‘What to expect when you aren’t expecting’ Act One By Hollie Shirley

Last week we introduced you to Hollie Shirley who has written a brilliant book called ‘What to expect when you aren’t expecting’. The book lays bare her honest struggles with infertility and talks about everything you need to know surrounding IVF.

Hollie covers all angles of IVF, from how to get referred, what happens during IVF, the costs, how you can talk to someone who is going through IVF and what happens when people stop trying.

Hollie is planning to have her book released by October on Kindle and Amazon but she has kindly allowed us to share an excerpt with you.

Act One – No, we are not having a baby.

So, let me formally introduce myself to you, my dear reader. I’m 30 years old, I have good job, a nice house, a cat, a dog, and a boyfriend – how school playground does that sound? Can I call him my man friend? No? OK. We have been together for nearly 2 years, and on our first date, I drunkenly blurted out to him that I might not be able to have children without the aid of a test tube. I know, I know, who does that? (me, apparently). Luckily, he did not run off and leave me sitting there, staring into the bottom of my empty wine glass, and is hugely supportive and understanding about the whole thing. Previously my relationships have been defined by this one characteristic and they varied in different reasons why, because my reproductive system is flawed, they no longer saw me as a lifelong companion. One relationship lasted three years until this was a problem, others, a couple of weeks, however regardless it was horrible to be told that because it might be difficult, they would decide you weren’t worth it because of that. I don’t think there is much else that could be as hurtful.

Obviously it was for the best as my Mr is incredible. He doesn’t (seem to) mind that much that our family will require some forward planning, and this year we intend to “start trying but not be trying” as some people put it. Should nothing happen after about a year, we then get to go through the laborious task of fertility treatment. Neither of us knows what this will involve, as until we go for those tests, we don’t really know what the root of the problem is. Until then, whenever someone asks “are you two planning on starting a family soon?” we have to come up with some sort of explanation. Here lies my first biggest bug bare of being almost 30 and not having kids. The constant questioning, and basically being nosey when it comes to people’s personal business.

Where a lot of people share their pregnancy announcement stories on social media, I share photos of my cat and dog.

When people ask me “so, are you and the Mr going to get married and have kids?” I tactfully change the subject away from us and onto something else. When my colleagues complain about how annoying their kids are, I smile and go back to my work.

When my best friend announced that she and her husband were expecting their first baby, I got a pang of jealously, followed swiftly by guilt. And then I felt so happy for them I thought I was going to burst.

For me, and many others, all of the above can literally make your blood boil, your palms sweat, and make you feel so many emotions at once it makes you wonder how you manage to keep them all contained.

I’ve cried a lot about not being able to have kids you see, for a lot of reasons. These include:

Because my sister has five children and they are the most amazing humans I have ever met. They make my heart want to explode because they are so adorable. If you met them you would understand.

Because my mum and sister get on at me for not having any kids. Apparently my nieces and nephews, despite there being five of them, require cousins. No idea why, to form a football team maybe?

Because my partner would be an amazing dad, and I worry constantly that he will go back on what he said on our first date and want kids with someone with a fully functioning womb. He hasn’t, and I love him unconditionally because of it. Amongst many other things (he’s also an amazing cook, he’s funny, he’s sweet, he’s creative and clever, you get the picture).

Because previous boyfriends have done that exact thing. Apparently it is a higher priority for men that we are led to believe. Shock horror ladies – men do want to settle down and have kids – I mean, unless they were using this as an excuse in which case to all of my ex’s and to the guys I dated that gave me quite possibly the biggest blow to my self esteem by telling me that “it’s not me, it’s you” based on the absence of my ovary – thanks guys, it’s all worked out fine for me.

Because my friend got pregnant, and then didn’t invite me to her baby shower because she thought it would upset me. (She actually felt the need to message me and tell me this. Not even face to face. Needless to say, we are not really friends anymore) What upset me is that she thought me being in the presence of her bump meant I would have a breakdown. I don’t cry over baby bumps – I cry because there’s no nutella left in the jar three days before Aunt Flo comes around to town.

Because when I was out for lunch one day, someone I used to work with patted my stomach and asked how I was feeling, and assumed I was pregnant – um, no, I’m not pregnant, I’m just bloated. Thanks for pointing that out to me though…. why do people think its OK to assume?  (Probably didn’t help that I had two packets of jaffa cakes in one hand and a cheese twist from M&S in the other.) I cried because I was humiliated, and I cried because I wanted to be able to say that I was having a baby, and I couldn’t. And that sucks.

Because one Sunday afternoon my next door neighbour came to my door with a big handful of runner beans from her allotment for us, which was very sweet of her. We were chatting on the doorstep, and she then put both hands on my stomach and asked me if I was expecting. I told her no, and she replied with “oh, it’s just you look noticeably different.” The shock really threw me. As I smiled and said goodbye, I just started crying my eyes out. I then tried to hide this feeling from my Mr, and went out on a 6 mile run because I felt fat and gross and I hated myself because I wasn’t pregnant. I pushed him away, and felt horrible about it – but I’m my head, who wants to “cuddle” with someone who looks pregnant but isn’t and might not be able to? It’s a real head fuck. I told him what happened and felt a little better, but moments like that can really fuck a person’s head up. Please don’t go around touching people’s tummies – they might just have a pizza bloat, and it can be really fucking hurtful.

Because every time I hear of one of my friends getting pregnant I feel jealous before I feel happy for them, and then I feel guilty. It’s an emotional fucking roller coaster. The jealously and the guilt go away very quickly I might add, but the happiness I feel for them is unconditional. I think sometimes those who know our infertility struggles try and not tell us about these kinds of things, but I just want to put it out there – unless we explicitly tell you we are hurt and upset that you are pregnant and don’t want anything to do with you, don’t shut us out. If you are a friend, trust me, we are so happy for you we could burst.

I have often felt guilty for feeling like this, and then I get angry with my body and myself. Especially when my partner talks about how much he wants to start a family. It makes me feel like I’m a failure, like I can’t give him the one thing he wants.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, he is incredibly supportive, however, I still get this knot of anxiety in my stomach when I think about just how long it’s going to take us, and even then, what if it doesn’t work? These thoughts cripple you and one piece of advice I can offer is to ensure that if you are feeling like this, you have to talk to those around you, because keeping everything bottled up will consume you, and it is not healthy to hold on to these negative feelings. I am speaking as someone who has suffered with the blackest, darkest days of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and utter hatred for myself for many years.

There are loads of other times I felt emotional, guilty, and just a shit person because of my hostile reproductive system, and looking back, when I was 18 years old I wish I had taken the counselling I was offered to come to terms with “my condition”.

But back then I just wanted to forget about it. Who wants to think about that sort of thing at 18, when your whole life is ahead of you? I am incredibly lucky that I have some incredible friends who have been so supportive, who have listened to me whinge and cry and moan and whine and have basically been my therapists while I came to terms with everything, and still do to this day.  (If you’re reading this, I love you gals. You’re the best.)

So back to those questions.

In my wise older (30 years on this planet, I’m wise) years, I’ve adopted a slightly different approach, based on my own experiences, and basically becoming thicker skinned to these extremely personal and quite frankly inappropriate questions, and to all those people who think it’s perfectly fine to be so intrusive, I say this– are you really prepared for the answer to your question? But really, the next time you feel like being that nosey, what will you say to the woman who admits, “I can’t have children? We’ve been trying for years.”  Queue awkward silences and muttered apologies. What about the woman who replies, “I’ve never wanted kids. Why are you asking me such a personal question?” It’s simply not okay to bury your head in the sand and pretend like this is a benign question. It’s not. It’s really fucking personal and insensitive. So please, stop assuming that A) all people want children and B) all people want to give you a detailed rundown of their family planning and fertility struggles.

Anytime somebody asks me if I’m going to have kids, I’ll tell them, ‘One day, you’re going to ask that to the wrong person who’s really struggling, and it’s going to be really hurtful to them,’ I hate that. It’s not really anyone’s business unless you let it be, and take it from me, if someone confides in you over something so personal; you must be a top human to them.


You can keep track on Hollie’s progress by following her on:

www.holliewritesblog.wordpress.com, Instagram/twitter @ohheeyitshollie, and on facebook: @holliewritesblog

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