Jane Davies

There are many, many different reasons for infertility and here is my family's experience. It will resonate with some of you and not with others. So hold that in your mind as I tell you my story

We found out by chance that our son was almost certainly infertile when he was just 16. We were told by the experts not to tell him because, they said, 16 isn't a good time to tell a young man that he's probably infertile. Now I absolutely agree with them that it isn't a good time, but is 17 any better? As an 18th birthday present? When he's first engaged? Yes it's a bad time, but no other time was better as far as my husband and I were concerned. So we decided to tell him. It was partly because of that and partly because our family way of coping with things is to be up-front and honest with each other. When you want to tell somebody something, it does depend a little bit on how your family operates. If you tend to be secret and introverted then it's difficult to make an exception. But for us it was right to tell him, and he coped brilliantly I coped far less well. I felt great pain, and enormous guilt - had I done something wrong? Was it my fault? I'd had a miscarriage and gone straight on and conceived him. Nobody told me that I ought to wait. It was a difficult pregnancy and I very nearly died when I had him because the placenta wasn't right. Whether that had any effect I don't know, but I carried that guilt and I do still. It's one ofthe things about being a parent: we think that we care for our children logically and lovingly, but of course we don't. As I became over-protective, my son found it hard. As he grew up, he coped far better than I did.

Now this might have happened anyway. Quite often a pretty strong Mum (as I think I was) can have quite a difficult time with an equally strong young man as he grows through later teens! I don't know whether the infertility affected it or not but it seemed to me that it did. I think I finally came to terms with it because of my daughter-in-law. She was the one who healed it for me. When we were talking after they were engaged and I said about children, I can always remember her looking at me and saying: 'But he's the one I love, he's the one I want to marry.' She loved him for himself not for the genes he could give to their children. I was then able to look at my son with different eyes. That makes a huge difference.

It's often somebody outside who helps us. I'm not underestimating what it is to be infertile, but I came to realize that it's not the most important thing in life. Whether your child has an illness or a disability or is infertile -whatever it is - you need to keep a sense of proportion. Though infertility is a very important thing, it's not the whole picture and we need to remember that.

My son and daughter-in-law have two lovely children now through using donor conception treatment and I have five grandchildren altogether. If somebody had said to me before about donor conception, I think I would have said that I had reservations. I had always got pregnant so easily and it seemed alien to think about using medical treatment. I worried that it might solve one set of issues but create another lot to face, such as issues around identity and how to tell the child. But with all things where your children are involved, you look at it afresh and remember that nothing in life is ever straightforward. That was what they wanted, I love them, so no more questions from my way of looking at it. Their children are my grandchildren as much as any of the others. Do I feel differently about them to the other grandchildren? No. Do I feel differently about them in any other way? Yes, but only because I feel differently about all my children and all my grandchildren. I have a unique relationship with each of them, but it's not to do with the manner of their conception.

We didn't actually tell anyone else about our son's infertility because we felt it was his story, not ours. I found that extraordinarily difficult. I longed to be able to discuss it with others, including close family, because that's the way I am. Once he gave me permission then I was able to, but it was one of the hardest things to respect. But my husband and I felt certain that, at 16, it was his story and not for us to tell.

There is a temptation sometimes when a child is very ill, or with a child who seems so precious because of all you've gone through, to make that child special because of that. But all children are special because of what they are, not where they came from or what they're going through. It's that specialness and the uniqueness of the relationship that you build up that every child deserves.

For me, coping with my son's infertility hasn't always been easy and it's still painful. While it's important to spend time thinking about what's happening now and in the past from time to time, it's also important to use those experiences as parents and grandparents to learn and move on. Having children gives us a chance to face again our attitudes, to rethink them. We think that we shape children's lives, but of course they shape ours just as much. Parenting is a two-way process.

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