There’s a glimpse of heartache and pain in 31-year-old Debbie lvin’s eyes, but just for a moment, and then it’s gone, swallowed up by a smile, a nervous chuckle as she launches into an account of her painful journey through infertility.

It’s a much greater problem than people think. It was only after I started talking openly about it, that I discovered that some of my friends and their friends were going through what I was going through. It was knowing this that got me through my bad days. I wasn’t doing it alone and it also gave me something else to focus on. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and depression, I focused on how my experiences could perhaps help someone else. It got me through the dark times she says.

Her story, much like the woman she is, can only be described as remarkable. Her journey through infertility has made despair, disappointment and bitterness constant companions, but in the process she has discovered new friends in the form of hope, faith and courage. Throughout it all, she has had the constant support and love of her husband.

“I take great pride in my role as a wife and my husband and I work hard at keeping our marriage strong. This is essential to ensure that this experience brings us together and doesn’t tear us apart.” she says, a softness in her eyes as she speaks of the man who has been at her side throughout this journey. “When my husband and I found out we could not conceive naturally, I felt broken inside and filled with despair. At first, we chose not to tell anyone and as a result, this private pain gnawed at me constantly. Nothing seemed to soothe my aching heart. I spent hours wondering why it was happening to me, why my body didn’t want to co-operate. It was only made worse when my friends fell pregnant with ease. Babies were everywhere and even being surrounded by prams in shopping centres became too much to bear. I was so focused on the one thing I couldn’t have, I lost sight of everything else in my life.”

“I’ve been battling with infertility for seven years and have tried everything, from complementary therapies to in-vitro fertilisation.This was a huge financial and physical sacrifice for us and involved enduring drugs, injections and surgery. Our first attempt at IVF resulted in me carrying twins for a few weeks, before suffering a miscarriage. After all the anticipation and watching the embryos moving around, I could hardly endure the physical and emotional pain of losing them.” Debbie smiles bravely as she recounts those painful times. But determined to keep trying, she underwent another IVF procedure a year later and on the third and final attempt, she miscarried again.

The root cause of Debbie’s infertility lies in hormonal imbalances. “When I discovered my hormones, or rather, lack of them, were the cause of my problem, I took it very personally. It struck the core of who I was as a woman and I felt my body had let me down. I felt as though I had failed as a woman and it was easy for me to sink into the depths of self-pity.” It took an extraordinary will, for Debbie to drag herself out of the dark and make a conscious decision to be happy despite the circumstances she found herself in.

“Somehow I knew I’d have to let go and release the control I thought I had over the situation because it really wasn’t in my hands at all”. Naturally shy, Debbie says the experience in talking to other women who have suffered loss or those in similar situations as herself has forced her out of her shell. “This experience has helped me grow into a more self-assured, confident person. I force myself out of my comfort zone and set myself a challenge each year.”

This year, her challenge has been to keep herself strong, fit and healthy. “I joined a running club!” She laughs as she explains she has never been much of an athlete. “I think I surprised myself more than anyone else. I joined the Chiltern Athletics Club in December last year and ran my first 50km marathon a few months ago! I’m really enjoying it, and it’s making me stronger.” she says proudly. “Because my hormone levels are so low, I have to take care of my body. I will never give up hoping for my miracle baby and I want to make sure that when it happens, I am strong, fit and healthy. It has taken me years to reach the level of maturity I am at now. To leave the bitterness and self-pity behind and realise that although pain is inevitable, it is possible to choose joy despite this. I still have bad days, but it on those days that I’ll indulge in my favourite pick-me-up, peanut butter! It always makes me feel better she says laughing.”

“I realise now that I don’t have control over this. I have done all I can to make it right. I don’t want to feel like I didn’t give it my all. I have tried so hard and at times felt like a slave to my timetable of drugs and injections. Now it is all in God’s hands. Right now, I’m happy, I enjoy my life and like to think I’m a mother-in-waiting!”

[Debbie and Bruce Ivins]