Saturday, September 5, 2009


I haven't watched the movie (I may yet). But it has gotten me thinking nevertheless. And then I was goaded to actually write it out when I read this statistic appended to Pamela Tsigidnos's article:
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.)


  1. I'm currently reading Pamela's book and it's awesome.

    And...I've pretty much given up on a bio-baby.

  2. We as believers have to have faith that God's plan for us is better than what we planned for ourselves....we just have to be open to it (Let God). I'm going to believe matter what. There are many people out there who don't have children and are doing many great things. Sadly, there are people out there with children who are miserable and aren't doing anything but sitting around complaining about their kids. My mom reminds me often that children don't necessarily mean a lifetime of happiness. She's right. We all know there are people in the nursing homes who have children who don't come to visit them. We don't know the plan...but we have to believe there is one. My dh and I did what we thought God wanted by trying to bring another life into His it not happening is a clear indicator God has something else planned. We will never regret trying. Goodness no.

  3. Well, you said a lot. I am not sure how to comment, but wanted to let you know that I am still reading. I am on year 4 and I am still hoping that despite the crappy statistics that I will have two children at the end of this. (yes, I said two)

  4. I've seen a lot of different statistics re: final tally of IFers who wind up having children, some of them as high as 85-95% of all couples will end up with a baby eventually (if they are willing to consider things like donor sperm/egg or surrogates).

    However, those treatments aren't an option for many people. Moreover, just because you don't wind up responding to treatment, you may end up parenting via adoption, something that has made many many people extremely satisfied. So the number of folks who remain childless by (or due to lack of?) choice is likely way smaller than 1 in 20, I'd argue.

    But statistics aside, I'd also argue that finding the deeper purpose in your life is something somewhat separate from fertility/childbearing/parenting. I often felt over the last four years that since I couldn't control that aspect of my life very well, I could at least try to find some meaning for myself in other realms: music, nature, the life of the mind, yadda yadda. I don't think we get a big-picture aha moment and know, yes, this is what this was for until much, much later in life (if ever).

    But you're brave to look closely at these things. I hope your search brings you to interesting revelations and ultimately to peace and great blessings.

  5. wow. i've heard the one in six statistic but never the one in twenty.

    i hate math.

    i'm glad i'm not the only one looking for my something extraordinary... it's like you said, not thinking we "settled for what we got."

    so julia cooked, and was in france.. i see that connection. God is silent in the infertility sector of giving me a definite answer.. maybe He's more into giving clues for this next path... i hope.

  6. thanks for your suggestions on my desk too... i'm trying to imagine that whole room and really like one of the desks in SA.

  7. I think because we've already decided to be parents regardless of whether we can produce biological offspring, I'm not even willing to imagine my life completely without kids. In fact, infertility has cemented the feeling that I don't need a greater purpose than being a wife and mother.
    Obviously, every woman is different, which is why there are couples who DO chose to live without children. And they find meaning and fulfillment in many other ways.
    I agree that infertility seems invisible until your IF yourself. I know I thought it was weird growing up that my aunt only had two girls when all the rest of my family had large families of at least 6 kids (she had endo), but I don't think I heard the word infertility mentioned until my sister struggled for 3 years to get pregnant with my nephew. How many other people might have been IF around me? I have no idea. My eyes are a little more opened now and I tend to notice the childless couple at the mall in their thirties or forties, or the ones at the park with their dog, and think...maybe.

    I hope I'm not that one of the "hard cases" that never crosses the line...

  8. Good reflection! Although I like to sometimes consider the possibility of being childless just to torture myself, I know that I will adopt. It's just that when I pray for God's will to be done.. and I REALLY mean it.. I have to at least consider the possibility that his will may be for us to remain childless (although barring an apparition from Jesus or Our Lady themselves, I can't imagine what could possibly happen to bring me to the point where I would make that decision because unlike getting pregnant, not adopting is a choice [unless of course you aren't approved]). So in considering all the possibilities, I just contemplated the idea of God willing for me to be a good, faithful wife, doing charity work, maybe being a prayer warrior, etc., but not anything visible and huge on a wordly scale. After all, many of the saints lived very humble existences because God called them to that. I really think I just considered it to challenge myself. Or to make me more depressed which is something I tend to do. Just like when I purposely look at baby pictures on

    By the way, I just read your comment on my post. Thanks for letting me know that! I wonder why Dr. L doesn't think Tamoxifen is risky for me. Very weird! I don't know if she realizes, but I really don't want another surgery any time soon!

  9. While I would like to think that I could be content without children, I just don't see that happening. I don't know how long we'll try and I don't know at which point we'll look to adoption {the money isn't there for anything right now so it's a rather mute point}, but I am pretty sure that some day, I will have children.

    I hadn't heard those statistics before. Sad, and interesting.