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March 11, 2021

To all the unsung heroes struggling with infertility

~ My letter to you on  Mother’s Day 2021 ~


By guest blogger Divya Parker,

Medical writer, wife, dog mum, IVF warrior




For so many years I’ve watched countless families, little ones in tow, enjoy a day that is ultimately about celebrating the women who sacrifice everything for their children.


Women who have probably had countless sleepless nights, learnt every nursery rhyme, given up gym routines, changed directions in their careers, made peace with their bodies – effused in an otherworldly glow on their special day. A magical maternal glow. All of the challenges and difficulties put to the side for a day that’s all about them. Husbands and partners brandishing bouquets, children proudly showing off their latest artwork that must be stuck on the fridge or put on the mantlepiece for the world to see.


Now there was club I wanted to be part of. Not this one. Not this club that we have all found ourselves members of.


I told myself that my time would come, I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I was living my life as it was meant to pan out, running my own race. When Tony and I found out I was pregnant, it felt as if my dream, now our dream, of a family was just a whisper away. But it stayed a whisper and then faded into silence when we lost our first baby at 12 weeks, just before Christmas 2019.


That first Mother’s Day in 2020, as the pandemic loomed and our world changed forever, was one of the hardest of my life. I wasn’t one of the lucky women being celebrated that day. There were no flowers for me. No cards. No babbling from the room in our house we wanted to be the nursery. Well, that’s not entirely true. When Tony saw me drifting through the house like a ghost, he knew exactly what to do, bless him. Flowers and a doggy card from my fur baby (our Labrador, Kristie) appeared later that day.


Bizarrely, lockdown was a blessing in disguise for me – for once I was spared the soul-crushing questions from well-meaning “aunties and uncles,” (being of Indian origin means  having lots of aunties and uncles I’m not actually related to) the constant advertising from department stores and restaurants reminding us all to remember those flowers, book those tables, show our mums how much we love them.  As restrictions ease, I wonder how I’ll feel about seeing that world I long to be a part of again, but still waiting for my bundle of joy.


Tony and I hoped all of that would change with our first gruelling round of IVF. As my review with Dr. Venkat and planning for round two approaches, we don’t know what’s in store. Of course we hope, but it’s a strange kind of “hope in limbo.” It rises, but only so far.


If I could say one thing to those of you who are struggling as Mother’s Day approaches, it wouldn't be to “Never give up hope! Be happy!” when you don’t feel it. I’m in this limbo too. At times, hearing well-meaning people say “It will happen! I just know it! You have to believe. Hold onto hope!” is like asking the future to make promises it can’t keep. And it only makes me feel more defeated and alone as my journey continues.


I wouldn't tell you to look on the bright side, get angry, own your grief, think this, feel that. I wouldn’t tell you to “just be positive” either. I can’t tell you those things, because it would only diminish and disrespect your feelings on this day.


What I would tell you, if I could, is to take care of yourselves. Save yourself and do whatever you need to do to make it through this Mother's Day, or ANY day. Infertility and pregnancy loss are devastating experiences that drain all life and love from even the strongest woman, and can tear the strongest couples down. Taking care of yourself is the most important part of coming to terms with such deep, profound grief. If you don’t, who will? As I say to friends (and for some reason I struggle to follow my own advice a little too often), you can’t run the tank on empty.


For many of us still living in lockdown, skipping outings with family or friends who might not understand isn’t so much of an issue this year. But there are still the supermarkets, decked out in Mother's Day bunting, and online retailers sending all those emails, trying to sell last-minute “Show her you care” gifts.


Face Mother’s Day and every day on your journey on your terms. Opt out of those emails (Bye bye for now M&S! No thank you John Lewis!) if you don’t want to see them, skip the supermarket trip for a day. Decline that group virtual Zoom if you’re worried you might not be comfortable talking about Mother’s Day. The people who love you for who you are and know about the challenges you’re facing will understand. And those that don’t? Well, they probably weren't going to be especially sensitive to your feelings on this day anyway. And that’s the path that they’re on.


Spoil yourself and do whatever brings you comfort. Put the rest of the world on hold for a while and just be, whatever that means to you.


We all know what it’s like to feel that we’re being denied entry to the mummy club through no fault of our own. But we have all been through so much. Too much. If being in the mummy club were based on merit and resilience, I think we’d all have golden passes! We’ve already proved our love, strength, commitment and loyalty. We’ve shown how much thought and care we’d dedicate to our families.  All the things that Mother’s Day celebrates.


Some of us have drained bank accounts and jabbed our bodies with more needles than we can count, just for the chance to step into this role. We’ve turned our lives and schedules upside down because motherhood is something we value.  We’ve broken down, bruised and exhausted, thinking that we’ll never get up again. But we have picked ourselves up every single time, for the chance of being someone’s ‘Mummy.’ Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it.


To all the unsung IVF heroes on this Mother’s Day: I see you, your struggle, your hidden heartache, your indomitable strength, your love, and your selfless sacrifice. Maybe someday you’ll tell me if you saw those things in me too. Because you’re not alone on this journey, and nor am I.