Infertile at 17 years of age – finding perspective, creating meaning and living meaningfully, by Andreia Trigo
The WHO (World Health Organisation) defines infertility as “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” However, for some of us, we don’t need to have 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex to know we are infertile. I’m talking about children and teenagers diagnosed with genetic disorders, hormonal imbalance or cancer.
I remember the day of my diagnosis very well. I was 17 years of age and still waiting for my periods to start. I was examined by the gynae doctor and sat down to hear the words no 17 year old expects to hear: “You are infertile, you don’t have a uterus”. At such a young age I hadn’t thought about whether I wanted children or not, but in that moment, the plans I had not made yet, were taken away from me. The doctor continued: “The top third of your vagina is also missing, so you need surgery to reconstruct it”.
When I heard those words, my world was turned upside down. I was in shock. The words were echoing in my head and I didn’t know what to think or feel. And I cried.
This diagnosis challenged my identity, values and beliefs, my self-worth, my self-image, my role in a future relationship, in family and in society. How was I supposed to cope with having my identity challenged, when my identity was not fully formed yet?
Being a problem-solver, I decided to focus on what I could solve first: having my vagina reconstructed. I had surgery on the 11th June 2001. I was in a hospital for 11 days and recovery took almost 1 year. During this time I had to wear a vaginal prosthesis twenty-four-seven for a few months but then started using it only at night and then only once a week. Despite these daily challenges and constant reminders of my condition, I carried on with normal life, studying at university and supporting other girls through their own process. For an outsider, it may seem incredible that I was able to cope with such an unusual situation, particularly at such a young age. Let’s face it: it’s not normal to have a dildo inside you and carry on with normal life! But like I’ve come to learn when life presents us with extraordinary challenges, we find an extraordinary strength within us that we weren’t aware we had.
While I was recovering from surgery, my mind started focusing on the initial concerns I had had about my identity, self-image, and self-worth—my femininity, my values, and my role in society in particular. I had ups and downs and cried a lot as I struggled to find answers. In one of those nights when I was sitting in bed crying, I made the most important decision of my life: if I can overcome this, there’s nothing in life that I won’t be able to accomplish.
As I said those words aloud, I felt the decision so strongly inside me that it became a part of me. It fuelled this fire inside me that has shaped all the decisions I’ve made since, in both my private life and professional life.
When I made this decision, I didn’t know how I was going to cope with infertility but I was certain that my life was going to be happy and meaningful. Today, seventeen years after that date, I lead a very purposeful life, at peace with the knowledge that there is always a plan B when it comes to experiencing motherhood and that I will be happy no matter how my reproductive history plans out.
Reaching this stage of my life wasn’t quick and easy. It took purposeful effort to bring meaning into my life, which I managed to do in different ways:
- by creating something unique with inFertile Life, providing solutions that make a difference in people’s lives. My efforts have been recognised when I was awarded NLP Coach of the Year 2017 and when I did a TEDx talk in 2018;
- by loving unconditionally my partner, my parents, sister and grandma, and being able to appreciate beauty in nature and everywhere around me;
- by choosing to have a positive attitude towards the circumstances I cannot change. Because we may not be able to change what happens to us, but we can always choose how to respond. I have to go through these circumstances regardless, so I choose to do so with grace, dignity and personal growth.
I usually say that infertility is like a wound that can get better but never heals. This means we can’t simply overcome infertility but we can learn how to cope, and with time find perspective, create meaning and live meaningfully. Above are some of the ways I have used to cope and be where I am in life right now. And this is the reason why I created inFertile Life, so that with my personal and professional experience I can support other people through the rollercoaster, whatever stage of the journey they’re in, so they can cope with the curve balls life throws and find a fertility plan that suits them.