Filling the void of motherhood as an infertile gay woman

When I was unable to get pregnant, I realized my life could still go on.

I sit up, wide awake. It’s dark outside, with a silver haze in the distance. My partner and I dash to the bathroom. It’s that time again. Weeing on a stick, holding my breath, praying, hoping, wishing—could this be the moment? Will Venus bless us with fertility, have our good deeds done enough, will our desperate pleas be answered? 

I make sure the stick, the magical device of profound emotion, is saturated and we wait. We’re silent and then we question: How do I feel? Have there been twitches, flutters, nips, and niggles? Have I been different, desired strange tastes?  We take a breath, uncover the wand. There is a bright blue line, a cold, depressing starkness. The stick of sadness gets dumped in the bin. Once again, we are unsuccessful. We can try again, we say, but how, how, how many more times before we stop, and realize motherhood is not on the cards?

Feeling positive on my journey to motherhood

Struggling to fall pregnant, with countless artificial insemination sessions and in vitro fertilization with Danish Viking sperm, led me to a heightened state of euphoria, disappointment, and bafflement. Obsessed with all things baby, I couldn’t walk past a shop without touching the little clothes, imagining our baby toddling about in princess dresses and big red fire engine dungarees.

Our cupboards were brimming with baby items, purchased from myriad online shops and instore, or generously given by friends and family.  My partner Jenny and I always wanted children, we knew we’d be awesome moms. I’d want our littles to master the art of yoga, and speak fluent French by the time they were five. Jen would want them planting sunflowers and climbing trees.

We’re incredibly awesome aunts but wanted desperately to be incredibly awesome parents. When we’re with our nieces and nephews and friends’ children, they are our children. But even though we give massive portions of our hearts to them, ultimately they aren’t our children and their parents want them back! 

The dream of becoming parents became a significant part of our lives for years. Seasons changed, people married and divorced, had their own babies, changed jobs, traveled the world and built houses. I became obsessed with fertility chat rooms and forums, and articles relating to pregnancy; abstained from alcohol; ate healthily; recited prayers and mantras; went for acupuncture; swam; and envisioned a family, a tribe more than two. 

Fortunate to live a fabulous life, we both have wanderlust in our blood. We travel a lot, explore, and discover together. Having children would’ve been the perfect addition to our lives and globetrotting escapades.

Navigating the long, challenging road ahead

Jen and I are such different personalities. She’s practical, loving, kind, aware and safe. I, on the other hand, struggle with deep anxiety, gloomy depression and a lack of self- confidence, juxtaposed with a sense of utter fabulousness. I will always question whether my anxiety and heightened stress levels played a part in my quest for motherhood.

“The belief that psychologic factors play a role in infertility is long-standing, and there is evidence that stress levels may influence the outcome of infertility treatment, as well as contribute to patients’ decisions to continue treatment. Stress also affects patients’ reactions to pregnancy loss during infertility treatment and pregnancy complications,” writes Alice Domar, Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, in a paper on psychological stress and infertility

Friends and family were incredibly invested in our journey, but as time went by and the answers kept coming back as negative, many dropped off and never asked again. This saddened us, as it was constantly at the forefront of our thoughts. 

Clinical psychologist Antje Manfroni states that “One of the difficulties is that both hope and despair are often suffered alone (or only with the partner), and this requires great emotional strength. Many women report that they shared more information with others initially, but were put off by thoughtless comments (e.g. why not get a pet? or you shouldn’t have waited so long!). This situation frequently leads to increased isolation as the sight of fertile friends’ children and repeated questions if ‘it has worked’ are just too painful. Some women find that friends stand by them all the way, while others find that there is a distinct distancing if ‘it has not worked’ after a few months/year.”

The crumbling of my dream

Our fertility journey was exciting at first, choosing sperm and imaginatively curating a past for these men who donated their seed. But over time our hope waned into a fairly robotic quest, with seemingly endless bouts of artificial insemination. Waking up in the early hours. Praying in the dark. Waiting to see what the wand would reveal. Feeling disappointed, yet again. Shuffling back to bed with the hope that the next shot of sperm would grant the flourishing of a bud. There was one positive attempt, but the miniscule cherub was lost at nine weeks. 

I’m sure I kept pharmacies in business with pregnancy tests, folic acid, pregnancy pills, iron, calcium and Vitamin D. It was also a big deal going into the clinic for a hysteroscopy, laparoscopy, and dilation and curettage, and the endless appointments and consultations.   

We then moved over to the real expense, remortgaging our home for IVF. This meant more rounds of anesthesia, hospital gowns and waking up groggy and befuddled. The first attempt ended in catastrophe with the egg incubator losing power and all my eggs dying – this was heartbreaking. The second round was better, with insertions of numerous frozen embryos over a period of time. None of this was fruitful, and we felt bereft. 

Cicek Hocaoglu, writer of The Psychosocial Aspect of Infertility says that “Although it is not a life-threatening problem, infertility is yet experienced as a stressful life event for couples or individuals due to the exalted value attributed to having a child by individuals themselves or society in general. Infertile couples are not facing a medical condition alone but coping with a number of emotional states as well. Emotions, thoughts, and beliefs of infertile couples frequently change as one consequence of infertility diagnosis.”<

We travel a lot, explore, and discover together. Having children would’ve been the perfect addition to our lives and globetrotting escapades.

My loudly ticking biological clock quietens

Time was ticking on, I was now 40. Our fertility specialist was awesome and knew our desperate desire, but never once did he give us false hope. I was despondent, my bottom was sore. Every day I had to follow a rigorous schedule of injections and pills. And the wait. The eternal wait, to pee yet again on the wand. To see a sign. To prove the gods right. We were under no delusion that fertility procedures would work, as the stats are quite low for women over the age of 38. 

Medfem Fertility Clinic, the national leader in fertility care in South Africa, reveals that with artificial insemination (AI) in women 38-42 years of age, the pregnancy rate is 10-15 percent for the first three cycles of AI. After this, the pregnancy rate becomes significantly lower. With in vitro fertilization (IVF) in women 38-40 years of age, there is a live birth rate of 20 percent per IVF cycle. For women who proceed with IVF who are over 40 years of age, there is a live birth rate of 9 percent per IVF cycle.

We stopped the journey. We decided it was the end of the fertility ride. It was heartbreaking but we forged on. We just went back to life. Living, traveling, exploring and discovering.

Life has taken me down a different path than being a gay mom

I’m still drawn to all things baby, but our cupboards are no longer jammed. We’ve given away everything that we spent ages collecting. At times my heart pains, and I still yearn. But I realize it’s not to be. At our age, we have also become selfish. We’re so free, and yet so set in our ways. The thought of bringing up another life, in these challenging times, is now quite daunting. 

I stroll into a shop, pick up a little pink dress and red dungarees off the clothes rail. I say, “Look how precious, just imagine.” Jen shakes her head. She takes my hand. We march out of the shop. Our tribe of two.

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