I was diagnosed with infertility at 16, and found my soulmate at 19

By Clara How, Jan 09, 2020

This story contains mention of infertility.

38-year-old Zee and 39-year-old Wan met-cute on instant messaging programme Internet Relay Chat (IRC), when she was 19 and he was 21. They dated for six years and are now married for 13. They are each other’s ride or die.

They have also reconciled with the fact that it will only just be the two of them for the rest of their lives, because Zee was diagnosed with infertility at age 16. It took her years to come to terms with this, but she has finally reached a place where she is happy and content.

* * * *

At 16, I was diagnosed with prolactinoma (a condition where a non-cancerous tumour overproduces the hormone prolactin and results in decreased estrogen). Doctors discovered a tumour behind the brain that was producing too much prolactin. Because my body was producing these hormones, I had started lactating as a teenager. I needed medication to keep my prolactin level within the normal range, which would reduce the tumour and stop my body from producing milk.

Three years after Wan and I got married, I asked my doctor if there was any chance that we could try for a child. We both went for fertility checks, and he was in the clear. I wasn’t — my issue was that my eggs did not want to release themselves. Because of this and prolactinoma, having my own biological child would be highly impossible. 

The solution the doctor offered was for us to try for In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), which I did not want to consider because I have seen friends undergo numerous failed attempts. I didn’t think I was strong enough to go through the process and face failure.

At that point in time, I felt like the doctor was not giving me the help I needed. I was yearning for a child and facing societal pressure of when I would get pregnant, and I couldn’t help but wonder in frustration why he wasn’t able to do more for me. I stopped seeing him, and started going to another doctor. 

I didn’t have any issues with the other doctor, but I remember an incident at the payment counter. I don’t recall exactly what the staff said to me, but it was an insensitive remark about my condition. I remember feeling absolutely ugly inside. 

I walked away in tears, and said to Wan, “This is it. This is the last time that I am going to see a doctor about my infertility. I am not going to try anymore.”

So I stopped seeing doctors, even though the condition I had required lifelong medication and care. 

The first five years of our marriage were extremely difficult, because I was longing for a child. As I was just a teenager when I was diagnosed, my infertility wasn’t something that I had thought much about then. I was more concerned with school. Reality really hit home after I got married.

Many of my schoolmates got married and fell pregnant around the same time, and it was very difficult for me. When I was invited to gatherings, I would say that I could go, but I would make excuses on the day itself. It happened so often that they stopped inviting me, and I stopped minding that they didn’t.

When people announced their pregnancies, I couldn’t be happy for them. I could only feel hurt. Only those in my innermost circle knew about my condition.

My extended family also kept asking when we were going to have a child. These questions felt very intrusive, and I remember once leaving a relative’s home midway during a gathering because I couldn’t handle all the remarks about when we would get pregnant. Whenever these questions came, I felt like I could not shield myself from being hurt. I could only walk away. 

I didn’t want to tell them that I had a condition, because there was no ‘proper’ way of answering a jovial “When are you getting pregnant!”, and I also did not feel like discussing this personal matter with them. Only my close family members knew, including one grand aunt. She is always the face of comfort for me at these gatherings. Whenever she hears gossipy aunties ask me questions, she will tell me to be strong, and to block out what they are saying. 

I understand that some people ask these questions out of well-intentioned, or because it’s part of small talk. Sometimes, they try to give me hope by saying that they know people who end up having children after a long time of trying, or to try IVF. But for me, my heart is just not open to it. I have also seen many women experience unsuccessful attempts with IVF, and I feel for them. I don’t think I can go through what they did. I also think that people who were successful with IVF should still be sensitive to those who are not successful, or who choose not to go for the procedure. 

I wish people would stop asking others questions that are so deeply personal and private. People do not know the hurdles I have crossed all these years to finally be at the point where I have accepted being childless. I have gone through heartaches that many do not know about.

To women who are struggling with fertility, I urge you to find people who can support you. Find people who understand your situation, and who do not take your heart lightly. People who have children may not understand the yearning that you have.

Two years ago, I gave a talk about my infertility, and a woman came up to me and told me that my story made her feel less alone. We’ve been in touch on Instagram ever since. 

Now that I’m speaking about my infertility publicly, I’m glad that people know that they are not alone.

For me, my moment of acceptance finally came three years ago. I was in Hong Kong for a conference, and Wan came along as well. For three days, I was attending talks, and only seeing Wan in the mornings and nights. On the last day, we were at a restaurant waiting for our food, and I was slouched in my seat because I was so exhausted. Three tables away were a young couple with a toddler and a young baby. They were both struggling to feed their children and themselves, and a sudden thought came to me: I’m glad that I’m not them. 

It was in that moment where I saw that not having children can also be a blessing. I was so overwhelmed with relief that I was able to be in the position that I was in: to be able to fly abroad with my husband for a work trip with just three days’ notice. 

Why do I yearn for motherhood when I have this freedom? I thought this is it — this is the life that we have. We are both happy with each other; why do I need more? 

Wan has been the strongest pillar of support for me. He is the one who has always reassured me that it would be okay and comforted me when I cried. 

We have been dating since I was 19 and he was 21. We met after a week of chatting on IRC. Our second date was at a poetry reading. When we left the building and had to cross the road, he took my hand. That was how we first got together. It was a speedy relationship! 

We became engaged after a few years of dating. There was no proposal — he said he was sure that he wanted to be married to me, so his family came to visit mine and that made it official. We got married at my void deck, with 2,000 people in attendance. 

I used to work for a bank before Wan and I dabbled in freelance graphic design work. In 2009, we officially incorporated our company, PlayPause, working on brand designs. Wan handles all the creative work because he has a background in design, whereas I am IT-trained and am in charge of client management. They say that you shouldn’t work with your spouse, but it works well for us. 

Since the start of our relationship, we always knew we had to communicate — he shuts off when he’s not happy, whereas I’m the opposite. Because we understand each other, it was natural for us to always voice it out if something was wrong. Our unofficial mantra is that no matter what happens, we will get through it together. 

Work aside, a new priority for me is to look after my health. Since I left the clinic eight years ago and swore not to see another doctor, I did not realise the consequences of stopping my medication. 

Last year, I went to the polyclinic because I had the flu. They noticed that my blood pressure was exceptionally high, and sent me to A&E. After an emergency MRI, the doctors told me that my tumour was back, and it was as large as before. I should never have stopped seeing the doctor, or stopped my medication. 

I realised then that self-acceptance wasn’t just about accepting being childless. I also needed to accept who I am, and the body that I have. 2019 was about reaching that level of self-awareness, where I was re-diagnosed and saw that I had not been giving my body the attention that it deserved. I used to love sports as a teenager, but became a workaholic who had neglected my health needs. I’m now back on medication, and I’m happy to take care of my body and health. 

In my spare time, I go for exercise classes, read, and enjoy my quiet time. Every Saturday, I spend my time with The Codette Project, a ground-up initiative that provides minority women with access and skills in technology through education and workshops. I’m on the team as the Design Lead, and I really treasure the time I have with these ladies every week. I didn’t have this kind of support system when I was in school, so Saturdays are a time I look forward to. 

Next up for us is to take a step back from work and travel more. We haven’t been to Japan, and Wan is keen to go. We’re also thinking of doing a mini pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabia. The end goal is to possibly live abroad, but that would require a lot more years of planning!

Society expects a woman to go through the passage of adulthood into being a wife, then a mother. I used to question if I am less of a woman because I am not a mother, but I’ve learned that I can be as motherly as women who are mothers. I have three nephews and I’ve been a caregiver since the eldest was born 14 years ago. These boys are part of our fulfilling life.

Maybe it’s because I’m too comfortable with Wan now and cannot imagine days without him, but I suppose if that time comes and I ever find myself alone in old age, I’ll take comfort in knowing I still have my family and closest friends. 

* * * *

Zee’s husband, Wan, shares his perspective of how he feels about Zee’s infertility, and how they always have each other’s back. 

* * * *

When we were dating and Zee told me that she cannot have children, I told her: “It does not change my love for you.” 

There are people who assume that I am only fine with being childless because of Zee’s circumstances, and not because I am genuinely okay with the situation. I disagree. 

When you’re in love with someone, you love them no matter what — no matter if she is sick or has fertility problems. It’s part of our relationship, and we have to adapt and live with it. 

I am very lucky to have a compatible partner in both life and work. We really complement each other. I admire her strength and resilience, her bubbly and warm personality and how her smile and laughter can light up a room, the approachable way she talks to people even for the first time. She is selfless in that she always puts others before herself. She also makes me laugh effortlessly. 

 

Our courtship was so brief because before we even met, I felt like I knew her based on our chats. We had an instant connection and never ran out of things to say to each other. Sometimes on these messaging platforms, you get bored of the person. But there was never that point for me, and that was how I was sure I wanted to date her. 

 

We were 25 and 27 when we got married, dated for 6 years and have been married for 13, so we’ve spent almost all our adult lives together. 

Of course, I would love to have my own child, but there comes a point where you realise that having children doesn’t make a marriage. It’s not a necessity to have a child. 

I have thought about what might happen when we get old, and there are no children to look after us. Our hope is that our nephews, whom we love and pay so much attention to now, will check in on us once in awhile. But if it’s just going to be the two of us, then so be it. That’s how life is.

Whatever Zee chooses, I will support her 100 percent, because it is her body and it is not in my place to force her to do anything. What is more important is that we are happy with each other, and be strong for each other when tough times come. 

 

#dayrehealth #dayrelove #dayreTTC

Photos provided by Zee. Zee has just started her Dayre journey at @zeecrnls, so head on over say hi :) 

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