‘Like Lena Dunham, I Understand The Loneliness Of Coming To Terms With My Infertility’

'After seven years of trying – punctuated by five rounds of IVF and four miscarriages – I’ve stopped even feigning joy at yet another pregnancy announcement. My defences kick in and I pull away.'

Lena Dunham

by Allie Anderson |
Updated on

I was sitting by the pool of our couples’ hotel in Croatia. It was the first day of our ‘taking our minds off things’ holiday; for me, an opportunity to distance myself from the distress of the previous six months, which I’d spent trying to recover physically and psychologically from my third – and to date, my most traumatic – miscarriage.

A couple came into view and claimed the sun loungers next to us. The woman turned around and there it was. The bump. Protruding proudly from her otherwise-petite, still-bikini-perfect frame, it sent my pulse racing with a heady mix of anger and anxiety, tears beginning to form.

In her memoir False Laborpublished in December’s issue of Harper’s (online here), Lena Dunham recalls how, after her hysterectomy, laying eyes on a pregnant woman would invoke a physical response in her, like the 'stretch and tug' of her reproductive organs as doctors induced false labour in preparation for her mammoth surgery.

I have some semblance of this reliving an excruciating experience.

Seeing the childbearing woman by the pool that July day – I imagined this was her last hoorah before the imminent arrival of her newborn – took me back to New Year’s Eve and the agony of my insides contracting and cramping as my body tried to expel the months-old embryo.

The world is a fiercely pro-natal and hostile place when seen through the eyes of the infertile.

Still fresh from that trauma, I felt humiliated at the sight of pregnant women. It was like Pool Woman was mocking me because she could fulfil the purpose of womanhood – and still look good in a bikini – while time and time again, I had failed.

It’s tough when it’s a stranger. But when it’s someone you know, it’s unbearable. As Lena describes with heart-breaking poignancy, friends and family drop off the radar as they fall pregnant and have their babies. After seven years of trying – punctuated by five rounds of IVF and four miscarriages – I’ve stopped even feigning joy at yet another pregnancy announcement. Instead, my defences kick in and I pull away.

The world is a fiercely pro-natal and hostile place when seen through the eyes of the infertile. People in your circle don’t know what to say to help, and often, their words of platitude in response to your pain seem to injure more than they heal. That’s if they bother.

So, they go their way, along the path to parenthood, I go mine to indefinite childlessness, and never the twain shall meet.

Like Lena, I’ve sought comfort and solidarity in online communities. We call them tribes. Ms Dunham’s #endowarriors, #adenowarriors, and #pcoswarriors are my #childlesswarriors, #TTCwarriors for those trying to conceive), and #miscarriagewarriors. We have in common the #IVFwarriors.

Tellingly, many of the people you come across are anonymous – a signal of the taboo that still frequently surrounds infertility – and represented by an avatar or a picture of a teddy bear. Account names are often made up of the acronyms that best fit the person’s circumstances.

Allie Anderson
©Allie Anderson

While you’re preparing for another treatment cycle, or immersed in the grips of one, and in your grief afterwards, your Warriors are your closest friends. In the safety of your community, you find deep relatability and acceptance that you just don’t get anywhere else. At times, I’ve felt lonelier than I ever dreamt would be possible, attempts to reach out to my real-life tribe have been met with deafening silence or, worse, derision. My online tribe have dutifully stepped up and filled the void as I have for them, and we’ll always be thankful for that.

These words of Lena’ssit perfectly: 'I had been unable to hide my ugliness—my need and my desire, my obsession and my inadequacy. I was the guest nobody wanted to talk to at the party. There was no place for me in polite company. Back, again, to the strangers, who always seem to expect you.'

Apart from one or two people with whom I’ve built lasting friendships, these connections are transient. Lena Dunham’s memoir is subtitled 'Giving up on motherhood', and she describes how the communities that embraced you during your ‘journey’ can become alienating as you approach the end of the road.

She writes: 'If there’s one person less welcome among the IVF Warriors than a new mother, it is a woman who has given up on becoming one. For though these communities were created to support women… they hold fast to its founding commandment: never quit, because nothing is impossible [and] no expense is too great to bring another child into the world.'

READ MORE:'I Was 35 And Told I Was Too Old And Too Fat To Have A Baby. It Destroyed Me'

READ MORE: How Infertility Can Affect Your Friendships – And What To Do About It

The point of giving up on parenthood, for better or worse, comes at different stages for different people. Lena’s one shot at IVF with her remaining ovary yielded no viable eggs, leaving her unable to have her own biological children.

Although I’m not completely out the game just yet (I have three frozen embryos in storage) I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the ever-increasing likelihood that I, too, will remain childless and forever bear the label ‘infertile’.

I don’t know for certain what my future will bring; nor where, how or with whom I’ll fit in as it unfolds. At the moment I’m content waiting out lockdown and knowing I won’t have to think about it for a long time yet.

Instagram: @funsize_allie_ Twitter: @funsizeAllie

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us