This is what infertility looked like 30 years ago, told through the eyes of an “infertile” couple’s daughter (that’s me!)
In honour of Canadian Infertility Awareness week, I sat down with my parents and asked them what infertility looked like over thirty years ago. You see: I am the very happy ending of a ten-year struggle with infertility. Just as you’ll one day share your journey with your baby to be, my parents shared their overwhelming journey with me. They never would have imagined that their daughter would be telling their fertility story, yet here I am sharing it with you!
Thirty years ago the fertility world looked a little bit different than it does today. My parents were never offered IVF, but they did undergo a handful of memorable IUIs. In order to get a semen sample for the IUI, my dad was instructed to use the public washroom across the street and have my mom store the sample in in her bra until her appointment. Bra storage isn’t exactly standard care these days. With a different fertility specialist, my mom underwent a laparoscopy to diagnose endometriosis and the doctor forgot to chart his findings and couldn’t remember the results! Needless to say, my parents went through many fertility doctors and refused to settle for one they didn’t connect with. But forget about doctors, my mom said she was so desperate for answers that she sought the help of an astrologist and a psychic and “if there was a Martian trained in infertility” she would have gone to see him too!
My parents taught me that infertility is paved by sacrifice. They donated their bodies to be poked and prodded and followed a diet that my dad loathingly refers to as “cardboard and vegetables”. My mom said she once found a receipt for a secret chocolate bar in my dad’s grocery bag and completely broke down, refusing to speak to him for days!
There were really awful and devastating moments. My mom vividly recalls being invited to a baby shower where every single woman who attended was pregnant (all to common for women struggling with infertility). She even had to host a baby shower for her sister-in-law who got pregnant as soon as she started trying. My mom said she cried a lot through all of these awful moments, but that it was really important to her that her friends and family know what she was going through. She wrote personalized letters (remember this was the 80s!) to the people in her life so they could better understand her journey and her ever so deserving tears.
Holding Onto Hope
Throughout my parents’ decade struggle with infertility, they never gave up hope. They would buy baby clothing and baby books wherever they went because they knew they would be parents, even if it were through adoption. In fact, the public adoption agencies in Ontario were closed thirty years ago so my mom resorted to some very unconventional methods. She wrote letters to high schools (she’s a teacher) explaining her story and asking if there were pregnant teens giving up their children for adoption! She recalls a news story where a couple had twins but only wanted one of the twins, and she somehow found the couple’s contact information and called them directly to tell them she would take one of the babies! I mean, YIKES, the police would be knocking on her door if she had tried any of this nowadays! She was one determined parent.
And Then There Was Me
Of course there’s a silver lining to this story, and that’s me… and did I mention I have two biological brothers too!?! It wasn’t until they saw a naturopathic doctor (and yes, all of their friends thought they were crazy) that they finally got pregnant. It may not be a surprise to you that I was then raised with naturopathic medicine and here I am as a naturopathic graduate with an immense passion and dedication to fertility. I haven’t personally experienced infertility, so when I first started my naturopathic internship I was determined to build a set of resources to help people like my parents.
After spending some time talking to my parents, I asked them to share some coping strategies that made their journey just a little more bearable. Here’s what they had to say:
- Tell people what you are going through
My mom constantly felt guilty for crying when she was “supposed to feel happy” for her pregnant friends. Instead of burying her feelings, she wrote letters (this was 30 years ago when texting wasn’t available) to her friends explaining what she was going through and how it was affecting her life.
- Remove negative people from you life
My parents were not willing to hold space for people in their lives that were not going to support them. When they were getting approved for adoption, they needed letters of recommendation from their friends. One of their friends said she was “too busy to write it”, that friend is obviously no longer in their lives.
- Find support beyond your partner
Even 30 years ago they saw a fertility counselor, both on their own and together. Nowadays there are many amazing online resources and support groups too!
- Try not to put your whole life on pause
Try new things, find some new hobbies, travel the world. It was important to my parents that they have something in their lives besides fertility appointments. They tried every class possible at the local community centre: pottery, basket weaving, calligraphy, soccer, hockey, you name it.
- Acknowledge your strength
My parents certainly acknowledged their sadness after every failed cycle, but they stayed positive and told themselves they would “just try again in two weeks”.
- Hold on to hope and be who you are
Infertility does not make sense and my parents were damned sure they were never going to give up on parenthood…even if my mom had to call every single news station looking for a baby to adopt!
Evidently, a lot has changed in the past thirty years, fertility technology in particular! But the emotional toll infertility takes on a person remains all too much the same. Ask for support whenever you can, and don’t give up until you feel it’s right for you. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll have a daughter who will share your fertility story.