The conversation about infertility, like maternal ambivalence, is tinged with taboo. I am curious about these silenced topics and my work is focused on freeing the stigma around them and encouraging a new voice.
Infertility is an experience of reproductive loss, which has emotional, physical and social consequences that affect most couples deeply. It can involve many failed treatment cycles, medical intrusion, massive financial expense and continual emotional despair. Infertility attracts social moralising and questioning as childbearing is such a socially acceptable and desirable outcome.
For the woman, losses build up as she cannot achieve her long held dream of holding her own baby. She may see herself as a failure as she is unable to realise this most basic human function. It is almost impossible for her to make life plans and it seems to her that she is surrounded by pregnant women and infants. Her life becomes a roller coaster of hope then disappointment, she feels misunderstood, as if she is tuned into a different channel from other people . Her world often shrinks around her and she feels alone, unheard, ashamed and unfulfilled. She can feel cut off from her family and friends who are often at a loss as to what to say, and when they speak they often say the wrong thing. The emotional and physical pressure takes its toll. The man also experiences emotional turmoil as he is often unable to support his partner in the way that she needs and the couple relationship is tested. We must remember that each couple has a unique story.
Infertility is sourced equally in three categories: difficulties originating either with the woman or the man or a third group, which is a combination of female, male and unexplained problems. The topic of male infertility is shrouded in secrecy and requires much more research and attention.
My work is directed at lifting the stigma and opening a space for couples to empower themselves, to take charge of their infertility and to find their voice. This relies on the availability of individual and couple therapy as well as group counselling. These resources together with a wide campaign to educate and increase social awareness about the difficulties that these couples endure is a good place to start.
If you’d like to read more about the complex world of maternity, my new book ‘The Maternal Experience’ is available now.