Some women dream of becoming mothers from a young age while others come to that realisation as adults. Some know that motherhood isn’t for them or have to let go of their imagined future due to circumstances out of their control. In my case, having a miscarriage made me realise that I wanted to have a baby.
It’s not that I’d ruled out having children, but it was a distant dream; something to think about more seriously once I was settled. After I got married, I thought the urge to embrace motherhood would eventually kick in. However, instead of welcoming the idea, I shunned it.
South Asian women are raised to follow a linear path, which generally goes like this: be a dutiful daughter; achieve Grade A student status; graduate with a First Class degree from a good university (ideally in medicine, law, dentistry, engineering – you get the idea); marry a respectable man from a respectable family; become a homeowner; have children.
There’s so much pressure and expectation from early childhood to tick all these boxes, both spoken and unspoken, in order to be considered a ‘good girl’.
So, does that mean that those of us who don’t fit the mould are failures? It certainly seems that childless women, whether it’s by choice or not, have a lower status in a culture which puts parenthood on a pedestal as the ultimate symbol of success.
In the first few years of my marriage, I was constantly asked by older family members and aunties when we were going to have children, told not to leave it too late before my insides shrivelled up or advised to ask someone who’d had a baby if I was unsure about what to do. This relentless pressure to procreate pushed me in the opposite direction, making me want to scream at them to mind their own business.
I found out I was pregnant on Christmas Day
And everything changed. I thought I’d feel a strong sense of fear when it happened, but instead I was overjoyed about our surprise festive miracle. My concerns about losing my independence and identity as a woman immediately disappeared.
Having spent years saying that I didn’t feel ready to have a baby, I was amazed at how ready I felt now that a hypothetical situation had become reality. Each question and comment that had come my way had seemingly suppressed my desire to be a mother, but it had always been there, unearthed by this unexpected good news.
In a matter of minutes, I imagined our tribe of two welcoming a new member. I visualised my stomach swelling, feeling those tiny feet kick, having uncontrollable cravings and proudly wearing the ‘Baby on Board’ badge on the Tube. I vividly recall my heightened sensitivity to cigarette smoke, my instant aversion to wine and regularly putting a protective hand over my stomach. These memories feel bittersweet now.
Then, our bright future became a broken one
I suspected that I was miscarrying in early January. I hoped and prayed that everything was OK, but deep down I knew something wasn’t right. I booked the first available appointment at the Early Pregnancy Unit and my miscarriage was confirmed.
Even though I’d expected to hear those words, I was still shocked when they were uttered. I instantly zoned out, drifting out of the hospital and onto the bus home on autopilot. A few seats away, a mother was chatting to her toddler, naming all the things they could see out of the window. Seeing the tenderness between them brought tears to my eyes. I felt like the world’s biggest failure because my body had rejected our precious embryo and my pregnancy was over before it had really begun.
The hardest part was rebuilding ourselves after we’d dared to dream of a family-filled future, only to be left with an empty womb and heavy hearts. I felt so isolated and wish I’d known that I could’ve connected with others in similar situations via Peanut. The silver lining, however, was that after years of sitting on the fence, I realised that I did want to have a baby and that we’d need medical intervention since this was our sole pregnancy in eight years.
Three clinics and four failed IVF cycles later, we’re still trying to make our dream come true. As we’ve been unlucky using our own genetic material, we recently make the difficult decision to pursue donor egg IVF (DEIVF) and will hopefully be starting our first cycle soon.
In the meantime, I’m continuing to use my personal experience to raise awareness of the various impacts of infertility on individuals and couples to destigmatise it, particularly among South Asian communities, where the strong sense of shame still prevents people from speaking out, even to their close family and friends.
By sharing our story, I want to break the silence surrounding fertility issues so that no-one has to feel as alone as I did in the early years before I discovered online community and support groups on Peanut. Reading others’ stories was and still is incredibly reassuring, as is discussing my fears and feelings with other women who just ‘get it’. Connecting with them has given me the strength I need to keep going.
Wherever you are on your infertility journey, please know that you don’t have to fight this battle on your own.