Alcohol and infertility: Lucy’s story of overcoming grief by caring for others
Lucy’s story is upsetting, but it’s also a story that will be familiar to families all across the UK. According to the Miscarriage Association, one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, and the emotional and financial impact of infertility can tear families apart. This is where alcohol and infertility issues combine: one is used to drown out the suffering of the other. But Lucy’s story is far from one of despair. Frustrated by the lack of help available for infertile women and determined not to let the experience define her or her alcohol dependence destroy her, Lucy turns her life around, putting down the bottle and picking up her beloved sausage dogs. Yes, really – sausage dogs…
Lucy, tell us about why you first started questioning your drinking habits.
I’d known for a long time that my drinking could spiral out of control if it was left unchecked. It’d gone from partying in my youth and boozy girls’ holidays to binge drinking which had started to affect my work. I had been hauled into my boss’ office for a row yet again for falling asleep at my desk after yet another binge on a work night.
I knew it was a problem, but because I could reign it in, I told myself that it was infrequent and so I didn’t do anything about it.
I had always been a drinker. My Mum is fond of a few drinks, and so I had always been around it. When I got my own flat in the centre of town, it was so easy to spend nights out drinking without many repercussions.
When I met my now husband and moved in with him and his parents so we could save up for a house and a wedding, my drinking got out of hand. I was fed up that I was trapped with my future in-laws and I got quite depressed – there were several rows about my drinking. I remember going out to a Pizza Express one night and falling flat on my face drunk as I’d been drinking before the meal. My partner was horrified! But once we got our own house and I was free to do what I wanted (and drink as much as I wanted), I again told myself that there was nothing to worry about. It just didn’t occur to me that binge drinking like that was unacceptable.
What changed your mind?
My husband and I got married in 2013 and had been trying for a baby for a year by that point, but nothing was happening. We decided to try IVF and did two rounds, both of which failed. 12 months later, I started to get really bad abdominal pain, fatigue and had to go to the bathroom a lot. It was quite a shock to find out that, following investigative surgery, I had stage 4 endometriosis, a long-term condition which causes chronic inflammation detrimental to the female reproductive system, as well as frequent intense pain. I was lucky in a way that my doctor also had endo and so she recognised my symptoms. Ironically, it was likely to have been the IVF medication that had supressed my symptoms beforehand.
I had assumed that dealing with the endometriosis would mean that, left for 6 months post-treatment, I’d probably get pregnant, but still nothing happened. So, we decided to pay for a round of IVF treatment…and it worked! We were over the moon! It was our miracle pregnancy that we had longed for. But at 8-9 weeks, I had a small bleed and rushed to the Early Pregnancy Unit. They confirmed that they could no longer hear a heartbeat. It was news that crushed me – I had miscarried.
I stayed at work for a few months, but I would come home every day crying, it was a horrendous time. Everything started to get on top of me and so after 15 years in my job, I quit. My husband didn’t stop to take it all in and so we found ourselves at different stages of grief, unable to communicate with each other about how we were feeling. How could I explain to him that my body had changed, and I didn’t have a baby to show for it?
With the death of my Nan and our dog becoming gravely ill in the weeks after the miscarriage, and with no job to distract me, I turned to my old friend alcohol to numb the pain. Both alcohol and infertility overcame me.
Was this the turning point for you, facing both problems with alcohol and infertility head on?
It took a long time to get to the point where I could face the problem. I felt like I had so much to deal with – the IVF centre didn’t prepare me for how traumatic failed treatments are, and the glossy adverts never portray how financially and emotionally crippling it is. My friends were sympathetic but really didn’t understand how soul-destroying it was; even I didn’t really realise how not ok I was.
The toll on my relationship with my husband was huge – because we didn’t know how to talk about it, I’d get angry with him if he didn’t want to come to the pub and drown it out with me. It really dragged him down and so we just spend 6 months getting wasted together but not dealing with anything, alcohol and infertility and silence pushed us apart.
It was when my operation date came through for the endometriosis treatment that I thought, “Well, I’d better be ready for this”. I was scared about what the treatment might mean, physically and emotionally. A month before the operation, I stopped drinking. I even managed my first holiday to our caravan without drinking, although the rain meant we couldn’t spend all our time in the beer garden, which helped. Once I’d done that trip, I realised that I didn’t need to be dependent on alcohol all the time to cope with difficult things.
I found that for the first time, I was in control of it and it wasn’t in control of me. When it really mattered, I didn’t need my crutch. I could do it myself.
Although I recovered from the operation much more quickly than I would have had I been drinking, this wasn’t the breakup with booze I’d hoped for. A stressful house move to an unfamiliar area meant that I did go back to integrating myself into the local community by getting plastered at the local old man’s pub. Now, in the back of my mind, I could see the pattern – a scary situation where I was unsure of myself, much like my journey with alcohol and infertility, had led me to my old crutch. But the seed of sobriety had already been planted.
Yours really is a transformational tale. Tell us when your new chapter started.
It was the 4th of January and, having been up drinking until 5am, I woke up with the most dreadful hangover. Finally, the thought of “What the hell am I doing” wasn’t something I ignore. I still have an egg frozen so still have one more shot at IVF, and I decided that if I was going to be in a position where I’d want to try one last time, I wanted to be in the best shape of my life, both mentally and physically.
The first was dealing with my disenfranchised grief. With nothing physical to grieve over, and the grief of not being a mother weighing heavy and no support network nearby, I started looking online, and that’s when I came across Club Soda. The resources, book suggestions, and tips to stop drinking really kept me going. Club Soda guided me to focus on things that helped my wellbeing and happiness rather than keep ignoring my issues.
However, the support for infertility was severely lacking. Even the Facebook groups dealing with miscarriage and childlessness just didn’t feel personal enough. So, despite not being religious, a lady at the local church helped me to rent a room there and I now run Journeying Together, a group of roughly 18 local ladies who are dealing with infertility issues. We have Zoom meetings at the moment due to COVID-19, but it’s great to know that there are people that understand your fears and frustrations that really want to know if you’re doing ok.
And what’s with the sausage dogs?
I’ve always loved sausage dogs, but when one of my dogs, Millie Moo, was found to have IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) and couldn’t walk well, I decided to start The Long Dog Hotel. I look after less able-bodied sausage dogs as around 1 in 4 dachshunds can be affected by the disease. I have some clients who ask me to look after their dogs for weeks at a time, and so I need to be present to care for them, walk for them and, if needed, take them to the vet. These little dogs have given me purpose – in order to keep them safe and loved, I have to be on the ball and can’t drink. The responsibility for these beautiful pups and enjoying a job I love has taken priority over the chaos of drinking.
I’ve not had a drink in 2 years now, and when I think about having a glass of something, I always think “why the hell would I go back to that?”. I’ve even written a book, temporarily titled “The Infertile Sober Sausage Dog Mum” – it’s a cathartic look at how far I’ve come and all the changes I’ve managed to make since giving up alcohol. I don’t care whether anyone reads it, I just wanted to show myself that I can do things I never thought possible without drink and have a record of my own achievements to be proud of…and even a few photos of my beloved sausage dogs thrown in there, too!