Yorkshire Post article on Pink for a Girl (Sarah Freeman, 05/06)

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 and overweight.
"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 it.
"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
we did.
"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 business.
"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