When I first heard about this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week theme, I admit I was a bit confused. Who exactly is supposed to “Start Asking”? Is it the fertile people who already don’t have a clue how to talk about infertility, and often ask the wrong questions anyway?
Turns out, it’s us, the infertile community, that should be asking the questions, according to RESOLVE, the organization behind NIAW 2016, April 24-30. We should be asking for better insurance coverage of fertility treatments. We should be asking the media to cover infertility in a real way, instead of a sensationalized one. We should be asking our family and friends to support us.
This is all so important, and I applaud RESOLVE for putting forth these questions. But going back to my original presumption—what about the fertile people? I would argue that instead of putting the onus on the infertility community to promote awareness, we extend that to fertile people as well. What about that annoying aunt who asks when you’re going to have children? What about those clueless friends who wonder why you won’t come to their baby shower? These people don’t understand what to ask, or how.
I wrote on this blog about the most ignorant question, and later posted it on The Huffington Post as well. The piece, “It’s None of Your Business How Many Children I’m Having,” got over 300 comments on the site. People argued about whether or not this guy, a stranger who asked across a table full of people whether and when I would be trying for a baseball team, was in the right or the wrong. “Can’t people ask about anything anymore without offending someone?” people lamented.
The thing is, there are times and places for everything. In fact, in that very same piece I discuss how a similar question had been asked by the colorist at my hair salon. But because she asked gently—”Do you think you’ll have more children?”—in the relative privacy of the hairdresser’s chair, my hackles didn’t get raised, and I felt comfortable revealing that I’d love another, but we’d had trouble getting pregnant.
So it’s really not about whether you should ask but rather about how you should ask. And when you do ask, don’t ever assume. Don’t assume a woman isn’t currently pregnant and just not ready to reveal it. Don’t assume a woman isn’t currently going through a miscarriage. Don’t assume that people can have babies and want to try the reproductive feat of achieving a sports team. Don’t assume a couple even wants children in the first place.
I would argue that the criticism against my HuffPo piece—that we live in a culture where no one is allowed to talk about anything—is the exact opposite of how I feel. In fact, I feel like maybe a better theme for NIAW might have been “Start Talking.” Because that’s the real problem: No one talks about infertility. People don’t even really realize it exists. It’s something that happens to others, so people assume those they know and talk to can actually have children. True, people generally can have kids. But that’s the point of “awareness:” People become “aware” that infertility exists for one in eight couples. Maybe it exists for your sister or your coworker or your friend or your neighbor. Or the person you just met sitting across from you at a crowded table.
Infertility awareness can be about inspiring infertiles to make a difference. But it can, and should, be about getting others to understand and to promote it as well. Wouldn’t it be great if fertile people joined in the cause too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they also posted on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and hashtag #NIAW and #StartAsking? That’s where we should be headed. After all, not everyone who wears a red ribbon has AIDS or who does a run/walk for breast cancer has it themselves. The people who do those things maybe know someone affected (a mom, sister or friend who had breast cancer), or maybe they are just recognizing the importance of a cause and are jumping on board.
That’s what we should want. That’s what I’m going to #StartAsking for.
How aware are you of infertility among your family and friends? If you are infertile yourself, do you wish you had more support from fertiles?
LM’s tantrums lately have been EPIC. He just can’t calm himself down.
I know the feeling.
I feel like I’ve been on the verge of a meltdown myself lately. I always hold it all together, even as more and more is piled on top. I’m just not really sure how I’m doing it. It almost feels like muscle memory, the way I go through my day and take care of my toddler and make phone calls to doctors and therapists and write my stories and answer emails and talk to other moms. It all still feels, well, actually, foggy.
I remember when I felt more sure of my place in the world. When I knew what was going on in news and entertainment, when I didn’t constantly feel like I was behind the times. When I was out in front of things, instead of running to catch up. When I was gliding through my life effortlessly, instead of struggling to just keep my head above water.
I felt safe and secure. I had mental spaces I could go to that were places of comfort. I had activities I found therapeutic. I felt content.
It’s weird, this parent thing. In some ways I’m completely happy. But in other ways, I’m more stressed than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Can those two feelings coincide?
In some ways I think, Oh just get over yourself. And in other ways I think, F that, I do have it harder than other parents. I’m dealing with a kid who can’t hear. It’s hard. These two different voices are constantly battling in my head as I struggle to understand and accept my reality.
On top of that, I’ve decided to embark on an Extreme Fertility Challenge. Ready? First challenge: Grow an 8mm triple stripe uterine lining for your prep cycle! Uh oh, you failed, because your lining failed to convert to the proper striped pattern (betcha didn’t know that uterine linings can have patterns, did you?). Try again!
Next up: An OT evaluation for LM. OT stands for occupational therapy, but it has nothing to do with work. Well, not work in terms of employment. It’s more like how you work in your environment, or something. I’m not really sure. Anyway, LM failed (or passed, depending on how you want to look at it) that one too. Apparently all of his jumping and climbing, plus the picky eating and clothes sensitivity, plus his out-of-control tantrums mean he has some sensory issues going on. Again, not exactly sure what “sensory issues” are, but something having to do with the way you process input from your environment. Maybe at least now I have an explanation for all those shocked looks I get from other moms at the play gym when LM performs his usual crazy antics.
“You’re working way too hard,” the occupational therapist told me. “You’re trying so hard, doing everything you can. We need to help you out.” Finally, a validation! I’m not crazy. LM is f’ing hard! There is a reason I’m constantly on the verge!
I know I struggle with how much I put on my own plate and how much gets heap on there by life. But I don’t believe in doing things half-assed. There are things I want to accomplish in life. Every time I try to chill and relax and slack off, I feel guilty that I’m just being lazy because there are so many other things I should be doing. I have a hard time carving out “me” time. The time I do have never seems long enough, and then I’m back to regular life. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, going around and around again. Day after day, going through the motions.
I want to be able to just turn the wheel off and stop for a moment. Ironically, LM’s issues are forcing me to pay more attention to him when he’s playing, to try to engage him, to stay in the moment. When his therapists come over, sometimes they seem to just be playing with him, and I’ll think, “What the hell am I paying you for?” But then they will explain what they are doing, how they are using play to teach him. I try to replicate that, but it isn’t easy. Or maybe I’m just not a natural at it. But it’s hard.
Sometimes I wonder what would occupy my mind and my time if LM didn’t have any of his issues. And if I didn’t have “issues” getting pregnant. If LM was just a regular kid and I was just a regular mom who could get pregnant again whenever she felt like it in the privacy of her own bedroom. I fantasize about that. I know no life is perfect. I struggle on a daily basis with realizing that, with not trying to aspire to some nonexistent existence, with trying to find a way to make it through this fog to a place where I feel comfortable again. I want to get to a state of mind where I don’t find it necessary to remind myself whenever I start to feel light and happy of all the dark things in my life that should curb my enthusiasm. I know I should be happy in spite of all those things going on. But it just feels like too much.
I’m working way too hard.
Do you feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities in your life? How do you deal?
Sometimes I think I’m a glutton for punishment. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I sometimes feel like I am living the same day over and over again, just trying to get it right. I often fail. And I often bring it on myself.
Case in point: After five years or so of relentless testing, poking, prodding and disappointment, I finally freed myself from the dreaded RE (reproductive endocrinologist, or fertility doctor)—but tomorrow, by choice, I’m going back.
I have a sense of deja vu about the whole thing: the making of appointments, the gathering of medical records, the filling out of senseless forms when they have all the information anyway. I’m sure I will feel that way when I walk through those doors tomorrow, hold out my arm to give blood, open my legs for my date with the vag cam (sorry if that’s TMI, but you fertility patients know what I’m talking about).
I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try to get pregnant again. Part of me wants the doctor to say, “You know what? Your messed-up body just can’t handle it. So don’t.” But will she say this? True, clinics want to hedge their bets to increase their success rates, but they also want to make money. Would they turn away a willing and eager participant? I do know my doctor, and I should give her more credit that that, I suppose.
I know that’s passive aggressive anyway. I should make my own decision. And I can’t afford to wait any longer. I want to know what the deal is, what our plan is. I’m not going to spend another five years on this. It’s now or never.
Adoption is on the table. I actually contacted our preferred adoption agency, but they are not accepting new families until the spring. Well, spring is fast approaching (didn’t Punxsutawney Phil predict an early one?) and I want to make a plan.
That is really what’s behind my whole drive to figure this thing out. Why on top of everything I’ve got going on with LM’s hearing loss do I want to open myself up for more responsibility? Not just the responsibility of going through treatments, but of having another baby? Because I need a plan. I can’t stand to have this hanging over my shoulders, the will-we-or-won’t-we have another baby. There is never a good time to have a second child, just like there is never a good time to have a first child.
So we’re going to just do it.
Well, hopefully. After all, that’s not totally up to us. I wish I could just get pregnant on my own terms, like so many of my mom friends are doing. I wish I didn’t have to think about it. I wish I didn’t have to go all through everything. Again. Like Groundhog Day.
But that is my choice, isn’t it?
I posed the question to my FB group of infertility survivors: How did you make the decision when and how to have a second child? Many of the moms responded that simply, they didn’t. They decided to be one and done. They couldn’t go through that again. And they couldn’t start a new process (adoption) that could very well involve years of waiting as well. They just didn’t have it in them.
Do I have it in me? I don’t consider myself stronger than anyone else. I don’t know if this is an utterly stupid thing to do, to decide to go back down the rabbit hole of my own personal Groundhog Day (how’s that for mixing rodent metaphors?).
But I really want another child. I know I could be happy with just LM, but it’s there, nagging at me, this thing that I really want that I feel I at least have to take a shot at.
So here we go.
Let Groundhog Day begin again.
Fellow fertility patients, how did you decide what to do about having more children? One-and-done moms, how did you make that decision as well?
It’s my blogiversary! One year ago today I started Foggy Mommy with this post. As is the case with many aspects of parenting, it doesn’t seem like it’s been a year. I can’t believe LM has gone from being a one-year-old who couldn’t yet walk to a two-year-old who’s in school. One year ago I hadn’t yet ventured in the genre of parenting writing, and since then I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, Fit Pregnancy and The Washington Post’s On Parenting. I hope that doesn’t sound boastful, but I’m proud of how far I’ve gone!
Some observations on blogging:
- It’s hard to keep up with social media. I admit I probably don’t have time to tweet and Facebook as much as some of my fellow mommy bloggers. It’s just somehow not built into me — maybe I’m too old. Or maybe I just already feel like I’m too distracted from my son (this is something I’m working on as a mom). I can’t be tweeting every detail of my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you can. I just haven’t yet mastered this — maybe that’s why I still need more Twitter followers. If you haven’t already, please follow me! I’ll try to tweet more in the future.
- I love blogging, and I love freelance writing. I love the flexibility to do it whenever and wherever. But, that flexibility often makes me feel that every available minute I have I should be writing, blogging, tweeting about blogging, etc. It’s not like I just stop working when I come home from the office. I write at midnight. I email during playdates. So I wonder if I just need to turn off sometimes.
- That said, I love that I get to be home with LM. Despite the multitasking, I do feel that I’m able to give more personal attention that I would if I worked outside the home and had to commute. I think our lives would be more harried and hurried. I think LM has benefitted from me being available and around most of the time.
- A note on “oversharing”: After a piece in Slate about the profusion of personal essays, the blogosphere has been abuzz. Are we oversharing? Are we going to regret oversharing? I do try to balance what I say and what I reveal with the repercussions: Is anyone going to be pissed that I wrote this? How will LM feel about this when he’s a teenager? So I do take that into account. But in general, I don’t see what’s wrong with talking publicly about the things one has gone through. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment from XOJane editor Emily McCombs (XOJane is on my writer’s bucket list):
I can’t tell you how often I have encountered the attitude that because these stories are about women’s lives, they are somehow superficial, silly, or unimportant. Women’s lives – our stories – are not unimportant. They often reflect the feminist maxim that the personal is political.
…to suggest that adult women aren’t fully capable of deciding when and where to share information about themselves denies them an awful lot of agency.
I write about my own personal life because I want to lessen shame and encourage connection. If people read a piece I wrote and say: ‘This writer has had this experience, done this thing and felt this way so maybe I don’t have to feel ashamed of who I am,’ it’s worth it.
That pretty much sums up why I write. I want to tell the truth about infertility, miscarriage, breastfeeding, parenting after loss, and just parenting in general. All parents are a work in progress, and this blog helps me (and hopefully helps others) become aware of the things we need to work on. People have said I’m brave to share my story. I don’t think of it that way. I don’t know why I should feel like I can’t share. I’m not ashamed of my story. That’s the point — no one should be.
Give me your feedback on Foggy Mommy, or just drop a note to say happy blogiversary! I look forward to hearing from you.
This week I got a Fit Pregnancy assignment on ways to improve your egg quality. I started with a Google search, which led me to some message boards for those TTC (trying to conceive). Reading about women whose list of supplements sounded like a code of numbers and letters – CoQ10, DHEA, etc – or who were doing shots of wheatgrass daily (yes, it tastes like grass), or eating royal jelly (queen bee poop, basically) brought back memories. And not good ones.
Those supplements are the fuel of desperation. When you can’t get pregnant, it seems that there is both nothing you can do, that everything is out of your control, and that there are so many things to try, it’s overwhelming. These “alternative” treatments fall into the latter category. Western medicine is great, but when it doesn’t work, you start looking for answers elsewhere.
That led me to a wonderful, if slightly crazy, Korean acupuncturist and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner. I can’t say if anything she ever did for me worked. I know I spent a lot of money there. I was willing to try anything and everything.
But, I knew that she really believed in what she was doing – she wasn’t trying to scam me. She owned her business, and worked long hours. When she wasn’t practicing acupuncture, she was in the back of her shop mixing strange concoctions of herbs to give to her patients. She wouldn’t have been so dedicated if she didn’t believe in it.
Of course that doesn’t mean that it helped. But as I said, I was willing to try anything.
When I first saw her, she was running behind. I waited on the couch in front of the three rooms used for acupuncture treatments, filled with women trying to get pregnant (her specialty). Then she took me to her office. A huge wall of little drawers of herbs, like an apothecary’s cabinet, took up half the small space. She asked me questions about my history and looked at my tongue. Then she pronounced that she knew what was wrong with me. “Good,” I said. “Because no one else does.” She then proceeded to tell me that my uterus was cold.
Hmph, I thought.
I didn’t want to start on herbs, so we agreed instead to twice-weekly acupuncture treatments. During our sessions she did something I’ve never heard of another acupuncturist doing – placing rocks on my stomach, with a heat lamp over my belly. Apparently this was to warm up my uterus. I was instructed not to eat anything cold, like ice cream, and even to drink liquids at room temperature. I was also to use a heating pad daily – it belted around my waist and contained inside it flat rocks that, when the pad was heated in the microwave, apparently had the same warming effect as our treatment. Using a regular electric heating pad was, she said, not sufficient.
But after more failed cycles, I decided to try the herbs. They were crazy expensive because they were all imported, and weren’t regulated by the FDA. I didn’t tell my regular fertility doctors I was taking them. I knew what they would say – they didn’t know what was really in them or how they would interact with the medications. But I had tried their Western medicine way, and it wasn’t working. I didn’t care if the herbs weren’t studied – they had been practiced in Asia for centuries.
The stuff tasted like crap. I had to take two bags a day of the brown substance, filled with some strange assortment of deer antler and turtle shell and unicorn horn – oh wait, not that last one – but some very random stuff.
I still didn’t have success.
Her next suggestion was moxibustion, which consisted of burning herbs over my belly in a little pot. Well, that’s how it was supposed to work, anyway. The first time she tried it, she set off the fire alarm and the fire department actually showed up at her door. I sat in the treatment room, half naked with burning herbs on my stomach, listening to this little Korean woman try to explain moxibustion to a burly, surly fireman. Even in my desperate state, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Plus, the stuff smelled like pot. I would go for treatments on my lunch hour, returning to work smelling like I had just lit up in the parking lot.
When I still didn’t get pregnant, she looked up what else she could try. I was already taking the aforementioned wheatgrass shots and spoonfuls of special, expensive royal jelly. I was taking that long list of supplements. I had even bought some for Foggy Daddy. But she had something else for me to try: Placenta powder.
You heard right. Placenta powder.
This was obviously not my placenta since I had not yet been pregnant. This was the ground-up, dried placentas of some other random women. Is it safe? She assured me it was. OK, what the hell? I thought. I’d already taken every other weird substance known to man.
It actually didn’t taste that bad. Just a spoonful a day mixed with water. Yum! Just don’t think about what’s in it…
OK, so none of this stuff actually worked. I still could not maintain a pregnancy. My acupuncturist actually encouraged me to stop trying to get pregnant, saying that I should focus on my career, that she in some ways regretted having children because she couldn’t focus on her career as much as she wanted. That there were other things in life. She was so distraught by her inability to help me that she started doing acupuncture on me for free. I was her pro bono case. She said she’d never seen anything like it.
I eventually took a little break from all of it, including acupuncture.
When it was time for my last cycle, I had already gone another route that mainstream doctors think is bunk: reproductive immunology. This guy had me taking an intravenous blood product called IVIG; and when that didn’t work, we tried an off-label injectable called Neupogen, commonly used to boost cancer patients’ white blood cells during chemo. The doctor also had me taking a fairly high dose of prednisone, which puffed me up and gave me the dreaded “moon face.”
I decided to go back to my TCM lady solely for acupuncture in my last cycle. She took one look at me and in her English-is-not-my-first-language-so-things-come-out-with-no-filter way said, “What happened to your face?” Thanks, I thought. Like I don’t feel self-conscious enough.
That cycle gave me LM. We continued to do acupuncture until around 16 weeks, and then she hugged me and wished me luck. I sent her a birth announcement and she called me when she received it, happy almost to tears.
I have no idea if any of it made a difference. It appears that my other witch doctor, the reproductive immunologist, might have had the right medicine for me. Or maybe it was all just sheer luck. But when I think about going through all of that again to have another child – the list of supplements, the crazy treatments, the acupuncture, and not knowing if any of it is even doing anything – it seems overwhelming. Reading the stories online recently of women who are doing all of it brought me back mentally to that place, that lonely, desperate place. I’d be happy if I never went back there again.
Did you do anything crazy to try to conceive?
The front-page New York Times article on “leftover embryos” from infertility treatments earned an eye roll from me. The story explores what happens to extra embryos that are frozen after an IVF cycle – usually they are used if the fresh IVF doesn’t work or ends in miscarriage, or for a sibling or two down the road. For some couples, though, they have more embryos than they know what to do with. Hence the ethical dilemma.
We never had to make that decision. My cycles yielded a grand total of two frozen embryos, and that was after I begged and pleaded for our clinic to freeze something (they have “high standards” for freezing, which I fear may have meant that some viable embryos were thrown out instead of frozen, but that’s another story). These frozen embryos were created after my last IVF, from which I miscarried. I then used both frosties in my last-ditch FET (frozen embryo transfer). One of them became my son.
Now, faced with questions about whether to do a fresh cycle or to adopt, I wish I had the problem of too many embryos. It seems a much better problem to have than not enough. I can hear you now, though, telling me that’s a selfish way to look at it, that I’m only considering my own feelings and not those of the (potential) children frozen in time and space, just waiting to be born.
The thing is, even if you have lots of embryos that you think you won’t need, you may. FETs don’t always work. Miscarriages happen. Six frozen embryos could turn into only one live baby. So it’s really a moot point until you are done having kids. And even then, knowing my morbid nature and my tendency to hoard things, I would probably keep them for a long while just in case something happened to my living children.
Eventually, though, a choice would have to be made. And while I agree that it is difficult morally and ethically, I just don’t think it’s the sort of crisis that warrants a front-page New York Times story. Yes, there are some aspects of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that hold certain dilemmas. But it bothers me when the media choses to focus on those parts of ART when the general public still doesn’t even have an understanding of the basics. It just reinforces the weird and scary of this misunderstood process, and neglects the fact that ART has helped create thousands (millions?) of happy families over the years. One lawyer quoted in the piece even mentions an “‘ick’ factor.” Really?
I would like to see a greater effort to promote understanding and acceptance of ART, but that doesn’t sell newspapers. You know what does? Fear. Controversy. For every celebrity battling in court over frozen embryos (like Sofia Vergara), there are thousands of families living quietly and happily as a result of their own frozen embryos. Why do we have to pick out the rare occurrence and use that as a moral directive? And the issue of frozen embryos is not even new, so why is it being covered now?
But you’re still skirting the question, you might say. What about the frozen embryos no one wants? I think embryo donation is a wonderful thing. The whole “Oh, but what if they grow up and marry their sister?” thing is, again, an uninformed way of looking at it. As with children of adoption, psychologists now advise that children born as a result of donated eggs, sperm or embryos be talked to early and often about their origins, obviously in age-appropriate language. As more children born from donors grow up, hopefully society will catch up with the times and it won’t be a big deal. So if two donor children meet maybe they would be open with each other about that. True, many donations are anonymous, but there are usually enough clues to piece it together. Besides, the likelihood of this happening are rare to begin with.
If a couple just can’t wrap their head around embryo donation, though, I believe that donating to science is a wonderful thing that could improve infertility treatments in the future and maybe even save lives. I would feel OK about this option.
The NY Times article also mentions a clinic in California that is creating embryos which are then made available to couples. Patients like this program because it is quick and has a money-back guarantee. But one fertility lawyer quoted said it was commodification and one step removed from a “mail order catalogue.” To me, this is insulting to the couples themselves. Couples looking for embryos are at the end of the line. They just want a baby. They are not looking to pre-select a baby from a catalogue, choosing a child they think will be tall and blond and blue-eyed and smart. They are not sitting there thinking about creating the “perfect” child in some kind of Brave New World. When they imagine their child, they are probably imagining a baby who looks like them, imperfections and all. It’s not about selecting traits. It’s about finding a child to love who just somehow belongs in their family. Who is theirs. What is so wrong about that?
OK, but what of this child – shouldn’t he or she have a say how he was created? How will he come to view his origins? Well, first of all, none of us had a say in how we were created. And I would venture that far more babies are born “unwanted” the natural way than through ART. Couples going through ART really, really want a baby. You can bet that they will love whatever child comes into their family. And as for how these kids will view their origins as they grow, well, that depends more on us than on them. Children have to be taught that something is wrong or unnatural or weird. If we all accepted ART as a wonderful way to make a family, so would the children born of ART. They would only think it was weird if we tell them, consciously or subconsciously, that it is.
Do you agree that, once again, the media is perpetuating the belief that ART is controversial and weird?
I refused to read all the comments on my Washington Post article. This is because the first few seemed so mean and troll-ish that I figured it wasn’t worth getting upset over. Maybe as an internet blogger I need to grow a thinker skin. But regardless, a couple comments that I did read, hurtful though they were, got me thinking: Am I self-centered as a parent? Am I self-centered about my infertility?
The first charge against me: In the opening anecdote, in which three moms including myself did not move our strollers to get out of the way of an approaching jogger, I admitted that I “felt bad for our lack of consideration.” Some commenters apparently thought that this was not enough and decided to berate us and lament that parents think the whole world revolves around them and their children.
OK, I get this. To people who don’t have kids, it seems like everywhere you go kids are ruining your peace and quiet. Their strollers block the way. They bring general chaos in their wake. It can be quiet annoying. But the thing is, kids are like that. They are chaos personified. You never know when they’re going to freak out or have a poop explosion. They’re going to cry on airplanes. Sorry. There is just not much you can do about it, although I agree that some parents are more aware than others of their surroundings and how their kids are affecting people around them. In our instance, though, we were very, very new moms. It was literally the first time I’d been out for a walk with him in the stroller. I was late and couldn’t figure out how to catch up with the other moms. I parked in the wrong place. I was sweating my ass off. I was stressed and hormonal. And I didn’t know what the stroller etiquette was. So to that jogger, wherever she may be, I offer an apology. As a somewhat seasoned mom, now I know better.
The second charge against me: That I complain too much about my infertility. I have read so many comments like this over the years directed at people with infertility, and I fail to see what about this condition causes such a visceral, callous response. Would you say, “Just get over it,” to someone who dealt with mental illness? Losing a limb? The death of a loved one? Cancer? If you think my analogies are extreme, I can assure you they’re not. A study was done that revealed that people going through infertility treatments had the same level of depression as those going through cancer treatments. In most cases (but not all) infertility will not kill you, but it will greatly affect your quality of life. I don’t understand how people can go on and on about how their kids are their world, but then ask people who are having trouble having a child to just forget about it.
I did beat infertility. I now have a child. But just like any trauma, the scars stay with you. And for some reason, the scars of infertility, like infertility itself, are just not talked about. So that’s why I wrote the essay. Am I “over it”? As I said in the piece, I am struggling not to let it define me. And now as I try to figure out how to have a second child, the wounds are opening up again. There is post-traumatic stress – the feeling of being out of control of your own life, the anxiety of fearing you’ll lose everything you love – that may never fully go away. Dealing with the aftershocks of infertility happen every day. It is a valid point of view and one not generally heard by the general public.
I know infertility may not be the worst thing in the world, but unless you’re living in a war zone or extreme poverty, nothing else is either. (But knowing that there are so many other bad things than can happen is something that plagues me. What’s next? I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.) I know that many people have gone through other, different traumatic experiences. Their points of view are valid, too, and I’d love to read essays about their personal struggles. But why does that preclude me writing one about mine?
Sometimes I do feel like I’m a broken record, harping on infertility over and over again. But this is my experience. This is my reality. This is what one in eight couples deal with. This is what’s not been talked about. I am going to be an advocate for myself and my silent sorority. So to those who want to criticize my writing about it, I say: Get over it.
Why do you think infertility is so misunderstood by the general public?
I’m excited and honored to be published in The Washington Post’s On Parenting blog. My essay “The Other Side of Infertility” explores the scars that infertility leaves behind, even after having a much-wished for child. Please check it out!
I do want to express that I’m so thankful for the mom friends I’ve met who have been such a support for me as I’ve made this transition to the post-infertile world. Even though at first I felt like I didn’t belong in a “mommy club,” thanks to their friendship I’m starting to become more at peace with my past and am feeling like a whole person again, instead of a broken one.
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.