“There’s just one other conversation we think you need to have before the big day, and it’s not really something that young couples want to talk about; but, we think it’s really important that you’re prepared. You need to talk about what you would do if you found out that you couldn’t have kids, biologically.”
My fiancée and I were sitting on a big brown leather chesterfield in our minister’s lounge room; he was sitting across from us in a green vintage armchair with his wife sitting in a similar green armchair to his left. It was the last of our pre-marriage counselling sessions; the one where you have to talk about sex and the awkward parts of marriage that make you want to hit your spouse just for saying ‘I thought you didn’t wear pink’ with that not-so-funny apprehensive grimace on his face.
The thing is Michael and I had already had that conversation, the one about possible infertility. I don’t know if it’s normal for two people under 25 to have the infertility conversation within a year of knowing each other, but we had. Over the last year the question of infertility has been coming up fairly regularly throughout my day to day life.
Three weeks after my engagement I was down south visiting my parents in Albany. While out on an early morning walk with my mum, I ran into the mother of an old friend. Long-winded explanations of all of the happenings of the last two years of our lives ensued, because we are small town people and it’s what we do. That conversation covered news of my engagement, and also of my friend Chloe’s (this lady’s daughter) pregnancy.
Chloe’s mum congratulated me on my engagement and immediately following her congratulations she turned to my mum and said “Well maybe soon you’ll be a grandma like me!” I shook my head adamantly and my mum glanced at me saying “I think they’ll want to wait a few years first.” Our friend smiled “Well you don’t want to leave it too long; infertility is so common these days, lots of Chloe’s friends have had to have IVF and they’re only 30 or so.” I grimaced. We said our farewells and recommenced our walk.
Since then conversations with various friends and colleagues about infertility and IVF have been an unusually frequent occurrence.
According to The Fertility Society of Australia, one in six couples in Australia and New Zealand will encounter fertility problems, a statistic I found incredible until I did a bit of digging. The ABC Health and Wellbeing website states “A woman under 35 is considered infertile if she fails to become pregnant after 12 months of regular unprotected sex.” Considering that for a fertile couple in their twenties, having regular unprotected sex, the chance of conceiving in any given monthly cycle is thought to be just 25 percent, it suddenly seems like conception is a cruel biological lottery (ABC Health and Wellbeing).
Having only recently put my grandmothers’ questions of “when are you going to find a nice boy and get married?” to rest, I found the “When are you going to have babies?” question even more frustrating. Frankly, when I’m asked the baby question my internal response is always “It is none of your business!”
Recently I had a conversation with five close female friends about fertility, none of the women had children and all of them, including myself, had sisters or close friends who were infertile. This conversation helped me to realise something; the people I had been talking to since becoming engaged may have never really considered the emotional impact that the simple question “when are you going to have kids” could have on someone unable to conceive, a consideration that I had also, somehow, overlooked.
I’ve been interested in adoption since I was 16, when I learned that baby girls were given away or ‘thrown out’ in China because of the one-child policy. However, when I found out that my best friend was infertile my desire to adopt took on a whole other meaning. Michael and I had the baby talk the next day. We agreed that IVF was not an option for us, if we couldn’t conceive in the future we would adopt, and maybe foster children.
As we were sitting on the chesterfield, opposite our minister and his wife, Michael and I explained why IVF was not an option for us. It isn’t that Michael and I don’t feel a biological imperative for having children, we would love to have kids that look like us and share the same hereditary traits that we already love in each other. But we can also recognize that being a parent isn’t just about populating the earth.
Over the past year I have learned a lot about infertility. Primarily I’ve learned that infertility is a term that is now used incredibly liberally, and it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘barren’. Perhaps more importantly, I have learned that support for women dealing with infertility is sometimes about not asking the question. Sometimes it’s about silently listening, and applying cake.
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