Since my big “I do” a little over a month ago, I’ve found my uterus has become a frequent topic of many conversations. In less than a year, my life has flipped from “when are you getting married?” to “when are you having a baby?” If I had a nickel for each time a person has asked me when my husband and I plan to bring a little being into this world, my wedding would be paid off in a flash.
At 21 I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The underlying problem with PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS typically have higher levels of male hormones which affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation. These hormone imbalances result in missed or irregular periods, and the growth of many small cysts on ovaries. The cause of PCOS is unknown but the effects are very real; from anxiety and depression to excessive weight gain and hair growth.
Most couples keep their fertility status private, especially if they are struggling to conceive. Personally I’m not one to take offence when someone innocently asks my husband and I when baby will be making his or her big debut. Instead of feeling awkward, we’ve used it as an opportunity to shed some light on a very sensitive topic.
PCOS not only negatively affects your fertility, but it affects your mind, body, heart and spirit. PCOS has left me hospitalized twice, and over-thinking my fertility for the last five years.
Originally I had hoped to keep our journey towards parenthood to ourselves and only share the good news of an impending pregnancy when it came. Then, the more the baby question presented itself, the more I felt inclined to expose the delicate nature of our situation.
The baby question is asked with no harmful intentions. It is asked out of pure curiosity and joy for a person or couple in a new chapter of their lives. However, couples dealing with infertility issues are often at a loss for words with how to respond. Sharing personal struggles, such as infertility, can make people uncomfortable. It can lead to embarrassment for the person asking the question, or heartache for the person being asked.
The baby question comes in two parts – the when and the why. People are often curious as to when we want to start our family. Answering “when it’s meant to be” often catches people off guard, which leads to the why.
People also ask us why we want to have children so soon, counselling us to “live in the moment” and “enjoy our time together” or “travel”.
How to rebut these insights? We don’t want to tell people we are waiting to have children – we’re not doing that on purpose. We don’t want to tell people we’re not ready to be parents. We are. I’m a big believer that what you say, feel and believe is what the universe will return to you. With this in mind, how can we deny or hide something we want so dearly?
To change this conversation from uncomfortable to encouraging, my husband and I decided to share our journey openly and honestly. Yes, infertility is difficult to talk about – especially if you’ve been dealing with it for a long time – but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. As much as I want a family, I have feared the day that we would begin trying. I feared the baby question and I feared my body failing me. As each cycle passes, I still face this fear, but one fear that has been proven untrue is that the baby question is offensive to us.
If anything, answering openly has brought me comfort as I face my infertility. My husband and I have enjoyed openly discussing my PCOS. Not only have we been connected with people on the same journey we’re on, but it has exposed a need for opening this conversation – maybe that’s the magic in all of this.
We now love when people ask us when we plan to have children. We’re excited and proud to say we want to be parents. Having people know what we face is empowering. Not having to make up stories, or beat my way around the ups and downs of infertility brings me strength on the road ahead. To couples struggling with infertility, there are many general answers you can give, but I encourage you to educate people and share the sensitivity of your journey. You may be surprised by the strength you find in yourselves, and the support the world has to offer.
Anneliese Lawton lives in Oakville, Ont., with her husband. They decided to share their story in hopes to make other couples feel a little less alone in their fertility struggles.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April/May 2016.