You're not alone: Women share powerful stories of infertility and pregnancy loss in this new book
'Through, Not Around' offers solace and solidarity around a subject that is still tragically taboo
Ariel Ng was 30 years old when she started thinking seriously about children. It was a logical step for her position in life: she was happily married, had stable work and loving/supportive friends. She thought adding a kid, maybe even a couple of kids, would be a joyous inclusion to her day-to-day. Another bright colour in a personal tapestry.
For months Ng and her husband tried to conceive without success. It was frustrating for the pair, who assumed the process would be simple. Ng's grandmother had five children. Her mother had gotten pregnant on the second try. Comparatively, Ng was spending a small fortune on ovulation and pregnancy tests. Each time, she excitedly looked for positives results. Each time, navigating the negatives felt disappointing.
"I felt like less of a woman," Ng tells CBC Arts. "I felt such shame towards my body. [Getting pregnant] felt like something I should be able to do. In my age group everyone was posting about baby things and pregnancies. You always see the good side of that — but there is a dark side, too. I felt like my body was failing me but saying that felt taboo."
Finally, after nine long months, Ng got pregnant. The news was met with celebration: happy crying, fist bumps and cake for breakfast. But at a doctor's office a couple of weeks later, that celebration was cut devastatingly short. Ng found out that her embryo had no heartbeat, and it would not develop further than it had. Because of complications with the procedure to remove the embryo, Ng's body believed it was pregnant for five long months afterwards.
Eventually Ng was diagnosed with premature ovarian aging. At 33, she found herself infertile. The experience was painful and intensely sad — and she channeled those emotions into a beautifully written personal essay on the blog She Does the City. The response from the essay was overwhelming: people reached out to her with their own stories about pregnancy complications, thankful to share their experiences with someone who had been there.
"I felt quite alone going through the experience," says Ng. "Writing the essay was a chance to get my feelings out. The reaction I received was much more than I had ever anticipated. It felt like my feelings about the situation were validated. Going through the experience was really hard, and hearing the responses wasn't always easy, but it felt like by sharing I was doing something worthwhile."
Recognizing a need, Ng — along with friends/colleagues Caroline Starr and Allison McDonald Ace, who had also experienced miscarriages — started The 16 Percent, a website hosting interviews with women who have experienced pregnancy complications. The conversations are raw and honest, and allow for a public discourse about a subject that is still tragically taboo, despite the fact it affects one in six couples. The 16 Percent also served as a launching point for the trio's most recent project Through, Not Around: Stories about Infertility and Pregnancy Loss, a book that is set to be released later this month.
In the curated collection of essays, contributors share a wide range of personal experiences with pregnancy, shedding light on many different complications that can happen. Some of the stories end with a child and others don't — but the experience of reading the essays is meant to remind women that they're not alone. Ng understands from personal experience how much that reminder can mean.
"Even if the ending of your pregnancy experience doesn't end with a happy baby, there are still ways to go through that experience and find peace with the situation. We wanted to highlight stories and create a space for people to share those experiences. We're very thankful for the responses we've received."
All the proceeds from Through, Not Around are going to PAIL, an organization at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital dedicated to supporting families through pregnancy and infant loss. For the curators of the book, giving back seems like the only logical thing to do — an extension of their broader goal to offer solace in an overwhelming situation.
The 16 Percent can be found here.