The Long View: No newlywed expects to spend more than a decade fretting about fertility

Columnist Deirdre McArdle thought, like many, that starting a family with her new husband would be easy. Years of scheduled sex, unhelpful consultants and multiple rounds of fertility treatment set her straight.

Relationship Resilience

“You may now kiss the bride,” said the priest as I launched myself across the altar to plant a smacker on my husband’s lips. The excitement I felt at that moment was through the roof. We were about to step confidently into our future. We were 27, full of hope and, let’s face it, lust. We felt like we could conquer the world.

It didn’t take long for that bubble to burst.

Like many women my age I thought that the first time I had unprotected sex I’d get pregnant. But it didn’t happen that time, and six months later it still hadn’t happened. I’d been taking the pill since I was 18 so maybe my system just needed to sort itself out. We gave it another six months. Still nothing.

It was around then that family and friends started pointedly looking at my belly and, worse, asking if we had any news. The implication was clear: you should have news by now. But we were news-less. And so we made an appointment at a fertility clinic. We took the initial tests and they showed no cause for concern. “Have more sex,” the consultant helpfully told us.

In theory, that advice is grand, albeit borderline patronising. Who would object to having more sex? But when you have that extra element hovering in the background all the time, spontaneity, fun and connection are the first to go out the window.

We focused on having sex at the right times during the month; any other time felt wasted. I became obsessed with charting my cycle, trying to pinpoint the perfect time for sex, researching the best positions, not for pleasure but for making sure my husband’s sperm had a better chance of reaching their destination.

This state of play continued for another year or so, while we muddled on with our increasingly timetabled sex life. “Are you free for 10 minutes on the 21st of October for some workmanlike sex?” I’d ask my husband. “I can do 8pm, does that work for you?” he’d respond as if to a work meeting request.

Two-and-a-half years into our marriage we realised we needed to bring out the big guns. Our own efforts, Herculean as they were, just weren’t hitting the mark. We decided to go ahead with fertility treatment. There’s no shame in seeking help, as they say, although we did both feel embarrassed by this turn of events. We lived in fear of meeting anyone we knew in the fertility clinic’s waiting room (in fairness, a fertility clinic waiting room would be an incredibly awkward place to meet anyone you knew).

And so began our decade of fertility treatments: starting with a couple of IUIs (the less invasive cousin of IVF), and eventually moving on to IVF. Fertility treatments became the third wheel in our marriage. An incredibly squeaky wheel that never stopped squeaking. We found that as much as we prepared ourselves for the physical side of it all, the emotional and mental strains were almost indescribable. There’s no easy way of having your hopes and dreams dashed every 28 days; of dusting yourself off, and doing it all again as soon as you’re able.

To say this time in our lives changed us is an understatement of epic proportions. I often look back at photos of our wedding day and our beautiful smiling faces, and feel so sorry for us, but also, I want to tap the couple in the photo and say, “Spoiler alert: everything will be fine. You get your happy ending.”

Having trouble talking to your partner about your sex life? Learn how to smash the stigma with our sex communication masterclass.

Deirdre McArdle
Cork-based Deirdre has written about cutting-edge technology for 25 years. Married for 20 years with a five-year-old daughter, she is currently navigating perimenopause; just the latest hormonal upheaval in two decades of multiple fertility procedures.

Get your daily dose of dara & co

By clicking Subscribe, I agree and accept the Terms & Conditions of dara & co.