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‘Single and fabulously fertile was how I was. In a loving relationship and painfully infertile is how you find me’

I cried openly like a child needing her mother in front of all those strangers. Not one person came to comfort me

I have been unable to get pregnant for more than four years now and I’ve had painful periods for as long as I can remember.

I didn’t meet my current partner until I was 40. Before that, I had been single and had not listened to the biological clock ticking.

I remember going to a clinic in my native city of Cork to get my fertility levels checked when I was about 37 and they told me I was bucking the trend for women my age and I was as fertile as the day was long. Hooray and hurray! I jumped for joy. My mother even took me and my well-behaved ovaries out for tea to celebrate.

Single and fabulously fertile was how I was back then. In a loving relationship and painfully infertile is how you find me in 2024.


I have a fulfilling life. It’s full of ups and downs like any other, but the ups largely outweigh the downs.

I changed my life rather drastically at 40 after a series of life-changing dreams that I wrote about for Irish Times Abroad and started out afresh in sunny Spain.

I live five minutes’ walk from the sea, a one-minute walk from a sprawling green forest. My work commute is somewhere in between. The outdoors has become my indoors.

Not having a child hasn’t devastated me or my relationship. I sometimes think I have in fact made peace with it already, or am in the process of it at least. I used to get very upset. I used to feel empty. I used to long for it, until one day I slowly started to turn off that particular tap. The longing was doing me no good. I fully embraced my situation, enjoyed what I did have and took the focus off what was “lacking”.

Then, one day, my partner Jorge and I decided we would give IVF a go. We agreed on one round. I felt it was something I should do in case I’d regret it later in life. By this time I was feeling settled in my new country, my new work, the new culture and language. It was also at this point that Spanish fertility doctors discovered I had a list of problems the length of your arm, in my reproductive quarters – endometriosis, adenomyosis, a blocked Fallopian tube, ovarian cysts, a fibrotic and irregular-shaped uterus, and a very low-functioning ovary.

I had definitely failed the gynaecological NCT for 2023.

How could all these things have gone so wonky on me? I felt ancient. Like the Mick Jagger of female pelvic floors.

Humour aside, it was both a relief and a release to hear there were tangible reasons for my prolonged infertility. I have since learned that many women suffer from unexplained infertility, which must be just awful. I had a ton of problems, but they all had solutions at least.

The last six months have been a right pain in the arse (and lower left quadrant!) for me. I have had electric shock-type pain every month, which rendered me white-knuckled and reaching for the nearest chair or wall to hold on to while the pain passed.

Thanks, endometriosis. You’re a real gem.

A Zoom call with my fertility doctor revealed I needed surgery, or “uterine regeneration” as he called it. This sounded like it could be a new pitch for a fly-on-the-wall documentary for the BBC. A gynaecological Grand Designs. “On this episode of Uterine Regeneration, Liz, aged 44, is finally ready for her ‘womb-der-ful’ makeover. Cue footage of Liz, Jorge and dog Kuni walking along a sandy white beach in Mallorca.

Anyway . . .

This operation was vital for two very important reasons: First, I could not start the process of IVF without removing my badly-behaved tube, as it was leaking a toxic fluid into my wonky womb. Toxic – really? Franc’s word, not mine. Second, and more alarmingly, was the news that this dodgy tube could perhaps in the future become a cancer concern if I left it in.

Decision made.

I bought newer and bigger knickers, and mentally prepared myself for my first-ever operation. The procedure would take place in another Spanish city and not in Palma. We would have to fly there.

The night before our flight, our Colombian friend came to collect Kuni, our (special) English setter. Myself and Jorge went to the airport on the motorbike in the early hours of the following morning while everyone else slept soundly in their beds.

I watched the sun rise over the bay. I was fasting, but didn’t feel hungry. I felt fit and ready for my uterine renovation.

We arrived at the clinic an hour before the surgery, so they sent us off for a walk. We strolled around the local neighbourhood searching for a place to sit so we could feel the morning sun on our faces. We watched as the locals began their day. Fashionable-looking dads scooting their kids to school, mums out for morning runs with buggies and bouncy ponytails. Two trees packed with singing parakeets serenaded us overhead.

He could well have told me they’d sewn an extra toe on to my forehead and I’d have given the thumbs up. ‘Oh very good, thanks,’ I responded

The nurse came to collect me from the salubrious surroundings of the clinic waiting room. I kissed Jorge goodbye and walked through the double doors into the unknown. I was capped and gowned and signed some last-minute papers. Standard enough.

I entered the operating theatre to the sound of opera music mixed with that distinctive smell. The smell made me nervous.

The anaesthesiologist came to my left side and held my hand. His eyes were calming and very hypnotic, which is always nice. Imagine if they were manic and angry? The trust you give to perfect strangers at that moment is mega really, isn’t it? Especially when they are all speaking in a foreign language.

“Please take good care of me,” I told them in my head.

I looked to the ceiling and pictured myself on top of the mountain opposite our apartment, looking out at the white sails of boats gliding on the Mediterranean, with Kuni by my side. A mask came over my face and, 3, 2, 1, I drifted off to Blanket Street for a long deep sleep.

I woke up to very tight pain in my belly and a nurse calling my name.

The doctor came by to tell me what they did during the operation, none of which I remembered of course, apart from him telling me that the left tube was “muy muy mal” (very very bad). “Oh, very good, thanks,” I responded in that typical always-be-polite Irish way and fell back to sleep.

Suddenly, the sound of opera music again, louder than before, and not from a speaker this time, but a person! The woman beside me, a trained opera singer obviously, had just been rolled back from the theatre, and this was her way of coming round. Everything came to a dead standstill for a minute or so. The nurse opened my door wider and leant the woman’s head against the wall. We listened to this extraordinary voice in the midst of all things clinical, painful and sterile.

Then came Jorge’s voice through the door. Oh thank God he is here. A familiar voice and face.

The next few hours were no craic. I had a hard time dealing with the effects of the anaesthetic and the morphine - cold sweats, lots of blood, near-fainting, wobbles and shakes, nibbles on bananas for energy, nausea, pain, pain and more pain.

Finally, at 9.30pm, after three pathetic failed attempts, I managed to stand upright and walk myself out of the clinic into an awaiting taxi that brought us to our hotel. The plan was to fly home the following evening. Ambitious but doable, and okayed by the doctors.

I will never forget trying to get myself in from the taxi to the hotel lobby. The world spinning, my T-shirt wet with sweat, the pain, the other worldly disorientation. Jorge all but carried me into an elevator to the first floor and on to a crisp white-sheeted bed. As soon as I lay down, with the longing for sleep intensifying, a sudden sharp pain in my shoulder and neck began. It started and never stopped – all night long.

The following morning I was no better, so we decided to go back to the clinic in a taxi to check things out. The shoulder and neck pain was standard, I was told. When the surgeon makes his tiny keyhole incisions he pumps gas in to be able to see more clearly what he is dealing with and has space to work in. That gas sometimes gets stuck inside, irritating something called the phrenic nerve. This CO² can stay inside the body for hours to days afterwards leading to painful indigestion, belching and wind. Peachy.

It was decided to stay a second night in the city. I was too unwell to travel anywhere. Flights were changed. Our hotel was completely booked out, so I had to traverse the city again to a different hotel.

The staff in the Melia Hotel were exceptionally kind to me. They upgraded us into an enormous room. They took pity on us I guess. I must have looked a right state. I had never been so grateful to avail of such luxury. I slept like a newborn on the 13th floor.

The following morning, I shuffled slowly like a terribly old woman into a massive shower, where Jorge gently and lovingly washed every inch of my weary body. I cried as I held on to him.

I came close to needing a blood transfusion and more surgery, but thank God someone somewhere was watching over me

The release of years of monthly pain perhaps, the ache of all those negative pregnancy tests, the babies unborn – but most of all the realisation that I was at my weakest and most vulnerable moment for a very long time, right there in his arms.

Later that evening, the time had come to try and get ourselves home to Palma. Jorge got things in order and we made our way to the airport.

I was not looking forward to this short flight, and my mind went into overdrive. Would a bumpy landing burst some of the three cuts in my belly? Would my insides get bloated with the cabin pressure and explode? I closed my eyes, silenced my overthinking and overactive brain, focused on my breathing and held Jorge’s hand from start to finish.

I made good progress back in Palma in the familiar surroundings of my own bright and sunny apartment. I was recovering, eating tiny bits of plain food now and then, sleeping, and even managed a shower on my own. I was kind of chuffed.

However, on the Tuesday the pain increased, and it felt different. I was having new problems with my bladder and bowel and I physically couldn’t eat anything. That night I began to feel very strange. My temperature started going up, I felt a tightening in my stomach and I felt very jittery and didn’t want to be left alone. I took more pain relief and went to bed. It’ll be better tomorrow, surely.

Wednesday morning, I woke up with worsening pain on one side. My stomach was like a balloon and very low down in my body. As I lifted the spoon of breakfast yoghurt to my mouth, I gagged and ran to the bathroom to vomit. Six days post-surgery and I was sick as a dog. Not good. Jorge was at work, so I called him and then a taxi to bring me to the local hospital. I hobbled into the main reception of Urgent Care and asked for help at the door. They wheeled me through quickly, skipping the queue, and the doctor came to see me. I was sent straight for an ultrasound to the gynaecological wing. I felt a sense of calm urgency from the doctors around me. I was too relieved over just being in their care to be scared.

I will never forget sitting in a wheelchair with my white hospital gown half falling off me, too sick to fix it, in too much pain to even care, waiting for the ultrasound and watching new mothers with their even newer babies.

Other largely pregnant women paced around the room. One particular young mother was sitting right beside me with her own mother, I presumed, and a new tiny baby. They looked very together and strong. I wanted my own mother so much at that moment. I dropped my head and started sobbing a little bit. I was helpless to stop the tears at that point, so I just cried openly like a child needing her mother right there in front of all those strangers.

Not one person came to comfort me.

Finally, the gynaecologist beckoned me in and set the ball in motion. She was gentle with kind eyes. She could see how unwell and vulnerable I was. Her ultrasound showed I had a balloon bladder – it seemed blocked and very full. She said she thought she saw two little clots also, but couldn’t be sure as the picture was cloudy and I was in too much pain for an internal exam.

It was straight back down to the ER again to get a catheter inserted. A good litre or more of trapped urine flowed from my hard, bandaged belly. I will never be able to put into words the relief that gave me.

Still not happy with the pain I was having, more tests were ordered. A CT scan revealed I had blood in my abdominal cavity, in an amount that worried them slightly. My inflammation markers were elevated and my haemoglobin was low-ish. I could tell by the way they were talking to Jorge that these were not good signs.

It took four days as an inpatient to sort things out and get my body back to a stable level. I came close to needing a blood transfusion and more surgery, but thank God someone somewhere was watching over me, and everything started improving with medication and no need for anything invasive.

One collapsed arm vein and three hospital dinners later, I was back at home. Nobody really knows what happened and what caused all these complications. I was just unlucky according to the doctors . . . and older.

Fertility clinics do wonderful work – they bring untold joy to many. But it is important to remember, they are businesses

The friendship, love and support I have been shown by my female friends since my unfortunate “uterine regeneration” episode has been a massive comfort. They understand and “get” the painful mess of being a woman because many of them have had a ticket for the same flight – or even worse.

They have shared their sometimes-harrowing stories with me. Miscarriages, stillborns, emergency sections and haemorrhoids. Always with the friggin’ haemorrhoids. Jesus. Women, thy name is suffering. But oh how strong you all are. I’m having them all round for supper soon to say thank you.

As for Jorge – I’m beginning to run out of sailor-type metaphors to describe his calm and loving demeanour, and of course his good sense of humour throughout our pre-IVF ordeal. It was a very difficult time for both of us. It took almost a month to feel human again, and it has really made me question whether or not IVF is indeed the right choice for me personally. For my body.

Fertility clinics do wonderful work – they bring untold joy to many. But it is important to remember, they are businesses. They will have your best interests at heart no doubt, but you and only you will know how far you want to push your middle-aged body.

We are in a type of no man’s land now. The IVF process has been stalled while I heal.

Maybe the baby-making ship has sailed.

Myself, Jorge and Kuni might just stay onshore and wave it off. Together.

And that’s okay too.

  • Liz Golden is from Mallow, Co Cork. She left Ireland in July 2019 and now lives in Palma de Mallorca, where she works as a primary teacher and private tutor.
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