We spoke to Raffaella Clementi, author of the book dedicated to her son after IVF treatment called Letter to a child who has been born
Raffaela Clementi (Terna, Italy, 1970) is an administrative assistant and mother of a child born after assisted reproduction treatment. Throughout the process, Raffaela wrote a personal diary with the idea of giving it to her son when he reached the age of one. The diary, however, eventually ended up in what would become her first book: Letter to a newborn. The story of an assisted reproduction treatment.
What led you to share your diary with other women?
At first I just wanted to tell my son his story, my own and his father’s, and that he knew how much love we had both put into trying to have him. However, after opening my blog, when I discovered that many other women had gone through the same pain and anger as myself, I decided to make it public. Those women, like me, lived through the difficulty of conceiving as a drama, because infertility is a void that is difficult to cope with. I wanted to share my feelings and the idea that it can be done, so that my experience would turn into hope for other women.
And you didn’t stop there: today you are still a very active woman on the Net through your blog. What is your motivation?
There is a great deal of talk about fertility on the Internet, but it’s hard to find someone who does it in a direct way, sharing the feelings experienced and leaving room for suffering. I think that speaking honestly and listening to the pain that one has already gone through can be helpful for those who are still trying how to feel less alone.
It would seem as if women who undergo a treatment feel more understood on the Internet than by people in their own circle…
The thing is, even in one’s closest circles all kinds of opinions on assisted reproduction are heard: “It’s crazy to spend money on treatment when there are so many children waiting to be adopted,” or “we have to resort to it because we decided to have our child too late, because before that we were thinking about our professional career or even worse, just enjoying ourselves”. Someone who hasn’t undergone a process of assisted reproduction is unaware of what this process entails.
In your book, you describe assisted reproduction as a journey towards your own child. How should one prepare to embark on it?
Well, with a large suitcase: the suitcase of dreams. It is the case carried by all those who decide to take the assisted reproduction path, and it’s jam-packed with things: warm clothing to protect you from the cold of failures, raincoats for the shedding of bitter tears, a little hope, a piece of experience lived through and another of dreamed-about lives. You will also need a bit of sense of humor, tenacity and patience, salt, pepper and some luck… Because the success of the trip is uncertain and unpredictable in terms of results.
Only someone who has lived through it, can understand it…
Yes. It is really necessary to have set out on the journey towards the child that fails to materialise to understand that infertility is the disease of emptiness. An absence occurs that affects you like bereavement, changing the way you see yourself in the future. When this moment comes, you have to stop and ask yourself what you are willing to do to fill that emptiness you feel.
What happens afterwards?
You can scream with all your soul, thumping the ground with your fists, hit rock bottom and then pick yourself again in order to start and prepare the suitcase we mentioned earlier. It’s complicated, because you have to face things you’d never have imagined: the decision whether or not to have children; whether to adopt them; resort to medicine… or reinvent yourself. In any of these cases, it’s a test of courage: it will be brave to accept our situation, just as it will also be to start treatment for assisted reproduction, with anxiety, fear of failure, hope … And above all, supporting our partner once again beyond the endeavour of having a child, rethinking the meaning of being together.
You mentioned the role of the partner in this whole process. How did you experience it in your case?
My husband understood me, supported me and gave me his love during the most difficult moments, without making me feel his disappointment and fears. He was a supportive man, although at times I think he would have preferred our life not to have been completely absorbed by the quest to have a child. It’s fair to say that he was braver than me in the sense that he knew how to preserve the sense of identity: he was able to make more room in his mind for other matters that were not related to the pursuit of having a baby.
Relying solely on the partner may end up affecting him…
For sure: everyone deals with it and feels it differently, and for this reason, the risk of drifting away from one’s partner ends up being very high. If you don’t feel balanced, the difficulty of having children can lead to you withdrawing into yourself and no longer communicating your true feelings to your partner or your circle.
How do you avoid getting to this situation?
Today, three years after having had my son and looking from afar, it seems essential that a woman undergoing treatment can seek psychological support. Someone other than the couple who can help assimilate the anxiety, sadness, and all the phases in the process.
We’re getting to the end. What was the most beautiful moment in the whole process?
The birth of my son, without the slightest doubt. I looked at him, and thought he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I got lost in his gaze, which seemed to have seen everything. We recognised each other. He had returned to me. And I understood that I had been, and would be forever, in spite of everything, his mother.
Finally, what would you say to a woman who has fertility problems?
Trust the fertility clinic you think is best, with professional staff, but who are humane at the same time. Don’t trust word of mouth and get well informed about the real possibilities of birth. Believe in your own strength and always communicate with your own partner, without distancing yourself from him.