One in six of all couples seek medical help because of childlessness, and one in twenty will never have a child despite all that medicine can offer.
Though my arithmetic abilities have shamefully atrophied since high schoool, I eventually did get most of the math straight on infertility. Before I was married (after my first endo surgery), my OB/GYN told me that 50% of couples conceive in six months of trying; 85% within one year. Add the facts that a formal diagnosis of IF means one year of trying with no pregnancy and that one in six couples (~15%) is infertile, and you have all the pieces of the equation.
It not infrequently occurs to me that my beloved ladies in the IF gang who have been hanging out on this particular street corner for, let's say, three years or more, are not just the hard cases to treat. They are also the cohort from which will be drawn those who will never have children of their own. I don't mean that to sound horrible and I know that it would be factually inaccurate to say that after three years of trying there's no hope. People conceive later than that all the time. But, of course, IFers who conceive before three years necessarily will (or, do) have their own children, so we can count them out; and, those who've been trying 1-2 years strike me as an uncertain group from which to draw the lifers, if you will. In the first year of treatment, you're still deciding whether you like your RE, getting blood drawn, doing ultrasounds, putting in your time on clomid, peeing on sticks, scrutinizing your charts, and getting good at denial. The real intractable cases set in later, right? Does this make sense to anybody?
OK, even if it doesn't. One in twenty is a huge number. Enormous. It means that almost one in three infertile couples will not cross over. (I figured it was one in a hundred and I'd still be in that category. At one in three, it seems like a foregone conclusion.) It's a current number, too, which means it reflects treatment by IVF and IUI, which (despite some numbers apparently floating around in Catholic circles) appear to be more effective, or, in fairness, at least more quickly, at treating really entrenched infertiles.
One in three, if you think about it, is double the percentage of infertiles in the general population. And you know and I know that IF only seems to be invisible. It's not discuss-able in polite society, really; but an infertile girl walking around can spot other infertiles pretty reliably, and even someone who never thinks about IF but is perceptive can usually pick out one or two IF couples among his acquaintance (provided he knows a significant number of couples of childbearing age). We know it's out there. But how about this. We know lots more infertiles than most people do. How many couples can you name who have exhausted their treatment options and will be childless for life (or will adopt any children they will ever have)? I would guess not very many. Practically none.
Which is one of the reasons I was so immensely struck by Pamela's blog. She is charting territory where by all appearances no one has traveled before. Except it seems as though lots of people have. What do you do to conceal permanent childlessness so that nobody notices it (i.e., even I can't name any IRL examples I know personally)? Get divorced? Become a CEO? Take up skydiving? Become sexually libertine? Pitch yourself off a building? Rely on people's natural denial to edit around it in their minds so they don't notice?
Which brings me, by degrees, to Julia. I understand from reading others' impressions that she took up cooking because she found herself traveling with her husband, her time unoccupied, and unable to have children. If I'm Julia Child, and I look back on my life, and I realize that I was able to excel stupendously at something about which I was passionate, and share my passion with others - indeed, to bring to so much of the world something it would have lacked without me - I may still be sad for my childless arms, but I know I had other work to do. I know I lived a full life, the life I was supposed to lead.
Given my particularly grim response to not getting what I want (how many fights my first year of marriage could be chalked up to this problem?), I have developed a certain knack for having low expectations. It requires constant work, because my inclination, in my secret heart of hearts, is to expect the moon, which, thus far, has not been forthcoming. A sweet, innocent Catholic girl might look at her life and think that her future really might contain such a thing - incredible success, maybe even fame, an opportunity to live a dream. I can say from personal experience that such a sweet, innocent girl would be irrecognizable after four years of constant disappointment in her hopes for a particularly humble dream: to have a few babies to care for in the anonymity of her home and family. So we can throw that line of thinking right out. I, at any rate, am not expecting to have a major television show. (That sort of thing is not even really a temptation for me. Many other materialistic things are, naturally.)
But here's the thing. I want what Julia had - I want a life whose stamp is such that I could reflect on it and see clearly what I was meant for, why I was here - that I was mistaken about the kids because there was something much bigger and better that I couldn't see. (God's grace is supposed to work like that, as I understand - what He wants for you is better than whatever you could want for yourself.) I can't well imagine any such possibilities, however. I have all the degrees I want and no interest in pursuing another line of work. As long as we live in this area and the economy's in the toilet, I can't afford to practice real do-gooder law, plus I seem to be decent at what I'm doing. Real exceptionalism in practicing law takes a handful of forms, none of which is compatible with being at home except to sleep, and sometimes not then; so that's not an option I'd be willing to pursue. I could volunteer, but I don't think charitable activities should be the meaningful butter on a life of pointless bread, if you will. I'm already married and that isn't supplying me with sufficient meaning to be content. Which means that either whatever is planned for me instead of having children is going to be totally out of left field, and not something toward which I'm currently traveling (and shouldn't I be headed there by now?), or there's nothing planned at all and life has no meaning.
(I note that this isn't actually a response to AYWH's post, I'd been thinking about this already; but hers definitely deserves a mention. I reject her conclusion not because I believe it's technically wrong but because I absolutely refuse to deal with the possibility. Infertility, for me, has been a lot of "I guess so" when a good person would say yes and I'd like to say no, and then inability to follow through with actually living a "yes" well. This is my first HELL NO. Of course, I know what "no" means. No means that's what you'll get, and you'll learn to deal with it. Moral of the story: it can always be worse.)