“…You have to take the pain and ask yourself how am I going to turn this into something positive…” Fertility Fest
This year was the second time I have attended Fertility Fest and the first time I was invited to take part. I must admit I remember feeling so excited when I first attended and had left the day hoping that I would somehow take part in the future. Well I got that opportunity when Jessica Hepburn contacted me back in April after my BBC radio 4 interview on Women’s Hour. After some planning Jessica invited me join her Sunday morning panel to discuss ‘Does motherhood make you happy’. What an honour! Then I saw the post on the Fertility Fest website advertising our session and my nerves started to kick in.
Can you imagine I was being called a fertility expert!!!
One of my worries was that I had no idea what Kate, the panel chair, would be asking. Kate and I had talked prior to Sunday and we had some insight into each others stories but I still felt unprepared. Most of my previous interviews I kind of knew what I’d be asked which was usually around my own story/ experience regarding childlessness. But this time I was on a stage with people starting back at me waiting for me to answer intelligent questions. Ok so my inner drama queen is starting to take over here.
Once I relaxed and stopped worrying about where to look I started to enjoy myself. It was interesting hearing the different views and experiences of mothers and non-mothers who were all united (and for once not divided) by our experiences with the difficulties of conceiving a child as well as the honesty around the difficulties of motherhood. I was told, during the early stages of my grief, that I was grieving the good stuff around motherhood – which I realised was true because I have never listened to a sad story about parenting or watched a difficult situation between a mother and her child and said to myself ‘I wish I had that’ or ‘I wish that was me’ – so to be in a place where we could freely share, without judgement, meant that we could fully learn from our experiences.
Outside of fertility fest I have come across women who had experienced difficulties with conception but it almost felt like they either forgot about it or had shut it away as if it didn’t matter anymore because it resulted in a child. Being around these women always felt like they just didn’t understand my sadness or wouldn’t except my story because no matter how hard the journey to motherhood can be you can get there if you do not give up. And with this attitude comes the hidden truth around motherhood, the fact that it can be bloody hard. So thank you Jessica for creating this space where we can all acknowledge the pain of infertility and experience the back stories to our incredible journeys’ no matter where the finish line take us.
One of the things that really amazed me were the women who approached me to talk to me about their particular journeys that lead them to attend fertility fest. I had not come across such women before, women who are facing difficulties of conceiving a child and, although still hopeful, were preparing themselves for the possibility of not becoming a mother. I must say I was amazed at their courage for accepting this possibility. I have no doubt that if their stories do not have the happy ending they are hoping for, that the grief will be huge but the fact that they are open to hearing from me, Jessica and others like us that they can still have a fulfilling life without children, and that there is support out there, if needed, must go along way to reassuring them that they will still be ok no matter what. It was also great to hear from the black women who attend and who congratulated me on what I am personally doing to bring the women of colour experience (a voice that is often forgotten about) to the conversation.
“Grief transforms our souls in different ways” Fertility Fest
Generation IVF explored assisted conception from different perspectives. As much as I am aware of the use of donor eggs, especially as I know women who had unsuccessfully explored this route and have also heard the joyous stories of women who were lucky enough to have been successful, I never considered that the donor herself has a story to tell. That women who is an important part of this journey too is all but forgotten, un-named and unmentioned – the anonymous person who made that pregnancy possible. I was encouraged to consider egg donation recently (I’ll blog about this experience soon) and it was almost like the egg donor didn’t matter, apart from the fact that she would look like me, and the possibility that the process may not be successful was also not mentioned. It was described as such an easy option to end my pain.
Fertility Flight club was a joy to watch. Hearing the panel discuss ‘What makes you angry in the field of fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies?’ really got my juices flowing. Diane Chandler talked about Secondary Infertility (the sadness around not conceiving or struggling to conceive a second child), a term that I had not come across before. Diane reminded me of how angry I felt when a friend announced how she struggled for 7 months to conceive her second child which can be extremely hard to hear when you had been trying for 3 years and knew of others who had tried for 10+. It can feel like such an insensitive moment to someone who is grieving the loss of motherhood but also a grief, I have learnt, that many mothers have faced because they so desperately wish for another child or have tried to have a child in that new relationship. Stella Duffy really made me want to embrace being the ‘angry black women in the room’. I have often felt mis-understood and labelled as angry because I speak up for what I believe in which in-turn has often left me feeling dismissed and unwanted. But if this is how I am heard then maybe it’s time to ‘bring it on’!!!
Listening to women speak about their difficulties with going through IVF and or motherhood whilst at work I realised how much the manager’s voice (I’m thinking about my own difficulties around being a manager without children) is one that is rarely heard.
Thinking about the day I realised that there are childless women who will find it hard to attend fertility fest (depending on where they are with their grief) because of the many stories that did end with the baby. As these women move through their grief I truly hope that they can embrace fertility fest for everything that it is – the joined experience of the difficult journey through fertility and infertility.