Its fair to say that my wife and my experience of starting a family has been life changing. Our journey started familiarly enough in December 2013, when she told me she was pregnant; unfortunately it took nearly another five years until we had our son, Adam. Unfortunately our first pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of our son, Luca. The pregnancy was going smoothly until one evening when I arrived home from work; I had missed several calls from my wife. She had taken herself to hospital when her waters had broken. Racked by guilt, and not assisted by the fact her arrival at the hospital hadn't been properly recorded, I arrived just in time for the doctors to tell us that they couldn't find a heartbeat. This started our journey which encompassed IVF, an ectopic pregnancy, and a number of other pregnancy complications that at times felt overwhelming.
Thankfully, as you will have noted, our story did have a happy ending; and I forgive you, if you have stopped reading already - I became sick of reading stories written by people who had gone through a period of infertility, but had ultimately had children. If you're still reading, these are the main things that I took from our experience, now that I have more perspective on it.
1) Stillbirth, pregnancy loss and infertility really challenged the way I thought about other people, and their experiences. I think there's always a tendency to assume that other people haven't had the same challenges as you, whereas it is not impossible that they have had similar experiences to you. You can find once you have a conversation with someone that you assumed had no problems starting a family, that they've had multiple problems, just chosen not to share it. It's easy to assume that when you see a pregnant woman, a newborn child, or families playing in the park, that they had it plain sailing; very often it turns out they didn't.
2) Infertility can be a lonely place, so if you can join a support group, or find someone who has had a similar experience, then take that opportunity. There's no substitute for speaking to someone who has been through a shared experience, or seeing a good counsellor.
3) If you're going through a challenging time with infertility, then really practice self care. If you are into a sport (ideally one you can do on your own), then throw yourself into it. I really focussed on running, cycling and swimming, as a way of channeling my anger and frustration into something positive. There's no substitute for good sleep, and laying off the alcohol can help too - a hangover when you're in an already dark place is about the worst thing going.
4) Its really made me think about grief, and the fact that, even if you're going through an incredibly tough time of it, you don't have the monopoly on it. Without sounding too bleak, the death.of a loved one, job loss, dealing with financial stress, these things happen to millions of people on a daily basis. If you can get perspective on your situation (which isn't always easy), then you're making progress.
5) Infertility can give you a real clarity on life, your priorities and your emotional wellbeing. I can honestly say the period in which we were trying to start a child was life changing. It made me challenge my assumptions about why we work as hard as we do, how valuable time is, what makes you stressed and angry, and what traits you value in your friends. For me, the legacy of having a stillborn child, and waiting a long time to start a family gave me a perspective totally different to the one I had before. It has made me much more philosophical about things (in a positive way), and has made me genuinely think about what I want from life, knowing that the time I have is the most valuable commodity. The stillbirth of my first son is by far and away the worst thing that has happened to me; however on some days I genuinely think it has given me a strength and resolve that I would never have otherwise had.