of EUPD and one which I used to suffer terribly. Before I was good at articulating my feelings, I would lie to others to keep them happy. I’d keep up this appearance while the suicidal thoughts would grow and it would all of a sudden come out at once: I’d quit my job, dump my partner and just explode, leaving everyone wondering what the fuck is going on.

It’s been well over a year since anything even remotely like that has happened, but I can feel it happening within me. I’m pretending I’m fine, that we’re managing okay, that’s I’m just SO relieved to be getting some assistance with fertility, it’s so common these days anyway, isn’t it?

But I’m not fine. An unexpected loss at the start of this month meant I missed some work and was AWOL. I let folk down. I haven’t let myself grieve because it makes me feel like I’m a failure for not bouncing back, that I’m weak-willed and therefore not worthy of being a parent anyway.

I felt like I’d lost my ownership of my body after finally getting it back after suffering at the hands of an eating disorder. I am back at square one, thinking I need to take up less space in the world, that I’m defective and unworthy of love and happiness. I’ve kept myself in this fertility trap because it’s all I deserve.

So today, I did something different. I spoke about it quite frankly with those closest to me which, admittedly, didn’t go very well, but that’s for another time. I also deleted the ovulation tracker from my phone and decided, at last, to write about living with this fresh hell in your twenties.

I don’t really want or need sympathy or platitudes like “it’ll happen when it happens” – I know it might, and that hope has kept me going for the better part of a year. Right now, I need to reclaim my sense of worth and belonging. I can exist and take up space in the world whether I have children or not; I don’t need to have them to be happy, but I also won’t be miserable if I don’t.

The repeated “failure” has made me feel like I’ve lost control of my body and life, but the opposite is true; I can choose to stop trying. I can choose to reclaim that control until I reach a point further down the line where I’m okay with it being taken out of my hands. As it stands, I want to give myself the chance to settle with the concept that it will be placed in the hands of fertility specialists.

For now, I’ll be cutting the breaks on baby-making and enjoying spending time with who and what is around me, rather than what isn’t. It’s time for G and I to put all that effort, thought and love back into what we have just now, as it’s just as important.

Thanks very much for reading this piece. I know it’s a huge departure from writing about games, and I promise I’ll try and write something more upbeat soon.

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