Updated: Aug 11, 2020
‘Beta (child), you have been married for one year now and still no baby - is something wrong? You should hurry up or people will start to talk!’ As British Asian women we’ve all heard these comments from countless auntyjis before. Whilst politely delivered, they epitomise a culture which is magnificent yet deeply judgmental and still not open about many issues, including infertility.
Having fertility issues is utterly overwhelming and often something many of us, regrettably, deal with in secret. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment, disbelief and confusion. This is even more so in the British Asian community because of immense cultural pressures to have children. There is a lack of awareness, shame and ignorance associated with fertility issues, leading those who struggle to conceive being outcast and ignored and suffering in silence.
That’s exactly what happened to me, and to many others across the Asian community. And this experience has made me hugely passionate about breaking the taboo and stigma surrounding infertility, and helping others going through their infertility journey.
When my husband and I decided to start a family, we could never imagine we would have trouble conceiving. We were both fit and healthy, in our late twenties and I had never had any issues with my monthly cycle, and so the fact that we didn't conceive caught us completely by surprise. We also didn't anticipate how it would completely take over our lives. Yet it did; as it is currently known to do for 1 in 7 couples in the UK.
With every month that passed the whole experience became more stressful. With every negative pregnancy test, my heart would break, our sense of failure increase and our hopes of ever becoming parents slowly fade away. Like many couples, we began to Google ways to increase our chances, including through ovulation kits and changes to our diets. Still nothing.
After three years of trying to conceive and countless visits to the GP, I found a gynecologist who wasn’t guessing what the issue was. After two surgeries I finally got the answers I was looking for, an issue with one of my fallopian tubes and not endometriosis, stress or irregular ovulation as had been assumed by other doctors. Hearing this was incredibly difficult; I felt like a failure as a woman - how could I not do the one thing that is so natural - bear a child!
In the midst of all of this, our siblings announced their ‘happy’ news, and the impending babies were being talked about endlessly without any sensitivity for our situation. The auntyjis were in their element too, remarking ‘you should hurry up, or people will start to talk about you’. Yet no one asked how we were doing. We were left feeling lonely and belittled. And all this, just as I was about to start my first IVF cycle. So that nothing, especially not cultural insensitivities and pressures, would disrupt our treatment, we took the decision to stay away from all the aunties, family or friends who were insensitive, ignorant or judging us. It was difficult but so important.
After the rollercoaster of multiple appointments, blood tests and weeks of taking injections every day, the day of the IVF finally arrived. However it wasn't all good news! Because our embryos were of a high quality, to give us the best chance possible the embryologist advised us to freeze them and for me to have another procedure - again I was left shattered. I cried the whole day! Maybe we should just give up completely!
Two months later, after a much-needed holiday in the middle east and another cycle of injections, we finally had the embryo transfer. I will never forget the anxiety and trepidation we felt on our way to the clinic that day. When the embryologist took us into the theatre and said ‘Your embryo has thawed 100%’; I broke down in tears in the disbelief that we had even gotten this far!
My embryo implanted and I was finally able to hold a positive pregnancy test in my hands after 3 years of negative tests. Nine months later, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family. We planned to do another frozen cycle with our remaining frozen embryo. However, 15 months later, we were unexpectedly blessed with a natural pregnancy and I gave birth to non-identical twins last summer.
On some days I still struggle with the deep scars struggling to conceive has left behind, and three years later, I’m still learning to process what happened and find a peace and acceptance in our situation. I hope sharing my story provides some insight, inspiration but most of all, hope. Even though you think it’s the end of the road, it’s not, and thanks to the wonderful advances in science there are so many different types of treatments. So please don’t give up and remember having children does not define you or your success as a woman! To read more about dealing with infertility and parenthood post IVF you can visit my website.
I’m Pooja Bhachu; an IVF survivor and infertility advocate. Born in Bournemouth to a Hindu Punjabi family, I grew up in West London. With a BA in Economics and Politics, and MSc in International Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), I have pursued a career in politics, including working for a Cabinet Minister in Downing Street. Currently, I’m a senior Public Affairs Manager for a global technology company by day, and by day and night, a mum to a three year old (my IVF miracle) and one year old twins (my natural miracle babies), a wife, daughter and sister.