Turning a personal trauma into new opportunity
Being unable to have children can leave couples traumatised by
a sense of failure, but for Isla and Paul McGuckin it also opened up a
whole new world of opportunities. SARAH FREEMAN reports.
IT wasn't something Isla and Paul McGuckin had given more than an occasional
passing thought to.
After a whirlwind romance in their early 20s, which saw them meet and
marry within a year, the couple began building successful careers in marketing
and IT and making the most of married life.
In those early days, a family was still some years off and when they finally
decided to try for a baby both expected Isla would soon be following in
the footsteps of her many pregnant friends and colleagues.
"I was 29 when we seriously started thinking about children,"
says Isla, who met Paul shortly after graduating from university in Huddersfield.
"But it was nothing more than 'Wouldn't it be great to have a baby
before I'm 30', there was no grand plan."
After 12 months of trying the baby they were now starting to desperately
long for hadn't arrived and so began years of trips to doctors and gynaecologists,
internet browsing which turned from mild interest to obsession and a whole
raft of alternative therapy treatments.
"They couldn't find anything specifically wrong with either of us,"
says Isla. "Paul's sperm count was normal and there was nothing apparently
amiss with my ovulation. On paper we should have been able to conceive,
but for some reason we couldn't, it's what they called unexplained infertility."
While initially confident that sleepless nights and endless nappy changing
were just around the corner, as more and more of their friends began to
settle down with families of their own, Paul and Isla had almost daily
reminders of what they saw as their own failure to turn themselves from
partners into parents.
"Every time someone else announced they were pregnant a wave of jealousy
swept over me," says Isla, who has now written Pink For A Girl, about
her and Paul's battle to conceive. "It was quickly followed by incredible
feelings of guilt that I could even think that way. When I saw their babies
any bitterness would melt away, but yes, I found seeing them pregnant
difficult and those who knew what I was going through also felt awkward
being around me."
With no one able to identify the exact problem or categorically say they
would never have children, the couple, then living in Leeds, began course
after course of fertility treatment, while clutching on to every straw
proffered by the world of alternative therapy.
"Looking back, going on the internet was a big mistake," says
Isla. "Too much information sends you mad and there was one point
when I thought I couldn't get pregnant because I was both underweight
"I started taking fertility drugs because I thought it was the right
thing to do, but I became a hormonal nightmare. Life was pretty awful
and, looking back, it was during that time I learnt what loneliness really
means. Eventually, we called a stop to it and while the doctors did mention
IVF our experience with the drugs was part of the reason we didn't want
to go down that route.
"If someone had been able to give us a guarantee that if you do it
10 times, at the end of it you'll have a baby, we would have gone for
it, but it doesn't work that way and the strain on both of us would have
been immense. We just weren't prepared to put ourselves through that."
Both describe the decision to stop treatment as a huge sense of relief,
but the process of coming to terms with the possibility they may never
have children was no less fraught.
"I went through quite a philosophical period," admits Isla,
who used to work for Arla Foods. "We are all told that we are here
to reproduce and I did start wondering, 'What's the point of me?'
"We sat down and talked about what realistically could we do. By
not having children, we didn't have to worry about saving money for university
fees, we didn't have to worry about pensions, it didn't matter if we both
died without a cent to our name and, funnily enough, that was very liberating."
The result of those long conversations was a decision to leave Yorkshire
and move to Ireland, where Paul's parents lived and
where Isla also had family connections.
But life has a funny way of scuppering best laid plans and having told
family and friends of their decision, Isla and Paul suddenly had the news
they had begun to believe would never
happen – a positive pregnancy test.
The couple were on holiday in Ireland when they found out and, as Isla
says, spent the rest of the week "floating around in a little bubble
made for three".
Bubbles, however, are easily
burst and at 10 weeks Isla miscarried.
"The sadness was unbearable," she says. "We had come so
close and then all of a sudden all our dreams had been snatched away.
"We decided to go ahead with the move to Ireland and there was an
element of running away."
Ireland was supposed to be a fresh start, but it took one, again unsuccessful,
attempt at fertility treatment before Paul and Isla finally decided to
let nature take its course and if that meant not having children, so be
"When you're diagnosed with unexplained infertility, there's no end
point, it's up to you to say, that's it, no more, but we are finally at
that stage," she says.
"That was part of the reason I wanted to write the book.
"I've always written things down, for me it's a way of processing
what was happening and when I looked back at my diaries I just thought
maybe they could help
other couples going through what
"It sounds very American, but it was about finding closure. It's
written and there's nothing more to be said."
Now 35 and working two days a week for a design agency, Isla is also writing
her first novel, while Paul has set up his own internet property selling
"It's a rights of passage novel about people who want to escape the
nine to five," says Isla. "Life now is so much different to
what it would have been had we had children, not better just different
and we have learnt to embrace all the opportunities we have.
"Every month you have a reminder that you haven't conceived and I
would be in denial if I said I didn't think about it, but there's a little
boy next door, who is always round at our house and we jokingly call him
our surrogate son.
"Not having children has opened
up incredible opportunities for
us as a couple. Of course, it's a
double- edged sword, but then life so often is."
Unexplained infertility: The facts
n At one time, infertility due to female factors was thought to be the
reason for all fertility problems. Now experts recognise that female infertility
accounts for about 40 per cent of all infertility cases, the most common
reasons being tubal blockages, ovulation problems and endometriosis.
n Around one in six couples face difficulties in conceiving. If you've
had unprotected sex for more than 12 months (or, if you're over 35, six
months) and are still not pregnant, it may be worthwhile visiting a doctor.
n Around 15 to 20 per cent of cases have no obvious cause, leading to
a diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
n Couples with unexplained infertility who have been trying for less than
five years have about a 15 to 30 per cent chance of conceiving. After
this, less than 10 per cent do so without treatment.
n Hay House, publishers of Pink For A Girl, are offering Yorkshire Post
readers the chance to buy the book for £7.99, a discount of £2.
To order a copy, call 0208 9621 230.
03 May 2006