Sunday, January 31, 2010


* Disclaimer*
Neither this post, nor any part of my life, nor any sane portion of the known or unknown world has anything whatsoever to do with Michael Jackson, and I fervently hope that his estate is in some sort of perpetual infringement of copyright due to the similarity.

So I was at the library today, picking up my copy of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca for the third installment of the all-girls book club. It will be the first installment I can actually remember to appear at, so I figure that the least I can do is read the whole book and have something to say. (As a bonus, if I finish by tonight, I will have kept the first month's worth of my resolution to read one book a month for fun in 2010.)

I'd forgotten how I love libraries. I meant to run in, grab my book, and run out; but they have such peacefulness, and I could spend hours curled up in un-adult fashion on the floor between shelves, poring through chapters of books I tell myself I don't want to read enough to actually check out. So the electronic* card catalog beckoned me, and, furtively glancing about, I typed "infertility" in to search by subject. I memorized the Dewey decimal number of the first relevant hit, and scuttled over to the non-fiction area to check out all the titles on the topic (but not before putting in a different search term, so the next person wouldn't find a search on infertility. Bonus skills as a result of IF: paranoia!).

I should note that my local branch is not the central library for the system, and is near a poor neighborhood, so it doesn't have tons of titles. There were maybe four or five titles on infertility. Two copies of a large tome entitled How to Get Pregnant. Or not. Another was something about coping with infertility, which looked promising, but was subtitled as a comprehensive list of reproductive technologies and treatments. The really interesting title was the one about IF as a spiritual journey, subtitled something enticing, like "having your miracle family now." How could this disappoint?

As it turns out, the author (male) was trying to get across that your future child needs to be "conceived in your heart" before he or she appears in the world, especially if the process of bringing them about takes much longer than the traditional nine months. The "miracle" part, according to the jacket, had to do with stressing very firmly that you're going to have that baby. You just gotta believe! Go suck an egg (no IF pun intended), stupid author of stupid book. You and your PhD are not wise, just lucky. Also, he and his wife used IVF to get pregnant. While I recognize that one can be "spiritual" and not appreciate all of my moral understandings,** I had assumed something far different from a book about the spiritual side of the experience, and was not impressed.

I know I rant about it all the time, but why is the infertility-discussing community so profoundly blind to the "never" issue? Sure, conceive whatever you want in your heart. What happens if he/she/they is/are never conceived in fact? What then?

Oh, and then there was Living with Impotence. Possibly closer (er, my dh isn't impotent. I was thinking more along the lines that at least it's "living with," not "sunshine! Rainbows! Unicorns! Other sunshine and other rainbows!" So if it's a little grimmer and more realistic, that could be good), but I'm not bringing that one home. So, I went back to the one with the comprehensive treatment list and leafed through the table of contents. There was a chapter on giving up, and another on not destroying your marriage by turning into a monster! Jackpot.

Unfortunately, these chapters were a little thin, so I read through them on a handy stool, and left the library (sadly) with no infertility book to curl up with and read in bed. You see, books are authoritative. If a book says I must be feeling some way, and can fix it some other way, it must be true. It's like therapy. I like books (I just forget, since it seems I don't read them any more...).

The chapters...well, they just didn't have nearly enough. The author went through post-giving-up options: donor gametes, adoption, foster care, living "childfree" (I've always disliked that term. Like "disease-free" or "pest-free" or something - as if they were a pestilence that had been successfully exterminated from the marriage. It gives no voice at all to the truth of my experience, nor, I think, to the truth of human nature).

He also said something interesting: that the decision to stop treatment may likely bring anger, but that this is a "secondary emotion" - not the actual reaction. That the anger is masking sorrow. I would never have said so (I assume the anger is masking guilt), but I was almost in tears in the library, the moment I read that. There's a river of sorrow, big enough to swallow me up, beneath the bravado and the irritation that prompts me to read stfuparents and the restless wandering through too many electronic stimuli (blogs, and TV shows on hulu, people) and the too-many hopes that I have pinned on buying a house. Kind of like the river of slime under the city:

Rationally, I can understand that this sort of thing can happen, and that if 1/6 of couples are infertile, then some portion of those will never have children, and I know I could have chosen to be more aggressive with treatment (so I'm more likely to be among the "never" group). That I can go on with my life. Do other things. Be friends with the people I can be friends with from where I am, and who won't drive me crazy. Someday find a job that takes less of my time, so I can spend more time "giving back" in a way that makes me feel fulfilled.

But if rationally were enough, I wouldn't still be angry. Today's Epistle included the famous I Corinthians 13 - "love is patient, love is kind." In the translation at Mass (not my favorite, but in a century or two the bishops will probably discover that there are better ones), "Love does not brood over injury." I don't know whom in the IF process I'm supposed to love specifically, but I brood over injury as if it were my job. In fact - and St. Paul doesn't appear to have contemplated this specifically - I'm not that bad about brooding over injuries that have actually occurred. But I spend an inordinate amount of time brooding over injuries that have happened in a scenario in my head. (I would guess that this also falls under the ban.) So, I need to work on the behavior. But, always more interesting than mere misbehavior, there has got to be a reason. Why do I feel my more-or-less predictable life is so far out of my control that I have to pick great horrible epic fights - usually with people I'm fond of - in my head over slights that have never occurred?

I actually don't have an answer on this one, so please let me know if you have suggestions.

If, returning to my point, the rational explanation covered the whole case, why would I still have no earthly idea what to do with God? I pray. I go to Mass. Sometimes I read my Magnificat, and yesterday I even went to Adoration for the first time in ages. I prayed. But I don't feel close to God - at all. I reminded myself of the theological reasons I know He is there, and prayed for the people I want Him to keep safe, and asked for guidance; on IF, and my life, and my marriage, and my house(s). I never really hear answers, but this time I had the distinct impression of no one being there to give an answer anyway.

So it's not over, and I'm not done, and "moving on" is not enough. And I'm still terribly sad. On a psychological level, of course none of the good I can do after "moving on" could ever touch the precious good that I wanted, more or less reasonably expected, and can't have. There is everything to mourn, and bitterly, and who knows how long that will take? It's not only a matter of deciding to move on. Frankly, I'm not sure even what to do to make progress with the mourning.

On a spiritual level, I remind myself, God has plans for my good, not for my harm; He loves me and wants me to be happy. Fair enough. And when those plans materialize, maybe I will see this, and I will have no more reason for sorrow. (I have certainly heard tell of such reactions in those who hold their children after many years of IF. Again, though, not all of us will ever get there.) But now, I can't imagine that; and is the psychological level so opposed to the spiritual? If I can, in accurate and fair terms, assert that I am here in the center of a tragedy, should I rejoice rather than mourn, because my faith requires that I believe the tragedy a triumph? I don't see a triumph. I am willing to keep an eye out for it, though.

If I may recognize the tragedy, without committing a spiritual error, what am I to do with God? Is this the time to remember that free will and the Fall lead to all sorts of unhappiness in the earthly life, which God has allowed to happen that we might choose to love Him, and I should not assume that my suffering is something He willed or created? Or is this a good occasion to complain at Him that it's absolutely no fair designing someone for the vocation to marriage when You know perfectly well that I'm biologically incapable of having children with my husband, and if You're just going to let that happen and then play the "free will" card, You darn well better prepare something else for me to do with myself - and give me a clue what it is? Or should I assume design in all these things - God intended specifically that I be childless, either to punish me, or to designate me as a carrier of crosses all my days, or because He has some other plan that is wholly incompatible with motherhood (but He's not telling)? And which reason would be the best guess? Or do I assume (as my husband does) that God is disinterested in my suffering, and that this life will therefore be unhappy and wretched, and my prayers for rescue or peace will fall always on deaf ears?

I am not making my passage easily. But my destination, I know, is neverland; not the place of a different option or a different reality, but of not having the option that others have, that life is meant to have (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, the goods that all men seek after). I never parsed the word when I watched Peter Pan as a child, but it is an interesting name. The place where children never grow up, where people never grow older; where children can live without parents (so I can imagine there's a county in neverland for parents without children); where they never starve or come to harm, despite a lack of adults to watch them; and where pixie dust and good wishes allow all the willing-hearted to fly.

Perhaps that is where I belong - with the traditional family many stars away, never growing through the stages of adulthood that are expected for normal folk, forever building eccentric houses, fighting cartoon foes in my mind, and searching out a fairy for that elusive lesson in flying.

Somehow, it doesn't seem that easy, the way I'm doing it.

*I should really find out what the county library system did with their old wooden catalog units, and snag one or two for myself. I could do so many things with an antique card catalog!

**Obviously the Catholic/other people debate about, say, IUI rests on a tricky bit of moral theology about the circumstances of conception. But IVF, in addition to being a lot more expensive and more invasive, generally causes the deaths of lots of itty bitty babies - and deliberately consigns lots of others to a freezer, which I believe isn't good for them, and seems terribly sad.


  1. I love libraries too, which is good since I'm a librarian! But I'm at an elementary school and not in a public library, which I think I would like. Something about the quiet in a library is comforting to me.

    I don't know what to tell you about "never." I was just blogging about it the other day, saying that sometimes I think our adoption will never happen, while my husband just trusts that it will. IF is so hard.

  2. Just wandering through blogland tonight, and wanted to send you a hug. I was at mass today too, and thinking of how that reading (Corinthians)applies to the struggles of life where I am now. It shouldn't be a surprise, but it is, to realize that thousands of others also heard that reading today and that it has a different meaning, or guidance, or whatever for each of us.

    I also struggle with seeing struggles as blessings - well, perhaps not "smaller" struggles, as hard as they may be - but IF leading to childlessness is one of the very tough ones. While I came through to the other side of IF, my wonderful SIL (who is a very devoted Christian, not Catholic and younger than me, but one of my "wise women" all the same) - well, she & her dh have come to peace with the childfree life.

    There is something about htat I just find hard to reconcile. How can you have this deep desire in your heart, to want something so intensely, and yet to have it denied ... and yet still have that faith in, and love for, God. SIL describes it as a long, long journey through a terribly dry desert - despair, hopelessness - but then she says, there was a moment when it started to rain, and it was such a release. Today there is still sadness at times, but she & her dh are so much more at peace, in love with each other, making plans. I am so glad for them that they have come to that place, but sad for them still.

    Anyway I wanted you to know I am sending you hugs tonight, and hoping the rains will come for you soon, that you will see some signs to guide you. I do believe that God always loves us and will help us, and show us the way - but I too have gone through times of utter dryness where it seemed that God just wasn't there. Later I could see He was. Right now I am in another very difficult struggle and I hope I will look back on this someday to see it for me too.

    If you haven't already found Loribeth at her blog - The Road Less Travelled - you might like to stop by there. She loves book too.


  3. I enjoyed your post and I don't have much to comment except that you might be interested in a guest poster for me that is hopefully going to finish soon. The topic is how she peacefully (fairly) decided to stop ttc and that, for the most part, adoption isn't for them. They live a wonderfully fulfilling life with great rewarding jobs, friends, faith, lots of acts for others, and a ton of traveling thrown in. They have a great marriage and I admire them so much. That is why I asked the wife, my friend, to write a post to share. I hope you will stay tuned...

  4. Must conceive in your heart first, huh? Right. Too bad it's not that easy. You're right, though, more IF resources need to consider the "never" aspect. They don't like to acknowledge that possible outcome, for which I was grateful early on. But later? I needed to know. I realize it's moot at this point, but I really would have liked to know more about that potentiality.

    FYI, I love libraries too. They're so peaceful, and I'm surrounded by books. I haven't been to one in years. I need to visit again.

  5. I love library and books! I don't have any advice about dealing with the likelihood of never. Your post is beautiful in describing your emotions.

  6. The part of this post that really struck a chord with me was "...should I rejoice rather than mourn, because my faith requires I believe the tragedy a triumph?" I am still pondering that thought, but at least for me, I feel at my lowest (tragedy) and definately don't feel like, nor see any cause for triumph. But I think that would negate the tragedy, anyway- to triumph while still in it. I think the tragedy needs to be fully experienced and lived before the promise of the triumph is revealed.
    Rather than triumph, I think we can try (though it's not easy) to find HOPE in the tragedy. Hope that one day there will be triumph. And no, I don't mean a baby. Though that would be nice. I'm so OVER babies curing all. I don't want that. Yes, I want to be a mother, but I do NOT want the cause of my triumph to be in the form of another human being. No, the creation of another soul should be THAT SOUL'S triumph, not mine. My relationship with God shouldn't hinge on my getting a child.

    So, I just had verbal diarrhea all over your blog. Sorry 'bout that.

  7. Never is rough. And so final, unlike life (until we die, of course). So we can't really say never until it's midnight. And that is somehow very nervewracking.

    Meaning if you really, really knew you'd never have a biobaby, you could give up and resign yourself to coping. Instead, there's always just a little bit of hope. And there madness lies.

    I bought into that horrible, punishing idea of "conceiving in my heart" for a long time. It became just another way to flog myself for my failure: If only I wanted/deserved/made my heart open by healing old wounds enough, my baby would come. But IF isn't a mental problem. That new age mumbo jumbo is just a fey way of blaming the victim.

  8. I'm a long-time lurker on your blog. I really enjoy your honest and articulate perspective on suffering. While I do not struggle with infertility, I have another medical condition which has often led me into the spiritual dryness you describe. I found the following post and the comments/discussion from very helpful: