When I spoke with Lucy it was a very powerful conversation. Lucy’s story explores the emotional impact of not being able to conceive. Without the emotional support in place Lucy shares how she turned to alcohol as her way of coping. Through hard work and one person hearing her, seeing her and understanding some of what she was going though Lucy was able to seek the support she needed and walk away from alcohol and create a support group for women experiencing infertlity and start to embrace her new way of life.
Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, so Lucy, can you tell us why you want to share your story with us.
So others and myself do not feel alone because it is a really lonely, scary place to be. Sadly, my family don’t understand and my friends with children don’t get it. It’s not their fault but this then left me stuck in a place I didn’t want to be and didn’t understand. Somehow, I had to go about finding my new tribe of friends and support network where I didn’t need to before and that feels almost impossible when I was dealing with the grief of not being able to have children.
You said since about 2012, you’ve been trying to conceive so you’ve been on this journey for a long time.
Yes, a good 8 years and its still ongoing. It never goes away it’s a subject that is a part of everyday life that I try to navigate the best I can.
I wonder, what have you done to help support yourself?
I didn’t do anything I just suffered because I just didn’t know what to do. Its like being told you have some awful disease and there is no cure, your life stops and you have to try and pick yourself up and make the best of what you have and the support you didn’t need before, all of a sudden you need it and it’s not there so you suffer in silence.
I didn’t realise there were other women out there, you feel like the only one suffering. I went to counselling and then I started exploring and looking online. I realised that I am not alone which made me feel a bit better. To begin with I felt quite angry and stressed about the whole thing. I didn’t know where, or who to talk to, or where to go. No one quiet understood where I was coming from. Because of that, I decided to set up an infertility group called ‘Journeying Together’ which is about supporting one another through childlessness and infertility challenges.
“Journeying together is a caring supportive group for everyone experienced the painful reality of childlessness whatever the stage of your journey. You’re not alone.”
The group started in November 2019 and the first meeting was in January 2020. We meet once a month on zoom (due to the pandemic) for a few hours and its gradually grown. Its lovely to have a safe space to talk once a month to people who get it. There are several people in the group, two of which are men who are partners of two of the women, they are finding it helpful, and we use the time to catch up like friends.
So it sounds like, though you haven’t had the support you’ve kind of managed to create the support and in that found friends as well.
Yeah, I had to because there was no one for me to talk to. I don’t really have friends that live close to me anymore I just have my husband. It’s nice to have quite a few different people to talk to that are all a similar age.
My husbands company decided to move, so we moved to a new house which meant I was further away from my Mum/Dad and friends. My Mum sadly won’t drive down here as it’s too far, so I don’t have her support in that way which made it feel even lonelier.
Sadly, I fell out with my sister when I was doing IVF. The pressure of doing it and family/friends not being able to support me in a way I needed meant it was really difficult and it severed relationships.
It sounds as though it’s been a really challenging time for you.
Yes, it was pretty horrific and I had to step away and I felt bad about it. At the time, I couldn’t have people in my life that didn’t understand why I was being the way I was and trying to help me. You don’t want to hear people telling you to “get on with it”. I have always been someone that would go “yeah alright, its fine, its ok”, even when it wasn’t ok.
The last straw for me was when we had booked a trip of a lifetime to the Rocky Mountains, which we had booked due to all the failed IVF treatments and we felt we deserved something nice. My family made some decisions, which meant we could not go on the holiday, and I felt like I was not heard or seen, and that our trauma was not being recognised as real. I felt sad and unsupported and let down. I had had enough, I just told everyone to go away. I fell out with everyone and went into a depressive state.
Recently I had my second endometriosis surgery I reached out to family, as I was a little worried about the procedure and now things for my mental health and me have moved on to a better place. I was ready to let people in again without feeling like I need them to meet any expectations. Sadly, the NHS had a 16 month waiting list to have the laparoscopic surgery, I therefore had to make the decision to go private. We found a top surgeon in Harley Street who does excision surgery rather than laser ablasion which means hopefully the endo will either not grow back or take more time then 2 years to come back. I am 3 weeks out and feeling on top of the world.
Can you share with us what was happening when you kind of realised that you wouldn’t be having kids?
I have done a fresh and a frozen IVF round on the NHS. When that frozen round finished I went into massive drinking phase, I just, I didn’t know what to do. No one told me during the IVF process that if it doesn’t work you may feel like this. No one explained it even a little bit; I feel some pre-counselling would have been supportive and someone saying to me that I may well go through the stages of grief. I just didn’t know the impact. I didn’t know what to do or what to say.
My husband and I didn’t really talk about it, we just drank, and I got angry. We argued a lot, to the point where we almost got a divorce in the January, it was just horrific, he moved out for a few weeks because I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.
I experienced a breakdown at work and one of the ladies I worked with recognised what I was going through and supported me as she had also been through IVF. She helped me in seeking support in the from of counselling.
Before the breakdown I thought I could just deal with it all by myself. The NHS did offer me counselling once the IVF had failed, but it was almost to late and I didn’t think I would need it, or realise the impact it would have on me and the relationships around me. I wish they had insisted on it, not said “here is some counselling if you need it”.
I just went into a place where I was horrible; I was horrible to my husband, I just couldn’t stop drinking.
I thought, “Oh well if I can’t have kids, what’s the next best thing? just get smashed all the time”, I was pretending I was in my 20’s still. I was trying to hide it all and go back in time to a happier place where no one was thinking about growing up and moving onto the next stages in life.
As time went on my grief became more manageable. When I went to my first counselling session I had a massive panic attack in my car. The counselling is in the same place that I had my IVF treatment; it was like being back there all over again.
I felt like I couldn’t do it, but I did and it helped a lot, and my husband moved back and I started to feel like I was making progress.
Sadly my dog Milly became very ill and that was really hard as well, dealing with that on top of the grief was really challenging for us both.
It was a time of a lot of pressure, trying to rehabilitate our dog as well as rehabilitee our marriage and ourselves.
I was still drinking, not to the extent I had been but I was reliant on it, and my husband and I were still arguing, the whole time was horrific.
We didn’t really talk. But we were both at different stages of grieving process, which I didn’t realise. About a year later we were able to have a proper conversation about it, where my husband said he was happy either way as long as I was happy.
In January 2021 it will be 2 years since I gave up drinking. When we had to pay for our IVF I gave up drinking altogether, when it failed I didn’t go back, I felt I dealt with my emotions better and got through them quicker. It was a really tough road and not something I ever thought I’d do but now I’ve got this far, I don’t want to go back to that inward depressive state I was in.
In my book I’m writing I speak a little about my drinking and where I am now. I am really proud of myself that I gave up. A lot of people wonder, “what do you do then?” No kids, no smoking and no drinking….must be boring.
I now find it sad that people see it like that instead of praising me for getting through a really awful time, not hitting the booze and hitting rock bottom which I could so easily have done.
What has been the most challenging part of your experience of not having children?
Learning to live in a society where its not friendly to the childless not by choice and navigate being the odd one out. I’ve lost my group of friends and family because of it, its horribly lonely and isolating. Learning to embrace and essentially create a different life, one you don’t want to create so you resist doing it, which is why I got stuck in this downward depression. I felt like I got left behind and forgotten about. Everyone thinks you’ve got over it and are just enjoying life when it’s the complete opposite, a nice house and car doesn’t equal a happy life- it’s missing a massive chunk of what to me my life was going to be about and I can’t replace that.
It’s also exhausting doing rounds and rounds of IVF. It is very hard emotionally, physically, mentally and financially and it feels like no one understands because they are all getting on with their life. It’s a terrible grief that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Do you feel not having children has impacted the way you view your body?
I actually love that I am not worrying about a ‘baby’ body. Obviously, I wish I did have one but it’s nice that at the grand old age of 38, I could possibly still pass as a 28-year-old! I eat what I want and go for long dog walks and it’s nice that I have the time to take care of me because that’s all I’ve got left but concentrate on myself. I do have a word with my body sometimes and become a bit angry that it has let me down but lately, after my recent endometriosis operation and since my diagnosis I’ve found it easier to accept that it’s not my fault and at least I don’t have ‘unexplained’ infertility, there is a valid reason which really helps with trying to create a new life going forward.
As well as the challenges you have experienced, I wonder can you share any positive aspects?
Personally, my positives have been my husband has allowed me to give up work to pursue whatever I would like to do or do nothing. He realised I was missing out on being a mum which essentially would mean being off work and nurturing a life, he wanted me to nurture myself better and look after our two beautiful sausage dogs which I embraced. Alongside doing this new journey, new projects and challenges which I enjoy have popped up. I started a sausage dog boarding business called ‘The Long Dog Hotel’, I help out with our local sewing group making face masks because of the pandemic, I volunteer at our local nursery as a way to help me overcome not having children. I have written a memoir about all my IVFs, endometriosis, becoming sober and my dogs which I hope to self publish one day next year.
If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?
Education- it needs to be taught at school that you don’t always get the fairy tail ending like in Disney films. I don’t want people to think I never tried and I never wanted kids because it’s all I wanted, I wanted to be normal like everyone else and live the dream most little girls have when they grow up. The one thing I would want to change about how not having children is viewed is the people with kids thinking people without kids are happier. A lot of women without kids are living in deep grief and will continue to do so for a long time. The different stages of life bring about new challenges because of not having had children, it doesn’t just stop at not having children.
Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that you have found that has helped you to embrace your life without children?
I started up a fertility group in my village called Journeying Together as mentioned so I could make new friends and not feel so alone and it has been such a success. You could create one in your own town/village, you’d be surprised how many people are out there wanting a local group to connect. Through plucking up the courage to create this group, the members have given me the strength to carry on and be happier and go on to doing other things that I enjoy. Nothing is a substitute and I accept that but I have to keep looking out for new things that I might enjoy and try and embrace them because it’s all I have in life. Recently a lady put on our local group about helping out with looking after her horses which I responded to because I used to ride in my youth and I loved it, just things like that will make me happy I find I am trying to grab and cease any opportunity. As I said I volunteer at the local nursery, which I enjoy, and I am doing a childcare course. It’s thinking ahead, but not too far that gets me through embracing my life without children.
Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?
Jody Day living the life unexpected has really helped me and we have used bits of it as a template for discussions in our group meeting. Mindfulness and meditation helps a lot, I just you tube things. I found writing a diary helped just to get things out of my head and onto paper makes me feel a lot better. Writing my own book has helped me on my journey and I hope when I publish it, it will help others.
If you wish to find out more about Lucy’s infertility group ‘Journeying together’ you can contact Lucy here.