Episode #003
Part 1

Loss of fertility: Chris & Claire Sandys


Us Part 1


Chris: Hi, I'm Chris

Claire: And I'm Claire

Chris: And our greatest loss has been not being able to have children.

Claire: So, we are grieving the loss of something we never actually had in the first place.

Welcome to The Silent Why podcast. Today's episode is a little different because for the full episode you get just the two of us.

Chris: This episode will hopefully explain where our mission to find 101 types of loss all started, with our experience of loss.

Claire: We sat down together to honestly, and openly talk about our childhood journey and the strange confusing grief of losing something that we never had.

Chris: Now because I'm the radio guy, I got to ask my wife the questions about our journey so far, but then we also asked our best friends to anonymously submit some questions for us to answer.

Claire: These were questions directly about us or questions that they were curious about on the wider subject, or maybe things that they'd like to ask any couple going through infertility or childlessness.

Chris: And I wasn't even allowed to see them beforehand.

Claire: No, well, me neither. Although I did scan them for duplicates because I was a bit curious, but I wanted our answers to be as real and as fresh as possible.

Chris: Let's hope it worked.

Claire: Anyway, the thing is, the questions were so good, that the episode ended up being too long. So, we've split it into two parts.

Chris: This is Episode 3, Part 1, where we talk about our journey so far, then Part 2, next week, we'll be answering the submitted questions.

We're recording.

Claire: We are!

Chris: Right, the floor is mine. Question time. Let's, before we delve back into the past, the last sort of 10, 11 years, let's just quickly, briefly look at the future, so what's an average week look like for you?

Claire: Currently, it's a lot of podcast work, because it's one of our early episodes that we're releasing. So, I'm trying to get that off the ground, but I'm also a writer, so I have written my first novel and I'm looking to try and get that out to agents, and I've got another one I want to write as well. So, it's all quite creative at the moment. Not a lot of income, but doing things I really enjoy, which is nice. So that's most of my week,

Chris: And baking!

Claire: And baking. I do love baking.

Chris: That's one of my favourite things you do. Thank you for that. And I work in public service broadcasting, that's radio production here in Gloucestershire, so that's a local service in England. I've done so for couple of decades now, and there's two of us living alone in our fairly big house. We've had a few pets over the years, a big Weimaraner dog who was great, called Buzz, we've had a chameleon recently, and all these pets have gone too soon. Which are other little losses, aren't they?

Claire: That's a future episode.

Chris: Future episodes, certainly Pets. And really loving being on this podcasting journey and actually doing what I do in my day job at home with you as well.

Claire: And it's so easy working together as a married couple. [sarcasm]

Chris: It is. Yeah. Learning. It's a hobby, an interest. Uh, okay. How long have we been together?

Claire: So, we've been together since 2002.

Chris: It's like a quiz.

Claire: Yeah. But married since 2005. So, you can do the maths on that one.

Chris: Have you been revising beforehand? Or do you just know those dates that confidently?

Claire: I know those dates, but if people say, how long have you been married? I have to try and quickly do the maths from 2005.

Chris: So nearly 20 years together.

Claire: Nearly 20 yeah, next year.

Chris: Okay. Um, did you imagine that one day we would have a family together?

Claire: Yeah. When we first met, I think we both did. Um, you were quite keen to have children. I remember you talking about that. So, I think that was something that was quite key. And I think I just always assumed I would, I wasn't one of those women who was desperate for babies, wanting to meet a guy, so I could have a family, that was never a goal of mine. I kind of just take life as it comes day-to-day but I think there was definitely the assumption that there would be, one day, children that I had with a man I met and loved, and that would be the next step of our journey. Didn't even consider it wouldn't happen.

Chris: No, it was one of those things that we just assume, isn't it? Our upbringing and the culture that we live in, the society pressures, all that sort of stuff, you just assume that one day, you know, three or four years after being married, you would start the family. Um, and I was really excited about that. Yeah. I love being around kids. All ages, love playing, love having fun, so yeah, certainly, always, could see myself as being a dad and look forward to being a dad. And that was never really something I had caused a question until, how long ago do you remember when this whole infertility thing started?

Claire: It was 2010.

Chris: Okay. 11 years. And do you remember how that news was broken to us?

Claire: I do. Yeah. So, I remember probably about two years before, thinking that we would see if we could have a family, just see what came next, just let things happen naturally and we assumed it would happen at some point and it hadn't happened. And I think we were starting to question it a little bit, but hadn't thought about it in depth. We were still, you know, mid-twenties at this point, so didn't feel like there was a hurry. And then you were chatting to your brother on the phone, I remember which house we were living in cos you were in the lounge. And he was training in medicine and he had found out somehow that an operation that you had when you were younger, um, might have the impact of leaving you infertile. And that was new information for you. And then you mentioned it to me. I don't there was any panic or anything about it, I don't I think that freaked us out, we just thought, oh, we better go and get some tests done, maybe that's why it hasn't been straightforward? And that was what started us on getting tests, and then the first test confirmed that we had about a 5% chance of conceiving, because you were largely infertile. It was still possible, but it was a very small percentage.

Chris: Yeah, it didn't hit home, did it really? I couldn't even tell you when it did hit home. I think, you know, I was always really thankful right back to day one that you were always really supportive and understanding and never, ever made me feel under any pressure or any shame in that at all. Cause it's quite a difficult thing for a lot of guys that are in the same boat. They feel a bit embarrassed if they're not fertile, uh, it can be a big weight on a guy's shoulders, but for me, thankfully, you were someone that always kept that weight off my back, never, never applied pressure or whatever. So I was, you know, really thankful for that. And then that began, I guess, the last 11 years of processing of journeying of exploring different options.

Yeah. Well, we were put forward for IVF straight away. Here in the UK, it depends what postcode you live in as to how many options of IVF you get offered on the NHS. We didn't have to have the whole trying for a year thing, even though we've been trying for longer, because of your condition. And I remember us having the appointment with the consultant and then just leaving that meeting and just looking at each other and just thinking this doesn't feel like the right path for us. Our gut feeling was like, this doesn't feel right, and we were still young, so I think we thought, well, we've still got time to try naturally, we don't have to necessarily go through all this. You know, when they describe all the injections and the hormones and everything you need to go through. And, um, yeah, the surgeries and things, it felt a bit overwhelming at the time. So, we thought, well, let's just see what happens naturally. So, we didn't pursue it then, knowing we could go back if we wanted to. And then we'd just looked at lots of other things in between. So, we looked at adoption and fostering, egg donation, sperm donation, natural IVF, surrogacy, embryo adoption, everything else that's out there really. And it's a minefield for people who want to conceive, but can't. So, we did a lot of that on our own and just worked out what we felt comfortable with, and tended to find that where I felt comfortable in one area, it was something you weren't as keen on, and where you were felt comfortable in another area, it was something I wasn't so keen on. And because we want you to stay together as a couple, and that was always our priority to stay together on decisions and to make sure we're moving forward together, because we knew this journey had the potential to get between us. We'd seen other couples go through that strain and we know it can separate people when they can't have children, so we wanted to be together on it, and I think that kind of helped us in some ways I think, because it narrowed down our options, but it also complicated things sometimes.

We both love admin, so the thought of doing research and studying all these different options, didn't really phase us and gathering information, writing it down and talking about it. What were some of the many ways that we did explore adoption, fostering, IVF, sperm donation? What was the reality of what that looked like?

Claire: Well, with adoption and fostering, we didn't follow it that far through the processing, but we did meet with parents that had adopted children and we spoke to them about what that was like from people who had taken on very young children, to people who had taken on slightly older children, I think we were at different ends as to which we'd prefer. It felt like to me, it wasn't about wanting to be a parent when you adopt, it was more about wanting to look after a child. I feel like it's changed nowadays to what it used to be. If it had been back in the olden days when babies were just given away because their parents weren't married, like you see on long lost family programs, I think we would have probably just taken in two or three babies, you know, straight away, but the reality was by the time we were looking at it, we were a little bit older heading towards late twenties, and we tended to get the impression that we would have been given children we would have naturally had at that age, which would have been slightly older and it was harder to get babies. So, I don't think we were thinking let's take on a 3, 4, 5-year-old. That's been through a hard time. We were more thinking, we just liked the idea of being parents and it was, it was a lot to weigh up. I remember it being very confusing, and then we decided that that wasn't going to be the journey for us. And I think adoption is put on the table a lot for people who can't have children as a backup option, and it's really not, it's a very different decision. It's a very different option. And I think it's an option that everybody should consider, it's not just for people who can't have children. And it just wasn't the option for us. And I remember us, I remember very vividly us sitting in a restaurant having thought about it a lot individually, and then we were going to come together and have a conversation; are we going to push forward with adoption? And we sort of hesitantly said, I don't know who went first, I'm not sure that I feel strong enough or comfortable enough to do this. And the other one agreed. And then there was this relief, you know, we thought that was our answer really. That, that relief was there, was a sign that this wasn't for us because you need to be so committed to that journey. And I remember the feeling; okay, that felt like our confirmation. But I also remember feeling really bad afterwards and thinking, I'm now the person who turned down adoption and that wasn't a nice person to be.

Chris: Well, you know we're part of a church community, always have been, and there's quite often messages and themes and conferences that really amplify the need for families to come forward and to adopt, to foster children. So, for us, coming out the other side of that decision, thinking that we're one of those couples that could, but has said no to it, yes, that's a tough place to be, and to accept and to find your sort of peace with.

Claire: Yeah, who wants to be the person who turns down a child that needs a home? It feels that simple, but I think because we do a lot of research and because we look into these things and we chat to people, we knew a lot about what the actual journey could be like, and everyone we'd spoken to had had such a desire and a passion to do it in the first place that, that had been what had guided them through the really tough times that had come following that. So, I think that for us was a sign, we don't have there in the first place. And similar with IVF, we had no issues with IVF, but there were a lot of ethical things to consider with that and weighing that up and looking across it as a whole, you know, we worked out there was a chance if we'd have had successful IVF treatments and had embryos that were fertilized, but not had them implanted, either, you know, because we'd had all our shots in the NHS and we couldn't afford more, or for other reasons. There was a chance if we then donated those embryos, because we probably wouldn't have wanted to just bin them, someone else could've had those and been successful with them, which would have meant that someone had our biological children and we still didn't have any of our own. And when you weigh up all those kinds of areas and the potential ifs of things that could happen, if you don't want to have any regrets, again, it gets very complicated. And for us, we didn't want to go down that route to that, to that point and looking back, you know, because of some of the health stuff I've been through, potentially those kinds of hormone injections could have set me on a very rocky path of some very nasty months, which would have potentially not even made me be able to, to be a mother early on in the way I would have wanted to have been. So, we have no regrets without decisions, but they've been very difficult to make. And it's very hard to feel like you're not being judged. Sounds a bit hard, but I think people think if you didn't do IVF and you didn't do adoption, then you can't have been that desperate to be parents. And I want to get across to people that you can have a desire for these things, and a real longing for them, and a heartache for them, but not get to the point of desperation and just doing anything.

Chris: I can remember the restaurant evening very clearly. I think what's difficult when you're talking about this in a podcast, is we're covering a lot of ground in a real short space of time, because this research, the studying the conversations with parents, meeting people, reading up on stuff, researching the internet, visiting consultants, conferences, all happened for us over maybe seven or eight years, of time. So that's a long time where every day you're thinking independently, you're talking together, you have good days on it, bad days, you have weeks where all is well, and then a few weeks where you just question. So, when it goes on for several years, it becomes a big deal. So that moment, like you mentioned, the restaurant where we both actually said, said to each other sort of separately, I'm not really feeling it, and then you could see that relief lift, it's like, wow, yeah, we need that. But it is really difficult.

Claire: And we're the kind of people I think, who also want to, we want to help other people and we want to be positive, but not in a fake way. You know, we want to give people hope. We want to show people that, you know, things aren't the end of the world and that there's, it's possible to get strengths and to get through them. And that's part of what, you know, has motivated us to put this podcast together. But when you're that kind of person, you don't necessarily take time to stop, and grieve really, or really look at the things you're missing out on and trying to look at all the positives, try and look at the good stuff, thinking about what other people might think of us and what other people would like us to do. You know, we knew if we we'd suggest to adoption or IVF, we'd have made a lot of people very happy. Friends would have celebrated with us; family would have rejoiced. We might've been able to give our parents grandchildren. And you can see those moments, you can see how amazing that would be, if you said yes to these things, and you want that, you really want that, but at the same time, you can't make decisions based on that. And I think that confuses it as well, because if we'd have been more selfish, if we'd have been people who only thought about us and what we wanted, then I think it would have been an easier process in a lot of ways.

Chris: It's been a fairly unique journey, I think, ours. Even though, you know, infertility, childlessness is not that uncommon, when you start talking to people and realizing actually most people know someone that's not got children or that's gone through a similar story. But I would say that what is quite unique about our journey is, is that we have said no to medical intervention, through alternative ways of, of becoming parents. So that's quite unique, probably in our experience, eight out of ten couples, have all tried some other form of intervention. We've got another couple really good friends, who are very similar to us in their story that it hasn't happened for them, and they've chosen not to go down the routes of medicinal help. Why do you think we haven't? How could you summarize why we have said no to adoption, fostering, sperm donor, IVF, surrogacy, any of that stuff? Why have we said no to that?

Claire: Yeah, it's a really tough question. And I worry about having to give people an answer when they ask me, because I don't feel like I've got one that sounds right. And I think the only thing I can tell you, is just gut feeling of knowing when something is right or wrong. And I think people have that in life about a lot of things. You have it about people sometimes, and being in relationships when you meet someone and you think this person on paper is perfect for me, but there's that gut feeling that this isn't right. It was just that feeling; I'm not sure that this is something that we should pursue that will benefit us. It might've given us a baby, but it might have just given us one, and it was never just about, let's get one baby or let's have a baby or let's get pregnant. And for some people that is it, you know, and I can, I can understand that as a female, it's weird to think you do your journey, and your body doesn't do probably, you know, half, of what it's designed to do, but that wasn't it for us. It wasn't about, let's just have those moments, you know, amazing as they would have been as much as we would have wanted them. It was more about, the future unit. And I think a lot of the options we looked at, they could promise us a baby, potentially, maybe. I mean, the odds are still almost 50/50 with IVF, possibly worse for us, so you can't get your hopes up going into it anyway. It's a very difficult process, on very different levels, it's a tough process. I don't think it's one of those things, a lot of people over the years have said, oh did you do IVF? Like, it's just this one injection and you're done. And I think more people should understand what it is that they're actually saying to someone when they ask if they've done that. The same with adoption. When you say to someone, have you thought about adoption? Every couple who hasn't got children has thought about adoption. They've either dismissed it because they didn't want to straight away or they've thought about it and decided not to, or they've gone ahead with it not been successful or they've gone ahead with it and been successful and started that journey, which is just as hard. But I think for us, when we looked at everything, it was about that gut feeling. For me. I don't know what you would say.

Chris: Yeah, similar. I think for me, it's about that level of peace and that's probably a gut feeling, that's the same thing. And so, finding peace with it, just for sake of alliteration: peace and partnership. I think our sort of marriage we've always had such a good marriage, you know, best friends, husband and wife, we've always had that huge blessing really of knowing that even if we don't do X and Y and Z, that we still have a great sort of point to come back to, that we don't need X, Y, and Z to keep us together, or to give us a future. We know that we're really sort of happy with the future that we have with the two of us, if it is just us two. So, I think, I think the peace side of things, same to what you said, gut feeling, that's been really important for me. It was staggering how many times we'd explore a particular, possible solution, and then one of us would be okay with it and the other wouldn't and it's sort of staggering the amount of times that we'd just sort of say, if only one of us said, let's do this, the other will be right there and say, great, let's do it. I'm in it for you, but never did one of us say, I think we should try this.

Claire: No, not enough. We kind of thought, oh, I prefer this to this, but no path did either one of us ever say, I really want us to try this. And I think if we hadn't done, like you said, the other one would have been like, okay, let's do it. We just needed that certainty, because then if it goes wrong, you've got that feeling at the beginning of, we wanted to try this. And I think there was just a different calling for us, and I'm hopeful that things like this is why, because we can talk to other people about it. And the amount of people I've been able to have really lovely conversations with who have lost something, and it doesn't need to be childlessness, it can be anything, it can be loss of a child, or a spouse, or a sibling or a parent, and they're more open to chatting to me and I can feel it because they know that I've got something missing in my life that I would have liked as well.

And I love that I have that connection. If we'd have been through childlessness and then had the children and the happy family afterwards, which a lot of people, you know, have it's harder, I think to then reconnect with people back in that place, because ultimately the back of their head, I'd be thinking they're thinking, well, you got what you wanted in the end anyway, so how do you know what it feels like to permanently be stuck in this place? So, I think I'm, I have been grateful for that and I can see our path as a two being more powerful, to help other people, than if we had moved ahead with other things, but we're still, we haven't taken it off the table.

Chris: Certainly, with adoption and fostering, they are two options that don't disappear like IVF or trying naturally. So, they remain options for the rest of our adult lives. Certainly, although I won't lie and say that I didn't have thoughts early on that actually being childless had a lot of sort of materialistic coups, like, big grand holidays, posh cars, loads of time, energy, that thinking, wow, we're going to have such a lush life. It hasn't quite worked out like that for us.

Claire: No, and I think other people who, who have children and who in the midst of that crazy family stage, where they have no sleep and no time to shower and go to the toilet, I think there's a potential they could look at our life and think. Wow. I'd like a little bit of that, but I would caution people on that whole grass is greener thing. It's just really important that you don't sometimes mistake, quietness for peace with our situation. I think people look at us and think, oh, it must be lovely to have that quiet house and all that peace. And I want to say, well, actually just because you're in a quiet house, it doesn't mean you've got peace.

Chris: That's a deep point, that is. A quiet house doesn't mean peace and contentment and internally.

Claire: And the same with, you know, you could look at a family life, you could look at a mother with a new baby. I mean how many people do we know that a childless that can't be around new babies and moms, because that situation just looks too ideal, too lovely. And then you close the door and you've got that mother there sat on the floor crying because it's all so overwhelming. Again, don't look at that and think that's what I'm after, that's the ideal scenario. It's never what it seems.

Chris: Everyday day we write down in a, in a sort of short prayer form, but we write down something that we're thankful for. And there is so much of our lives, currently you know in our early forties now, that we are grateful for, and we do recognise, you know, having a quieter house, having more time, having more sleep than maybe some of our friends that have other priorities. But how much of that would you swap? Are there times where you think if only, I would swap this for; the future with the children to look after me, or you know, the celebrations of events and milestones and markers where your children grow up and you can watch that. Having so many of our friends and family members that they're their priorities, their life becomes just sort of the children and just getting from zero to eighteen, just doing everything with the children, that's the main thing. That's the big deal. That's what we put our lives on hold for. Yeah, I'd like a piece of that sometimes.

Claire: Yeah, but then we could also be guilty of making that look like it's all amazing. And there'll be someone maybe listening to this that's got older children and then not seeing them at all. But I think they're the bits that I find hardest to watch on TV, I think, and to see in life, it's when someone is called mum, it's when a child runs to the mother, because they're looking for someone to be around. It's that kind of early unconditional love connection with something or someone that, I dunno, is just fulfilling in some way. And when you hear people talk about, you know, these moments in raising kids that make it all worthwhile, you just think, I know you probably get very few of them compared to the stress and the hassle, the nagging and the anxiety and stuff, but you know, to not have any of those at all in your life; where someone calls you Mum, or you watch your child walk for the first time, or you give birth and see your child, or you see your husband holding your baby, all those things, to not have those at all. You know you're missing out.

Chris: Certainly for you with, you know, one of your love languages being touch. And we were talking about this just a couple of weeks ago, and I think you've got a little bit emotional then, because we were reflecting on having our dog going back, probably four or five years, and how the dog would just come to you and show happiness and love and a desire to be with you. And, you know, we, we do that for each other, obviously. But sometimes that extra person, that extra party where someone just desires to be with you or something desires to be with you, and I think that's when I, for me, some of the moments where it sort of punches me in the heart is where I see a sort of a child reaching out to a parent and you just think I don't know why that feels like. I always thought I would know what it feels like to have a little child reach for your hand, or want to be held by you, or want to be carried by you. I think they are the moments for me now where I feel like, oh, I want to know what that feels like. And you can try and get that with your pets, and you do get that with pets to a level, particularly a pet, like a dog that shows you sort of compassion and loyalty. Not compassion! Companionship.

Claire: Ha ha! That's a unique dog that is, right there.

Chris: Brings you a tissue, when you're crying! Pats you on the head.

What, what do you think have been the moments or can you remember a moment when you've been really encouraged to make a decision or that you've been sort of lifted up towards progress on this journey that we're talking about, some of the good things that have inspired you or motivated you towards making decisions? I think I'll mention one while you think, which is our 'line in the sand'. I think that's a really important milestone that we took some time to get to.

We'd been for two or three years to an annual conference, that for us thankfully, was held not too far from home. Which was called the The Rhythm of Hope, held every year for those facing childlessness and infertility. And we'd been to that for a few years. And in one conversation with, with somebody that we met there, just mentioned to us about drawing a line in the sand and getting to that point where you literally draw a line in the ground and you cross over it and you leave behind your decisions and say, right enough, we're bringing to an end, all that discussion thought exploration and we're moving forwards.

Claire: Yeah, I remember when we arrived at that year, it was a particular burden, I think, on us and we'd got to a point where it was just... I remember, I felt, I didn't know how to live anymore with this not knowing where life was going. Were we just going to be a two, and try and have holidays and try and enjoy the freedom of not having children? Or were we going to have a family? And when you live every day, not knowing, are you going to get pregnant? Is this going to happen? It's just exhausting. And I'd had enough of not knowing which way life would go. And I remember just feeling like it was a burden and one of the other women there said to me; I don't want to lose hope, I don't want to let go of hope. And I remember saying to her; yeah, I get that, but for me, that hope is just a burden and I just don't think I can carry it anymore. And so, in chatting to this couple who had been through all the options and ended up as a two anyway, we were chatting and I remember they said to us; have you drawn a line in the sand? And I remember us being like; no. And just knowing that that was what we needed to do. And it felt so final. It was a scary thought, but at the same time, there was this real sort of good feeling of, this is the next step for us, this is what we have to do, this is the only way we can move forward.

Chris: Interestingly. Yes, I think we both had that same instant reaction literally on the day thinking, yes, that's what we need to do. But I think also sort of Stage One was, where are we in regards to that line now? We weren't in the same place. I was further away from that line. I think we could both see it, but you were quite close to being able to say, yes, let's step over it. And I'm like, whoa, I've still got a little way to go before we get to the line.

Yeah. So, I think there was then a few more months of just realigning ourselves thinking. We know, what do we need to do to get to the line before we even get to the point of crossing over it? And then actually came the moment when we did that, we knew we had a holiday booked in the Canary Islands and we thought let's use this opportunity.

Claire: I think we already had it booked, so we were like, okay, well we're going to actually be on a beach, so let's use that sand and make it our line in the sand.

Chris: So, I had to pull you out of bed because you were really unwell. And we knew this was our sort of last opportunity to, to do this, and you were really keen, but really struggling with this 48, 72-hour virus of sorts. So, you were like, we need to do this, we need to push through this and go and do it. And so, we took our notebooks and we went and sat down in this cove, on the coast, this was in Lanzarote, and we drew a line in the sand and then we sat down behind it and wrote down on our notebooks… What?

Claire: Well, I've actually got it pinned to my noticeboard in the study, the exact piece of paper we wrote on.

Chris: Have you?

Claire: Yeah!

Chris: Don't think I've ever... Go and get it. I don't think I've ever actually re-read that.

[Claire leaves the room to fetch it and returns]

Claire: 9th of March, 2018. Things we leave behind. I'm not going to read all of them because there's loads… So the confusion, feeling like we should be doing anything, the name that we picked out, dreams of being parents, being pregnant, our parents being grandparents, aunts and uncles for family, no cousins for nieces and nephews, so you know, not being part of that unit, the belief that we're missing out, fitting into the 'parent club', needing others to understand our decision (I remember that was quite key for us), telling other people that we're expecting, just having some good news, support from children later on, family Christmases and just seeing little versions of us. There's a lot of stuff.

Chris: You've always loved that I've got big ears and you'd always said that you'd love to have had a boy with big ears.

Claire: I'd loved to have had a boy with big ears, and I wanted one of those little boys that would go to school wearing bow ties and, you know, in suits and stuff, and very much their own little person. I always liked the idea of having a child who's older than his years.

Chris: It's something, you know, joking aside, that you leave behind and think that's not going to happen, as far as I can see.

Claire: I think you need to, to get past it. If you don't leave this stuff behind, when you do like a crossing the line moment, then how are you gonna, kind of move forward. There is a point when you have to say that's not going to be us anymore, that's not going to be what happens.

Chris: These were all written under the heading; Things We Leave Behind the Line. There's probably about 30 things on this list. I'm just having a look now, but then we also really importantly wrote Things Ahead. Cause you know, we obviously need to step into our future, and so we then listed some of the things would be stepping into, and then there's fewer things on this list. [laughs]

Claire: A lot fewer! And I remember it being really hard to come up with them as well, because we just didn't know what was ahead that could even compare to what we left behind.

Chris: So - enjoying others children, resources, energy, time, money, having more of those things, fulfilling our potential, opportunity, holidays, sort of obviously different types of holidays that we've always enjoyed, like adult only holidays and things like that.

Claire: And I remember we were getting desperate to find things, but they felt so materialistic compared, to what the stuff we're leaving behind, which felt meaningful and deep and emotional and relational. They felt very much like; is this the life I want?

Chris: Yeah. Well, interestingly, one of the things that are listed here under the things ahead heading is acknowledging grief.

Claire: Interesting.

Chris: Which is sort of, you know, 11 years later here we are now, doing a podcast where we're sort of exploring the theme of grief and looking at all these different losses, because we're acknowledging grief in many, many forms. And, Peace. One of the big ones, obviously, under the Things Ahead.

Claire: Yeah. And I think that's why it was so important that most of our decisions were made on, on the basis of gut feelings, cause we had peace about our decisions, hard as they were, doesn't mean it was easy.

Chris: What does that mean to have peace about these decisions? What does that feel like? What does it look like?

Claire: I think it's different for everybody. For me, I've always been very much, no regrets. You know, I look at the options ahead of me. I don't want regrets about my life. So, if I think I'm going to regret not doing that at some point, or if I can see a possible regret, then I want to look at that and do it, and not have that regret. And for things like IVF, when we weighed them up. The regrets of IVF would have been if we'd have pushed ahead and something bad had happened during the pregnancy, something bad had happened during the birth, if our marriage had split because of it. Looking back, you know, with my hormone condition, if I'd have had those IVF drugs, I don't know what kind of person it would have made me, I don't know what that would have done to our relationship. They would have been regrets I would not have been able to live with easily, because you know, well I pushed ahead with this and now this has happened, maybe we should never have done IVF. It was weighing them up. The regrets of not doing it? Not being able to have children, but there's lots of other ways to have children. So, for me, I have peace in that. I think when we make decisions, we've looked at everything and we've not just looked at the now, we've looked at the long-term. When we say no to something it's with complete peace that we looked at everything, and we know what we're turning down.

Chris: And in a really good partnership, it's finding that peace for yourself, but almost to an overflow that you can help in the other as well. So, I can, I can go extra lengths to try and make sure that we're still aligned. And if you're in a different place I can help bring us back together, if I'm in a different place, you can help bring us back together.

Claire: Yeah.

Chris: So, you've got enough of that overflow to be able to help somebody else. And I think having that peace, minimises, it doesn't get rid of, but it minimizes the pain in some of those situations where you can be reminded or you can certainly be taken by surprise. Yes, sadness can remain, but the pain doesn't lead to bitterness and resentment and anger. I think the sadness may always be there, but you know it's a mild bruise rather than a deep sort of flesh wound.

Claire: For me, it creates a safer environment to grieve in. So, I feel safe to grieve and feel sad for that because I have peace in our situation. If I didn't have peace, I worry that that grief and that sadness would just spiral into anger, into depression, into frustration, into lashing out at others. And I would worry where that stops. I don't think I'd be able to contain it, but because I have peace in our decisions, I feel like I can grieve safely in that as deeply as I need to and not let it get to a place of regrets and all that kind of nasty stuff that can really, really take you down if you let it.

Chris: Do you think you will ever finish grieving it?

Claire: No. I don't think so. I, I think if it had been a one-off event, erm, to be honest, even talking to people we've spoken to already, I'm trying to think what is a one-off event when it comes to grief? Um, although we have spoken to someone, you know, Sue said, she felt like she had grieved her marriage and there was a point where she woke up and she knew there's a new chapter ahead, but there's still times that are hard. And for me, I don't think it will change because I feel like I'm constantly being faced with new things. So, our friends have babies, and the minute they start school, the minute they start doing homework, the minute they start actually discussing their feelings and talking with their parents and connecting with them, and you know, that sort of level, I'll grieve that that again. There won't be someone in my life doing that, when they have teenagers and kids in their twenties who are just chatting to them like adults, I'll grieve that, when they have grandchildren, I'll grieve not having grandchildren. I see ongoing, not in a way that will affect my life, you know, to derail it. I don't want it to, to, to ever do that. But it will constantly have an impact that I think I will be just grieving a little bit. And I think it's just part of who you are, like we talked about with Sue Brayne on Episode One, you know, you incorporate it into who you are and it goes with you. It's that companion and you get, you get to the point where you're okay with that. That's my journey. And everybody has something similar. I'm not under the illusion that that's unique. People who have never had a good dad figure people who haven't got a mom, people who haven't, you know, ever had children, people who have never met the right person to get married if they're single, people who are missing out on some physical ability that separates them, whatever it is, everybody's got something that makes them feel different at some time. Or grieve something they wish they had.

Chris: The reminders will never go away. They'll just change over time.

Claire: Yeah.

Chris: And as we've, as we've got older, uh, into our saying to our early forties, we know we have family members and friends who are elderly, and we've seen how families change and care more, and look after those that are older in the family group, and so things like that are reminders that we didn't have in our early twenties, but here we are now thinking, well, who's going to do that for me. If we're in a care home together, who's going to visit us? Who's going to send us cards? Who's going to wanna Zoom call us in the care homes of the future? And we don't know. And that's the unknown you have to be quite careful about not staying in that place of, of wondering, because there's no end to that as there? You'll just be wondering forever.

Claire: And I think the reality is family life is too chaotic and there's not enough time and space for families to incorporate people like us as well. It just doesn't really work like that. And I think that's been another grief really? Cause you had this expectation of actually, well, maybe it'll look like this. Maybe it'll be okay. Because this, this and this will happen, but actually that's not, not been our experience. So, I think it's made us very mindful of other people on the fringes of things. So, you know, I think we really treasure our single friends, and I would always want them to feel like our family was open for them as much as they ever needed it. Because we have that time that we can give to that. And if people we know go through things that are really hard, that maybe they can't process in the family unit, then I'd like to think that we can be support networks for them and use that time wisely. I really want to be of use to other people who maybe are also going through a similar stage of life, where friends are just settling down and having families, and it just takes up a lot of time and energy, so maybe they they've lost that friendship, and you know that somewhere we can help them provide that.

Chris: I wonder if there are any aspects of the journey, or even where you are now, that I don't know about. And are there any aspects of the journey for me that you don't know about?

Claire: I think because we talk a lot, we process stuff together a lot because that's part of what you have to do really. I don't think there's much that I haven't verbalized to you in some shape or form. I think, you know, you still get thoughts, but they're not new to you that, you know, that I would have. When people say, oh, you know, my wife's amazing, she gave me this child and stuff, I think I'm never going to have that, I mean, there's literally nothing on the planet I could do to equal that. It just, I can't make up for it with a nice holiday or a new car, it just doesn't work that way. So, I think that those moments that you've just cannot replicate in any other way, I think that'll always be a bit, sort of, hard to face and hear people talk about, but I don't think that's particularly new to you, I think I've said that to you over the years. So, what about you?

Chris: No, nothing at all. Nothing at all about where I'm at, how I feel, how I've felt in the last 12 months, that you're not aware of. I think we're both really open books, we talk about it easily, we go to that place, you know, we go to a place of vulnerability quite quickly. I think we have enough reminders in couples that we know, you know, we see don't we, where sometimes there's one part of that partnership that's not quite there. That's not quite in the same place as the other, one might be willing to talk, the other quickly shuts it down, which just as a reminder to me, to make sure that we keep aligning ourselves and making sure that we're on the same page and checking in that quite regularly, you know, literally like every six months where are you with stuff? Just a simple question. Any thoughts? Any feelings? Anything changed? Let's talk about it. Let's make some time to actually think about it, reflect about it.

Claire: And that was a priority for us early on in our marriage, and even when we found out about not having children from day one, we wanted to talk to people about it, we wanted people to ask questions. We never wanted it to be anyone wondering why haven't they, we were always willing to talk about it. Unfortunately, it's not a subject that people feel comfortable talking about and we very quickly worked out no matter how open you are, it doesn't mean other people will. So I don't think it's been something that a lot of people have asked us about in depth that they would like to, which is partly why the second section is questions from other people, because we wanted them to anonymously put in questions and say, ask us, what do you want to know about the situation that you wouldn't want to ask us to our face, where you would find a bit awkward, you know, the conversations we're having now are conversations we have every day, like this. We're just open people. We wouldn't be sticking this on a podcast if we found this awkward. So, yeah, I think because we're so open in communication, we've made that decision to be like that that has helped our journey and at least kept us together in it and not kind of, you know, crying in a corner, wishing the other one had any idea what we were going through.

Just to add in that two years ago I had hysterectomy, because of my hormone condition, which is something called PMDD, which I'll talk about some point on the podcast, but was another loss and another permanent thing of me coming to terms with the fact that actually physically now I can't have children. Which is still a weird thing I have to say to myself every now and then, that was another thing that underlined our line in the sand that this wouldn't happen naturally. Yeah, it's getting better, but now I'm sorting out HRT and stuff, so it's been probably the last four or five years of trying to sort that out, work out what was happening and why I wasn't functioning as I wanted to. And that, you know, complicates it all over again because on days when I'm not feeling great like that, then the whole child thing can become a much bigger issue in my head than it actually is when I'm feeling normal.

Chris: And that has been something that's sort of unfurled as you've been trying different treatments and different things to get on top and just to try and be normal. So, every, every bit of help with medication injections as all being, I just want to feel normal. So, you know, that obviously feeds into the considerations for children because you think it's something like IVF where you're absolutely ramping your hormones up artificially, making your body produce stuff that it would never produce without the medicinal help, you know, is a little bit more scary when you're thinking, how on earth am I going to deal with this?

Claire: Cause you just don't know what that would've looked like. Whether we'd have got the baby or not. I don't know what my mental health and my physical health would have looked like alongside that. And you put in lack of sleep and a baby screaming, and that just, who knows?

Chris: Who knows? Let's summarize where we're at and then think about some of those questions. So, been married for how long?

Claire: 16 years.

Chris: 16 years, together for nearly 20 years, 11 years ago found out that the infertility thing was a thing for us to consider, look at, explore, be tested for, and here we are 11 years after that, childlessness is our story. No children, didn't follow any medical intervention, as yet haven't pursued adoption or fostering.

We've reached the point where we threw it open to questions, friends had submitted and these guys didn't hold back.

Claire: Questions like, how do you feel when people close to you continue to have babies?

Chris: Are there any surprising triggers for your grief?

Claire: How do you find ways to fill the gaps left by childlessness?

Chris: How do you deal with insensitive questions, graciously?

Claire: And because this section was so good.

Chris: And long!

Claire: We split the episode into two. So, Part 2 is being released next week and you won't want to miss it because we're honest, we're open and we're keen to share.

Chris: But for Part 1, thank you for listening to The Silent Why. Don't forget to check out Claire's weekly blogs and short My Way episodes, which launch this Friday, as she personally reflects on different areas of grief and loss.

Claire: You can find out pretty much everything you need to know about us at Thesilentwhy.com or through the show notes.

Chris: And if you want to get in touch, we'd love to hear from you, contact us through the website

Claire: Today, we're finishing with some words from John Calipari an American basketball coach.

"It's not about working hard. It's about working together. You have to care more about the team, than you do about yourself."


Episode #003
Part 2

Loss of fertility: Chris & Claire Sandys



Chris: Hi, I'm Chris.

Claire: And I'm Claire.

Chris: And our greatest loss has been not being able to have children.

Claire: So we're grieving the loss of something we never actually had in the first place.

Claire: Hello, and welcome to The Silent Why podcast, this is Episode Three, Part Two.

Chris: Part Two! Because Part One?

Claire: Too long!

Chris: Too long!

Claire: Episode Three, Part One and Two are a little different, because for the full two episodes, you've just got us.

Chris: And they explain where our mission to find 101 types of loss all started, with our own experience of loss.

Claire: So if you haven't heard Part One, we recommend going back to your podcast app and selecting the first part of Episode Three, and hearing our personal journey through childlessness and infertility.

Chris: But hey, you're your own person, you could also be a rebel and hear this one first.

Claire: In this episode, we're answering anonymously submitted questions by friends and people we know, and we asked them what they'd like to ask us specifically and what they're curious about, or what they'd like to ask any couple going through infertility or childlessness. And by making it anonymous, we allowed them to be as honest, and as brutal as they wanted.

Chris: Let's do this.

Chris: Part Two.

Chris: Questions!

Claire: Q#1. So the first one is, do you think it would have been easier to process if you knew earlier on that you couldn't have children?

Chris: No. Next question.

Claire: Laughter.

Chris: They'll always be challenges, I think it will always be difficult to process it whatever stage of life you're at.

Claire: Yeah, I don't know if it would have been easier, but it would have been very different. If I'd have known I couldn't have children before I got married, for example, I would have known I was going into a marriage, that would never have natural children, via me. So that would have been a slightly different process, but I would have had to have gone through it again, as you meet people, I suppose. And that would be very different. You'd have to be telling other people, they'd have to be coming to terms with it, you wouldn't be on the same page necessarily, at least we found out the same time. How would you have felt if you'd have known before you got married, you couldn't have children?

Chris: Yeah, that would have been really interesting, because we didn't have that sort of dating process did we? Where it's like, six dates in and then you raise the serious issue that you've been hiding up until that point, we didn't experience anything like that. So I think knowing you as I do now, I would have no belief that you'd have reacted badly. If I'd said to you, sort of, before we got engaged, hey, there's something I want to share with you. I'm infertile. I don't think knowing you, as I know you now, you'd have reacted in any way other than 'Alright. What does that mean?'

Claire: Yeah, I think I always saw things we went through as challenges together, there were always things like; Oh okay, this is what we need to get over next, but always 'we'. I never felt like I was dealing with it, or you were dealing with it, it was always together. And I think it would have been the same for us, for other people may be very different, but for us and the type of people we are, I think it would have been a different process. I don't know that it would have been easier, but it would have been different.

Claire: Q#2: Okay, so next one is, how long did it take before you accepted that you wouldn't have the family you expected?

Chris: For me, I don't think I have fully accepted that I'm not going to have the family that I thought I once had. So yeah, 11 years and still heading towards that point.

Claire: Yeah, I think I would say the same. I don't know if I have. Even now, when people talk about pregnancies and getting pregnant, I'm sort of thinking; Oh, that might not be me. And then I checked myself and think; Hang on, that will never be me. I literally can't do that now. And that still hasn't, I don't think, fully sunk in. And that's two years after the surgery.

Chris: I don't think we'll ever come to terms with it, because it will always be something that's broken. And can you ever come to terms with something that's broken? I don't know.

Claire: Q#3. So the next one was, how does the loss of what you hoped for, compare to the loss of something or someone you had?

Chris: Do you have an answer to that one?

Claire: I think it's, it's very different. It's very difficult, because you don't have that point where you come to terms with it. I think when you lose something you actually had, there's a definitive moment when you lose it, generally. And the same with, you know, when someone dies. When it's something that you just hoped for, and you never had there's no definitive point so we never had a negative pregnancy test, we didn't even get that far, we never had a miscarriage, we had nothing that brought us face to face with our grief, of what we lost. So the danger there is that you never grieve it, you never get to that point of realising. And even when we drew our line in the sand I remember very recently coming to this moment of epiphany where I sort of thought; Oh, hang on, I thought the line in the sand was the end, the end point of reaching this, this is what we but actually, it was the beginning of the loss, it was the beginning of the grieving, because that was the moment we knew it would never happen, we were assuming it wouldn't. So that sort of, was confusing in itself. So I think confusion is the word I would say it's confusing, because it goes on forever, and you don't know when to grieve it, and how hard to grieve it.

Chris: Confusion is the word that I would have used, certainly, it makes it more confusing. But I liken it to almost like a sport, if you're if you're training for 100 metre final in the Olympics, and in all the years you're training for that you have a dream of running and winning that race, or running at least getting a medal. So being taken out of the equation way before the actual Olympics, there would be a sadness there, and there would be a pain, but it would be very different sorts of pain to if you'd actually run and lost, or run and came fourth, it would be a different type of pain. So it's more confusing. I think not having not having been to the depths of grief, with a physical loss of something.

Claire: I wonder if it would be healthier for these kinds of losses, if you actually did have something, you know, you had almost like a grave or monument or something that was like - these are the kids that we never had, they're right here. And we're not going to have them, and we need to grieve the fact that these two, three, little people that look like us and had names and had characters and personalities that were jointly ours, they're not going to be here, they never got a chance. What would that look like?

Chris: Yeah, that's a really good point. I think if there's a physical something to look at, it's a reminder to others of the trauma that you've been through. And with our journey, as maybe with others, there isn't that physical reminder for others, so you just get on with life, and people see you happy, and see you in good moods, and they assume that all as well, because there isn't that physical reminder. So where there's no grave, or there's no scar, it can be very easily assumed that all is well and you've moved on.

Claire: And I think the fact that this situation makes a lot of people feel quite uncomfortable, when you mentioned childlessness, it pushes you more and more into trying to be normal around other people, because they don't know how to deal with you being sad, or being affected by things anyway. So it's not a natural thing to be like that around people, so you do just try and be normal, which, like you said, gives the impression you're absolutely fine.

Claire: Q#4. Next one, how do you feel or cope when people close to you continue to have babies, and you have to travel the journey alongside them and after birth?

Claire: This is tricky, because these people will be listening [laughs]. I think for me, it's probably more of a journey than you in some ways, because I feel like the women's lives are naturally taken up with babies more than the men. When it comes to social commitments, not in life. But meeting up with people generally, they get points when the guys can go out or you can meet a guy on his own, but whenever I meet the girls, it tends to mean the baby has to come or they can't come out in the evening, so you have to go to them because they might be breastfeeding or they're you know, early days with babysitting and things, so I think I probably go through a little bit more than you. Do you think that sounds true?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I think it's something you have to deal with more frequently than I do.

Claire: I'm not like a jealous person. So I never look at someone having a baby and feel jealousy. And it's not a knife to the heart, when someone tells me they're expecting a baby. It's harder when people who have been trying for a long time haven't been able to have them and you think they're going to be in your boat, and then they're not just because it takes them out of your boat, and you lose friends that were kind of in a similar life stage to you. So that's confusing cos you're happy for them, but at the same time you lose out. So I think it's one of those things that will always be difficult. The hardest thing I found is that I didn't know when other people had babies, how much it was going to impact my life. I thought I would be watching them, and the hardest part might be that they have children, and I don't, and that was completely not the situation, that bit wasn't that difficult, it was more that suddenly I lost the friendship and I lost a relationship with them that I'd had. And that wasn't because they stepped back or anything bad happened or there was any choices there, it's just because that's what family life looks like. Your friends can't come over to your house for dinner anymore. You know, you can't have your house at the place where people meet. You have to go to other people's. Your house isn't built for 2,3,4 year olds, so when people come over, no matter how much you try and make them feel comfortable, I always feel like they're awkward, or they feel, or they're apologising all the time, which makes you just feel bad because you haven't really got an environment they feel happy in, or they feel like; oh I mustn't touch that because this, and that, and no matter how much I say, doesn't matter, they still don't fully relax in it. And so your house is no longer somewhere that people would come and enjoy. I think it's things like that that shifted, I just didn't expect

Chris: So the question was, how do you feel or cope with that?

Claire: Well, you, you kind of, I mean, you have to suck it up, because if you want the friendships, you take your friends have, you know, with their families, and how they come. So I do know people who have separated off from people who have children, because they just can't cope with it if they haven't got kids. We were never those kind of people, we never wanted to be those kind of people. So I think we've, we've tried to work hard to stay alongside our friends, go to them as much as we can, and just recognise that the sadnesses we have around doing that, it's not their problem. So just trying to cope with it in our own space, and internally, and just maybe grieving that. But it's not something you can put on people, because people in those stages of life don't also have the capacity to take on a lot of your rubbish, and a lot of your issues. They're tired, you know that they're frustrated when they get free time, they want to enjoy adult time. And they can love coming to our house when I don't have kids because it's quiet, and you know, people comment on that; It's so peaceful. And that's nice, I love that we can give them that. And I think that's more important than them carrying our, our burdens and how we're feeling. So I think it's a case of just sucking it up really, but suck it up doesn't sound like a very healthy coping strategy.

Chris: Well no, because if you suck up, there's got to be an exhaust hasn't there? You've got to blow it out somewhere. Being aware, recognising, acknowledging these feelings, these times, you know, knowing that it can be different one week to the next. I think there are things that others can do for us that make us feel included or feel like, you know there are people close to us that that get it or that try to get it. Because I think we fully appreciate that no one can really get this, it's weird, even we don't get it, so we can't expect others to be able to understand it. But there are times, that time of the year, Mothering Sunday, just days like that, where if someone, you know, all it takes is one person just to recognise, just to reach out to you with a message, sometimes we've had like a gift of flowers, that's just been like, that's really lovely. Because we're not sad, but it just shows that somebody's thinking of you. That makes such a difference.

Claire: Yeah, we're not sat there feeling sad about it necessarily, but just knowing that someone's thought about you, you know, there's so many situations, we would think about other people, and we will get in touch with people who have got children like; 'hope this has gone well', 'hope that's going well', or the kids birthdays and things like that you make a lot of effort, and then for there not to be a single day where it's returned, I think can be a little bit tricky. So you know, I mean, sometimes I think one of the Mother's Day recently I had one message from a friend, I don't even keep in contact with that much. Just saying; 'thinking of you', and that meant the world because it was such a sweet little moment of 'I'm having this, you know, this day when I'm being celebrated, because I've got a bunch of kids, but actually, I'm thinking about you as well'. And that's really key. And I, I make a point of trying to message as many people as I know. And I think another way that we have coped with these things is having friends that are in a similar boat, and we get together with them, and we can just let off steam and we can share our frustrations, and we all talk about families and friends and places where you, you know, you feel a bit out of and you feel a bit sad, and these things happen and you can't be part of it, and just like almost joking about it in a way that you can't do anywhere else, because you just all 'get it' that for me I think is a really nice place to just let off steam as well, because it just reminds you you're not alone. And it's so important. I think that's what I want this podcast to do. I want people to know whatever loss you're going through, wherever you are, you're not alone. There's so many other people going through it and there's so much power in knowing it's not just you and the minute you put it all in on yourself. That's so destructive.

Claire: Q#5. Okay, so how did you arrive at the final decision to not only stop trying to get pregnant, but also not try alternative methods of having or adopting a child?

Claire: So I would say that the final decision was when we drew a line in the sand that we were not going to try for anything via IVF or any medical intervention. We were just going to be the two of us. The trying to get pregnant thing, the thing is, you do try and get pregnant I think probably in the early days, but when you've been doing this for 10 years, your normal life is just no contraceptive and see what happens. So it's not like you're just you're trying to get pregnant anymore. You're just living life and hope happens one day. So it's a, that sort of thing never really stops. But equally, it's not like most people have a time period of three, four months, or maybe a year, or if they're unlucky two years of trying to get pregnant, where you're monitoring everything, and we never really had that it was just over such a long period of time. So, yes, officially, when I had the hysterectomy, obviously pregnancy became completely impossible. The adopting thing, I guess, like you said earlier, it's still on the table.

Chris: It's not desire we currently have either of us, but we ask each other probably once every six months or so, just to check in if that desire was changed. Coming to that final decision for me, I think you lose, you lose two things. One maybe is a good thing to lose one is a sad thing to lose. But that's the, the sort of the weightiness of it, and you lose the wonder. Because the weightiness of it is the just the years that we spent not knowing, and discussing, and it really takes its toll when you spend just every family occasion and gathering and festival, and every bit of small talk, and every time you meet someone new and you have the same conversations about what's changed, what's new, every New Year's Eve when you contemplate a new year, and you're just thinking, I don't know, I don't know. We got so fed up of answering questions with 'I don't know'. And so losing that weightiness was a relief and was definitely something that that drove us towards drawing that line in the sand and saying enough, we move forward now is the two of us, and we leave that waiting and the weightiness behind, but then you lose the Wonder as well. Which is which is quite sad, because you know it's nice to wonder, it's nice to have vision and dreams and ambitions. And when you wonder, you know the what if? Was that the time? Could this be the signs or symptoms of a pregnancy? You wonder will it happen this month, this year? When you draw an end to it, there's sort of a sadness there that you're okay recognising that all those potential hopes and ambitions and dreams are not going to come to anything. And that's a choice that we're making that we're shutting them down, and sort of putting them in a box and leaving it. So that's the sadness. So the weightiness, we were relieved to lose. The wonder is a sadness to lose.

Claire: Q#6. What would you say to someone going through the trials of trying for a child?

Claire: Don't let it consume you. All too often, people let things like this consume their whole life. It dictates their conversations, it dictates their sex life, it takes their relationships, it dictates their conversations with friends, you know, their approach to other people's children, to being around pregnant women, to babies, to doctor's appointments. If you let it consume you, then I think it will drag your whole life up and down, and it is a rollercoaster. If you can keep it so that you still enjoy your relationship and you can enjoy sex without it being something that you're just monitoring for ovulation times, and you know, you're getting angry with your spouse, because of either of your hormones are going up and down cos you're on treatments or because you have to have injections, you know all these things. I would say just don't let it consume your life, let it be something that is in a portion of your life, and it will be a big portion of your life, and it will dominate a lot of your thoughts, but try and keep some space for other stuff and try and keep normal friendships and relationships going during it, because you're going to need them.

Chris: Absolutely. And what you said at the very start there, I'd almost emphasise even further and say - you must not let it consume you. You must not let it consume you. I think I'd add into that, because I completely agree that would be certainly one of my priorities. But I think part of that is forcing choices, you've got to bring yourself to a point of making choices and then sticking to them. And that's quite hard to do, cos sometimes you want to just carry on and just let stuff be in the background, but you need to be able to make choices as to whether you go one way or another.

Claire: We know some people that have, if they've got endless IVF cycles let's say, they can afford to just keep going as long as they want to, we've got friends we know who have put a set amount on it so that - we will do three rounds of IVF, or we will only do what the NHS provides, whether it's one, two or three, we'll only do that, or we'll do everything NHS gives us and will only pay for one cycle. I think that's really healthy to do that and stick to it, because if not you will go on forever, and what will dictate you not having a family will be something biological, like the menopause or you know something else, and that's not a healthy way to have it dictated to you. Ideally, you want to be in control of it. And I would say as the woman, don't just assume that you're the only one in it and the whole thing evolves around you because your partner will be going through a different set of emotions but still going through the same sort of rollercoaster. So try and have empathy for the other side, and try and remember that you're on the journey together. If you manage to break the relationship through trying for children, which is not uncommon, then it does get worse.

Chris: And the question we've asked fairly regularly, like, once a year, let's say is, are we enough? Are you enough for me? Am I enough for you without having children? And if there's any doubt in that, why, and how do we fix that? Because we want to make sure that we are enough for each other for the rest of our lives. If it's the two of us, if it stays like this, are we enough for each other? And if there's any doubt there, fix it.

Claire: And remind yourself why you're together in the first place. If you go back pre-trying for children, you'll have all the reasons you need as to why you're together. And you need to focus on those and remember those as well not just look at your current situation, but look at what brought you together in the first place.

Claire: Q#7. So next one, are there any surprising, unforeseen triggers for your grief? Aside from the seemingly obvious things like pregnancy announcements.

Chris: Yeah, I think a fairly obvious trigger for me would be seeing children reach out for a parent, seeing a small child reaching to be picked up by a dad, or to want to climb into dad's lap. Now, the amount of times I've been in a room with parents, and you know, we're all watching the children, and little child wants to climb into dad's lap or be with dad or play with dad in the garden, whatever it may be. I think there are moments for me that sort of quite take me by surprise. That's when I think - oh I'm never gonna have that.

Claire: Yeah, I think some people think it's the pregnancy announcements, and actually, they're not so bad, really, the only thing that makes me sad about pregnancy announcements is I know that my friendship with that person has shift is going to shift, because I know, I've been through this too many times now, to know that it can't stay the same. So I think that's the only thing with those where it's like you said, the moment where you see parents with their children, those connections, or any age, even when they're teenagers. They're the hardest bits to watch, and sometimes you'll watch a parent with their child being very loving and very connected, and you're having to sit there watching it, you might be any other person in the room, and that can be one of the most painful things. And yet, people don't seem to realise that they carry on as normal. Whereas the pregnancy announcement, they take so much care and time over, and I just I kind of want to like that's not the hard bit, the hard bits to come, when like five years down the line you're connecting with your child in a way that I will never have.

Chris: Christmas is a time as well. I think as a child growing up, I loved Christmas. Presents and great food and partying and gatherings. And now being 42 years old, and having for the last five or so years experienced Christmases where I've really missed just that childish excitement of Christmas. And I see the guys around me all get really excited about Christmas, because they're doing it for their children, and that makes me sad because I I miss enjoying Christmas, and find it all just goes past now it's just a few more days. And it's like, I really want to be excited about Christmas.


Claire: Q#8. How do you find ways to fill the gaps left by childlessness, for example, the extra celebrations of birthdays, mother's and father's days?

Chris: Filling the gaps?

Claire: Starting podcasts is a great way to fill a gap.

Chris: Yeah,I don't think we ever have really filled the gaps. Not intentionally.

Claire: No.

Chris: Because I think we recognise the dangers of sort of filling the gap by you know, poly-filtering where you leave stuff emotion underneath.

Claire: I think like they've said here, for example, the extra celebrations of birthdays and stuff, so obviously we have a lot less of those in our life.

Chris:  We know the gaps are there, we recognise there will always be gaps, and I think we live with them, but I certainly don't think we try and fill them.

Claire: We don't fill them, we feel them.

Chris: Oh, that's one for a t-shirt, isn't it?

Claire: Q#9. Okay, in what practical ways can friends and family best support you in your childlessness and make the loss easier to bear?

Claire: This is difficult.

Chris: It is. Because it can be the smallest thing that just lets you know, lets someone know that you're being thought about.

Claire: And yet we don't want people constantly asking about us and making extra allowances for us in any way. I think the best ways I felt supported is when people ask, just ask about it. How are you doing? Is that hard for you? Quite often people say - Is it hard? Is this hard for you, like if we were at an event, or we have to do something and I've actually been like, no, not really, no, I feel good. But it means so much that that was asked. I think checking in just being there. you're the kind of person I know that I can just message and say - oh, today's hard for this reason, or I can't do this because of this reason, or so-and-so just asked me for this or assumed this and it really hurts, but I've got to pretend I'm fine. I think having friends around that you can just verbalise that to every now and then that's, that's really lovely. And I think just being aware that, you know, just let us do our journey. Don't fill it with what you think we should be doing or filling in, you know, it's not helpful if you're a family listening, and you've got kids that can't have children, and you're like, I don't know what to do, or friends, just allowing them to do the journey their way, keeping them accountable if they're getting really depressing to be around, but other than that, just being guided by them and just ask them, you know, if they don't want to be asked they'll soon tell you but just ask, I think that's what most people would say, in any situation, they're going through that's hard just ask me,

Chris: I think I'd add to that, about managing expectations, which is really hard to do without the benefit of hindsight, but in relationships, and friendships, to be able to manage expectations of how this relationship might change, or evolve, or pause for a spell, whether it's six months, twelve months, five years. As I said, really hard to do without knowing, and I think we've, we've we've not found our expectations have been massively different, but at times, I think we've expected more, we've expected things that haven't worked out that way, and that mostly is probably because we have assumed stuff, or because things have been said that we believed about how things will be how things will be from this point on.

Claire: I would say a good way to support people is not to promise stuff that you can't deliver. So over the years for some stuff, I've really clung to that and thought this is what our relationship with these people and their child is going to be, this is going to be you know, this is going to help us this is going to be good with our kids in our life and we get on really well with them. The reality is that doesn't often happen because family life just gets in the way and babies aren't that easy to share out. So don't over promise because although you might not remember even saying it and it might not be your reality, it might be something that someone who can't have a child is clinging on to as a possible connection. Be realistic with that.

Claire: #Q10. Okay, how do you deal with the insensitive questions graciously?

Chris: It's tricky one. It depends what mood you're in.

Claire: It does. Yeah. And the older I get, the less gracious I am if I'm feeling like it was just a stupid question.

Chris: What sorts of questions can be insensitive? Because I think a common question is, you know: Do you have children? That's not insensitive. That's just an inquiry. So I can handle that fine.

Claire: Yep.

Chris: I think other questions you may get asked, like, have you considered adoption? I find that quite hard to deal with, because I want to say: For 11 years, I've considered nothing but adoption and fostering and sperm donation and IVF and ICSI, and embryo adoption and whatever else. So of course, I've considered adoption, what a stupid question to ask.

Claire: A better way of answering it is actually just to be like, yeah, we have. Have you considered adoption? We read a great blog article once from a woman who couldn't have children who was so fed up of being asked, she did actually turn it around to other people and say, well actually have you considered it? Because it's not just people without children that consider adoption. So depending on how I'm feeling, it's quite a nice one to turn around, and they very quickly run from it, which is fascinating considering they were the one that mentioned it as a subject. I think we, yeah, we more likely get comments that are probably a bit more insensitive, I've had people say things like, you know, you must save a fortune on contraceptive, or least you can go on holiday, wish I could give my kids away, how peaceful and quiet your house must be,

Chris: Wish my house was this clean.

Claire: Yeah, stuff like that, I think can be a little bit insensitive.

Chris: Yeah. So how'd you deal with those remarks when they're said?

Claire: Well, I do deal graciously with them, because they're not meant in a nasty way, and a lot of the time it's just uncomfortableness, or it's just, they're kind of not knowing how to deal with it. So they just, they come out with something in a nervous way, which is more often than not where they come from. It depends if the person is a bit careless with their words, then sometimes I'll be a bit sarcastic in response, but on the whole, you know, early on, I would just laugh and just go along with it, not make a scene. Now I think if people assume too much. I don't like it when people just assume we didn't want them from the start. Or, you know, oh you never wanted them so it was alright for you anyway, or you never seemed like you wanted them, so it wasn't that difficult for you. I think a lot of people assume that when you try and get on with life and act normally. That's, that annoys me because I just think you haven't asked about my journey, but you've made a massive assumption about it. I think where I can try and educate people because I don't want them to keep making the same mistake with others. among groups, with people without children they all want people to understand and to learn. There's a lot of blogs out there where you can read what's the best way to deal with the situation to chat to people without children. So try and point them in the direction of some of that stuff if that's helpful as well and just keep doing things like this, the more people you can educate about the situation from behind closed doors, the more when they go out and about and chat to people, there'll be a bit more sensitive.

Chris: Q#11. A follow up question to that, which has been asked by a friend or family member is, you know, what alternatives are there to those questions? What are the better alternatives to those questions?

Claire: I mean, there is no alternative I don't think to: Do you have children? It's often a follow on from asking if you're married, which I'd imagine a lot of single people struggle with.

Chris: What about asking the question, is that by choice? Is that a good question to ask?

Claire: I think, yeah, I, what I would do is find a way of phrasing it that allows people to answer in their own way. So we had to, I had to find a comfortable answer to that question. I had to find an answer. I tended to say no, that that didn't happen for us, or it wasn't possible for us, which felt a bit softer for them. And you need to do the same thing, I think find a response where if people say no, rather than just leaving them there with that, no, which is quite uncomfortable. Find a follow up, either a question or a comment. Like you said, was that by choice? It's a nice thing to ask. But then, you know, they'll always be someone who's upset by questions. And I think you got a question. Why are they asking as well? I mean, sometimes you just don't need to ask, do you need to know if this person has children? Do I need to know if we're talking about life? And I asked what they do, where do they live? Do you live with anybody? You tend to find out that way? I find they're better questions.

Chris: But I think what you're saying is, is consider the question, that don't ask questions for the sake of it, but if you really care, and you're really interested, and you're invested in the conversation and ask the questions, but don't just ask them to make small talk.

Claire: They seem to be the go to questions. Are you married, you have children? And then follow up with what is your job?

Chris: What's your job? Yeah.

Claire: And that shouldn't be what we're all defined by really. So I think find some kinder words, what do you do with your week? Just find ways of phrasing things that give people an open option so that they don't want to tell you about their personal life and children and marriage and stuff. It gives them a way out to talk about their hobbies.

Claire: Q#12. Do you ever have a respite from the river of loss?

Chris: That's poetic.

Claire: Deep, yeah. Well, I think in some ways, we have felt like we've had a lot of loss. And I think when you say that people might imagine you've lost like, you know, ten family members or something. But I have written about this on the blog, and given a bit of our history with loss, and I think because we've lost, you know, our first loss was huge financially, and then we've lost grandparents, and pets, and jobs, and health, and not having a family, houses, there's been a long list of stuff, which we didn't I don't think we recognised the amount of impact in ten years that really had. So there has been a lot of loss, and I don't feel like we've had a lot of respite from it yet.

Chris: Yeah. Not as much as we would like.

Claire: No, I don't think we've fully come to terms with it all yet.

Chris: No, I agree with that. I don't know when we'll come to terms with it. I don't think we're avoiding it. I don't think we're we sort of we've shut it away. I think we welcome exploring it, which  was part of why we're doing this podcast series is just to try and shine a light on the many different things that you can grieve, rather than just being big obvious stuff. But getting respite from it, I don't think we've had anywhere near as much respite as we'd like. But we don't know why, we don't know how to get that respite. We were talking the other week about something there's quite an emotional conversation. And I was sort of picturing, you know, a stream that becomes a river, that a stream becomes a river when there's more and more that feeds into it. And if you think of that stream, just to be really deep and poetic, if you think of that stream being sort of your soul, what brings your soul to life into full, full bodied life; things like children, pets, careers, promotions, pay rises, family relationships, love...

Claire: Cake...

Chris: Cake. Then all of that, the more that that feeds into your soul, the more you sort of come to life. And when you remove something like children, that's a fairly major, you know, tributary that feeds into that river, and so you find, you know, well, here we are sort of twenty years down the line of being together, and our stream is still more of a stream than I'd like it to have been. I was, you know, the potential I thought we had, and still have, would be, you know, quite a mighty river, that we'd have an impact on this world in quite a mighty way. And it still feels twenty years down the line, like our stream is still a bit of a stream and not a mighty river. Does that make sense?

Claire: It does. And yet the question talks about a river of loss, so I feel like in some ways, what's been inputting has been a lot of loss, that's come in.

Chris: Yeah.

Claire: So it's sort of a bit like a stream of blessings and a river of loss!

Chris: Yeah, there you go. Great. Definitely. Yeah, I agree with that.

Claire: Q#13. So how has accommodating loss prepared you for future grief, no children's weddings, no grandchildren, etc?

Claire: I think it has helped us a lot, but I think there will always be a sadness that just pings off every time a new thing happens. So the first grandchild amongst our friends is going to be hard. There'll be like milestones that I think will be difficult, but accommodating this now has prepared us a lot for the future.

Chris: I agree with that. Certainly. I think the main thing, as we've already mentioned, is just being prepared to recognise where there's loss, recognise that there might be something to grieve, and just allowing yourself time to do that, allowing yourself the opportunity to process, and to talk about, and to recognise, that there's a sadness there, and we're just gonna, we're gonna bring that into the forefront for a little while, that might be ten minutes, it might be a couple of days, it might be a couple of weeks, b ut it's really important to recognise and to sit with it, rather than to dismiss it or just think that shouldn't still be there.

Claire: Q#14. So what has been the hardest point on your journey?

Chris: Crumbs. I don't know how to answer that question.

Claire: No. I wouldn't say there's one point. I think people would expect you to say, maybe, when we found out we'd never have a family, but you don't ever really find that out definitively in one point.

Chris: For me, it's not really one point, it's probably a season of just feeling like we're in the wilderness. And just spending so long, and for us what was probably several years, maybe still partly in the wilderness, and so it's a long point. But on our journey, you know, I do look back and remember strongly thinking or feeling excitement for the potential that we have as a couple, when we got married, to think, you know, we've got the rest of our lives, this is the coming together of two very ambitious, very exciting, adventurous characters. I don't feel like we have reached that potential, and that's a sadness, but it's not a point on the journey. But we have spent and maybe still are, and not yet out of, several years feeling like we're in a wilderness. And that's been really tough, I think, because it's felt just cloudy and going around in circles and spending so long answering questions with the three words; I don't know. And that's really difficult when you like to have, you know, when you're complete to finish, or you'd like to have successes to celebrate, and markers to celebrate and achievements. And when you spend so long, just saying I don't know, that's really hard. So that's a very long point.

Claire: I think the period of time looking back was hardest for me was probably when things shifted with our friends, when they had children, I didn't see that coming in the same way that I thought, that looked different from what I thought it would look like, that was hard. And the other point was when I had put these expectations in, if we didn't have children, then let's have holidays, let's have careers that we really enjoy, let's take risks on that let's, you know, have a big house, let's have you know, we had our dog at the time, and you know, let's do fun things and go out for the day, and you know, all these things I thought would replace children because people kind of give you that impression, that you're not going to be at you're going to be more free, you're going to have more money, blah, blah. And that wasn't our experience, because my job didn't really go well, and when it did, it wasn't paid brilliantly, my health went downhill, so I didn't feel physically good, and mentally, it was tricky as well. So that wasn't really our experience; we had less money, we didn't have the holidays that we were anticipating, we still had holidays because we made them a priority, but not what we thought. We didn't have the income we thought. So I think things like that were really difficult, and I thought it was going to be different. I thought we were going to have another life and I could sit there and think well at least we've got all this stuff and we didn't have that. And when you realise that and then your friends lives change as well, and all that friendship goes away then then that's really difficult.

Claire: Q#15. So if anything, what have you gained through this loss?

Claire: I've definitely gained a depth of character and perseverance on a level I would not have had, if I'd have had either a very successful career or a family. I've had to dig deep and find purpose and meaning in in just plodding onwards, which sounds really, plodding sounds a bit bad, but actually sometimes just the fact you're moving forwards is enough even if you're plodding and I found that on a level I definitely wouldn't have had otherwise.

Chris: And for me an awareness of grief, I think in myself, and in others as well and a joy to be able to support others in that, I think to recognise when others are grieving the loss of something or someone or the end of a chapter and being able to empathise with them and support them through that. I think that's something I've definitely developed in. And for myself just, you know, as a bloke, as a guy, just been able to recognise the power of grief and the necessity of grief, to get back to the life that you sort of want or thought that you deserved. Until you've grieved something, you're going to be held back. So yeah, for me, it's just that awareness of the importance of grieving, has been a really good thing.

Chris: And, and for myself, just, you know, as, as a, as a bloke, as a guy, just been able to recognize the power of, of grief and the necessity of grief to, to get back to the life that you sort of want or thought that you deserved until you've grieved something. Um, you're going to be held back. So yeah, for me, it's just that awareness of the importance of, of grieving.

That's been a really good thing.

Claire: And I think, you know, hope, I think we're strong advocates for hope. I always would like to believe there's hope on the horizon. I don't always feel it. I have my moments, but on the whole, I always want to believe that there's hope in any situation I don't want, I don't like the idea of anyone facing any kind of loss and losing all concept of hope, that just, I find that so sad because it is out there. Even if you have to go and find it, and you have to go and find it, it doesn't just come to you, you got to go and find it. But, I think it's really important that people know that there's, there's hope out there.

Chris: I'm not in the same place as you with that, I think you have more hope in this than I do. I think I'm a hopeful person generally, and I can be hopeful for others, but I often feel like I'm lacking hope for myself.

Claire: Q#16. Did you ever ask why?

Chris: No, no I've not ever asked why.

Claire: I haven't either. I've asked why in almost a comical, everything goes wrong for a while, and I'm like, oh, and then I do that, Joey, like; whhhyyy?! But I don't think I seriously was asking why.

Chris: I think going back to the cause, or part of the cause of, of our story being around my infertility and that being because of a medical procedure that I had when I was aged about five or six years old, and now they do that same procedure on children, much younger, so boys who are much younger because of the implications, the scarring that can happen, if that, if they're too old. I've had somebody say, you know, why don't you sue the NHS? Why don't you take action? Which to me, that's the sort of person that would be asking why, but that never entered my mind, like why would they retrospectively go back and take some sort of try and try some sort of, even consider some sort of legal action because I've been left like this it's sort of that compensation culture. So I don't ever feel like I need compensation. Why not me? I've never asked why.

Claire: I see a lot of women, on groups of people who can't have children, as well. Who will very much question, why me? Why am I being punished? Why can't I be a mum? Why am I doomed to be alone? And that's never, never crossed my mind. I see it as a broken bit of biology. I don't see it as a personal slur on us. I don't see as a personal slur on me that I had a hysterectomy. I don't feel any less about myself because I can't do things that most.women would, no, that's just never been in my, my thought process at all. And I think it's, it's sad when people go down that route really to, to make themselves think that they're being punished or there's something wrong with them because of it, because it's, it's not, it's just something that happens in everyone has crap things that happened to them.

Chris: And we're really blessed in our marriage, I've said it before, I'll say it again many times, no doubt, but you've never made me feel like less of a man, you've never made me feel responsible or to blame for any of this ever since literally day one of finding out that I could well be in fertile and let's go have some tests. So I've never had cause to feel shame or pain because of anything, you've said or done, that you've only ever been totally supporting, and that's made such a, such a difference.

Claire: We're a team, you're broken, I'm broken.

Claire: Q#17. And the last question, what is your Herman?

Chris: Yes, we get to answer this question.

Claire: We do. And I bet you didn't think about it to prepare it either, did you?

Chris: No.

Claire: No, me neither.

Chris: We should've done.

Claire: We should've come up with something really wise and deep at this point,

to set the standard for Herman's.

Chris: I'm going to start with a cliche.

Claire: Well, that's not the best place to start, but go on...

Chris: But it is so important which is you're not alone. To always know that you're not alone. That there's things like this podcast, there are other things, whatever situation you're going through, there will be others that have gone through as well. And there's so much experience, so much value in shared experience, that's really important to be able to help process and just to reassure you and encourage you on your journey. Um, so I think just that message of not being alone is so important

Claire: My Herman would be, there is life after loss. Just don't see the loss as the end of your journey, don't see it as consuming your whole life. You can get past it. There is, there is hope you have loss and it's awful, it's, you know, it's gut-wrenchingly horrible. And I would say, find people on the other side of it, find people who have been through what you've been through and have survived it and are out the other side because you just get so much hope and light shed on what it looks like to speak to people like that. There's there's more beyond this. It's not the end.

So there you have it. One episode, two parts, and our long ongoing journey with childlessness.

Chris: You can read more about this by visiting www.thesilentwhy.com/ourstory, or find us on social media - @thesilentwhypod.

Claire: If you've got any other questions, feel free to DM or contact us, we love to hear from people and chat about our story.

Chris: We've also got some blog based around loss and grief, which is released every week.

Claire: Today, we're ending with some words from Rachel Marie Martin, author of Finding Joy and the Brave Art of Motherhood.

"Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like, and learn to find joy in the story you're actually living."