Katrina Bowe is a Kiwi based in Melbourne who has just closed a heartbreaking chapter of her life. After five years of IVF treatment which did not result in a ‘miracle baby’, Katrina and her husband have accepted that they will not be parents and are moving on with their lives. This is Katrina’s letter, which she posted on her Facebook page, to mark the closing of this chapter and also honour the solidarity she feels with other couples out there still trying.
“You will ‘make it to the other side’,” she encourages:
I debated long and hard about whether or not I should post this and finally decided to do so for a few reasons. So here goes.
Many of you will already know this but for those that don’t and think I have the ‘perfect life’ you should know this: I am infertile. There I’ve said it. Right smack bang in the middle of all the other pregnancy announcements and fairy princess birthday party posts that you’ve been scrolling past just now.
And I am breaking this silence for all the others hiding their own terrible ‘secret’ in the shadows and in shame.
It’s been three months since we finished IVF and closed the chapter on five years of our life. I’m (mostly) okay most days, the grief isn’t so raw now unless I accidentally bang the edges, I’m mending all the pieces of me and trying to start a new chapter.
Everything you’ve ever heard about IVF is true. It IS that bad. It does try to break you mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. It challenges your relationships with your partner, your family and friends, your colleagues…for years.
Don’t even think about trying to further yourself professionally when you have scans, and bloods, and meds, and injections, and appts to factor in on a weekly basis.
And all this is done in secrecy as you try to hide the enormity of it from the world for fear of them marginalising you. Of losing their respect. And seeing you as less than an intact high-functioning human being. Trust me, we are functioning on more levels than you could possibly know and the irony of that was not lost on me throughout my own experiences of this.
I know quite a few who have had to endure a period (excuse the pun!) of infertility before going on to have their own mini-me’s. It does help a bit to know people that have some inkling of how heartbreaking it is being forced unwillingly onto this path.
But there are days like today that remind me that they are not us and this is what defines us now. That instead of celebrating new lives and milestones and holding little hands…we are instead left to contemplate a life with just the two of us, and in some weird way face our own mortality.
We aren’t one of those couples who went through this and had their ‘miracle baby’ at the end of it. Wouldn’t that be nice. I’m here to tell you that not everyone gets their fairytale ending.
There are far worse things in life than this I know, I know. I’ve never had cancer for example. Never had that breath of cold air whisper down my back as I contemplate a death sentence. Instead I have a life sentence.
Some days it sucks the breath out of me thinking that I will have to justify my infertility instead of my parenting skills to everyone until I reach menopause – and probably even past that.
It saddens me that we will never be able to truly empathise and share stories with our ‘parent’ friends (quite apart from the whole never actually being parents ourselves or seeing our parents with their grandchildren).
It angers me that my chronic illness is not viewed in the same way as diabetes or heart disease but as a condition I brought upon myself. Maybe if you didn’t drink that glass of wine…or eat that processed food…or have that vitamin deficiency…or polycystic ovaries… or endometriosis …or…or…or.
For the record there is not a SINGLE thing you have or are thinking of suggesting to infertile couples that they haven’t already tried. So don’t. Not unless they specifically ask you. And even then try not to be a completely patronising git about it.
Also for the record if I hear any of you ever utter the words “just relax” “don’t think about it” or “it will happen when you least expect it” consider our friendship done. Same goes for “you can just adopt”.
The sadness and anger will probably never completely leave but I am done with feeling like a defective human being ever again. I’m pretty good at a few other things just apparently not procreation.
Anyway we both made it through this whole horrific experience, and we are still strong (don’t worry -none of you have to stage an RUOK? on me 😂) but I know this isn’t the case for many couples. And who will advocate for them if those of us who know how bleak and terrible it is, don’t speak up?
Monday October 15 marked International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I am honouring this and our own losses by sharing part of our own story with you all. And you can honour it too. By responding to stories like ours not with fear, judgment or pity…but with empathy, tact and diplomacy. By asking those going through this how they are. By not being offended when they don’t know how to respond. By laughing with them when they make inappropriately dark jokes. Or handing them a tissue when they get some ‘sand in their eye’ for a moment.
By pulling up the hoards of ignoramuses asking questions and making comments (“When are you kids gonna start a family already??”) that sting so much they are unable to respond themselves. By checking in on them regularly, not to say much but just to let them know you are thinking of them.
But most importantly by still sharing your own happy news and milestones with them because believe it or not, we do in fact still want to be part of your life regardless of how different our own life will be.
My close friends (they know who they are) will be relieved to hear that this is the last time I’ll detail this after so many years. It is incredibly confronting to say this to such a public audience many of whom don’t personally know me that well.
But I needed to seal this chapter with my own closure when I realised I was happy again. Such a strange feeling after years of being trapped in a weird vortex of hope, loss, accumulated grief and stasis.
It’s time to move on now but not before I mark my solidarity with those who have or are going through it.
For those couples… I SEE YOU. Your tribe is bigger than you think. I know you can’t see a way forward right now but just keep going. Most of you will ‘make it to the other side’.
But if like us your worst fears, your worst failures happen to come true…just go back to first principles: life will go on.
For a while you won’t know how you can crawl out from under that rock/blanket let alone stand up (chocolate, red wine and exercise all help). But after a while you’ll be back on your feet, you will smile and laugh again, and suddenly you’re off climbing other mountains. Life will occasionally be tinged with the bittersweet but trust me, you’ll have a newfound respect for it ever after. Hopefully with the support and kindness of some of those reading this now.