Belfast Telegraph article on Pink for a Girl (Isla McGuckin, 06/06)

Baby I want you

07 June 2006
What happens when getting pregnant doesn't happen? I had always thought that when I decided the time was right for me, it would just happen - the baby thing.

And so I still feel shocked, sometimes, when I realise that, almost six years down the line, 'the baby thing' still hasn't happened.

And when I realise that, maybe, it never will.

Although my husband Paul, and I had always wanted children, we were married for more than five years before we started talking seriously about it.

Up until that point, there had always seemed to be more questions than answers. For a start, would we be good parents? Had we grown up enough yet ourselves?

And, anyway, looking back I assumed, rather naively, that there was no rush; that having a baby would be easy and that we just had to make up our minds to start trying for one.

And so I was completely unprepared for what happened the year after we had made up our minds. Nothing.

Well, nothing happened for us, anyway. I lost track of the pregnancy announcements from colleagues and family members and friends as they called to share their own 'happy news'.

And I started to feel like an incredibly unpleasant person as my emotions lurched from one extreme to the other.

On a superficial level, I would be happy for the mums-to-be. But, not so very deep down, I would feel incredibly jealous of them too. Why wasn't it our turn to have a baby? If it was true that five out of six couples managed to conceive without medical help, then why did we have to be the sixth?

When our GP referred us to a fertility specialist, after two years of trying, it seemed that we were that sixth couple - whether we liked it or not.

Preliminary tests proved clear for both of us, and so I was called up to the gynaecology ward of our local hospital for a laparoscopy, a procedure - investigative and invasive, involving cameras and gas and dye - that would determine the healthy functioning, or otherwise, of my reproductive organs.

A procedure that, presumably, was not conducive with any early pregnancy proceeding safely and healthily to term.

And so, as a nurse bustled away with a sample of my blood for a pregnancy test, I created an impossibly happy little scenario in my head: the nurse coming back into the room with a grin that she could barely suppress.

She'd say: "Judging by the result of your pregnancy test, it looks as though the procedure isn't going to be necessary … "

No such luck. I wasn't pregnant. The laparoscopy didn't find anything. And, three months later, the specialist was writing me a prescription for fertility drugs. "IUI next," he told me, "and then we'll have a go at IVF."

And so we climbed on to a conveyor belt of fertility treatment. And I was terrified. Terrified about staying on the conveyor belt because of the prospect of invasive medical procedures ... and terrified about getting off the conveyor belt, because there might be a baby waiting for us at the end of it.

We had three attempts at IUI - Intra Uterine Insemination - in the end. Many companies are unwilling to organise their business around fertility treatment and my husband's was no exception. And so I endured our third, and final, IUI treatment alone.

I have never felt quite so small or sad; lying on an examination couch, my bare legs bent at the knee in an attempt to let gravity give my husband's just-injected semen as much of a fighting chance as possible.

I felt a wave of absolute desolation wash over me; about our continued inability to conceive; about the seeming futility of our fertility treatment; about the unfairness of it all.

And then I felt angry: angry that I had agreed to a regime of fertility treatment that seemed far from tailor-made. And I remember thinking, "I wish this was all over, so that I could have my life back … "

And so we decided to put a stop to our fertility treatment, to let nature take its course, one way or the other. It was a difficult decision to make but, looking back, I am still sure that it was the right one for us.

Unexplained infertility - involuntary childlessness - made me question everything about myself and about my life. Who was I - what was I - if I was never going to become a mother? I had always imagined that raising a family would be my major preoccupation throughout my 30s and 40s. And, if that wasn't going to be the case, what was?

The beliefs that I had held about employment and financial security, property ownership and savings plans, seemed largely redundant if we were only ever going to have ourselves to worry about.

And so we decided to kiss goodbye to our 9 to 5s. We decided to sell up and follow our dreams to the west of Ireland.

We rented at first, living off the proceeds of our house sale, buying ourselves some time. And we thought about what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives.

My husband had an idea for a website helping people to sell their property online. I'd always wanted to be a writer - my novel had been a work in progress for too many years. And without the limitations of the day jobs or the pressure of mortgage repayments, finally, we had the breathing space to get our ideas off the ground.

Because our infertility is unexplained, I have never quite lost hope. I don't think that I'll ever be able to say, honestly, that we are no longer trying for a baby. People tell me stories with such happy endings, about women who had given up hope and then - 10 years down the line - find that they are pregnant.

And so there are times when I wish that I could look into a crystal ball, to see what the future holds for me.

But most of the time, I am excited about the future anyway. Whatever it has in store.

It can be a dark and lonely place, infertility. Full of raised - then dashed - hopes as longed-for pregnancies fail to go the distance; as fertility treatments are tried "just this one last go" but don't succeed; as friend after friend calls to share their happy news. And you feel as though your heart is breaking ...

And so, knowing that you're not alone, can be a lifeline. Knowing that someone - somewhere - knows exactly how you feel.

I hope that's how other women will feel when they read my book. I hope that something will strike a chord with them, will help them to realise that there can still be a happy ending, even if 'the baby thing' never happens.

Pink for a Girl by Isla McGuckin (Hay House, £9.99)