I first met Katy in 2010 when she organised a MTL walking weekend in the Peak District and she’s been integral in establishing a flourishing group in that area.
Katy’s story could act as a model for others, yes she had deep lows and her healing comprised the two key elements of finding specialised help (in this instance CBT) and a community who support and understand her. In her counselling she reframed her childlessness as grief which helped her to understand what she was going through.
She says that time is a great healer, and whilst I agree with her in part, it’s my experience that this is true if we take action within that time, which she did.
For her and Chris being a member of MTL gave them ‘The safety and comfort in being with other people who completely understand where you are and what you’re talking about without having to justify it. It’s priceless.’ Yes it is!
I know how she’s helped and inspired others and saying ‘ I am not embarrassed by it anymore. There is nothing to feel ashamed of. We didn’t do anything wrong’ shows how far she’s come.
Over to Katy,
1. Where are you on your journey now?
I am 40 years old, married and live with my husband and dog in the house we moved into 15 years ago. Chris and I stopped our IVF treatment 8 years ago now, and since then Chris has taken early retirement and I’ve built up a successful music teaching business.
I feel in control of my emotions regarding my childlessness, most of the time, and I also feel quite peaceful about it too.
I’m extremely lucky to have a close relationship with my 3 nieces and nephew who I love spending time with and spoiling rotten. I also feel very lucky to have a lovely relationship with my family, and a number of very close and very good friends around me.
2. What’s your story?
I met Chris in 1997 and we married 4 years later in 2001. We had spoken before we got married about having children ourselves (Chris had children from a previous marriage) and we knew that we would probably need to go through IVF due to surgery Chris had had several years earlier.
We were unable to access free treatment but our GP referred us to the closest CARE clinic where we felt we were in good hands.
We went through two fresh IVF treatment cycles and then one frozen embryo cycle, all of which went relatively smoothly but despite good quality embryos, good transfers and me taking every precaution during the 2 week wait, we didn’t get any positive result until the third time around when we got a “low positive” HCG result. It wasn’t high enough for the pregnancy to be viable but I got my hopes up and although the levels did rise, they didn’t rise enough and so followed weeks of disappointment, scans, tears, hospital visits and finally an injection to get my body rid of anything that was left.
This experience left us both questioning all sorts of things but more than that I think I was exhausted emotionally from everything we’d gone through. We spent some time thinking, talking, seeing our doctor at CARE, and having some more tests to see if there were any other underlying issues which hadn’t been spotted the first time around.
While this was all happening, my friends were starting to have children, people were getting married (conversations at the table – “when will they have their first baby?”) and I felt like I was surrounded by pregnant women. I remember being on holiday in the summer and suddenly finding myself crying as I looked at a beautiful pregnant lady further down the beach. It was all I wanted, just to be pregnant and it felt like the hardest thing to achieve.
When we were ready we went for round 4 but with some extra drugs involved for me following the immune tests we’d had at CARE. I also embarked upon creative visualisation classes and acupuncture which I am sure contributed to my state of mind being so much more positive and believing in what could actually happen. I, obviously, have no proof if those things really did make any difference, but after embryo transfer, more acupuncture and a huge positive feeling, we got a really high, positive result. I was even confident enough to do a pregnancy test at home before we went for the test at the clinic.
It was probably the most exciting time ever – seeing those words on the test stick, sharing those moments with Chris, and not telling anybody else, just keeping that moment for ourselves. I remember feeling like I could burst with happiness.
When we went for our first scan at 6 weeks we were both devastated when the lady who was scanning wasn’t saying lots of cheerful, positive things. She sent for the consultant. My heart sank and I knew that things weren’t right, and sure enough, we were told that there was no heartbeat. We were both devastated and I think especially after all the positive feeling during the whole cycle, it just didn’t seem to fit.
I spent several more trips at the clinic for blood tests, and remember once when I asked the nurse what would happen now, and she told me I would “have to wait to miscarry”. Those words and what happened next are still so clear for me. I left the desk and burst into tears, and was so upset that I couldn’t walk down the corridor. I had to stop and sit at the side to sob. A lovely lady stopped to ask if I was ok and if there was anything she could do, but it was all I could do to just pull myself together enough to get to the car.
Following this there was a period of continued blood testing and when my HCG levels refused to fall as they should have, I was referred for an ERPC at the local hospital. Remember being wheeled into theatre and the doctor asking me how I was feeling “Scared and sad” was my response.
And after some recuperation time, lots more thinking and wondering about the best thing to do next, we both decided we should use our frozen embryos, so we went for one final cycle about a year later. We had already spent thousands of pounds on the treatment, let alone the emotional fallout it had had on our relationship and on those around us.
I remember being on holiday in France and speaking to the clinic about starting the frozen cycle as I still had to take my medication to help with implantation. All was set. The phone call to say our embryos hadn’t survived the thaw was one I was totally unprepared for. It was the end of the road for us in terms of treatment, and ultimately, in having our own children.
3. What helped you heal? How did you deal with your grief?
I knew about MTL before we had finished our IVF treatment as I had heard someone speak about them at a fertility show I attended in London some years previously. So I googled them and joined them, not really sure what would happen then.
I saw a counsellor at the IVF clinic but I didn’t ever really feel like I was getting what I needed from the sessions. So I went to see my GP and he suggested I tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and gave me a number to call.
I did and then spent 6 months seeing a therapist who was a massive help to me, and to my life at that point. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say that. The CBT helped my self-esteem, my self-image, helped me work out how to talk to people better about how I was feeling, it helped put our marriage back on track as we were going through a really difficult time due to us not talking to each other properly.
I learnt so much about myself, and how my behaviour was altering and influencing what was going on in my life. It changed the way I thought about myself, my life, the people around me, and how I could change myself to be a stronger and better person.
While I was having CBT I also started meeting ladies from More to Life. In the first few months I met a handful of lovely women where I was put at my ease, the regional contact was welcoming, open and understanding without being pushy at all. I enjoyed their company and feeling like I was among people who were in the same situation as me (albeit from different starting points). It was a huge comfort.
That support, understanding, friendship and warmth has been a constant of MTL since I joined, and I feel so lucky to have met some of my best friends through More to Life.
I remember during my CBT sessions that I had to rethink my childlessness as a type of grief. I had never thought of it like that before. I’d been lucky enough to have never lost anyone really close to me up to that point, so hadn’t previously been through the grieving process.
I read lots about it, and how I was feeling all started to make more sense to me. The anger, the feeling of isolation, that no-one else was going through what I was. I started, with help, being kinder to myself, or at least realising that it was ok for me to try and do that. Also to give myself less of a hard time if I didn’t feel up to doing something, or if I felt sad at a certain situation.
I tried to connect as much as possible with my nieces and nephew, all of whom were born either during or after our IVF treatment. I remember lots of tears at pregnancy announcements, birth announcements, the feeling of “it’s not fair” being one that I found very hard to get over. But I feel lucky that I have always felt more love than envy for my brother and sister! And of course, my nieces and nephew are gorgeous and I find it impossible to do anything else but love them.
I really believe the old saying that time is a great healer. I remember people saying it when I had only recently finished our treatment and I just didn’t believe them.
Also, for me, talking and getting your emotions out in the open has been a huge help. Sharing stories, sharing coping strategies, just letting off steam about parents/ children/ ungrateful pregnant women…. whatever it might be. The safety and comfort in being with other people who completely understand where you are and what you’re talking about without having to justify it. It’s priceless.
Eight years on, almost, from us leaving behind the dream to have a child of our own, and I still feel sad sometimes, and wonder about what our child would have looked like, what they’d be like, who they’d look like, what they’d be in to, how different our lives might be to how they are now.
But I feel supported and understood by an amazing group of people who I have met through MTL and that helps those feelings diminish. They don’t control me anymore.
4. What are the positives (gifts) for you of not having children and what has not having children made possible for you?
When I first thought about this, I wasn’t sure if I could say there were any positives. I’m massively grateful for my life now, as it is, and for where we are, how we live our lives, the home we’ve made together, but I wasn’t convinced that that was because we didn’t have kids of our own.
But after talking this through with a close and trusted friend, I realised that there are positives in many parts of our lives because we don’t have children. The happiness and stability of our marriage for one. I am really not sure how we would have coped as a couple if we had had children. Of course, I’m imagining a life rather than basing it on fact, but I know how we work.
Another positive? Our quiet, peaceful house! We have our space, things as we want them. I suppose it’s a selfish way of living from some peoples’ perspective, but before you judge, it wasn’t my choice, remember.
I think being a childless Auntie has made me able to dote and spoil my beautiful nieces and nephew more than perhaps I’d have been able to if things had worked out differently. I don’t know if I’d have felt any differently about them if I had my own children, but I love the fact that I can devote myself to them, to looking after them, watching them grow up and be part of their lives. That is a hugely positive thing for me, and being able to have that little Auntie Katy influence is a really special thing in my life.
5. How are you different now?
I think I’m more mature, more able to cope with all sorts of things. I have tried to come out of situations having learnt from them (thanks to all that therapy and support) and help others in difficult situations by drawing on my experiences.
I have learnt not to hide my experiences away, which I definitely did do while we were going through IVF. And I felt that many of my closest friends didn’t really understand what we were going through, or what we went through because of that – it wasn’t their fault as they’d never been through it either – but I didn’t help them understand.
Becoming a Regional Member Contact for More to Life has helped me become more open and has developed my skills as an organiser, and as someone who can facilitate bringing people together for support, friendship and understanding. I have organised fundraising concerts, events and given out posters and leaflets about childlessness because I am not embarrassed by it anymore. There is nothing to feel ashamed of. We didn’t do anything wrong.
I’ve learnt that it’s ok to cry, to feel sad, to have bad days, but I also feel safe to do those things because I know there are people who are there to help me get up and get on again. I suppose I’ve learnt to trust people more as well as believe in my own strength. Learning to see what I have rather than what I don’t.
6. What advice would you give to women not as far down the road as you?
Find other women in your position who you can email, or phone, or meet up with. I really believe in the power of support from people and how it can change your feelings and ability to deal with things. Read about and listen to their stories and realise you are not alone.
Have a look at some of the published books about childlessness and at blogs on the internet, there is so much out there. Jody Day’s book gives lots of workshop type activities which you can do on your own or with other people, and so many of those are useful to realise where you are, and what you can do to move forward and start feeling better about yourself.
Remember that you don’t have to be alone. I’m not saying that my road will be the same as yours, but no-one should be alone in this journey.
7. What brings you joy?
I am so lucky that I can say “lots of things” in answer to that first question. My wonderful, funny, clever and supportive husband.
My beautiful dog Amber with whom I have walked miles, photographed endlessly, and cried with on more than a handful of occasions. My friends and family.
Sharing laughter, building memories and enjoying their company. Time with my nephew and nieces, one to one and all together. Being part of their lives. Performing music. Teaching others the wonder of music and performing. Photographing landscapes, trees, the sky. Nature. Gardening. Fresh air.
8. 6 word memoir
Indulge in what makes you happy
Katy is a talented musician and photographer her website is here
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