real life

It affects one in five women - so why is nobody talking about it?

Jannette Armstrong



My husband and I are in our early thirties and have been married for four years.

I have a rewarding, fulfilling and demanding career. We travel a lot. We love to eat out. We spoil our fur-kid (our dog, Darryl) absolutely rotten. Our life is rich in so many ways.

But for the past two-and-a-half years we’ve kept a dirty little secret: We can’t get pregnant.

Logically I know infertility is a common issue that many women and couples face. Logically I know that it’s not my fault and that I’m not alone. But heck, this is how it darn well feels some days. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed but it’s not one of those things that is talked about or widely accepted as ‘normal’ in our society, and I write this to try and remove some of the taboo about a few things that women really shouldn’t be ashamed of at all.

We’re at that age now when many people around us are having babies so dinner party conversations never take long to reach the, “When are you two going to have kids?” stage (it seems a strangely personal and insensitive question to ask a relative stranger. Whether it’s a choice, a medical issue, or a matter of timing, I’m not sure why people feel I need to explain myself to them).

Then at every family gathering we’re inevitably asked, “Are you pregnant yet?” It turned into a bit of a game actually, to see how long we could be at a family do before someone would ask (the record as about two and a half minutes – that’s barely enough time to get through the polite “Hello, how are you?” bit).

“On the plus side it proves that we CAN get pregnant.”

With so much pressure from family, friends, and – lets face it – society as a whole (cue criticism of our ‘deliberately barren’ female prime minister), my inability to conceive has left me feeling like a complete and utter failure.

I often feel like I’d let my husband down – he married me thinking I’d be able to make his dream of being a dad come true but I’d pulled that rug from under him. I am failing as a daughter, sister, and a friend for similar reasons.

But overwhelmingly, I feel as though I have failed as a woman. Having babies is, after all, what the female body is made to do. It’s supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, yet I just couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried (and boy did we try: fertility diaries, vitamins, ovulation sticks, alarm clocks, missionary, doggy, sideways and hanging up-side-down…!).

Perhaps it is a little paranoia but I get the distinct impression that many in our lives think I am the reason we were still childless too – because I am too career-focused and keen to see the world. Comments like, “Oh, you’ll settle down and want children one day too” probably don’t help.


I know these people aren’t trying to be insensitive but there are definitely days when it is all I can do just keep smiling politely and laugh it off, or change the topic with a casual, “Maybe one day, this chicken pate is delicious…” when what I really want to do was break down and cry, or shake the persons shoulders and scream, “We’ve been trying for two years! It’s not that I don’t WANT to, I CAN’T!” But that would be impolite and a real dinner party clanger.

So after visits to doctors and fertility specialists and lots and lots of reading, my husband and I were leaning towards thinking that IVF just wasn’t for us. A couple of months ago we started to look towards and plan for a future without children. It was going to be okay.

Then we found out I was pregnant. Naturally.

“We didn’t have a dirty little secret anymore.”

My husband and I didn’t have a dirty little secret anymore. We had a great big, exciting, wonderful secret that we couldn’t wait to share!

It didn’t take us long to readjust to the thought of a future WITH children. Watching my husband walk just that little bit taller with an extra spring in his step at the thought of being a dad made those years of trying all worth it. I’ve never seen a man so proud, or happy.

We were on top of the world, talking about baby names and which room we’d convert to a nursery and fun ways we could share the news with our friends and family, and reveling in the fact that I was feeling ‘morning sickness’.

This week I’ve had a miscarriage.

Our doctor has been great. My work has been super supportive. On the plus side it proves that we CAN get pregnant.

But it’s a shattering experience. Miscarriage, like infertility, is another one of those things we, as a society, just don’t seem to talk about. I know my husband and I will get through it with the help of each other, our friends and family. There may even be some professional help, and there will certainly be lots of cuddles and long walks with our Darryl.

But I don’t want to go back to having another dirty little secret.

A quick Google search suggests that one in five Australian pregnancies will end in miscarriage yet of all my friends, family and colleagues I only know of one other woman who has had a miscarriage.

One in five, people! That’s 20 per cent! Why aren’t we talking about this more?

Jannette Armstrong is a 31-year-old who lived in Byron Bay, Sydney and Bangkok and has now finally settled in Hobart, Tasmania (brrr!) She has worked in the Early Childhood Education and Care field for 12 years, first as an educator and more recently as an advocate.

Are your friends completely open about these topics? Do you think there is pressure to keep miscarriage and infertility a secret?