Infertility is usually a surprise initially and so many of assume becoming a parent will be straightforward and absolutely possible. Today I am sharing an interview with Berenice Smith who set up a website called Walk in our Shoes utilising her own experiences to help others feeling the isolation of infertility and the mental health issues that can follow.
Please tell us a little about your childhood and teenage years.
I was brought up in a sleepy village in Cambridgeshire and couldn’t wait to escape! I have a big, wider family with lots of cousins and now second cousins. It was a loving family but depression affected my mum, as it has me.
What was your first job?
My first job was cleaning cars for my grandparents business. They ran a limousine and private hire car company and I would vacuum up the confetti in the wedding cars! Inside was an artist trying to escape!
Tell us about infertility and how you feel you have handled that life change
I always wanted to be a mum. I had series of terrible relationships and finally met the man who would be my husband. He’s a bit older than me and we were friends for months before we went on a date. We just clicked. I’d already had problems in the past but not long into our relationship I was pregnant. I miscarried a few weeks later and though we were sad about it, we felt we had time. Fast forward five years and we were married. I had another miscarriage and went onto have more, mostly early but a few later ones. We were referred to investigations that ironically took place in the maternity ward of our hospital. They couldn’t find anything wrong. Finally after a few months of monitoring and blood tests we were told IVF was the answer. Only to find there wasn’t any funding in our area. We ended up going privately but this cost thousands and we were doing up our house at the time. Ultimately it meant a lot of the appointments which I went to alone because my husband worked overtime to pay for it My employers at the time were not very supportive either and it was a lonely time. The first cycle resulted in 36 eggs and 27 embryos so I had no problem there but I did suffered with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (where my body was still responding to drugs). Because of the number of embryos that we had frozen, we had 6 cycles and one pregnancy over ten years. Sadly the pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. It’s actually impossible to articulate how that felt or the grief. By the time we realised IVF wasn’t going to work, we’d left it too late for adoption because of my husband’s age.
I don’t know that I handled the life change very well. I really did hate my body a lot for letting me down and went through a long time of having a bad body image. My weight has yo-yoed from steroids and all the other medication one has to take for IVF (about 5 types of tablets and 3 injections). I generally get the impression from many that I should be over it, but it never leaves me.
What are you spending your time doing these daysAfter IVF, I studied for a postgraduate degree in graphic design and typography having worked all my life as a graphic designer. I’m working part-time now, running Walk In Our Shoes which was researched and designed during the degree which I speak about. I’m actually presenting at Fertility Fest in May. I also have a design practice called Hello Lovely.
What was the reason you started to blog?
I wanted to address the fear that many men and women have in speaking out. Lots are put off by trolls or less than sympathetic responses. I’ve been told children are not all they are cracked up to be by a relative and that nobody died from not having kids with scant awareness of the mental health problem around infertility. Walk In Our Shoes is a safe space where people can share their stories and to bridge the gap between those who are involuntary childless and those who are parents or chose to be childfree.
How does blogging help you when you are struggling?
If I hadn’t been though all this and had a child, I’d be struggling to say the right words. I hope that I can bust some myths and in doing so it helps to know others have benefitted. I have no doubt it’s hard being a mum but infertility also brings struggles of a different kind and I strongly believe in listening and gaining respect on all sides.
Are you a fan of collaboration with other bloggers and if so, why?
Yes, very much so. I was involved in World Childless Week last year, am a huge fan of Gateway Women and run a Twitter chat called Childless Hour which has many brilliant bloggers in the conversation.
Who has supported you in life?
My husband. I always say that men are the unsung heroes of infertility and IVF because regardless of whether they themselves are infertile or not, they have to sit on the sidelines watching all this. He is my absolute hero, overcoming needle phobia to help me with injections to happily adopting our dog who has also helped me so much. She’s a rescue who was days away from being put to sleep on a council pound so I like to think we saved each other.
What are your words of wisdom to someone who is struggling emotionally?
Control social media not the other way around. I talk a lot about this on Walk In Our Shoes, from encouraging better use of Facebook friend lists to protect involuntary childless friends to having two accounts, not being afraid to remove friends if you’ve drifted apart. Seeking out support groups on Twitter and Facebook can result in a different and more supportive friendship circle. Sometimes it’s easier to have face to face friendships with mums because honest conversations in person can be more emotive and restorative, free from predictive text!
If you could recommend ONE book to a woman what would it be and why?
Dear You: A Letter to My Unborn Children by Tessa Broad. I met Tessa through her blog tour and was lucky to get an advance of this book. I strongly recommend it to every woman, to get a brave andhonest account of life with infertility. It’ll help anyone who wants to know how to help a friend or relative coming going through IVF or coming to terms with childlessness.
If you could recommend ONE website other than your own to a woman what would it be and why?
Gateway Women. Jody Day is a friend and inspirational woman who has spoken extensively about her experiences and paved the way for the likes of me and many others to go public.
Is there anything else you would like to say about struggling with infertility?
Infertility can feel incredibly lonely because it’s not talked about enough but online you can find your tribe. There are some great support groups out there, many are listed on Walk In Our Shoes. Most of all, if you are a mum, then let your friend lead the way. Grief is so fickle. There are days when I adore having children round and other days when it may be an anniversary (and there are many) when I can’t. Many of us feel this way. Trust that your friend needs space and be careful about not letting each others struggles become a competition.