Writing About Infertility: Breaking Down Social Norms

June 2, 2015 | By | 12 Replies More
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Rachel McGrath

Infertility affects approximately 1 in 10 couples, and 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage. Fertility rates decline by around 10% per month for women over the age of thirty-five. Recurrent miscarriage (over three losses in a row) affects 1% of the female population.

Nowadays, everywhere I go, it feels as though these infertility statistics are taunting me. Had I been asked a few years back about these, I would have possibly shrugged my shoulders with ambivalence. I hadn’t heard much about such issues and I was not truly aware that it was such a prevalent challenge among women. In fact I may have said that I did not know anyone who had experienced miscarriage or infertility. But that in fact wasn’t true. With those statistics it was all around me, I just wasn’t aware.

The biggest issue, from my perspective about infertility, is that no one actually talks about it. Apart from direct family members or perhaps very close friends, I found that most women avoid sharing their own challenges with infertility. Some won’t even share their experiences beyond their partner.

Having personally experienced four miscarriages, as well as several medical issues throughout my efforts to conceive, I found the situation incredibly lonely and at times overwhelming. There were times I felt unsure of who I could talk to and it felt as if there was this unspoken ‘social norm’ to remain quiet on the subject and avoid sharing my own feelings of loss and grief. Talking about miscarriage or fertility in general seemed to create discomfort as a topic of conversation.

Everyone deals with grief their own way and everyone has their own way of coping through adversity. My preference was to express my emotions, and I was lucky to have an outlet in close family and a select group of friends. Nonetheless, I still found it difficult at times. Occasionally it was hard to articulate how I was feeling, and I found myself getting frustrated when others didn’t understand. All of my ambitions to become a parent were quickly becoming thwarted and I needed to express this in a way that I understood. So I wrote.

I found writing a therapeutic release, and my words became my journal of experiences, each chapter expressing my inner most turmoil, detailing the circumstances and conditions I had never expected to face. This was in essence my own self-help therapy, and it soon became an escape from reality. I was able to intimately convey all of my hopes and fears as I went through each stage, the ups and downs of a seemingly endless conception cycle and the physical and mental turmoil of each pregnancy and its ultimate loss.

Many have asked me why I published my story, wondering why I would want to continually bring so many hard and emotive memories back to the surface. Well firstly, I never assumed that my personal journal would turn into a book, and each time I fell pregnant I truly thought that I would provide a happy ending for myself. My small journal of entries soon became a chronicle, and something I would periodically reopen and continue writing at my greatest hours of need. It became my solace, in a sense my peace of mind as I could translate my feelings into something real on the paper in front of me.

AA FTR BIG CopyIn writing on this subject, I found myself becoming more comfortable opening up to family and friends, expressing fears and doubts through my personal challenges, and even expressing my personal situation with colleagues at work, who clearly hinted to me that they sensed something was amiss.

In so many spheres women are expected to carry on, get back to work and life as normal after losing something so precious, so important to them. I found that concept particularly difficult. When everything I had hoped for was slipping from my fingers, I was still meant to wake each morning, and operate as if nothing had happened? As people understood what I was dealing with, I found them more amiable to my personal ups and downs.

My writing was intended to help me through this turmoil, but my hope is that it also helps others. As I became more transparent about my own situation I found other women who started to also open themselves up to me in return. I have been astounded by the stories and circumstances of these brave, courageous women, and I found it inspiring and hopeful to hear of those who have conquered their infertility through sheer determination and the wonders of new medical routes helping them to start their own families.

Talking about the subject of infertility with candidness is uncomfortable, and it seems to generate an uneasiness or hesitation on how to respond in conversation. Nonetheless, I’m dealing with this ‘illness’ every day, and it can impact my work, my social life and my decisions for the future.

There are so many women like me, in a similar situation, or having experienced challenges far worse. Hence, my quest is to encourage us to get comfortable and break the ‘social norm’ of staying silent on this subject. I want to recognise infertility for what it is, it’s an illness; something people have to deal with, and work through. Like any illness, some find a way through it successfully, others need to reconcile that it is a lifelong condition.

Regardless, opening up the channels of communication and support will be fundamental to helping women understand their own situation, and recognising their choices early.

My memoir, ‘Finding the Rainbow’ is now out, and my aspiration is to connect to other women, share my own journey, and hope that it builds a connection on this subject that is sometimes so taboo.

Rachel McGrath grew up in Brisbane, Australia, where she studied business, before moving to the United Kingdom in her early thirties. Finding the Rainbow is her first published work, a memoir capturing a difficult time in her life. She is passionate about sharing her story with a wider audience.

Find out more about Rachel on her website:  www.findingtherainbow.net

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Category: On Writing

Comments (12)

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  1. I feel I’ve met a kindred spirit, Rachel! Your writing experience so closely resembles mine I feel I could have written this blog post. So grateful to have your voice and story available. From the southern to northern hemisphere, we’re helping to open up an important new dialogue.

    p.s. I was in Brisbane four years ago and fell in love with it…

  2. anna vaught says:

    Hello, it was so brave of you to write about this. I’ve hesitated to reply, but was very taken with what you wrote. I have what is a known as a balanced translocation (where bits of your chromosomes swap places with one another); these affect about one in five hundred people and in my case it has been the likely cause of repeated miscarriage at various stages. I do now have three children. This is why I hesitated to write to you, if that makes sense? I miscarried eleven times. I don’t really know how I coped with the upset and the stress – or the antenatal tests we were urged to have. I wonder if you, like me, have had to deal with the myriad comments and well meaning comments from folk. Those are stressful and upsetting, aren’t they? What you are doing in going public with your story is giving mouth to so many women; making them feel less alone – dads/partners, too! As it happens, my husband and I just did an extensive interview for ‘The Sun’ (online) about repeat miscarriage. I’m not sure when it is being published, but when it is, just tell me if you’d like me to send it to you? In the meantime, just remember that you totally rock. Anna. ps: I am really hoping I said all the right things because, you know, it’s hard, isn’t it?

    • Hi Anna,
      Thank you so much, and just hearing from women and getting feedback is wonderful. There are no exact right things to say as I’m sure you’re aware except just showing support and friendship which you have done.
      I would love to see your article when its published please, and if you’re ok I would love to share it on my webpage.

      thank you again for your kind and thoughtful comments

  3. Jess says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I am so happy to have stumbled upon this book! I was diagnosed with cancer a the age of 24 and as a result had an emergency total abdominal hysterectomy. In the last three years of dealing with cancer there is much to process and infertility hasn’t been the most immediate issue to deal with though it weighs on me. I am just now starting to process and grieve this loss.

    Much like you I have found that writing about my experience with cancer through my blog, and reading others stories, has been tremendously cathartic. Thank you for being bold and exposing yourself and vulnerabilities to help others facing similar issues.

    Keep writing 🙂


    • Rachel says:

      Hi Jess

      Thank you! Would love you to send me the link to your blog! This has been such an encouraging experiencing hearing from so many women who are so very supportive

  4. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much Dee Dee! My hope was to connect with women. Talking about it is hard, but it’s a grieving process like any loss. I am hopeful to hear feedback like yours, as it’s been unnerving to say the least going this public xxx

  5. Rosina Lippi says:

    Rachel, It’s good of you to write about this, for your sake and the sake of all of us who have suffered this kind of loss.

    Twenty-three years ago I had my first and most traumatic miscarriage, and then three more over two years of secondary infertility treatment. When I couldn’t face another loss I went home, hugged my daughter, and told myself that in time it would hurt less.

    But it has never really gone away. I think in part because no one (beyond my husband) ever really acknowledged those losses, or if they did, it was in a dismissive and thoughtless way. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like if I hadn’t lost those babies. I’d have three or four adult children to fuss over and worry about. Crowds at Thanksgiving and birthdays. My daughter would have had an easier time, I think, and set more reasonable goals for herself.

    I never really talk about any of this, even with family or close friends. Your post (and your book, which I will read) provide an outlet of a kind. Thank you.

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you for taking the time to respond and your lovely words of encouragement!! I’m so sorry for your losses too – like you I will always reflect on those babies lost and what they could have been.

      Thank you again and please reach out to me again xx

  6. I think this is a really important issue, and I’m glad someone is out there talking about it! I suffered a miscarriage a few years ago, and I was truly shocked at how taboo the subject still is in our society. It’s quite a traumatic event, and I do think there is a massive level of misunderstanding to what actually happens and how emotional this is from people who haven’t experienced it, as well as from medical staff who seem very blasé about the whole subject. I’ve spoken to a lot of women who feel truly traumatised after the experience, only made worse by feeling that there is no ‘appropriate’ time to talk about it – almost as if they should just forget about it and move on with their lives as if nothing happened. The idea that a woman/couple shouldn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy during the first trimester only makes this worse I think, almost like if a miscarriage happens no-one ever need know – leaving a lack of a support network and just having to carry on ‘as normal’. Really great that you’ve been brave enough to speak out about such an important issue that quietly impacts such a massive percentage of the population!

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you so much Dee Dee! My hope was to connect with women. Talking about it is hard, but it’s a grieving process like any loss. I am hopeful to hear feedback like yours, as it’s been unnerving to say the least going this public xxx

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