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Involuntarily childless: an empty belly and empty hands

1 min read
Cycle Care

Approved by

Cobie Lutters - Psychotherapist
Holding your own baby: for 1 in every 6 women it is not self-evident that this will ever happen. But it’s also difficult to speak about unwanted childlessness, as is the experience of Sandra (34), Kim (35), and Nadine (32).

They decided to shatter the taboo by telling their stories to Cycle. Stories about sweat-attacks from hormone injections, functional sex, and how to arrange your life if it really doesn’t work.

Kim (35) owns a clothing store and has been in a relationship with Lucas (48) for 7 years. Six years ago, Kim stopped taking the pill. She only produces a small amount of eggs, and he only has very few sperm cells. An inheritable genetic defect was also found in Lucas’ sperm. The couple has done three ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) attempts, one of which was done in Belgium. In almost all of the fertilizations that were created it turned out that the genetic defect was passed on to the embryos. A few fertilized eggs didn’t embed in the womb. Kim and Lucas aren’t sure yet if they want to start another treatment.

Sandra (34) is a manager in financial services, and has been together with Milan (37) for the past 5 years. Sandra and Milan have been trying to have a baby for the last two years. Research has shown that Sandra has an inexplicable reduced fertility, and Milan’s sperm is of a reduced quality. The couple has undergone 5 IUI treatments, and is starting an IVF treatment soon.

Nadine (32) works in the financial world, and has been in a relationship with Patrick (28) for over 10 years. In 2017, Nadine stopped taking the pill. More than 3 years later she’s been pregnant once, which resulted in a miscarriage. Research has been done multiple times but no cause has been found yet. Since the couple isn’t 30 yet, doctors have been hesitant to act, but soon they’ll be allowed to start a medical process. 

Have you always had a child-wish?

Kim: “As a little girl I always wished to be a mom, I never thought that it wouldn’t happen. I’ve thought a lot about why this desire is so strong. I think it’s part of your body, a part of your whole ‘being a woman+’. I truly believe that baby fever exists.”

Sandra: “I never dreamed of marriage and having children. I was focused on my education and career. Only in my thirties, when more and more babies were being born around me, did I develop a desire for becoming a mother. But, I had a bad feeling about it from the start. My mother had me and then wasn’t able to have another child. My aunt had endometriosis and had fertility issues. From a young age, I was confronted with the possibility of not being able to have children.”

Nadine: “Always. I’ve known Patrick since we were young, and together we worked our way down the list: studying, working, living together. When we had managed that,  we threw away the pill and went for it. It didn’t end up going according to plan.”

Kim and Sandra, you’ve both undergone different fertility treatments. What does that do to you, physically speaking?

Kim: “The hormone injections make you feel like you’re always about to get your period. PMS, but to the max. The medication is supposed to encourage egg maturation, which made it so that there were 10 eggs in my belly at one point. That made me feel like I was three months pregnant.”

Sandra: “I originally didn’t want to take hormones, since I don’t know what effect they might have on my health in the long-term. Eventually I did start taking them, and they didn’t make me feel great, to put it mildly. Terrible fits of sweating, shortness of breath, not being able to sleep well, feeling unstable. It's scary when you feel like you can’t control yourself.”

And mentally?

Kim: “The high dose of hormones makes me emotional and irritable. I’m all over the place. From hopeful and happy to complete sadness and insecurity.”

Sandra: “I’m currently on a 3 month break. I needed one, since it took over my life. It became too much to bear. The IUI treatments feel almost unreal. Riding your bike to the hospital, waiting for your turn in the waiting room, laying on the treatment table for five minutes, during which Milan’s semen is injected into me, and then biking back home. There, the waiting begins, that’s the worst part. I’m hopeful every time. After a week I start developing pregnancy symptoms, things like feeling my breasts well. But those symptoms can also be caused by the hormone treatment, and that makes it all very confusing.”

Nadine: “Before we decided to start trying to get pregnant, I took the pill without a break for 4 years straight, because I had a lot of pain during my menstruation. That pain is now back in full swing. and that’s hard both physically and emotionally now that a pregnancy hasn’t happened yet.”

Where is the line for you?

Kim: “I’ve always considered children to be a gift. You should let nature do its thing, and not force it. Until I got baby fever myself. The primal urge appears to be stronger than intellect, and that makes you shift your stance on things. At first, I always said that I wouldn’t try more than 3 times. But who knows, it could still happen. That’s why we’re considering a 4th attempt. However, the chance of it being successful is very small. Eventually, we have to just accept it. But at the same time, I’m very scared of getting a definitive no.”

Sandra: “I can’t make that judgment. At the start of our process I thought IVF was too intense, but now I’ve done it myself. Where will it stop? No clue.”

Nadine: “Tough question. Just the other day we saw a couple on TV who still hadn’t been successful after thirty attempts. Where do you draw the line? Finances also have to be considered. That’s already the case now — all of those ovulation- and pregnancy tests add up in price — and we joke about it: our child won’t get any pocket money for the first 5 years, since they’ve already cost us enough.”

Adoption, surrogacy, or a sperm donor?

Kim: “Lucas has 2 children from a previous relationship - a true miracle -, and while I do love them and cuddle them to death, they’re not necessarily my own children. That’s a struggle that occurs often in families with children from previous relationships. I don’t want to have the risk of Lucas experiencing that with our child, so these options aren’t possible for me.”

Sandra: “None of those are an option for us. Foster children might be, but that seems like a distant possibility.”

Nadine: “At this point we still assume that it’ll work out. So all of that is still unimaginable for us. If things stay the same and our child-wish only gets more intense, then we might consider adoption. We aren’t interested in surrogacy or a sperm donor. We don’t have a medical cause for reduced fertility, so those options feel very unnatural to us.”

How do you deal with pregnancies and children in your surroundings?

Kim: “I live my life, but am confronted with it daily. Friends are getting pregnant, there are babies everywhere. It causes an emotion that I don’t like: jealousy. I’m not proud of that, but it’s certainly there. I know that I have to talk to someone about that, because I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life.”

Sandra: “I’m not a jealous person, and wholeheartedly believe that my friends deserve to have babies. However, there’s a baby shower almost every month now, and sometimes I find it difficult to celebrate another person’s pregnancy. That just strengthens the fear that things won’t ever work out for me. I used to be able to talk about that with one of my friends, since she had similar struggles. But now she’s managed to get pregnant. I’m happy for her, but it’s still confronting.”

Nadine: “There’s quite a bit of pressure from outside. If I pass on a glass of wine at a party I always hear: ‘Oh, is there something you two need to tell us?’ I also see a lot of pregnancies online. That touches me deeply. What really helps is my blog waarblijftdieooievaar.jouwweb.nl. That’s where I attempt to shatter the taboo on this topic. It’s also where I write away my feelings, and where I’m in contact with people who are in a similar situation.”

How would you like people to handle your child-wish?

Kim: “It’s great that people show an interest. But it’s best to save questions about kids until you know someone a bit better, especially since this’ll save you from having an awkward experience. People assume that you’ll be able to have children, and frequently ask me: “Isn’t it about time to have kids?’ while they’re trying on clothes in my store. When I tell them that we aren’t able to have kids, they’re startled. That causes an uncomfortable situation 9 out of 10 times it happens.”

Sandra: “I understand why they ask about it, I used to do the same thing without thinking about it up until a few years ago. Now I know that it isn’t as simple as it may seem.”

Nadine: “I’d like for people to be understanding if I happen to be in a bad mood. And that it isn’t always a big deal if I happen to decline a glass of wine. People sometimes interfere with our lives too much.”

Does it ever make you angry?

Kim: “I take offense with the fact that 80% of moms complain about their children. Give me those thousands of sleepless nights! Give me the whining child! I certainly don’t underestimate how hard motherhood can be, but it’s very confronting for someone who isn’t able to have children.”

Sandra: “Not angry, but uncomfortable. I’ve just started at a new job, and they don’t know about it there. My manager is a father of 2, and has already made the remark ‘Wait until you have children of your own’ multiple times. Oh well.”

Nadine: “Moreso sad. I’ve gotten a different outlook on life, and that’s had a negative impact on my friendships. And that’s on top of the sadness that I already have about our childlessness.”

Do you want to read more about the emotional rollercoaster that having an unfulfilled child-wish? Here you can read tips and advice from Cycle expert and medical psychotherapist Cobie Lutters.

What do your partners think about it?

Kim: “I think it was quite the hit to his masculinity when he heard that his sperm quality was low. Having good semen is a sort of ‘man thing’. He desperately wants us to have a child together, but most of all he finds it terrible for me. I always have to cry when we talk about it, so it’s hard to discuss it normally. Even though he’d love to support me. But Lucas knows me at my most vulnerable, and I know that it saddens him too. That makes it hard.”

Sandra: “We can lean on each other. At first, his child-wish was bigger than mine. That has weakened since it’s been so hard, while my child-wish has only grown. On one hand that’s tough, since he’s not as involved in the topic as I am. On the other hand it makes it so that I don’t feel pressured by him, which is nice. It’s difficult for him to know how I’m feeling. I feel like I’ve failed, and like I’m disappointing him since things haven’t worked out. That’s hard for him to grasp.”

Nadine: “Patrick wants help from the hospital as soon as possible, while I see it as a last resort. Of course I’d like to have a child sooner rather than later, but if the hospital can’t make it happen then we’re out of options. That’s very definitive. We currently don’t stand eye-to-eye on that subject.”

Is making love still enjoyable?

Kim: “For a long time it was a functional thing, that made me feel like my body was failing me. I’ve been upset about it a lot, and built a wall around myself. That stopped me from feeling sexy, and that obviously didn’t help. Now we’re talking a lot about how making love should be fun again. Not to make children, but because we truly like one another. I’m going to talk to someone in order to handle it better, and so that I can deal with it in a more relaxed and less emotional way.”

How to keep love making enjoyable

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Sandra: “I still find it very nice and fun. But during my ovulation it becomes a bit of a ‘requirement’. A requirement to do it every other day or even every day, even if you don’t feel like it. But that’s something that we can laugh about together.”

Nadine: “Thankfully we both find joy in it. But, we make sure to do it at the right time - during my ovulation.”

Are you interested in tips on how to increase your fertility? Read more here

How do you envision a future without children?

Kim: “Deep down, I try to feel like it’s fine to stay without children. Lucas and I are more than just a shared child-wish. We’ll keep going with our shared company, weekends away, going out to dinner, and traveling. I have a great life, and that won’t change.”

Sandra: “I don’t want to think about that just yet. It causes a sort of panic, since everyone has a family. What am I going to do, what will be my purpose in life? I know that it sounds negative and that there are plenty of things that can give my life meaning, but I can’t face that just now.”

Nadine: “I don’t know if I could accept that. We’ve been put on earth to reproduce. I’ve always dreamed of having a big family, I feel like I have failed as a woman if that doesn’t happen.”


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