pregnancy

"I felt so acutely not enough." The day I finally faced my fertility.

It was the end of February in Melbourne, which meant it was hot on the day I first went to visit Dr Chris. The enormity of what I was about to do would have had me dripping with sweat even if it was the middle of winter. 

I had caught an air-conditioned tram most of the way to my appointment and switched to a stuffy tram for the last leg. With a few stops to go before we reached the hospital, I started shifting uncomfortably in my seat, pulling nervously at the hem of my shorts.  

I had checked four or five times by that point that I had all the referral papers in my handbag. I checked once more - yup, still there. That meant I didn't have a good excuse to turn around and go back home. Damn. 

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My breath caught in my throat when I noticed I was the next stop. I blamed the tram for my shaky legs as I walked to the door. My sunglasses went on to shield my eyes from both the bright sun and the other sets of eyes around the hospital. 

I took a deep breath and threw my shoulders back with false bravado. I crossed the street and strode up the steps into the hospital lobby, with as much fake confidence as I could muster. Once I was in the dim lobby, though, I realised I had no idea where I needed to go.  

With my tail between my legs, I asked the receptionist for directions. I took the lift up to the first floor, and suddenly felt so warm I thought I'd melt. 

Another deep breath, and I forced my legs to move me down the bright, white corridor. I found the right room, checked in with the beaming receptionist, and took a seat.  

The waiting room was gorgeous. It had elegant black seats arranged in a horseshoe shape against the walls. Behind the seats hung boldly coloured BALLY posters, lit up by modern industrial hanging lights. 

It could have been another of Melbourne's cafes. Except for the strip of wall next to the counter. 

The wall that stared me in the face for what felt like an eternity that afternoon, and every other visit after that. It was a wall strung with thin wires dotted with little pegs. Each held a birth announcement. Every peachy little face seemed to be mocking me.  

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After a few minutes of staring at the wall of announcements, I felt warm again. Scalding, actually. My tattooed thighs were sticking to my seat and I couldn't breathe. I ran out, breathlessly telling the receptionist that I needed to use the bathroom. 

I splashed some cold water on my face, and looked up at my reflection. After years of battling my body, of trying to shrink it down to fit what I thought it should be, I noticed that I actually looked quite thin. How ironic. 

Listen to Mamamia's fertility podcast, Get Me Pregnant. Post continues below.

I dragged myself back to the waiting room and took my seat again, opposite the wall of babies. I started reading through and vetoing the names in my head: Axel, Sienna, Thomas, Maddison...

How did I end up there? In my 30s, waiting to see a fertility doctor? When did my body give up on me? When had it started to let me down as a woman?

I'd later find out that I had a mild case of polycystic ovarian syndrome, but also that my ovaries had just stopped producing eggs. 

Was this the universe's sick joke on me for having spent so long saying I never wanted kids? I always thought being childless was my own choice.  

A noise from across the room brought me back from my own thoughts. There were another three women in the waiting room. Two accompanied by their partners, and one with her mother. I hadn't told my mother about this whole infertility situation, and I'd casually waved off my husband's offer to come with me. 

It'll be so boring, I'd said. Not worth taking time off work for. What I wouldn't have given to have had him there next to me, with one of his big, warm hands anchoring mine.  

Infertility affects more women than you'd think possible, given how many children there seem to be in cafes and grocery stores. I knew this. I had empathised with this. I've worked with women devastated by this. I never expected I'd be one of them. But there I was, waiting for a doctor to explain to me what was "wrong" with my body and what options I had to "fix" it. 

There I was; just me and my overwhelming feeling of not-enoughness. Even if my husband had been there with me, I'd still have been alone. Infertility is inherently lonely, between a woman and her body.  

As I mentally blacklisted more names (Jaxon, Amelia, Stephen), I realised my name was being called. I gathered my handbag, forced a smile on my face, and tried to hide the sweat stains left on my seat from the doctor who was waving me over. 

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In the end, I think it was the fifth round of treatment that was successful. After many weeks and many dollars of failure. I know we were luckier than many people. I know how many couples struggle for years trying to get their baby. Having been on that path for "only" a few months, I cannot even begin to imagine the mental, physical and financial toll that several years of fertility treatment would take.

After those few months, I was a wreck. My body felt awful, because of the medication. The fact that I needed medication at all made me feel like a revolting failure. After all, I was a woman. Our bodies are designed to bear babies - they have been doing so for thousands of years.

And even though I'd never actually wanted one, the fact that my body had given up on me without giving me a choice hurt more than I expected.

Mother's Day fell during month three of treatment for us, and I didn't know how to feel. At that stage, it felt like a hopeless endeavour. You can't choose your family, and I grew up having always felt like an outsider in mine. And then I was told I couldn't just create my own new family, either. I felt so acutely not enough.  

Mother's Day passed uneventfully, as did the next few weeks. 

On the day appointed by Dr Chris, I dutifully peed on the pregnancy test stick. I waited the five minutes before checking the little window, already halfway to the bin. 

A few more pee sticks and a blood test later, it turned out I was in fact pregnant on Mother's Day, after all.

Image: Supplied. 

 Feature Image: Supplied.