“I decided to learn more” – Tom’s story

TomAn uneventful day at school changed my life. Looking back at its significance, I wish I would remember more of the details of the day, but quite frankly, it was ordinary. The day was finishing with a lesson in RE and the topic was on fertility treatments. Always being naturally inquisitive, I was engaged, this lesson was different. The class wrapped up and we were to go home with the task of completing some research on the subject.

I scribbled in my homework diary “see Chris’s diary”, my twin and for the younger years of my life, essentially my personal organiser, he would’ve written everything down correctly. My parents always took notice of our homework as children and I vividly remember my mother approaching my brother and I, midway through work and saying that she needed to talk to us. My mind rushed to anything that we had done wrong, but this was not the reason. The mood turned serious and my parents explained that when they were younger, they struggled to conceive. They mentioned the help they needed and that my brother and I were conceived through IVF.

With hindsight, my response would be different, but I was young and struggled to deal with it. I had a sense of not feeling “natural” or normal and this was an age when all I wanted to do was fit in. This was when my mum sat me down and explained her journey and the effort put into the treatments they needed. Back in 1990 procedures were different, with lower success rates, they both felt desperate for this to work, with often such little chance.

I can’t tell you why my first reaction was like that, I can only assume that I had heard such a reaction from people before about the subject. Personally, I also believe education in infertility is important. It is very easy at school to be taught how to not get pregnant, the system is slanted towards this, but naively there is a lack of teaching for when things don’t work out as easily, like my parents. This unfortunately leaves out a section of people who will no doubt struggle one day, but equally a group of people who just do not understand what some people have to go through.

After my initial reaction I decided to learn more about the subject and began to understand what my parents undertook, multiple cycles under financial difficulty and in times, not particularly supportive parents; was out of their desire to have a child. My twin and I are lucky to be so wanted and I began to embrace what made us so special. I am very proud of my parents that they supported each other through the whole process, even when I know things became very tough for them. This is not always the case and I also believe that mental health support for infertility is key, it is a very challenging time and reaching out for support should be commonplace.

Fast forward many years and my experiences with my parents and my own curiosity meant that my interest in the subject grew. Nowadays, I am fortunate to carry on my passion, by undertaking a PhD in reproductive sciences with help from Genesis Research Trust. I feel lucky that I can give back, because without the hard work of the pioneering researchers and doctors, I would not be around to tell this story.