By Sola ogundipe
Throughout her 20s and early 30s, Chinyere’s work was her life. As a journalist, she was more concerned with birthing new and exclusive stories than birthing babies. Never once did she get the message from anyone that fertility was finite and time limited. On the contrary the message she was getting was that she could begin to have a family whenever she was ready.
Chinyere was brilliant and had a thriving and successful career. By the time she was 29, she had become Assistant Editor. Barely two years later, she was promoted to Deputy Editor at age 31 and it was only a matter of another three years before she became Editor. That year, there were at least eight pregnant women in the newsroom. They were all Chinyere’s contemporaries and all had given birth at least once before. But Chinyere didn’t think much about that; all she was concerned about was her career. Starting a family could wait. Even boyfriends could wait.
Not that she was an introvert; she did have a couple of boyfriends in the past but nothing serious. Rather than go out to parties or have dinner with a date she would rather stay at home and write a fantastic exclusive news story, or read an engaging book or watch a great movie. Chinyere just wasn’t the dating type or the outgoing type.
However, by the time she was 36, she had a steady suitor, Magnus, who eventually became her fiancé.
When they got married in 2009, she was already 38 and he was 39. Although it was her dream marriage, it came as a surprise that Chinyere wasn’t quite yet ready for children. Her defence was that it would interfere with the freedom that her work required. Being Editor of an influential daily national newspaper was no picnic. She was on call 24 hours of the day and seven days a week. She was always on the move, leaving home at the crack of dawn and not returning until nearly midnight. She also travelled far and wide across the country and overseas, for weeks at times.
Magnus was self employed. He ran a big business consortium and wasn’t under half the burden of workload that his wife’s job demanded. He agreed that they should wait a little more for to “settle down” as married people before they seriously began trying to start a family.
But deep down, Magnus was bothered. He constantly battled with the thought that they should probably start, because individually and as a couple, they weren’t getting any younger. But it wasn’t until after another full year that they started talking and trying seriously about having children.
As soon as they decided to start, Chinyere went off the Pill. She had an appointment with her doctor who conducted a thorough examination and said she had a 90 percent chance of becoming pregnant within the year.
888On the day she celebrated her 39th birthday, Chinyere excitedly told Magnus, today is the day! For the very first time since she became Editor, she applied for part of her accumulated annual leave. She wanted Magnus and herself to have enough time for their baby making routine. But to her disappointment, it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Month after month they tried, and nothing happened. After about six months, Chinyere’s gynaecologist referred her to a fertility specialist, and she went through testing. A trip to the hospital to see the doctor led to some lab tests. The results showed her oestrogen levels were okay. An HSG showed her tubes were open, no blockages. Further testing showed she had plenty of healthy eggs -like a 20-year old – in the words of the doctor.
Chinyere’s periods were like clockwork, and always had been. The only abnormal thing was that she had been spotting slightly mid-month for some time, which was thought might have something to do with hormonal imbalance of some sort, but neither her gynaecologist, nor fertility expert were too concerned about this. Magnus even got a sperm count test, but it came back normal, and other than the remote possibility of a problem on his end, there was no reason they should not be getting pregnant.
Chinyere started buying ovulation predictor test kits and a thermometer and charting her basal body temperature. There were many days they had to rush home in the middle of the day to have sex because Chinyere was in the fertile window.
They had all the possible tests and all the results were showed everything was normal. Now what? The doctor’s office offered up to three intrauterine inseminations and later they were referred to see a reproductive endocrinologist at a fertility clinic. That routine soon became their life over the next eight years. Soon she got sick and tired of spending money on ovulation kits and negative pregnancy tests. They finally took the bull by the horns and tried IVF. No dice.
By the time Chinyere resolved to accept that she would never probably never have children of her own; she was 47 and had experienced three failed IVF procedures. Their eight-year struggle with infertility included six rounds of artificial insemination, clomid pills, hormone injections, a surgery, and countless (and sometimes painful) diagnostic procedures.
Every new test and treatment carried with it the hope that this time, it would work. But all they had little to show for it all besides memories of no real explanation of why she couldn’t get pregnant. At a point in time, every woman facing infertility has to decide when she’s had enough, when she has reached her ethical, emotional, and/or financial edge. Chinyere had got to that point.
Her sense of self-efficacy had dictated that if she researched all the options, sought support from the right professionals and followed their instructions, she’d get what she wanted. Chinyere did all of these things to the point of obsession, but her options were running out. What was left, another round of IVF, egg donor, a surrogate?
She and Magnus really couldn’t afford any more treatments and were starting to feel sick about the risks associated with all the drugs and technology. But her main reason for calling it quits was that she was tired of feeling frustrated and desperate. She needed to stop trying so she could get back to living.
She had thought a child would transform her relationship with Magnus. It was important because family remains the single biggest organizing principle of mainstream life and infertility is a unique kind of loneliness. She accepted that motherhood was central to womanhood, but her inability to get pregnant did not make her less of a woman, or did it?
They considered adoption, but never actually attempted it. Being infertile had created a vacuum and ignited a renewed sense of obligation in Chinyere to unearth her passions and work towards goals. All her sexual life, she had been trying not to get pregnant.
She had watched young girls getting pregnant unexpectedly, and now she was married and had been trying to get pregnant. The first few months of tracking ovulations and periods had been fun, and she just assumed that it would happen soon enough. Alas, it did not.
She wondered if nature was telling her not to procreate. She was grieving the life that she had always hoped for. She had imagined falling in love, getting pregnant, having a family, and not struggling to conceive. She never wanted a life without children and is grieving this new life and grieving the loss of her old hopes.
Whenever she is asked whether she has children, Chinyere’s answer is a simple, “No, I can’t.” But it does get better. Since the day she decided to stop trying, Chinyere has never looked back.
She and Magnus have survived what is probably one of the biggest challenges they would ever face as a couple and have created a bond and an intimacy that frankly would probably not be possible if they were parents. For Chinyere, every day presents new opportunities to have a happy, fulfilling life as a woman who is not a mother