What Infertility Tests
This week marks precisely one year since I made my first blog post public about our struggle with infertility. While we’ve worked toward a child for quite some time, the last twelve months have been particularly difficult. Many people have been strong shoulders to support us as we faced uncertainty in the future of our family. When others made me feel misunderstood and as though I’m wrong for feeling as I do, when the doctors’ visits and drugs make me feel like a guinea pig, when it’s all too much, I know without doubt infertility is the biggest test I've ever faced in my life. People say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so by now I guess I should be wonder woman.
What infertility tests
Life throws trials and tests at us consistently as we mature. Some of the obstacles are small and some seem to be the size of Mount Everest. Throughout our struggle trying to conceive a child, I have heard far too many times that infertility isn’t really a disease. Folks who haven’t walked our path try to tell us that the constant heartache and stress of infertility is not akin to other diseases.
These people are wrong.
Infertility has been one of the hardest tests I have even endured. There is no finite end point. You try until you run out of options, hope, treatments, money or any combination of the above. More than that, infertility tests every fiber of who you are. I’ll share with you a few ways infertility tests you.
When you are starry eyed and looking at your spouse at the front of the church, you never think about the moments of grief you will suffer alone but together. Early in the process with my new OBGYN, he reminded me that Jeremy and I would face the difficulties of our lot in totally different ways. Daily, I am reminded that is absolutely true. Jeremy and I have been through all of our ups and downs together. We are reminded that we need each other to help carry this burden because there are few others who truly understand what we have endured. We’ve had to learn how to grieve together for a grief that others find ridiculous. We’ve had to learn to deal with our grief alone when it is too much for the other to bear. Through this process, we have grown closer and become a “two-man” team, but I know why infertility can easily end marriages that don’t have a foundation that is firm and unshakable.
Your definition of family
I come from a large extended family where everyone has children. I have more than 14 first cousins, most of who are very close to my age. It is a huge anomaly for people in my family to be childless in their 30’s. I grew up with a strong sense of family, both from my parents, as well as my extended family. When I got married in my 20’s, I never imagined I would be childless as we near our 10 year anniversary. Jeremy and I are secure in our couple-hood; however, I always felt like we would be a family once our first child arrived. In the last year, I’ve begun to re-imagine what it means to be family. Many people would agree that children are the completing component of a family. But, what I now believe is that family doesn’t look just one way. Jeremy and I are a family. We are together because of love and have built a life together that will endure because we are linked.
Infertility is one of the most stressful things a couple could ever endure. When others tell you to simply “relax” and you will get pregnant, they diminish the real struggle that infertility causes. It’s not as simple as “relaxing” when there is a medical issue that causes your infertility. While someone’s hairdresser’s sister’s third cousin’s best friend’s kindergarten teacher’s baker got pregnant because of “de-stressing,” that doesn’t mean it will work for me. We all know anecdotes about people who miraculously got well from a seemingly terminal illness even though they refused treatment. However, the exception does not make the rule. There are realities that no one knows outside of the inner sanctum of infertility. But those of us who have dealt with infertility for years- for some, even decades- the reality is that one’s mental health ultimately suffers. One of my secret shames has been my struggle with depression. I was ashamed that I couldn’t-and can’t- get beyond my grief at my inability to conceive. I’ve sought help and have a fantastic medical and emotional support team to help me through the double “dirty secret” and depression and infertility. Infertility is a real medical condition that has side effects, like any other. I refuse to be ashamed because my grief has led me into depression that I am conquering.
Thanksgiving turkey baking in the oven. Decorating the family Christmas tree. Coloring Easter eggs. The family vacation. Little ghosts or princesses trick or treating. Children on their father’s shoulders seeing their first fireworks display. My life has been filled to the brim with fantastic family traditions. My parents gave me a strong sense of who I am and where I came from. At the center of those memories, the traditions that are family oriented are a primary feature. As the years have gone by and Jeremy and I still wait for parenthood, our sense of tradition has been challenged. When we were first married, we imagined the traditions would feel different after we had children. Then, my nieces came and made some of those things bright again. But, recently, it has been difficult to be satisfied with no children of our own with whom we can craft our own traditions. Watching parents see their children through family traditions makes my heart break. I hope and pray that we someday have a child with whom to create and share traditions, but I have had to navigate the idea that our couple traditions can be new… and can be enough.
Infertility is one of those things that becomes first and foremost in your life. There’s no such thing as putting it on the backburner. When you need an ultrasound or a procedure, it must be at the correct time. As such, your priorities shift in many ways. For us, it meant making doctors’ visits and following doctors’ orders a top priority. Everything revolved around making the appointments and doing exactly what we were told in order to maximize our chances of becoming pregnant. It also shifted our priorities in terms of our finances. Since our insurance regrettably covers nothing affiliated with infertility, we started the monthly task of shelling out money for medications, doctors’ visits and various procedures. Instead of thinking about the next great vacation we might want to take, we think about how long it will take us to save for IVF in case that is our next step. In short, before we ever have a child, we have made our potential child our first priority.
Once you get to a certain age, or a certain number of years of marriage, it seems everyone feels the need to tell you how meaningless your life is until you have a child. Other women tell you how you have never known love or devotion until you create a tiny human. I am sure this is true, but in my state constantly-negative-pregnancy-tests, I don’t need to hear it incessantly. Many women who have children create a sorority premised on the notion that I am incapable of “fully” understanding the range of human emotions possible for a woman and only other mothers can be in the “real woman” club. In short, because I can’t have a baby like you, I am not nearly the woman you are. It is hard to hear the words of “wisdom” from these people, because they have not walked your path. I refuse to compare myself to other women, but I know I am a strong woman for walking my path as long as I have. As women, we all do each other a disservice by putting down other women on journeys we do not understand. If mothers truly understand love more completely than I do, can’t they share it with me instead of holding it over my head?
When you are infertile, people often offer unsolicited advice. Most times, I am kind in my responses, because I know they usually mean well, but as time wears on, I have less and less patience for ignorance. I know most of them will never understand that telling me I will get pregnant when I give up is akin to shooting daggers into my heart. I know most people who complain about pregnancies never think about the childless, broken woman who would give anything to feel the “pain” of pregnancy. I understand that the mother of ten who insists on giving me advice that I moved past years ago doesn’t mean to break my heart. I know the mother with a newborn who complains about sleepless nights doesn’t understand that I would love to have a reason to stay up all night, aside from my Type A worrying. But, as she swaddles that little, perfect being, my heart breaks because I have begun to accept I may never be in her shoes. I try to leave my snarkiness somewhere deep inside and show her joy and kindness, but sometimes it is just too much. Sometimes I just have to tell the well-meaning person that they are just plain wrong.
Your sense of self
Infertility makes you feel like you can’t do the thing you want to do most. It takes away your power. It can make you believe you are not the person you once thought you were. As such, it undermines some of your most fundamental ideas about the life you have chosen to lead. I wonder if I have done something wrong to offend someone sometime and that cosmically led to my infertility. I wonder if I had done something different a million years ago, would it have changed my infertile fate? There is no way to know and most days I know this enough to put aside these issues. Sometimes I have to tell myself what I know I am: a strong, smart, savvy, tough, tenacious, take no prisoners type of woman who conquers whatever I set my mind and heart on. But, knowing that doesn’t mean that the insecurities don’t creep in from time to time.
Trust is a difficult thing for many people, fertile or infertile. However, when you are in this position, you must place your trust in medical professions who may or may not have earned it. You must believe they are giving you the correct instructions, making the right decisions for you, and generally have your best interest at heart. In short, you are fairly powerless and you are at the mercy of the expertise they choose to share with you. If you are lucky, you find a doctor who puts you at ease and makes your feel like your concerns are important. If you are unfortunate, you go through a situation like mine and realize your “specialist” doesn’t really care if you ever get pregnant. At the end of the day, you don’t know what will happen until it is over. And, that is the scariest part of the leap of faith in trust.
I was raised in church and my mother saw that I was instilled with a strong sense of faith. While I might disagree with some of the decisions the church has made on social issues, I still fundamentally believe in the faith my mother taught me. However, the longer I have dealt with infertility, the more difficulty I have had with keeping my faith. There are moments when I feel like I am outside of God’s touch. These moments are most prevalent when people think they can console me with talk of “God’s plan.” Yes, I know this is part of most religious doctrine, but I really don’t believe in the micromanagement of humans by God. I can’t maintain my faith if I believe God thinks it is best not to give me a child and to give them to parents who choose to kill them. I refuse to believe that God is punishing me when others are able to have children freely. I know as long as I face infertility, I know my faith will continue to be tested.
Some women join infertility groups when they have tried for a month or two and haven’t gotten pregnant. I wish that was my brand of infertility. In truth, infertility has pushed me to heights greater than I ever thought possible. I have found and “interviewed” doctors, have “fired” my specialist, have taken medicines I never imagined and had more people involved in my personal life than has ever been comfortable. Every month, I have failed to get pregnant. However, we keep going and trying new things, sometimes with renewed hope and sometimes with no hope at all. I have changed so many things about my life in the pursuit of a child. But, I know I might only be at the beginning. Infertility is a marathon… there is no sprint here.
I was raised with a strong set of values set forth by my parents. I know what I believe. However, infertility has pushed me to see more shades of gray than I ever imagined possible. You don’t know what decisions you will make until you are in the position of an infertile. You can draw your lines in the sand when everything is hypothetical, but when it is you, your spouse, and your potential family on the line, all bets are off. While I know right from wrong, I also know our world is not one of absolutes. Far more often, we navigate the sketchy areas between what is definite. Infertility has taught me one major message: judge not lest ye be judged.