Surrogacy and infertility should not be taboo

In the lead-up to her book launch, Despina Meris shares her firsthand account of her 9-year infertility journey

When you’ve spent nine years living the most challenging period of your life, a time when you question everything you are and everything you believe, but somehow make it through just before it breaks you – the last thing you expect to do is to write a book about it.

But instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending it was just a bad dream – like I had planned – I found myself putting pen to paper, and reliving every minute of it.

Why, you might ask? While we were living it, my husband and I kept our dramatic infertility journey a big, bad secret. It made us feel separate and alone, although we had countless family members and friends to lean on. At times, a sense of failure and worthlessness consumed me, and coloured everything I did.

If you personally haven’t experienced infertility, one of your close friends or family members has. 1 in 6 couples in Australia and New Zealand experience infertility issues. Infertility isn’t a shameful thing, it’s an unfortunate part of life. It’s become increasingly common, but it still lies under a dark shameful cloud.

While you’re experiencing infertility, it’s the last thing you want to talk about. It has already taken over your life. You’re constantly injecting yourself with hormones, with an eye on the clock. It feels like everyone else is moving forward with their lives, and yours is just standing still. So, you want to talk about anything and everything – except the pain and confusion of infertility.

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I chased my child. I fought for him with everything I had. I put my life, my physical health, my mental health on the line because I wanted a baby so badly. You push yourself and find that last shred of strength within you, each and every time. Why? Because this time, it might work. This next time might be your miracle. And what makes us human, what makes us fragile and often illogical, is that need to believe that life will be bright again. That there is still hope, even when things look impossibly bleak.

And so I went through one grievous miscarriage after another, until I reached my unlucky number 5. No doctor could tell us what was wrong – we had every scan, blood test, invasive procedure that existed to figure it out. I was hospitalised for a life-threatening syndrome related to IVF, but I pressed on. I was prescribed untested medicines and procedures and stopped caring about the side effects or long term damage that might impact my body.

When I physically and mentally couldn’t take any more hurt, we turned to adoption, but found a brick wall there also.

When things looked very grim, we met Dr Nick Lolatgis, a world-renowned Melbourne IVF specialist, on the cutting edge of medical advancements in this field. In our seventh year of trying, he was our 4th IVF doctor, He was finally able to tell us what our issue was (too complicated for this story) and that only a surrogate could help us to overcome it.

It was then that surrogacy first started popping up in the media. This alternative way to make a family, slightly misunderstood, inciting curiosity and confusion and very strong opinions. I, too, found it unusual and complicated when I first heard about it.

But then I discovered online surrogacy forums and Facebook groups, with the stories of thousands of members from around the world. Some had been through surrogacy already, finally succeeding in having families after cancer and autoimmune disease took away their own ability to have children. Smiling, happy babies looked back at me from the screen. The members were so candid about their experiences, in an effort to help the rest of us navigate this new unknown path. Surrogacy is the last hope for people who have tried everything to have a child.

READ MORE: Over 5,000 births of healthy children thanks to Crete Fertility Centre

Surrogacy is not something you take lightly. There are several countries that allow it, but the laws can change overnight. There are pros and cons to each country’s laws, but none of the options are perfect. It’s a complicated thing – the emotions and situation of the surrogate, and looking after her health. The health of your baby, whether it will receive good hospital care if it’s born early or unwell. And then making sure you will be legally able to take the baby back home to your country. These things keep you up at night.

But surrogacy can work. And it did for us in Thailand – but only after it had failed us in India and Ukraine.

We still had our struggles after that. But what matters is that in the end, our surrogate was healthy and well, and we brought our beautiful healthy miraculous baby home.

Through all the pain and anguish, and picking ourselves up again every time – I knew with all my soul that my only wish was to raise children. Nothing else compared. That to me, one of the most important contributions I could make to society is to raise a child and to raise it well.

With my book about to be launched next week, I’m starting to get a serious case of butterflies. I’ve come a long way from secretly injecting hormones in a restaurant toilet so that no one would know I was doing IVF. Now, I’ve written a raw, honest account for all the world to see.

But this is too important to back down now. I certainly don’t want anyone experiencing the loneliness and isolation that I did while I was going through my journey. I want women to know that there is always hope, but it’s also your decision to back out when you and your body have been through enough.

Alternative ways of making families – egg donors, sperm donors, surrogacy – are becoming more common and none of them should be taboo. We shouldn’t judge something that’s outside of someone’s control, there shouldn’t be shame and secrecy around the beautiful objective of having a child.

READ MORE: Infertility links to poor diet

If you haven’t been through it yourself, you know someone who has. So why can’t we be more open? It’s a sad, challenging, increasingly common part of life – and we, as family, friends and work colleagues owe it to each other to buoy each other up.

It’s time to lift the lid on infertility.

* ‘Every Conceivable Way’ will be available in all major book stores and online from 1 April.