My fertility journey started very unexpectedly when I was very young.
In fact, I was just a teenager, at 17 years of age, waiting for my periods to start. After a year of investigations, I received the most devastating news no teenage girl expects to hear… “you are infertile”. In that moment, my life changed forever. There was the before – a life full of dreams and possibilities – and there was the now and the future – a life full of uncertainty, doubt and fear.
During the next couple of months, I was constantly seeking information, but at the time, there was no Facebook or Instagram and Google had just been launched a couple of years before. I was referred to a specialist hospital and received an official diagnosis of MRKH, which means I was born without a uterus and the top third of my vagina. I was treated by doctors as an interesting and rare case they hadn’t seen many times before.
As a teenager, I had never thought about whether I wanted to have children, but I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, so having the option taken away from me bothered me a lot. Just like so many other things in life, fertility is often taken for granted. And as teenagers, if we ever think about fertility, it’s only about ways to avoid pregnancy. We try not to get pregnant! So, at that time, what was affecting me the most was the involuntary childlessness that had been imposed on me before I had even reflected on the subject. I had the feeling that I didn’t belong—that no one I knew had been through the same thing—and I just wanted to be normal.
The diagnosis of infertility made me question myself as a woman
my femininity, my role in society, and what it meant for all the dreams I hadn’t had yet but had already lost. How was I supposed to mourn the loss of something I never had to begin with?
Even though I still had a lot of unanswered questions, I decided to focus on what I could sort out first, so finding the best approach to reconstruct the top of my vagina became my priority. This aspect of MRKH wasn’t easy to deal with as it contributed to my already ongoing crisis of identity, self-worth, and not fitting in. But it didn’t bother me as much as the infertility did because I felt that I could solve it—I felt somewhat in control. I ended up having surgery, lasting 4 hours long, with three specialist consultants, followed by a ten-day hospital stay and a six-month recovery with a made-to-measure vaginal prosthesis.
After surgery, I felt the need to connect with others going through similar journeys, so that I could feel less alone. A journalist ended up doing a news report on my case, and that generated a lot of interest from girls across the country. We had our own support group, writing letters to each other and meeting from time to time. I was also writing a journal to keep us all connected, sharing our experiences, reflecting on fertility and motherhood. At a time when email wasn’t a thing, I was printing this journal and sending it to the post to all the girls in the group!
My recovery after leaving the hospital was too long and far from easy, but again, the support of everyone around me helped a lot. Like I’ve come to learn, when life presents us with extraordinary challenges, we find extraordinary strength within us that we weren’t aware we had, and we just deal with them.
While I was recovering from surgery, my mind started focusing on the initial concerns I had had about my identity, self-image, and self-worth—my femininity, my values, and my role in society and in family in particular, how I would end up experiencing motherhood. It was in one of those days when I was crying and asking, “why me?” that I felt a strong force inside me, and I made the most important decision in my life: If I can overcome this, there’s nothing in life that I won’t be able to accomplish.
That decision made me feel that I had what it takes to make a difference in the world. And it fueled my mission to transform my circumstances into something positive. Twenty years on, I can look back and feel that everything was part of a big plan, that I initially didn’t understand, but now has a very special meaning. My experience let me to becoming a nurse and founding the Enhanced Fertility App, a company that is making fertility accessible to all. Helping others have their babies, brings purpose to my inability to have my own.
Andreia Trigo | Founder & Director Enhanced Fertility Programme