The author Elizabeth Day recently published a book called Magpie, a dark, twisty novel that tells the story of a couple struggling to have a baby.

I devoured it and highly recommend it – aside from the utterly engrossing plot, the author draws on her own experience of fertility treatment and miscarriage to movingly relate the couple’s struggles and heartbreak. 

The title, Magpie, refers to usurpation, which is a central theme of the book – the bird is famous for stealing other birds’ nests. However, it struck me that it is an apt title for another reason. Magpies are also known for being attracted to, and stealing, shiny objects: infertility has a similar attraction to the beautiful, shiny things in my life, and has claimed them for itself.

Some of those shiny things are obvious. The first is money – infertility just LOVES money. I imagine it bathing in champagne, cackling as it throws £50 notes in the air. If it spies even a pound or two in your bank account, it will swoop. If you have squirrelled away some funds for a treat – treats are so very important when you’re going through infertility – infertility will find a way to seize them too, like the tyrannical monarch demanding the peasant’s meagre savings. It’s very persuasive, whispering in your ear that maybe that extra treatment, which ‘only’ costs an extra £1000, could be the thing that helps you to bring your baby home. And when it doesn’t, infertility points to another add-on. Maybe that will help? And before you know it, you’re £30,000 poorer, and you still don’t have your baby.

Another of the shiny things that everyone knows infertility loves to steal is your plans. Looking forward to your much-needed holiday? But what happens if you’re pregnant by then? And if you’re not, will you be in the middle of an IVF cycle? Would it be more sensible to save the money in case it doesn’t work and you need another round? Probably best to postpone the holiday until next year… The same goes for your career. Thinking of applying for an exciting new job? Up for a promotion? Great! But what happens if IVF works and you get pregnant soon? And if you don’t, will you have the same flexibility you have now? Will your new boss be understanding about taking time off to go to IVF appointments, or to grieve if it doesn’t go to plan? Will you be able to juggle making a good impression at your new company with the demands of scans, drugs and transfers? And then infertility whispers in your ear – wouldn’t it just be easier to stay where you are? And how about going part-time, because IVF is a full time job in itself? Et voilà – infertility has stolen your career ambitions and your money.

Of course, infertility sets its sights on your body from the start. There’s a sense of failure right at the very beginning, because your body, or your partners, just isn’t doing what it was literally designed to do. Then, you start fertility treatment, and your body becomes the site of a science experiment. You inject drugs, swallow them, sniff them and put them where the sun doesn’t shine. You have bruises on your stomach and on your bum, and you become so good at finding patches of skin that you haven’t already injected that you could be in the next Trainspotting film. You have regular appointments with the ‘dildocam’, and what used to be a private, intimate part of your body becomes familiar to several sonographers and doctors. All the while, infertility watches on with glee as it congratulates itself on stealing your body. 

Money, career, body: those are perhaps the obvious things that you thought might feel the pressure of infertility. But infertility loves the less tangible treasure too. Relationships are a biggie. Friends and family are a crucial source of support as you navigate the heartbreak, anger and frustration of infertility and fertility treatment.

They’re there with a hug, a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a shoulder to cry on when things don’t go to plan, and welcome distraction when you want to think about anything else but infertility. But infertility spies those moments of comfort and grabs them. As those friends get pregnant oh-so-easily, giving birth nine months later to beautiful babies – and then to others two years down the line, it can become too painful to see them, to ask them for help when things are hard. So you don’t. You step back to protect yourself. And then, of course, there are the friends or family members who don’t seem to ‘get it’, who can’t see your heartbreak, who drift away because they don’t understand why you’ve changed. Who suggest that you ‘just adopt’, reassure you that ‘at least your miscarriage was early’, or encourage you to  ‘just relax!’. Infertility takes them too. 

Another shiny thing that infertility just can’t resist is your mental health. So much of this journey challenges even the most robust mental health. There’s so much waiting – waiting for funding, waiting to save enough money, waiting to see a consultant, waiting to start treatment, waiting to see if it’s worked… Maybe you start questioning yourself – is this my fault? Did it fail because I went for a run, had a glass of wine, didn’t eat brazil nuts or pineapple (the answer to all those questions, by the way, is a resounding ‘no’ – but it’s difficult to remember that sometimes). Then there’s comparison – why me? Why can they have children but I can’t? Why did IVF work for them and not us? All this serves to chip away first at your mental health, ushering in anxiety by the back door. If you’re not careful, your sense of identity can be next: what if this doesn’t work? What then? What will I be if not a parent? Am I even meant to be a parent if it’s this hard? 

Infertility is a greedy thief, rubbing its hands as it surveys all the treasure in your life. But there are things you can do to put up a fight, to guard your treasure. Make time for yourself. Show yourself – and your partner, if you have one – compassion. Find the people you can lean on – and lean on them hard. Have things to look forward to, whether that’s a delicious cup of coffee or that holiday you’ve always wanted to go on. Focus on the good things in your life that aren’t about your fertility – relationships, hobbies, pets, work. You probably won’t come out of this unscathed, unless you’re very lucky, but you can come out of it unbeaten. Infertility doesn’t have to win, even if you don’t get the outcome you want, and it doesn’t deserve all your shiny things.