YO interviewed Anamika Mukherjee, the author of “Adopted Miracles”, a book that discusses the journey that Anamika and her husband took to become parents, detailing their deeply personal experience coping with infertility.
The experience of creating a family is an intensely intimate one and a journey unique to every couple. For couples grappling with infertility, this journey acquires further shades and complexities. From the crucial importance to obtain accurate test results early on to the desperate need for non-judgmental doctors this journey is fraught with significant daily challenges to understand the significant biological differences between men and women and cope with the general ignorance of people to reproductive health. The emotional trauma and isolation and the delicate tightrope of coping with infertility and finding solutions is openly shared by Anamika along with her insight from her experience in this heartfelt and honest conversation.
YO: Can you take us through the initial stages of your experience—from deciding to start a family and trying to conceive, leading up to a diagnosis of infertility?
Anamika Mukherjee (AM): For us, it was a difficult journey from the start. We weren’t young by the time we started trying to conceive, and we’d had our differences along the way. My husband didn’t want to have children ever, and I suddenly realized that I did. By the time we’d sorted out those differences, I was over 30—not the best time to start trying. At first, I was quite relaxed and optimistic, but as time went by and my periods kept recurring, I began to get more anxious and even obsessed.
Eventually I went to a gynaecologist. And then to another one, and another one. My experiences with them weren’t altogether pleasant. Why should doctors judge you if you choose to use contraceptives to delay starting your family? Why should they play on your fears and openly delight in your misery?
Finally, after about two years spent trying to conceive, we wound up in a fertility clinic and that’s when we got the advice and facilities that we really needed. A series of tests were proposed for me, and for my husband, just one: a semen analysis. We’d already done most of these tests, but perhaps at a less than reliable lab. This time the results were clear and our questions were finally answered. We would never conceive naturally.
YO: Infertility tends to be wound up with gender roles, unfair expectations of women, and misconceptions. What has been your experience? How do both partners play an equal role in conception and shoulder equal responsibility for it?
AM: Medically, the female reproductive system is far more complex than the male’s. So it isn’t surprising that many things can go wrong, not just in conceiving but in carrying a pregnancy through to delivery. And societally, it’s the ultimate insult to a man’s ego to question his virility while it’s easy to assume that infertility is the woman’s problem. I personally didn’t face too many questions, demands, or expectations, but from discussions with others I know how bad it can be in some families.
In some ways, it isn’t even possible, biologically, for both partners to “play an equal role” in conception. The male system doesn’t change during the course of the month and so there’s not much uncertainty associated with it. It either works, or it doesn’t. With women, there’s the whole question of ovulation, the right time of the month, hormonal imbalances, issues like PCOS, other medical conditions, and many other factors that come into play when you’re trying to conceive. It’s not necessarily a straightforward yes or no, it works or it doesn’t.
YO: Do you think women and men are adequately aware of their reproductive health?
AM: Not really. It might be more accurate to say that men and women are equally ignorant of their reproductive health until it becomes an issue. For women, the menstrual cycle ensures that we can never be completely ignorant of our reproductive system, but we still don’t dig too deep into it until we need to.
YO: Could you give us a window to the emotional rollercoaster that you experienced? How did you cope with it, as a couple?
AM: Even now, years after we resigned ourselves to infertility, it isn’t easy to go back to those times and dwell on the emotional aspect. It definitely hit me very hard, because by the time we were in the throes of infertility and all the tests, examinations, and humiliations that go along with it, I was really desperate to start a family. With each cycle that passed, my hopes would build up ever higher, only to come crashing down each time.
For my husband, though, it wasn’t so hard. He could shrug it all off and focus on work and other interests. And that created a huge divide between us. I felt so alone in my yearning to have a baby. And I felt so defective because I couldn’t. I have read of many couples whose relationship couldn’t take the strain and I can completely understand it. It was only when we discovered the root cause of our infertility and decided that we didn’t want to go for IVF, that I was finally able to get out of the hope and despair cycle and just move ahead with life.
YO: Could timely medical information that was relevant to your particular case have helped to shorten your treatment duration or reduce the stress?
AM: Medical information was available. However, there were two problems. Of the various gynaecologists that I consulted, not all were interested in infertility related issues and so the medical approach was not always systematic or in the best interests of the patient. One doctor, I remember, laid out a treatment plan that would extend through 6 cycles of IVF over 2 years, without even stopping to ask whether we wanted IVF and without even knowing, at that point, what kind of IVF our particular case would require. Another problem was that the test results that we got weren’t accurate. In fact, if one of the very early test results had been accurate, we would have been spared almost two years of despair and trauma.
YO: What or who supported you in dealing with infertility?
AM: It was really hard to find support. Personally, I didn’t find it easy to talk about something so intimate and something that I was so emotional about. This of course made it hard to get support from friends and family. I spent a lot of time trying to get support from the Internet, from forums and blogs and so on, but sometimes those were even more depressing. In the end, the person I found most easy to communicate with was the infertility consultant we went to last. She was a mature doctor, non-judgemental about our history, very professional, not overly sympathetic or intrusive but just matter of fact, and most importantly, when I asked her questions, she didn’t resent it or feel insecure about it. She listened to us and answered our questions and didn’t try to force any treatment on us. I trusted her and I felt there was finally one person who was “on my side”.
YO: What can empower a couple grappling with infertility?
AM: I would say two things. First, of course, is knowledge. However upsetting or depressing it might be, you should educate yourself about the issues, diagnostic processes, treatment options, costs, time, likely outcomes. Don’t blindly trust the doctor you happen to go to. Knowledge is so easily available these days, there’s no reason not to arm yourself with it.
Second, and harder to do, is to reach out. Speak to people, join a forum, find even just one person you can talk to. I didn’t do enough of this myself, but in retrospect, it would have made it much easier. To some extent, I wrote my book as a way of reaching out to others who might be going through this. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.
Anamika: “You’re not alone. You just have to reach out.”
Anamika Mukherjee: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In fact, I’ve always been a writer. I first tried to write a book when I was eight or nine. I tried again when I was in my teens and I picked up the dream once more when I was in my twenties. Meanwhile, I started my career in 1996 as a leisure-lifestyle journalist in Delhi. In 1998, I moved to Bangalore and continued to work in the general area of media and communication. I’ve worked as a content creator with a dotcom, I’ve done instructional design and courseware creation at IBM, and since 2004 I’ve been working as a technical writer in Bangalore.” Anamika Mukherjee is a writer, traveler, avid reader, amateur photographer, wannabe violinist, enthusiastic tennis player, irresponsible wife, and trying-very-hard-to-be-responsible mother to two little girls and two naughty cats.