In our work life, we all chose vocations for certain reasons. Lately I have been reflecting a lot on my job and my reasons for doing it. Just as I was reflecting on it all, it came to my attention that it was National Infertility Week in the USA. It doesn’t seem to be a big thing in Australia, but it should be. Infertility affects millions of men and women in our country.
I was one of those infertile women for a long time. Six years, to be exact. I spent six years trying to have my first child. So, if you told me 12 years ago that I would be making a living photographing pregnant women and their newborn babies I would have fallen off my chair.
I am classified as a family photographer but most specifically I specialise on photographing newborn babies and pregnancy.
When I started out as a Photographer, I found myself naturally gravitating towards families and young children. This is probably because it was my comfort zone. At the time I had a 10 month old and my whole world was about babies and young children.
Early on in my photography journey, a friend asked me to photograph her pregnant belly. I was honoured and it was a really lovely thing to do for someone. We had great fun and she loved the images and said it all felt really special.
Soon after this, I photographed my first newborn when another friend had a baby. I quickly found that it was my calling and it all started from there. I went and enrolled myself in some training focussing specifically in photographing newborns. Photographing pregnant women and newborn babies is now something that I do all year round as part of my job and I absolutely love it.
This was me about 3 years ago. We took these photographs 2 days before I gave birth to my son. Talk about leaving it til the last minute! We had recently built the studio and were testing it out.
I still think about the irony of it all though. Because for many years, I actively avoided pregnant women and newborn babies. Of course this is not possible when many of your close friends and family are actually pregnant and having babies. You can’t avoid them entirely nor do you want to. But after years of infertility you certainly start to avoid situations that you know will cause you hurt and distress. You choose your events wisely because you become worn down by life and things get really hard to face. For example, after a few years of being consistently on fertility treatments, I stopped attending baby showers and Christenings and kids birthdays, unless they involved close friends and family. I just didn’t have it in me anymore. After years and years of being happy for other people it became all too hard for me to smile along with it. I decided that I had to start taking care of myself and acknowledging that it really upset me and that was ok and probably normal.
It’s hard to explain how it feels to experience long term infertility. I have heard it being described as a silent grief. To me, this is the perfect description. For a start, you do feel quite alone and that you must suffer in silence. This is mainly because you are grieving for something that doesn’t exist and that is really hard to understand for anyone who hasn’t gone through it. For me there was that feeling that there was someone missing and I started to grieve the child that I never had.
I had always felt that it was written in the stars that I would have children. Even when I was just a child myself, I knew I wanted children. There was never a question. I believed they were already part of me and I guess of course, they are. A woman’s eggs are formed while she is still in the womb. From a spiritual point of view, I always felt the presence of my children and I just couldn’t wait to meet them. I had the love ready to give, the big space in my heart reserved for them and what felt like a gaping hole in my womb waiting for them to arrive.
So when it became clear initially that there might be some issues, I took it on the chin and still felt optimistic. Because, of course I would have kids, surely I am a fertile goddess since I want them so much. This was merely a hiccup. A little bump in the road to remind us that life isn’t always easy.
However, after several years of treatments, my optimism started to wane. Each year I was getting older and the chances were reducing. The prognosis kept getting worse. It became evident that these children may not ever come. This news was devastating and almost beyond my comprehension.
My husband and I had explored adoption early on but there were some restrictions and very long waiting lists at the time, and we had to prove that we had completely stopped fertility treatment for a period of six months before we could be put on a waiting list. This was a waiting list for overseas adoption which we were told was “about four years” wait. And it was also incredibly expensive. This is certainly a determining factor when you have already spent thousands and thousands of dollars on fertility treatment. Because one of the major side effects of infertility is financial strain. I have a friend who ended up having to sell their house to take pressure off and pay for the fertility treatments. Not only is treatment very expensive, for many women maintaining full time employment becomes quite difficult also. You are often calling in absent from work while being subjected to various procedures. Then there is also the fact that you are an emotional and hormonal wreck. For me, my mental health really started to suffer a few years in and I started experiencing regular symptoms of depression and anxiety. I went part time in my work to cope with this and dropped out of many other activities and social gatherings.
One of the other side affects of infertility is that you lose some friends. There are some people who simply cannot understand why you stop showing up to things, or stop being the person they want you to be. You really cant easily explain to them that you are on an emotional rollercoaster with no real understanding of when you might be allowed to get off. There are also people who are close to you who behave insensitively and say hurtful things and you need to find it in your heart to forgive these people if you can.
However there are also the amazing people who really step up and who are there for you. Like any other hard time in life, you find out who your real friends are. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of understanding that some friends had and grateful for their unwavering patience and support. There were friends and family who rode the rollercoaster with us and who were almost as affected by our predicament as we were. I was incredibly lucky to have some understanding friends and family around me in those dark years.
They really were the dark years. I learnt a lot about myself in those years. That it was possible to go lower than I thought possible. I also learnt a lot about my husband and my marriage. Mainly that we are an awesome team and we can hold each other up and get through tough times and come out stronger. I have heard that long term infertility can break up many marriages.
If I went into everything that happened in those dark times, it would be a very long and depressing tale. And it’s already been a bit long even explaining it thus far. But lets just summarise with these sentences:
Constant failed cycles…
The hormonal side affects are off the scale…
Many many different specialists…
Lots of tears…
The amazing counsellors…
A small number of insensitive GPs and nurses…
The pain and the sorrow, which sometimes seems never ending…
The energy to keep going…
The decision to not give up…
I remember when I woke up one day and decided that I was going to stop grieving and find a way to meet my children. I really did have a moment of awakening when I decided that I would not accept a life without meeting my children. I decided I would fight and that I would find a way to make it happen, whatever that was.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and medicine, and some amazingly supportive and giving people, after 6 years we got our miracle.
First, our daughter. I cannot describe the feelings of elation when my daughter was born, for no words can do the feelings any justice.
Then a second miracle. Our son. After everything we went through, having one child was an absolute miracle. To have a second child felt like what I imagine it might feel like to win the lottery.
I still pinch myself to this day that I have two healthy children. I take nothing for granted.
And now as well as being a mother, I am a Photographer of babies and pregnancy. While being around babies and pregnant women was once a strain, it is now a delight and part of my job.
A friend of mine once said to me that she felt like one of the reasons that I photographed maternity “so beautifully” (as she put it) was because of the heartache that I experienced to get there myself. That perhaps it is because I really do appreciate it and don’t take pregnancy for granted. I thought this was a truly lovely thing for her to say to me.
Because pregnancy did not come easy for me, I do perhaps see a pregnant belly through a unique lens, so to speak. But I don’t think you need to have gone through an arduous journey of infertility to be able to honour pregnancy in such a way. Carrying a child is truly a gift and for us Photographers who specialise in this genre, we all know this.
The journey of infertility that I went through has been experienced by many other women, often to much greater degree and sometimes without a child at the end of it all. I don’t think there is any rhyme or reason why some of us can and some of us can’t. It is not “meant to be” for some people more than others. One thing that I came to believe during my time as an “infertile” is that life is biologically random.
Oddly enough, things like Mothers Day and Fathers Day are still slightly tainted for me. While I think these days are lovely for what they are, my thoughts are always with those who are having a difficult time having a child. I have been there and I know how tough it is.
As I write this, national infertility week in the USA has just finished and Mothers Day is about 2 weeks away. The role of mother in our world is truly one of the most important ones. For the women who want this role and never get the chance my heart goes out to you. I think about you all the time as I could have easily been you. For no reason whatsoever, the dice rolled in my favour.
While it’s been nearly 7 years since I had my first child, I can still summon those raw feelings that I had when it was all too difficult, or during those “dark years” as I call them. In some ways, these were the lost years of my life spent being pricked and prodded and riding that emotional and hormonal rollercoaster each month. My infertility journey will never be forgotten. It is part of me and forever will be.
Now I love working with pregnant mums and being able to capture that truly unique time in your life. Whether you got there easily, or unexpectedly, or whether it feels like its taken you a life time, it is incredibly special. I truly believe that it is a time in your life that should be documented and honoured.
And then there is the incredible first minutes, days, weeks and months of your little one. Your bundle, or bundles of joy. A new human and a new family. A big new love affair begins. And believe me, it only gets better.
My babies, the wonder twins. Not twins in the traditional sense, but their eggs were formed at the same time and my daughter loves to say that they are egg twins.