The painful truth about Mother's Day if you're longing for a baby

Bonded by the pain of infertility, these brave women made a film about their struggles. Here, in four utterly candid accounts, they share: The painful truth about Mother’s Day if you’re longing for a baby

  • One in seven couples experience problems when trying to conceive 
  • Peanut TTC is set to debut new film The Silent Struggle, to mark Mother’s Day
  • Four UK-based participants share their experience of yearning for a baby 
  • Grace Jackson, 34, from London, is spending around £8,000 on an IVF cycle

Mothering Sunday, a day of joy for so many women, can be both poignant and desolate for the childless and those yearning for a baby.

As the flowers, cards and chocolates land this Sunday, women who are trying to conceive — one in seven couples experiences problems — often feel more isolated and lonely than ever.

To mark Mother’s Day, a social network app for women contending with infertility — Peanut TTC (Trying to Conceive) — is this week launching a film, The Silent Struggle, in partnership with the Fertility Network. Produced by an all-female crew who are themselves all trying to conceive, it features the stories of women who have faced — or are going through — the same, often lonely, experience. Here, four participants tell their stories . . .

New film The Silent Struggle,reveals the experiences of women who have struggled with trying to conceive. Pictured Left to right: Grace Jackson, Michelle Cherrill, Aparna Adams and Danielle Brathwaite

BMI is too high for NHS

Grace Jackson, 34, an NHS nurse, lives in Kentish Town, North London, with husband Matt Hansom, a 32-year-old teacher.

We’d been married for two and a half years when, in February 2019, we started trying for a baby.

After six months we’d had no success so I went to my GP. She said: ‘I think it might be your weight.’ At the time I was 16st 5lb with a BMI of 36.5. At 5ft 6in tall, I was clinically obese, which lessens your chances of conceiving.

The doctor sent me off to an active health group, I started eating healthily and began to lose weight quite rapidly.

Then, by September, when we’d still had no luck conceiving, we went to the GP for fertility testing. All my investigations were normal but Matt, we learnt, had a problem which means his sperm can’t swim well enough to fertilise an egg without help from IVF. It’s a genetic condition so lifestyle changes won’t improve it.

I was really shocked: in tears. I knew we were about to embark on a tortuous and emotionally draining journey, and it has put our relationship under strain.

For Matt, it’s been a struggle. He feels inadequate — not able to do the one thing a man is supposed to do: father a child. Nothing I say makes him feel better.

I find Mother’s Day hard, too; a reminder that I’m separated from it by my childlessness. I feel I’ve also faced discrimination because of my size. I had no idea that my weight and BMI would exclude us from having IVF treatment on the NHS. We were expecting to be referred to an NHS fertility clinic, but we were turned down because I was still around 10lb too heavy, with a BMI, by then, of 32.

The upper limit for free NHS treatment is 30.

Grace Jackson, 34, who lives in North London, revealed she and her husband are using their savings and money from their family to fund an IVF cycle (file image)

When we found that out, in December last year, I was completely devastated. It made me feel that both my body and Matt’s had been rejected. I felt a whole range of emotions: first inadequate, then angry, then sad and hopeless, and finally defiant. I would get that 10lb off!

But when we began to look into the NHS processes, we realised that until I’d reached the weight criteria, I would not be eligible for ovarian testing on the NHS, which is important because if my egg reserves were low we’d need to act quickly. Any delay could compromise our chances of success.

So we decided to embark on private fertility treatment, and I’ve now had tests which show my ovarian reserves are normal to slightly low, so it’s just as well that we’re starting treatment promptly.

We’ll meet the cost of an IVF cycle, which is around £7,000 to £8,000, from our savings and family have chipped in, too.

My BMI at the first private consultation was 31.5 — I now weigh 14 st — and the clinic said I didn’t have to lose more weight. I start hormone treatment, to stimulate my eggs so they are ready for retrieval for IVF, in a couple of weeks.

The success rate for couples like us is 65 per cent. We’re optimistic it will work first time.

It’s rough, but i have hope

Michelle Cherrill, 27, an executive assistant, lives in Islington, North London with husband Nick, 25, an IT administrator.

It’s been a rough year. I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which means it’s difficult to get pregnant. We’ve been trying for a year and I feel a sense of anxiety that my body doesn’t work properly. It’s been dark at times.

When I was 22 or so I started growing a beard; I gained 30 lb and clumps of my hair were falling out, which was terrifying.

Then my periods stopped completely. I went to my doctor and he said: ‘We’ll put you on birth control.

‘That should sort it out.’

Only in the last year, though, since Nick and I started trying for a baby, have I realised how much PCOS affects fertility.

I’ve been to five or six different doctors, both NHS and private, and they’ve said, ‘You just have to learn to live with it,’ which is heartbreaking.

Michelle Cherrill, 27, from North London, explained having polycystic ovary syndrome has affected her fertility (file image)

‘The symptoms erode your self-esteem. When Nick and I started dating in 2014, I’d get up early to pluck out my facial hair.

I told him, ‘I don’t think we’ll be able to have kids,’ and asked if he’d be open to adoption.

He’s been incredibly supportive and kind. Last November, I found a wonderful doctor — I see her privately — who has taken my PCOS seriously. She’s done a scan and blood tests and put me on an incredible medicine, metformin, which we’re hoping will stimulate my fertility.

The focus now is balancing my hormones and I’ve had a period, so I’m feeling much better.

I’m hopeful today but I’ve been through times when I’ve felt very alone with my thoughts, especially before I got to sleep.

My Mum lives in California and I speak to her at bedtime. She doesn’t seem to be able to relate to my problems, to understand how sad I’ve been feeling.

My little sister is pregnant and Mum says, ‘You’ll be such a cool aunt’ — and of course I’m so happy for my sister but I can’t help thinking, ‘I wish I were pregnant too.’ It’s bittersweet.

Then when Mother’s Day comes it’s difficult. I look at mums with children and think: ‘That’s a club I want to be part of one day.’

I’m optimistic. I know my time will come. And I know there are lots of people going through the same problems as us. I am thinking positively. That’s my mantra: the journey’s hard but make the best of it. Go on that date night, book that holiday, look forward in hope.

Thinking of an egg donor

Aparna Adams, 38, a project manager, lives in South-East London with husband Ashton, 44, a teaching assistant in a special needs school.

Aparna Adams, 38, who lives in South-East London, revealed she’s trying to lower her BMI, in order to be eligible for NHS fertility treatment (file image)

On Mother’s Day, I always send my Mum flowers and a card.

I struggle to find one that carries the full weight of my emotion, but I send it each year — and get no response.

It’s almost four years since I last saw or heard from my Mum. No texts, letters, phone calls. It’s a complete estrangement from both my parents.

They came to Britain from Bangladesh in the 1970s. Dad, 74, is a retired architect; mum, 67, is a retired social worker.

They sent my sister and me to a private primary school in East London, where we had elocution lessons and learnt discipline.

Having raised me to be an independent, career-minded woman, they wanted me to marry an equal, both in education and profession. In their opinion, Ashton didn’t measure up. It came down to an ultimatum: my parents chose not to see me again because they don’t think Ashton is the right man for me.

But we keep the door open.

We continue to reach out to them and hope. But Mother’s Day always fills me with a sense of loss; not just because of mum’s absence from my life but also because Ashton’s mum passed away ten years ago.

And there’s another dimension to our sadness, too. Pretty much as soon as we were married in 2017, we started trying for a baby. We were both aware that because of our age, the sooner we began the better. But we’ve had no luck.Being a mum would change the way we experience Mother’s Day, and turn it into a positive day filled with love and celebration of parenthood and family.

We’d pinned so much hope on having a family of our own. Every six months or so we’d go to the GP, get referred for blood tests, and then when they came back ‘normal’, we’d be told to ‘give it another six months’.

In the past month or so we decided, because we weren’t getting enough information from the NHS, we’d have fertility tests with a private clinic. They showed that I have a low ovarian reserve and Ashton has a problem with his sperm, too, which means we have a very low chance of conceiving naturally. We’ve been advised that IVF would be our best bet for starting a family.

I’ve also been told my BMI is too high. I have to lose 3st 2lb and start treatment before I turn 40 next year, to be eligible for NHS fertility treatment, or 11 lb to be treated privately now. So we understand now what we need to do. My aim is to get down to the right BMI range in four months and try an NHS IVF cycle.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the emotional toll and the decisions that need to be made. Should I try using an egg donor? How many cycles can we afford, financially and emotionally?

Talking to other women in the same situation has really helped ease my sense of isolation. And Ashton and I have become much more compassionate as we work together and look forward to the day we can share our love with a future family.

It helps to share my miscarriage hell

Danielle Brathwaite, 25, a PA, lives in South London and is now single. She has a daughter, aged five.

Danielle Brathwaite, 25, from South London, said she’s experienced three miscarriages in quick succession (file image)

I’ve had three miscarriages in quick succession and they caused the breakdown of my relationship. The strain of the loss was just intolerable. I was overwhelmed with grief and tried to take my own life.

Although I already have one child, Miami, who’s five, the yearning for a second was acute.

My first miscarriage was in the spring of 2017, at eight weeks. After, I was sad but still hopeful. I thought: ‘We’ll be fine next time.’

I became pregnant again in the summer of 2017 but all was not well. I went to hospital in about the sixth week because I was losing blood. They checked my hormone levels and said there was a chance the baby could be okay.

My partner and I had booked a break in Barcelona. We thought: ‘It’s so stressful, let’s just get away.’ But it was there that I lost my second baby — this time at 12 or 13 weeks. I’d just come out of the shower in the hotel when it happened. I felt traumatised.

We took our tiny baby to the sea, said a prayer and let it go into the waves; my child. I just felt this awful emptiness; such loss and grief.

Then in October I found out I was pregnant again, but by Christmas Day I was bleeding heavily. I lost the baby and felt terribly low.

I felt my partner just didn’t get it; that he didn’t understand the loss I felt or know how to respond to me. And I was so caught up in my own emotions, I didn’t appreciate that he was grieving, too — just in a different way.

I was at home on my own when I took an overdose. I just swallowed every tablet I could find in the house. I felt sick and faint. Thank God my nan rang soon after. My voice was distant and slurring. She said, ‘You don’t sound well’ — and that’s when I told her what had happened.

She called an ambulance, and at hospital they gave me a pill to make me vomit. After that, I thought: ‘I must be of some use if I’m still here.’

My relationship broke down after that. My partner tried to be supportive and encouraging. He’d say: ‘These things happen all the time. You have to pick yourself up.’ But I felt I wanted to grieve alone.

Since then, through Peanut TTC, I’ve met so many wonderful women who can relate to what I’ve been through. They’re like sisters. It has helped to know that others share my experiences; they’re not as rare as I’d thought.

This Mother’s Day will be bitter-sweet. I’m thankful for my daughter but I consider myself a mum of four. I’ll mourn the babies I’ve lost — and look forward in hope.

Download Peanut app and follow @peanut on Instagram to view the Silent Struggle video this Friday.

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