Trying to conceive
While going through infertility treatments, I was surprised at the lack of compassion and understanding of some friends – and surprised at the compassion and understanding of some who I didn’t even know very well. This made me realize that people’s reactions had less connection to how good friends we were, and more to do with their innate or learned sympathy for others’ feelings. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week‘s theme “You Are Not Alone,” here are ten ways to be a better friend to an infertile.
1. Remember: It’s not about you. She’s going through something terrible, so cut her some slack if she wants to distance herself from you if you’re pregnant or have kids. It’s not personal – it’s about self-preservation. Yes, it’s hard to be the friend of an infertile, but suck it up. What she’s going through is way worse.
2. Let her be selfish. Don’t pressure her to come to your kid’s first birthday party or your baby shower. It doesn’t mean she’s not a good friend. And if she acts on edge, is irritable or is even a downright bitch, remember that she’s acting out of frustration at the shitty situation she finds herself in. Let her vent, even if it’s about you, without taking offense. Forgive her for being mean. Remember that she’s on lots of hormones!
3. Ask how she’s doing. Many times infertility is the elephant in the room. Gently broach the subject and see if she’s interested in talking. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t.
4. Tell her you’re pregnant through text, email or FB message. It seems impersonal, but it will give her time to react privately before offering up a smile and a congratulations. This is much better than telling her in person, or even over the phone, when she’ll have to hide her initial reaction.
5. Don’t complain about your pregnancy or your kids. Yes, pregnancy can be rough, and (as I’ve been learning lately) children can be a challenge. But she would give anything to have them. Don’t even joke, “Do you want my kids?” Because she does (well, not yours, but her own).
6. Speaking of joking, don’t. It’s really hurtful to hear stuff like, “Are you sure you want kids?” I promise you, she does, even while watching yours misbehave. It’s just not funny.
7. Make an effort to read about infertility. There are resources out there for friends and family of those going through infertility treatments. Educate yourself so you have a better understanding of what her life is like. Check out resolve.org.
8. Remember her on Mother’s and Father’s Day. Those holidays are especially rough on couples who can’t conceive. A “thinking about you” note or phone call is totally appropriate.
9. Realize you don’t know the future. It’s tempting to promise, “It will happen for you someday,” but the truth is, you don’t know that. Stay away from platitudes. They’re just not helpful and not reflective of reality.
10. Rephrase “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” with “I can only imagine what you’re going through.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves (I may devote a whole blog post to it some day). The first sentence makes the listener feel excluded and isolated, like what she is dealing with is so horrific that someone cannot even attempt to understand because it is so out of the realm of normality. The second one implies that even though you haven’t been through it yourself, you can utilize the skills of your creative mind to attempt to understand. This is a notable difference, so please use the latter phrasing.
You can imagine what it’s like. Put yourself in your friend’s place and think about how you would want to be treated. Just like with any other health issue, having simple compassion, sympathy and forgiveness for a friend dealing with the hell of infertility will go a long way in giving her the strength and support she needs to make it through.
My latest Huffington Post piece is Why I Did 7 Rounds of IVF, which was first posted on this blog. I reposted it in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week and this year’s theme, “You Are Not Alone.”
I want to add that while my story does have an against-all-odds happy ending, it’s not always that way for everyone going through infertility treatments. I’m not sharing my story simply to say, “Don’t give up!” because that can honestly be some of the worst advice to give to infertile couples. It’s OK to decide to move on to other options like third-party reproduction, adoption or living child-free. It’s not quitting and it doesn’t make you a loser. As I said in the HuffPo version of my piece, each of us has to make the right choice when faced with a very wrong situation. That choice isn’t going to be the same for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.
There is another post on HuffPo a couple down from mine in which a woman says how after three doctors told her she’d never conceive, she got pregnant on her own, twice, and now has two children. Maybe I’m super-jaded, but this kind of story just brings out my bitter side. How is this story supposed to help other infertiles – is it supposed to inspire them to keep trying when there is no hope? More likely it will make them feel bad because their situation didn’t work out the same. How is this story supposed to benefit those who are fertile trying to understand what it’s like to go through infertility – to make them feel better about everyone having a happy ending? Guess what – happy endings don’t always happen, and they often don’t happen the way you think they’re going to. We need real stories that show us the pain and heartbreak, the hard choices. Not the miraculous conceptions. This woman didn’t even go through fertility treatments. Sorry, but that’s just a completely different perspective – not that it’s not valid, but it is not reflective or representative of most fertility patients’. In my opinion, it’s not a useful story to help others understand infertility.
What do you think, fellow infertiles – do you agree?
For more about infertility, click here.
For more about National Infertility Awareness Week, click here.
A story about a 65-year-old carrying quadruplets caused quite a stir on one of my Facebook groups the other day – and surprisingly, this group is made up solely of women who had success after fertility treatments. Some deemed it crazy, some called it irresponsible, some said “meh,” and some said that they supported her right to make her own decisions about her body. Some also felt that stories like these, propagated by the media, just give a bad name to fertility treatments as a whole.
I’m in that last camp. Do I think it’s crazy to have quads at any age, and that doctors have a responsibility to do what is in their power to reduce the risk of having high-order multiples? Yes. Do I think that having a kid at 65 (your own kid, not serving as a gestational carrier for someone else) who you will probably not see very far into adulthood, and who might be burdened with your care at a young age, is cray-cray? Uh, yes. But do I think rules should be made against it? No.
Why? Because cases like this are really, really rare, and if we start down the road of, “Let’s make a bunch of laws that people have to follow when using fertility treatments,” soon enough the reproductive rights that we all enjoy today will be trampled on. And that is not something I am willing to risk. The reason a story like this makes news is that it hardly ever happens. This wasn’t even in this country – it was in Germany. We had to go across the pond to find a story as out-there as this. We don’t need laws to protect against it.
But that’s the thing about the media (which, technically, I’m a part of) – they often don’t care how a story really, in actuality, impacts people; they only care about how people will react to it. Will they click on it if it’s online? Will it grab their attention on TV? This is not responsible journalism – it’s sensationalism. And when it comes to fertility treatments, I’m tired of it.
Stories like this put ART (assisted reproductive technology) in a very negative light. They add fuel to the fire of the anti-ART camp, especially those who are against third-party reproduction (donor eggs or sperm), because this woman used donor eggs. The argument becomes, “See the ethical and moral conundrums that ART brings about? See why it’s bad? See why you have to watch out that it doesn’t go too far?”
This is fear-mongering.
People are afraid of what they don’t understand. As I have said often in this blog, infertility is not something most people understand. Most people don’t talk about it. It is still cloaked in shame and secrecy. The media runs a story like this – or something about the wrong couple’s embryos being transferred during IVF, or Octomom, or a doctor using his own sperm instead of the husband’s, or some other wacky stories like that (notice that I’m not putting links to these stories) – and all it does is confirm people’s fears.
I could come up with lots of news stories about irresponsible parents who had kids the old-fashioned way – but that doesn’t have people saying that no one should get pregnant, does it? So why condemn a whole branch of medicine because of a few wack-a-doos?
These are the stories that wouldn’t make the news, that wouldn’t generate clicks or FB group discussions: The thousands and thousands of couples around the world who now have happy, beautiful, well-adjusted families because of ART and third-party reproduction. It’s not weird. It’s not scary. It’s not unethical. It’s creating a family through love, just like any other.
So please, media, stop sensationalizing fertility treatments. We’re having a hard enough time going through them without you, thank you very much.
In my essay “Giving Up the Bump” in the April/May issue of Fit Pregnancy, I talk about my reluctance to give birth – and not for the reason you think. After trying for so long to become pregnant, and then spending the majority of my pregnancy in denial to keep from worrying, I didn’t want to stop being pregnant when the time came to actually have the baby. The baby was the end goal, but it turns out I really enjoyed being pregnant and didn’t want to see it end.
Pick up a copy of the issue (which is actually the last issue of the magazine) on stands today! I’ll include a link when it gets posted to their website.
I was not prepared for the reception, both good and bad, that my post It’s None of Your Business How Many Kids I’m Having (first published on this blog) received on Huffington Post Parents. Because I didn’t expect it to be so controversial, I found it hard not to take some of the comments to heart. Welcome to the life of a blogger, right?
But I did want to address one facet of the criticisms against the post. Those who called it “garbage,” said I should “get over it” and that I “wasted [my] time writing it,” here’s what I have to say:
The reason this conversation was important was not because it affected me so greatly that I can’t get past it. It’s not that I’m trying to air my dirty laundry on social media because I couldn’t confront this person directly. And it’s not that we can’t have discourse and that we have to be so PC all the time so that we don’t hurt each other’s feelings.
But it is a moment that mattered.
Every day, little incidents, offhand remarks and snippets of conversation happen that perpetuate bias, stereotypes, ignorance and prejudice. They reflect a lack of understanding, sympathy and plain old manners. The way that we as a society view certain things are revealed in the most subtle of ways. This is the case whether we are talking about racism, sexism, ageism or (what should we call this?) reproductive-ism. This is why the moment mattered.
When people are going through infertility or miscarriage, they often feel isolated and alone. No one seems to understand their pain. We don’t have a way to talk about these topics. People, like the man I talked to, don’t even recognize or remember their existence. It is our responsibility to take into account what might be offensive to someone else when we speak. This is not to say we can’t have discourse or that certain topics are off limits. But the how and when we discuss certain things is important.
Throughout my journey to have a baby, I was on the receiving end of a lot of unintentionally hurtful comments and actions by people who didn’t know what to say or how to act. Now that I have a child, I feel like I’ve reentered the “normal” world – except that I am not normal. But because you wouldn’t know that to look at me with my son, the offensive conversations still occur.
Should I have confronted the man directly, as said another of the criticisms of the post? Maybe. But as I said in the piece, in the moment I was so taken aback at the awkwardness of the situation that I just couldn’t. That may have been my mistake. I chose to write about it not because I want to passive-agressively complain about it, but in order to bring awareness to the inappropriateness of what was said.
Look, I’m sure that man was a perfectly nice person who didn’t mean anything malicious. But that’s the point. Even if he didn’t mean it, it was still hurtful. And a lack of awareness about infertility and miscarriage means the silent suffering will continue.
Some people who responded positively said the article helped them because they never thought about it like that, and maybe they had said something in the past that was offensive even though they didn’t mean to be. It made them aware of something they hadn’t recognized before. That outcome – giving people a new perspective and actually inspiring them to change their behavior – is why I wrote the piece.
Words matter, even if they’re not on the grand scale of offensiveness of those of a certain pair of fashion designers who will remain nameless. But they still matter. That’s why I posted the piece. That’s why I write.
Last weekend at the morning-after brunch of a wedding we attended, I was sitting at a table with family members and two friends of the bride’s parents, a couple who I’d never met before. This is the conversation that followed our initial meeting (actually, we were never formally introduced):
“Is this your first?” the man asked my husband and I, as my mother-in-law took our crying son from the room.
“Yes,” we said.
“So what’s the game plan?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“How many more?”
“We’ll see,” my husband and I both answered, hoping that would bring an end to this line of questioning.
But the man pressed the point. “Are you going for a baseball team? A football team?”
Dumbfounded, we repeated, “We’ll see,” with some nervous laughter as the man made more sports metaphors in reference to our reproductive plans.
As he left the table a few minutes later, he brought it up again. “Five,” he said. “That’s the number.”
Five. This man had no idea that I had five miscarriages. Five miscarriages, six years and seven IVFs. That’s what it took to have our son. We’ll be lucky if we will have a second child. Five children, despite my obsession with large families, is not in the cards for us.
I continued to think on this bizarre conversation all day. As I fumed over the offense I had taken against this man, who unknowingly made feelings of inadequacy and hurt about my infertility and losses come to the forefront of my mind yet again, I wondered: Is what he asked inappropriate? Or was I just being sensitive?
I recalled a conversation along the same lines that I had with the colorist at my hair salon a week before. I had just met her. We were talking about our kids, and she also asked me if I had only one. When I replied that yes, I did, she said, “Do you think you’ll have more?”
Same question, but I was not offended at the way she put it. Instead, I replied, “I’d like to, but we had a lot of trouble having our son.” She then commiserated with me on that point – she’d also experienced some issues with polycystic ovaries.
Maybe it’s basic human curiosity to ask about someone’s family planning. If my son does end up an only child, I see a lifetime of such questions in my future. I don’t know why having one isn’t a valid choice. In my situation it’s not really a choice anyway, but is that really anyone’s business? And why is it so weird to have only one? Are only children missing out on something because they don’t have siblings? No only child who I’ve ever known as an adult has said that – they all seem to be perfectly well-adjusted and happy.
But it’s not the norm, so we question it, just like we question anything that’s unusual or different. I wish, for my son’s sake, that we could just accept “one and done” as something that’s just fine, that’s normal, that has its own advantages.
And asking the question presumes a lot. It presumes that the woman is not currently pregnant. It presumes that she is not currently experiencing a miscarriage. It presumes that she’s not experiencing postpartum depression and is emotionally ready for more children. It presumes that if the woman is considering future children, she’s not wondering how on earth to accomplish that – another IVF or two? Adoption? Which option will be less emotionally and financially taxing? – questions that run through my mind whenever anyone brings up having another.
In short, it presumes that the woman is able and willing to have more children.
I am still analyzing, however, the differences in those two conversations. Why is it that one offended me and one did not? Well, one was asked in a less confrontational manner – “Do you think you’ll have more?” comes across as if arisen out of curiosity, whereas “What’s the game plan?” is in-your-face and demands a satisfactory answer.
Also, the non-offensive conversation occurred in the privacy of a one-on-one interaction, and hair salons are traditionally a place where women go for girl talk. We spill our secrets in that chair. The other felt like an interrogation shouted across a table filled with other people. It assumed that we would, in fact, be having more – it was just a question of how many. I could have answered the man’s question the way I answered the stylist’s – with a brief history of our difficulties – but it wasn’t a place where I felt comfortable getting into that.
So if you’re going to ask the question, a question which is really NOYB but is somewhat human nature to wonder about, please make sure it’s phrased in the right way and asked in the proper venue. Please do not shout it across a table.
And please, don’t use sports metaphors.
What do you think of asking someone about their child-bearing plans?
Confession: I just now finished reading all the comments to my Scary Mommy post The 8 Biggest Misconceptions About Infertility. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the commenters were supportive of what I wrote. The several commenters who stupidly responded without having read the article – as evidenced by the fact that they actually spouted off the misconceptions from the article in their comment – were called out and chastised by other commenters. I responded to a couple comments myself to clarify a few points I made in the piece.
But what struck me was the multiple responses from people asking what TO say with someone experiencing infertility or miscarriage. I’m not sure if this was because my list crossed off all the platitudes they would otherwise have used, or because they genuinely had no idea. In any case, whenever someone asks me this, while I appreciate their desire not to say the wrong thing, I still wonder why it’s so hard to put themselves in another’s place. What would they want said to them if they were experiencing infertility or miscarriage? Is it really that hard to imagine? To me, the lack of innate understanding of “what to say” just emphasizes the isolation and divide of the infertiles from the fertiles.
But I suppose I should put aside my own bitterness and snark and just answer the question. So here is what to say to someone experiencing infertility and miscarriage:
1. “I’m sorry.”
2. “I’m here for you.”
3. “I’m thinking about you.”
And…that’s about it. Nothing, no words, especially no platitudes, can help ease their pain, so don’t even try. Just let them know that you are there to support them and that you have their back. That you understand if they need to skip your baby shower, or if they need a little distance from you if you’re pregnant. A few other tips:
Call them up or text them, but don’t make them feel pressured to call you back if they don’t answer. They might just need some space.
Don’t avoid the topic. If it’s the first time you’ve seen them in a while, tell them you’ve been thinking about them.
Joking won’t help. If anyone makes jokes, it should be them, not you.
Don’t make yourself the victim – it’s hard to be the friend of someone experiencing these things, but I promise you, it’s infinitely harder to be that person.
Oh wait, I realized I’ve ventured back into the territory of what NOT to do, instead of what TO do.
OK, so what should you do?
There are no magic words to say. Just be there as a friend. Be supportive, be open to listening, let them lean on you figuratively and literally. Bring them food or something they might enjoy, like trashy magazines (just make sure there are no pregnant celebrities in them). It’s simple: Just be a friend.
The most supportive thing anyone ever said to me came from a family member of my husband’s, who I didn’t know well and hadn’t seen in a long time. She was visiting my in-laws and bringing along her baby, who I’d never met. When we got there, there was no big introduction of the child. She just let him play quietly with my nieces. After he’d gone to bed, she pulled me aside and said:
“I heard about what you’re going through. It must be really hard for you to be around all these babies. I just wanted to let you know that we’re thinking about you. Please call if you ever want to talk.”
I remembered that moment for a long time. It gave me a great feeling of support that someone, even someone I didn’t know that well, had such compassion and understanding. It gave me hope that there were people out there who “got it.” That even if they weren’t going through the same thing, they could sympathize. Because of this one person, I felt just a little less isolated and alone.
So that’s it. That’s all there is to say.
Fellow infertiles, would you agree that’s all someone should say to those experiencing infertility and loss? Fertiles, does my advice make sense?
Now that LM is 18 months old, I’ve started thinking about having a second child. And as I do, I feel the bitter infertile in me rise up again, because I have no idea how that will happen. Let me be clear, this pain is not the same as the soul-crushing, agonizing desperation of trying to have a first child. Instead, it’s more like a dull ache, a grateful acceptance of the child you have but a deep longing for more.
I long to have a newborn again. I long to give birth again. Unfortunately, both of those things might not be possible.
The way I look at it, I have two options:
Option 1: I go back to the doctor and try to get pregnant again. This would likely involve lots of tests and possibly exploratory surgeries to see whether it’s possible or wise. I also have to see if my reproductive immunologist will work with me again if I use my fertility doctor (now my RI only works with the RE in his own group, and I like my own). Plus, I’ve used up the infertility coverage that is mandated in New Jersey, and I have new insurance anyway, so I have no idea how much would be covered. It will probably be very expensive with no guarantees of success.
And I’m not sure how to work this time-wise, because I can’t cycle while I’m breastfeeding. So do I do the tests first, while I’m still breastfeeding, to see if it’s even possible? If it’s not, I could move on to adoption right away and continue breastfeeding. But if it is possible, what do I do? I don’t want to wean LM right away just to try to get pregnant, because if it doesn’t work I will have weaned him for nothing, and ended the only breastfeeding relationship I’ll ever have. If I continue breastfeeding until I’m ready to cycle, I might have to re-do the tests if too much time has gone by. Or, do I wait to have the tests until LM has weaned himself? But if it turns out that it’s not possible to try to get pregnant again, I will have wasted a lot of time when I could have been trying to adopt.
Do you see the logistical problem here? I can’t make a decision because I don’t have all the information, but I can’t gather all the information without making a decision.
Option 2: Adoption. We were set to adopt when our last FET worked, so it is already something that was on the table. It’s a new process for us, but in some ways it would be a relief not to have to put my body through another cycle and the crazy anxiety of pregnancy. I could continue to breastfeed LM with no problem, and if the timing worked out I could even breastfeed my adopted baby. So, this seems the more logical choice. But…I really want to be pregnant again. I loved being pregnant. I want to feel the baby move inside me. I want to go to the hospital and have that “new mom” showering of attention on me. It just seems simpler emotionally.
So, I’m at this crossroads and I can’t figure out what to do. Because so much of it seems to hinge on breastfeeding LM, in some ways I wish he would hurry up and wean himself. I can’t bring myself to do it to him, though, because I know it would make him miserable. But I don’t really want to end breastfeeding either. That experience healed me in so many ways from infertility, and made me feel like a real woman again. I don’t want to see it go.
Another issue is that I’m pushing 40. Some adoption agencies won’t work with you if you’re over 40. I do the math and realize that at the age I am now, my kids would be dealing with parents who are 80. I don’t feel old, but I guess I am.
Some people might be one and done. I know that LM would be OK – he has baby friends and lots of cousins – but I wouldn’t be OK. I need an “heir and a spare” in case something were to happen to LM. That’s totally morbid, but I can’t put all my hopes on him. If something happened to him I don’t know what I would do. I need some emotional insurance. I need another. Plus, I’m just not ready to be done. My family is not complete.
Please don’t tell me maybe I’ll get pregnant on my own. Please don’t tell me that miracles happen. I know they do because my son is one. But I can’t bank on that. I have to assume it’s not going to happen. Hope is a cruel bitch, and it’s too tough to deal with. Not now. Not anymore.
As all of these thoughts start swirling around my brain, the anger starts coming. The anger that I lost so many years of my life to infertility. That I have to make family-planning decisions in such a different way than fertiles. I wish to God I could just have sex and get pregnant like normal people. I hate that I can’t. I’m pissed that I can’t. I’m annoyed that I have to make tough decisions that other people don’t have to.
I know we are all saddled with burdens and this is the one I must bear. I suppose in the grand scheme of life it’s not as hard to deal with as other things. But it still hurts.
I don’t know what to do. Damn you, infertility.
Fellow infertiles, what are your plans for number two?
After reading this article about whether celebrities should “come clean” about their infertility treatments, I then made the mistake of looking at the comments. Despite my usual motto when it comes to the touchy (and for me, very personal) subject of infertility – don’t read the comments – I was curious to know what the general population thought about the piece.
Not surprisingly, most bashed the story, saying, “Why should anyone be forced to share something so personal?”
While I generally agree with this, the problem is that infertility is still so surrounded by shame and secrecy. It is, in many ways, still in the closet. The general public does not understand infertility treatments, thinks they’re weird or icky or that they go against “God’s plan,” and can’t comprehend why infertile people don’t “just adopt.” There is so little understanding, not to mention compassion, about what it’s really like to go through this particular struggle.
I might compare the question of whether celebrities should open up about infertility to the question, “Should celebrities reveal that they are gay?” I could argue that their sexual orientation is no one’s business, which is true; but would they deny being heterosexual? Of course not, because it’s the cultural norm. But celebrities who’ve come out of the closet have, no doubt, helped thousands of other gay people to feel that they are not alone, that if so-and-so can open up about it, so can they. By throwing off the cloak off shame and fear of rejection, gay celebrities have helped it to be much more accepted than it was in years past.
Infertility is in many ways the same. We hide it under the heading of “it’s personal,” but the real reason we are so hesitant to talk about it is because we are ashamed and fearful of what others might think. Would we hide the fact that we had cancer? Probably not, since there is no real stigma attached to cancer. So why should infertility, also a medical condition, be any different?
Celebrities are of course under no obligation to talk about their private life. Maybe they don’t want their children to suffer in any way from revelations about how they were conceived. Maybe if their children were conceived with donor eggs, which, let’s face it, is the most likely way so many celebrities have had babies well into their late forties – it’s just not statistically very likely that they would be able to conceive otherwise – celebs are especially wary about making it public because of how it may eventually affect their child. (Although child psychology experts tell us that children conceived through donor eggs, like children of adoption, should be told early and often in age-appropriate ways so that they don’t remember a time when they didn’t know. It just becomes part of their identity.) But children learn what they live, so if no one gives them the impression they need to be ashamed about how they were conceived, they won’t be.
There’s no question that opening up about something that society deems weird or strange requires bravery, and maybe celebs don’t want to deal with that. This is understandable, but it also keeps the circle of shame and fear going.
Plus, so many middle-aged celebrities having babies perpetuates the notion that it’s easy. It’s not. It’s not impossible – but it’s just very, very unlikely. Many commenters to the article I read responded with anecdotes about people they knew who had a baby late in life, but anecdotes are just that. Knowing one person who had a baby in their forties has no bearing on the fact that most women didn’t have babies in their forties.
But female celebs need to appear young. Telling the world that you needed help conceiving because you’re peri-menopausal could negatively affect your career. Our youth-worshipping culture has made it difficult for women to feel valued past their child-bearing years.
So, whatever celebs’ reasons for keeping quiet, those of us that used IVF feel betrayed by these famous IVF-deniers, like they could have had our back but chose not to. It leaves us feeling even more isolated than we already do. In contrast, those celebs who are open about it make us feel that we are not alone, raise awareness and put a human face on infertility.
Celebrities are in a unique position to influence public opinion, like it or not. So when they do “come out of the closet,” they further societal acceptance of whatever it is that they are opening up about. Should they do it? That’s a loaded question. But it would be great if they did.
Do you think it would help others if celebrities opened up about the personal issues they’re dealing with, like infertility?
I was talking recently with a friend who is having some fertility testing done – not because she is currently trying to have a baby, but just so she knows where she stands – and she remarked on the grim mood of her doctor’s waiting room. “There was one woman who seemed really upset,” my friend said. “The nurses were going over to her and asking if she was alright.”
As my friend spoke I started having flashbacks to the waiting rooms of the four REs (reproductive endocrinologist, i.e. fertility doctor) I saw during my infertility journey. In this purgatory where your reproductive fate is to be determined, no one speaks or even looks at each other. You’d think the women there would want support from each other – but instead we are all alone together, staring down at our phones or the magazines in our laps. It’s a tense, lonely, scary place to be.
The waiting room I remember best is Cornell‘s, which is on the Upper East Side of NYC. I’m not sure why this one sticks out in my mind – maybe because of how packed it was, full of women from all walks of life. I had to leave my house before the sun came up so that I could be in the city by 7:30 am (any later and I’d get stuck in traffic). I would park in a garage (parking for medical treatment is tax deductible if you can claim medical expenses) and walk to the building. I’d get off the elevator and sign in with a key card at the front desk. The chairs were covered in a mod orange-and-brown print. I would search around for an empty seat, which was sometimes hard to come by. It was as if half of the women in New York needed fertility treatments. The nurses would come out and call us by our first names, lots of nurses, one after another. Everyone had their heads down – except for the Orthodox Jewish women, who somehow all seemed to know each other and would carry on conversations. There were women in burkas and saris. Some had husbands with them but most were alone.
Anyone who brought a baby in a stroller got a lot of nasty glances. Rule number one of the RE waiting room: Don’t bring your baby. It’s hard enough to be here without having your success pushed in our faces. We’re glad you’re trying for number two, but please, for the love of God, get a babysitter (now that I have a child I can see how this would be difficult, but I also remember how soul-crushing it was to see babies there, so if I ever try again I would do everything in my power not to have my son with me). If you must bring your child, do not make cooing sounds at him. Pretend he is invisible, like the rest of us are trying to do.
In glancing around the room, I’d observe some women who seemed unfazed and stoic but still aloof. Some looked like they were about to cry. Some just looked anxious, tapping feet and fidgeting. Some seem happy and hopeful – those were the newbies doing their first cycle. I’ve been all of them in the waiting room, depending on what was about to happen. See, when you’re in the middle of a cycle, you need to be monitored about every other day, usually with bloodwork to read your hormone levels and an ultrasound to see how your eggs (at this point they’re called follicles) and uterine lining are developing. Based on these things the doctor will decide when to do your insemination if you’re doing IUI, or when to do your egg retrieval if you’re doing IVF. The men have it easy – after an initial workup to determine how their sperm looks, all they have to do is show up the day of and give their sample.
Then of course there’s the blood test to see if you’re pregnant. I was always one to POAS (pee on a stick) ahead of time – I didn’t have the patience to wait. So the initial beta didn’t usually make me too nervous, because the first number doesn’t really mean a whole lot, unless it’s super-low. It’s the second number that would freak me out, because it needs to double. If it doesn’t that likely indicates a “chemical pregnancy” (i.e. early miscarriage).
So depending on what’s going on with you that day, you might be a bundle of nerves. If you are pregnant, you might be there for your first ultrasound, which is probably the most nerve-wracking experience of all. If you’re miscarrying, that’s obviously the saddest, and I bet what was happened to the woman my friend observed.
Forget purgatory: The RE’s waiting room is basically hell on earth. The only good experience I had there was during my first and only IUI. We were sent to the waiting room on the floor above. It was empty and strangely quiet. While I waited for my husband to do his thing, I pulled out my book, settled into one of the comfy chairs and put my feet up on the coffee table in front of me. I was reading Julie and Julia, which coincidentally has an infertility storyline. (Although at the end when Julie’s husband tells her that of course they can make a baby – because if she can accomplish mastering the art of Julia Child’s French cooking she can do anything – I laughed at the naivete.) But in any case it was actually a relaxing moment for me amongst all the madness of cycling.
If I go back to try again, I don’t think the waiting room will elicit the same feelings of dread and desperation, because I already have my prize at home. But looking at the other women in the midst of it all will surely bring back the feelings of the darkest time in my life, one I’m so glad I’m past.
Fellow infertiles, what was your experience in the RE’s waiting room?