I was 20 and in college when I was diagnosed as infertile. I’d been taken into hospital for a pelvic scan after months of severe, sudden stabbing pains in my abdomen. The sharp but irregular muscular pains in my ribs finally became so horrendous that my general practitioner thought he should do something about them that wasn’t simply a painkiller and his usual advice that I “try to eliminate stress.”
I went to the hospital alone for a transvaginal ultrasound that revealed an enormous cyst on my left ovary. It was so large it had started to cut off the blood flow, the doctor informed me in the kind of tone that most of us might use after being on hold to a particularly unhelpful call center for an hour. Apparently it was now “withered” and, from what else he’d seen “in there,” my chances of ever successfully conceiving were virtually nil.
I didn’t know enough at 20 to question this doctor – a man who presented himself as the be-all-and-end-all of my chance at motherhood – or why he didn’t schedule me in to have my now defective ovary removed. I was too traumatized to ask for a second opinion.
I did know that I’d always wanted to be a mother and that his reaction to me dissolving into hysterical tears – “Go outside and wait for a nurse”- was entirely inappropriate. The male nurse I spoke to should not have let me leave the hospital in tears, alone and without anyone at home to meet me. But in my rush to get out of there I didn’t advocate for myself.
I was in such a state that I took a wrong turn and ended up walking through Manchester’s Moss Side, an area comparable to parts of Baltimore in terms of safety, and where a group of teenagers took great delight in following me up the road jeering at my hysteria. I’m only glad camera iPhones weren’t a thing in 2002 or I’m sure they would have filmed and live-tweeted it too.
I cried every day for six years over the fact that I’d never have a child of my own. I found it impossible to be around the babies and young children of older relatives. I bonded with one so closely that my brother joked I was planning to kidnap her.
About eight years after the fact, when I’d reached the point of actually being able to tell people – because for a long time this shit rendered me mute – I sought therapy. I was incentivized to seek help after reading the story of an infertile woman who had come to terms with her diagnosis until her friends started becoming grandparents. She then found herself thrown back into grief for the children she never had.
That, I realized, was too much for me. I could not cope with feeling so desperately sad all over again in my pensionable years, especially since I was now married and my husband was having to deal with it too.
My therapist, the kind of wise older lady we could all do with meeting for an hour every week, suggested that rather than have the question mark of fertility hanging over me, I go to a hospital and have some conclusive tests done. I spoke to my GP – a different one, a rock star, especially in comparison to the largely disinterested one I had in college – who explained that the practice of the Irish health service (we live in Dublin, dia duit) meant that until my husband and I had been trying to conceive for six months that she could not send us for those kind of tests.
It would just be me she had to send. My husband already has three children from a previous relationship, so even though they were all now aged between eight and 10, he was likely to still be very much firing on all cylinders.
With that in mind, I did the sensible thing: I discussed it with him in much detail (noting that the likelihood of me conceiving was only slightly higher than learning to fly from our second floor balcony), started taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid, and gave up alcohol, dairy, caffeine, and, most importantly, the use of condoms.
Ten weeks later, after feeling enormously tired and covering everything in either vegemite (a thin brown Australian spread made of yeast extract) or a salt, I took a pregnancy test at my doctor’s practice and found out I was six weeks along. A scan two days later showed not only a baby and a strong heartbeat, but two fully-functional ovaries.
There was the delightful shock of a pregnancy I thought might only ever come about after painful and expensive fertility treatments. And even then, my body, which I’d felt huge shame over, was so intact that it was now housing a tiny fetus.
A few weeks later, sadly, I miscarried. We’re trying again and remain hopeful that another pregnancy will go full term. But even now the fact that I found myself pregnant remains a shock and raises a few questions that I know I’m never likely to find out the answers to.
Like what was he thinking misinforming me about my fertility like that? Was he given the wrong scans? Even if he was, why be such a prick when delivering the news? And why the fuck did I not tell him to back down, and then demand to see someone with manners? Eleven years later I would.
I can’t for the life of me remember the name of that initial doctor. But however badly I was treated, I have no inclination to go looking for his name when I’m now in a position to finally put that part of my life behind me.