Choice can be a complicated matter for women with fertility issues, as Erin Riley discovered. Photo: Stocksy
I'd bought pregnancy tests before. With an irregular period due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, they functioned less as an actual test to see if I was pregnant and more as a way to keep my mind at ease as my period just didn't come. It could be weeks late, it could be months late, but eventually it always came.
I didn't expect anything different as I took the test that Thursday morning. After all, the doctor had told me, when I was first diagnosed with PCOS, that it was likely falling pregnant would be quite difficult for me. This was further confirmed every time my ovaries were scanned: they were filled with the characteristic cysts that illustrate ovulation isn't working properly. I was on the pill to ease the painful periods that sometimes accompany PCOS, so pregnancy wasn't something I thought was remotely likely.
I was wrong.
At first, I thought I had to be reading the test wrong. I couldn't be pregnant. I quickly took another. Another positive. The thing I thought would probably never happen, no matter how much I wanted it (though I wasn't sure I did), had happened without me even trying.
We talk a lot about choice when it comes to pregnancy – and for good reasons. Women should absolutely have the choice about if and when they are pregnant. Yet for women and couples with limited fertility, there often isn't a choice. For many, that means never being able to fall pregnant, no matter how much you want it.
But for me, and for many others, that means facing an unplanned pregnancy with a whole lot of mixed feelings. The decision to have a child is made infinitely more complex by the fact it's not just about whether now is the right time – it's potentially a matter of now or never.
I wasn't at all ready for a baby. My partner and I had only been together for a number of months when I fell pregnant. We were still in the new relationship bubble, a long way away from conversations about the future and even medium-term commitments. I had just made a major career change and given up a full time job with benefits like sick leave and maternity leave to take a risk on something else. The idea of bringing a baby into that kind of uncertain environment was less than ideal.
But countering that was the voice saying "this might be your only chance". As uncertain as I'd been about whether I'd cope with parenthood, the overwhelming feeling was a sense that this was the opportunity I couldn't pass up. That was quickly confirmed by my fears of miscarriage, which set in not long after the fact I was pregnant settled it.
My partner and I weren't yet at the point in our relationship where we'd discussed my fertility issues, so on top of facing this huge decision about the pregnancy, we also had to navigate that difficult conversation.
I wonder how different it would have been if I didn't have to worry that I couldn't fall pregnant later, if I didn't know how genuinely unlikely it was to happen again. I wonder if that start to parenthood, and to pregnancy, would have been different, regardless of what we chose. If it felt more like a genuine choice about whether we were ready, and less like a situation we were thrust into.
Pregnancy hasn't been easy so far. I've been sick and exhausted and in a fair bit of pain, the latter of which I hadn't expected. If I'd been planning to fall pregnant, I'd have stopped drinking and gotten in better shape and built up a bit more of a financial buffer. As my bank account dwindled as I had to take unpaid leave, too sick to leave the house, I was often overwhelmed by the circumstance. I'd then be upset with myself for being frustrated, reminding myself of how many women with my conditions would give anything for this opportunity. Perspective and self-kindness have been difficult to balance.
To be unexpectedly pregnant is to accept the imperfections of parenthood from the beginning, to realise that there's no such thing as the perfect time or the perfect parent. It is a valuable lesson with which to begin parenthood.
Now that we've gotten used to the idea, parenthood is something we'll embrace. I've been excitedly preparing, buying things when I can and reading the books and figuring out where in the one-bedroom apartment with a lease I can't break we'll be able to fit a crib and change table.
It was an imperfect start, and I will be an imperfect parent. Ultimately, I think the fact I'll have a chance to be a mother, despite fertility problems, far outweighs my reserves. But it took a little while to get here. Parenthood, it seems, is incredibly complicated right from the start.