Pregnancy Envy and the Untold Pain of the ‘IVF Fairy’

Emotions I thought had been banished for good made an unwelcome return when I saw an article recently that mentioned ‘IVF Fairies’.  An old friend called me this once a long time ago.   She successfully had a baby boy via IVF and sadly, it ended our friendship. 

All around you men and women are silently dealing with fertility issues, failed IVF and miscarriages.  You’ll never know their pain because some conversations are just too hard to have.  My closest friend only told me about her 3 miscarriages when her 4th pregnancy was far enough along for her to feel able to share her good news. 

I was so hurt that in the darkest time of her life I was unable to support her, comfort her and hold her, until she explained that my normality and blissfully unaware behaviour was the tonic that made her forget the pain, just for a moment.  She hadn’t told a soul.

All around you are childless women (and men) getting on with their lives.  In fact 20% of British women born in the 1960s turned 45 without having a child.  You’ll know one of them: at work she is the ‘career girl’ and at home she’s that ‘crazy cat/dog lady’ neighbour.

The world is a tricky space for the childless, intentional or not.  At work, childless colleagues can feel side-lined by family-friendly policies, reluctantly covering work for staff who benefit from the flexibility of maternity leave or parental leave.  Has any business introduced policies to support the childless?  Maybe that’s another uncomfortable conversation and instead is pushed aside, when really supporting childless staff and colleagues in the workplace is very much a part of Equality and Diversity.

Not all childless women are childless through choice: a small number of women will be because of known issues and some will have no idea why they have been unable to fall pregnant or see a pregnancy through to the end.

It took me a while to come to terms with being childless.  So much of life is geared around being a parent – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day being the obvious, but also Christmas and Easter.  Then we have constant chatter relating to the academic year and school holidays, especially at work.

Work is where I struggle the most, with pregnant colleagues, birth announcements, colleagues leaving to start maternity leave, overheard anecdotes and conversations about children. We can’t tread on eggshells when we are around each other, talking only of the weather. As grown-ups we can remove ourself from uncomfortable conversations, but sometimes we can’t if we work in an open plan office, and should we really have to?

Why is it when we meet new people one of the standard questions asked as we get to know each other is ‘have you got children’? I’m not the only person that will put a brave face on as I reply that no, we don’t have any.  Depending on who you are talking to, the follow-up responses prolong the pain as conversations turn to ticking clocks and parents waiting to be grandparents.

If you remain childless into your 30s, you can be pretty certain that many of your friends are trying if not succeeding to create families of their own.  It takes an incredibly strong person to smile through what happens next.  At first it is so easy to be happy for them, congratulate them and even support them through the pregnancy.  But once the baby arrives things change.

The things you did together no longer work with a baby in tow, no matter how hard you try.  They start to make friends in their new support network of other mums at nursery, school, clubs, sports fields and PTA meetings, and you struggle to empathise with issues you have no experience of.  Your friendship stutters in a shit-storm of last-minute cancellations, and if you do manage to meet up their children end up hi-jacking the precious time you had looked forward to.

Unless you are both made of strong stuff, the relationship will dwindle and slowly die.  It’s a painful ending because it has been a long time since you lost a friend, made all the more difficult because you have not fallen out, only run out of time for each other.

Some women in their 30s find themselves childless not because of fertility issues, but because of not having a partner at all.  In our 20s it was so easy to fall in love and have fun, but in our 30s dating is tricky and can come with baggage.  Women can feel under pressure to have a child, but panic about finding the right man before their eggs are past their best and become reluctant to play ball.  Men might even prefer a younger woman, God forbid!  That’s when we really know what a ticking biological clock sounds like.

So why did the IVF fairy article bring back such painful memories?  Sadly, it’s a story of another lost friendship ended by the arrival of a baby.  The friend was late 30s and had never shown any interest in becoming a parent at all, so I was absolutely stunned when she told me about her IVF treatment.

Until that point, we had been strong sisters-in-arms, accepting our barren fates after failed pregnancies and early miscarriages.  We were going to grow old together disgracefully, or so I thought.  I don’t begrudge her change of mind for a second and her beautiful son is a delight, but I still feel the pain of being asked to be her IVF Fairy, keeping her secrets and supporting her on her pregnancy journey as she then dropped our friendship for a group of glamourous mummies who understand her new life better than I apparently can. 

Maybe in her mind, telling only me about the IVF and not a single other soul, other than her partner, obviously, was her way of sharing the experience with her closest friend.  She was scared of it not working and did not want to upset family if the process failed.  I supported her through all the procedures, the drugs and the injections.  I shared her tears of joy when we discovered one of the embryos was successful.  We shared scans, heartbeats and I got the first cuddle after Dad.   

She knew IVF was too late for me so instead asked me to be her IVF Fairy and share her precious journey – we had shared so much sadness in our struggles to become a mother, she knew I would always be there with the right words, knowing what to say and what to do.  And I did a brilliant job.

But as the baby turned into a toddler, our lives weren’t the same.  The phone calls dwindled, the invitations stopped and I was slowly left out of get-togethers as our friendship came to an end. 

I guess it goes to show that not all fairy stories have happy endings … not for this fairy anyway.


Published by So Just Be

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