I remember one day catching sight of a photo of a mother crocodile with a dozen babies. "How come she has all those, and I don't have one?" I asked my husband with tears pouring down my cheeks. Yet another pregnancy test had failed to reveal a blue line.
My hormones at the time were playing havoc. We had been trying to conceive for five years and we'd experienced one miscarriage about two years in. There were days when I wasn't sure that it would ever happen. We were so grateful when after three rounds of fertility treatment and a difficult pregnancy, our son Jed was born.
He was about a year old when the questions started. I was amazed at how many people wanted to know if and when I was going to provide him with a sibling. Perhaps those who asked were just showing an interest but on days when I was feeling low I would wonder whether their seemingly innocent question was just another way of asking are you and your husband having enough sex, do your ovaries still work, can you cope with any more children at your age or is your fat tummy really a pregnancy that you are just not admitting to yet?
The truth is that I was as guilty as the next person for asking about baby plans. But why do we do it? I think probably most of us are just curious and if there is a secret – we like to be in on it. But do we stop to think that the friend or acquaintance in question might not want to tell us that they are pregnant, trying for a baby or struggling with infertility. Because surely if they did they would have mentioned something? Our probing forces them to lie, fob us off with a polite but non-committal answer or reluctantly reveal the truth.
When it came to answering the question myself – my response would vary depending on my mood and on who was doing the asking. Normally I managed to mutter something like, "yes, more would be nice" but if I was feeling braver I would be more open about our struggles.
These days, I try hard to avoid asking anyone directly about baby plans. If I sense someone might want or need to talk about it – I have found it a better option to bring up the topic generally or to share about my own experiences. Doing that allows the other person to decide whether they want to discuss their situation with me or not.
After Jed we did try a couple more rounds of fertility treatment but a sibling never came and now aged 46 it is increasingly unlikely, especially as we have chosen not to have any more treatment. I have learned to focus on what I have and not, on what I don't.
If you or someone you know is struggling to conceive at the moment – I would love to share a few things I found helpful – in case they might be useful to you or others.
1. Nurture your relationship
My husband and I realised that going through challenges could pull us apart or bring us together. We were determined it would be the latter. We made sure we communicated our fears, hopes and dreams with each other. We tried hard to keep our sense of humour and to find ways to have fun together. We found other couples that had been through similar situations – to whom we could look for support and encouragement. You can hear more about our story and how we helped each other get through it here on episode 4 of The Marriage Challenge:
2. Carefully consider your options
We found it really helpful to consider our options together. Your GP or your local fertility clinic should be able to help you look at what is available to you.
If you are considering fertility treatment you might want to think about what treatments you would be prepared to try and also how much budget you have to spend. David and I decided together that we would give every embryo created a chance of life (even though at one point that meant we could have had a football team!). It is worth thinking through your own ethical questions and coming to an agreement – preferably ahead of time.
Fertility treatment (if you cannot get it on the NHS) is very costly and it is worth discussing how much you can afford and when you will draw the line before you start. It can be harder to know when to stop once you are in the process and are feeling emotionally involved.
Would you consider adoption? This might be another avenue you might want to consider. You can find out more help and resources here.
3. Create a network of support
I remember when I had my miscarriage being amazed at how many of my friends told me about their own experiences. It was such a relief to realise that I was not alone and others knew what I was going through.
Facing fertility issues can be very challenging and it can really help to find some trusted and supportive friends to share the journey with. My husband and I had a small group of friends who committed to pray with us and for us. That was a great encouragement.
It is important to have some one or a group of people who you can be honest and vulnerable with. I found the hard challenge was to hold onto hope but also not to hold on to tight to what I wanted that it became an idol. It was a hard path to tread sometimes and our close friends were a great help in the process.
4. Think through your responses
I remember one friend telling me that she and her husband decided that they would not discuss with anyone, which one of them had the issue that meant they couldn't conceive. They would talk about it in terms of 'we' instead.
It is worth thinking through what you will tell people if and when they ask about any baby plans and agree together on your responses.
5. Focus on the present
One of the biggest challenges for us was to try not to become so fixated on the having a baby or a second one that we lost sight of the present and what we had.
It won't always be easy but try to focus on everything that you have and find contentment and gratitude in the present. If you already have a child make sure that you focus on each precious moment and aren't so pre-occupied on creating a sibling that you miss what is right in front of you.
Finally, our greatest challenge – and our greatest comfort – was to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 2:2). We had questions that went unanswered and many 'whys' but the ultimate question we had to answer – was 'will we trust God – whatever the outcome?'
Sarah Abell is a writer, speaker and coach. She is the founder of www.nakedhedgehogs.com She is married to David and they have one son, Jed.