When her dreams of motherhood fell apart, Jocelyn Yeoman faced a different future. She shares her journey and how she learnt to embrace her unexpected life.
The day I wrote a letter to our unborn children was the day I began the slow journey along a different path. For every infertility story, there are really only two outcomes: you end up successfully navigating the minefield of prodding and procedures with children, or you don’t. (Yes, there’s adoption, but for my husband and I that was never really an option. The ongoing emotional trauma was more than we could face.)
Our journey began when we were very young. Newly arrived in Auckland for our respective fields of study – mine as a journalist and his in architecture – I caught sight of him arriving with boxes precariously balanced at Grafton Hall, one of the halls of residence at the University of Auckland. I was visiting a friend I’d known at high school who was rooming on the same floor he was.
I spotted him getting out of the elevator. He smiled at me – it was one of those cheeky smiles that, more than 30 years later, still melts me every time. I asked my girlfriend who he was.
“I’m going to marry him,” I said. I just knew.
Within two weeks we were going out in the same group and a month on we were together. We were 18 and I pretty much moved into his single room, writing and compiling the hall’s annual magazine, so the authorities turned a blind eye to the extra resident sleeping and eating there.
Within three weeks of becoming a couple, he gave me a small silver and garnet ring, promising to upgrade it for an engagement ring. We were officially engaged the following year and married a year after that, at age 20. As we both studied, we made future plans to move north to my family’s farm, where I’d work for my parents and he would find design work.
We planned to have five children; I’d milk cows but homeschool during the day. We had it all mapped out so didn’t waste time or worry about how we’d afford it. We started trying to get pregnant even before we were finished studying. I was 22.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that our dream of a family wasn’t going to be easy. Call it intuition, the same sixth sense that meant I knew we were destined to be together. Whatever you call it, I just had this feeling that we’d have trouble.
I’d suffered with hormonal issues from age 12. Chronic pain, heavy bleeding, migraine headaches and terrible acne made my teenage years more torturous than most. I was on “the pill” at 16, largely because I’d become sexually active with my boyfriend, but also in an attempt to control my menstrual cycle. When I came off it as we tried to get pregnant, my hormones went haywire.
After a year of trying, and several times thinking I was pregnant – only to find it was my cycle creating the same symptoms – I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. If that wasn’t enough, when my husband was tested, he had very few sperm and even fewer active. As one helpful doctor put it, our becoming pregnant would be an immaculate conception.
It took three years on a waiting list for in vitro fertilisation, during which my sisters started their families and my aunt, who is only 10 years older than me, successfully went through IVF treatment and had twin boys. Sweet, I thought. It’s pretty easy.
Through two cycles of treatment we managed to implant fertilised eggs three times. I had a torturous experience throughout – from an egg harvesting procedure that was excruciating due to the scar tissue wrought by years and thousands of cysts on each ovary, to over-stimulation requiring hospitalisation and a final egg harvest under general anaesthetic, where I puked all the way home from Auckland to north of Whangārei.
That last harvest yielded only two viable eggs, both of which were implanted. And I was pregnant. For a fleeting two weeks I could finally say I was pregnant.
And then I wasn’t.
The devastation at losing our last hope of having children sent me into an extreme downward spiral that took me the next 10 years to find my way out of. The out-of-whack hormones, the devastation of the loss; and who the hell was I if I wasn’t going to be a mother?
The whole life we’d planned together was flushed down the loo in one heart-breaking moment. I continued to mindlessly function for several years. I went through the motions of living, but there were days on end where I dragged myself out of bed to go milk the cows, then retreated back to bed until I had to do it all over again at the end of the day.
But the thing I’ve learned, looking back now that I’m in my fifties, is that life goes on and sometimes the path you think you’re meant to be on is in fact a very different one. Eventually I healed, both physically and emotionally.
Throughout it I was blessed with a relationship that never wavered. I don’t think infertility affects men in quite the same way as women, but I was fortunate that my husband is kind, caring and always willing to listen. He didn’t understand the deep dark well I was at the bottom of, but he would be there and his quiet presence helped me climb slowly back out.
The day I wrote a letter to our unborn children forgiving them for not coming into our lives was the day I turned a corner. It was five years after our IVF journey and I’d read somewhere that writing a letter and burning it was a way to let things go. It certainly helped me take that first step down a new path.
The day I wrote a letter to our unborn children forgiving them for not coming into our lives was the day I turned a corner
We’ve been together 33 years and our life is blessed in so many ways. We’ve enjoyed our nieces and nephews, my husband has taught and we’ve taken trips away with so many teenagers sharing our love of the mountains and my husband’s passion for adventure racing.
Our lives are full and I’ve dedicated much of mine to serving the community, contributing to society in my own way and being an earth mother to so many.
For every infertility story there may be only two outcomes, but the paths are as many and as varied as the people who walk them. When one forks, don’t be afraid to take the path less trodden – you just might end up experiencing far more than you ever believed possible.