Tuesday, June 21, 2011

let's be honest

One of my little exercises is to keep a sheet recording how I respond to anger. Well, I may have an entry. I told Father at one point that I generally avoid actually attacking people who say insensitive or even appalling things to me on the basis that they're just too stupid to know any better - and they wouldn't learn anything even if I Told Them Things in no uncertain terms. But that doesn't really sound like compassion, does it? And he said, what do you think, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" means? I'm sure our Lord said it with a better attitude, though.

The problem with my strategy (well, one major problem) is that it does not work on infertile women. No matter how I try, I cannot convince myself that anyone who went through the pain of infertility for so much as a minute - let alone for years - is too ignorant to know how offensive her comments could be. Restraining myself from responding usually involves deleting a blog from my blogroll and never reading it again, because the response would probably start with, "Do you remember even one second of the pain you felt? What gives you the right to increase that for someone still in the middle of it by so much as one iota?" and get a lot more hostile from there.

So I've deleted bloggers who said, "I felt guilty for ever being sad about infertility, because it was not a faithful response - all that pain is worth it since I now have my child." That's great, dear. That's not the spiritual value of suffering, by the way. Also, if you can spare a moment from celebrating your bundle of joy, should those who will never have children feel guilty for grieving that fact? Should they just feel perpetually guilty in case they have children later - so they can potentially spend their whole lifetimes grieving and guilty?

And I've deleted bloggers who said that just seeing their babies was a source of joy for everyone in the world. Funny, then, how they wanted to have their own babies, and they weren't contented by the contagious joy of just seeing other people's. They may even have uttered comments now and again about how they didn't want to attend baby showers, because others' blessings actually made their lives harder. They must have realized that they were mistaken about those feelings once they had children of their own.

And I deleted the blogger who went from being interesting and having a lot of hobbies and personality to (she said) becoming obsessed with keeping her page reads up after she delivered her child. Apparently she wasn't able to get her head around the fact that the childless infertile community might need to lower its dose of all baby pictures, all the time. And I believe she said almost in so many words that it never crossed her mind to post less and comment more - invest her energy in supporting those who were still struggling rather than in developing a fan base.

This charming sampling would give a cynical - maybe even a reasonable - person a basis to believe that, far from being taught compassion and generosity by their experience, infertile women become so much more selfish than other women that once they have their own children, they take self-absorption and maternal vanity to olympic heights of which the normally fertile could only dream. But my friendships (online and in real life) with infertile women who have gone on to become mothers make clear to me that there are some out there who are capable of being self-aware, compassionate, selfless, and sensitive. I just think they're in the minority.

And I haven't even shared my Exhibit A. Exhibit A breaks one of the IF blogging commandments: you can complain about anything on an IF blog except other IF bloggers. You know what? So few of the IF women I "met" when I started blogging are still childless (and therefore still read my blog - the number of women who have children and still comment here is vanishingly small, but I treasure each and every one of you) that I have just about nothing to lose. Oh, a tip: if you haven't commented here since before your child was born and you return to comment just on this post to defend women with children, I'm deleting your comment. This is my blog, as you should be able to tell by the total lack of baby pictures.

So my Exhibit A is the DC women's Catholic infertility support group, a cumbersome name oftened shorted to the "infertile coffee" (I liked to say that there was nothing wrong with the coffee, actually). It was started by Jeremiah 29:11 in maybe 2009ish. Jeremiah has many traits I do not share - she's energetic, organized, personable, charismatic, and sweet-tempered. These were all excellent traits for an organizer of an infertility support group. Unfortunately for the infertile coffee, not that long after she started the group, she adopted Tommy.

Oh, sure, she invited the ladies over to meet Tommy several months later (and I gather several women went - I didn't), but there's something about "meet the baby" and "support for infertility" that sounded not-synonymous to me. Not that anyone should not also meet the baby, but I have days when I handle other people's babies well and they are not numerous and that was not one of them. It should go without saying that that's not personal - or, to mangle a quote, "It's the infertility, stupid," but apparently that doesn't go without saying (as we shall soon see).

So at some point I took over organizing the infertile coffee. This project was doomed from the start, partly because I am not remotely as personally pleasant as Jeremiah, partly because so very many of the ladies had adopted or delivered babies in that interval, and partly for another reason. When I picked the organization back up, I opened a discussion of what the group's format should be. Pretty much everyone sent back typically female answers - "Oh I like people let's be nice won't it be nice to meet nice nice nice." I don't understand why women can't just say what it is they mean once in a while. I have other women tell me in whispers all the time that they actually agree with whatever controversial perspective I have just aired, but they would never have said it that way (or, obviously, at all). Of course, they wait until after the storm of debate is over, so that I cannot possibly cite anyone else as agreeing with me. Cute.

Finding this discussion almost entirely unhelpful, I demonstrated my broad-mindedness by saying that I thought anyone affected by infertility should come - Catholic or not, childless or not - but not actually bring their children. Let's be honest (it would be a refreshing change) - there are homeless people walking around this city talking on imaginary cell phones who could reason in ten seconds to the fact that there can be no "infertility support group" with babies in attendance. Conjure up in your mind for a moment a picture of the last conversation you had with a group of women in which one (or more) brought her baby. Now, picture an environment in which you felt free to share your emotions and struggles with infertility honestly. What do those scenarios have in common?


As usual, I had several people (some of whom may be excused for not participating because they apparently didn't read email for several weeks and missed the entire discussion - ?) tell me later that of course they agreed that the group would be a total failure if people brought their kids.

So we started it up, with the few wretched childless stragglers who remained. But our numbers were not impressive. And though I had grand plans to conduct a canvass of all the area parishes for infertile women who had no idea about the group but would have loved to participate (I know these women exist), with only 2-4 people showing up at a time, and invariably at least one complaint about the location (but no actual alternative proposals), there never seemed to be a good opportunity to do that.

Eventually, I got sick of writing tons of emails to which almost no one ever responded, and I quit altogether. Because, you see, when I had the audacity to suggest that the infertility support group be a baby-free zone (since God seems to have ordained it that way for most of us already - har, har), I had to be punished. In several months of emails, I could count on one hand the number of responses I got from women who have children (remember, I said they were welcome to come). I could tell they were angry. But I will never understand how it can be mysterious that childless women might want to seek some support for their struggles that does not constitute cooing at someone else's child.

We're moving right along in Exhibit A. I don't check my blog email every day, but relatively recently Jeremiah, bless her heart, sent out an email saying that she missed the blogger meet-ups and would people be interested in meeting? I can't remember all the names of those responding, but inallthingsgood, who apparently still remembers that she used to be infertile AND childless, said that it might be good to have more than one - one with all the kids, and one for just the adults. And then, let's see, we had some responses from people who wanted to schedule on a weekday morning, and then somebody else I think said she could never possibly swing any event to which she did not bring a child.

So there were a couple of childless women still on this email list. Ostensibly, Jeremiah's invitation was directed to all of us. (She may just have been trying to be polite, though.) Like most childless infertile women, I work full-time. God knows I don't want to come to the play-date in any case (and He also knows that after the play-date happens, there will be no remaining interest in a meeting of just the ladies, to talk about actual infertility), but can't people pretend to remember that there are childless women in the world?

I considered deleting the email and never responding, which would be sort of fitting, but wrote a very pointed response instead. I am well aware that it will open exactly no one's eyes to the missed opportunity to learn from their own suffering and show some modicum of awareness of the existence of people who haven't been fortunate enough to start families of their own yet (or ever); it will just be another indication that they're all saints (as God demonstrated when He blessed them with children) and I'm a monster.

But I still get some satisfaction out of knowing that I'm right.


  1. Good for you for standing up for yourself! It goes back to the concept that infertiles may or may not be good friends for each other. Sure, we have lots in common when we're in the thick of fertility treatments, or month after month of TTC, but once one of us crosses to the other side, it's so hard to maintain that friendship, from both sides. But I think it's well worth it to try - really hard! But sensitivity is required from both sides. It's hard to do.

  2. I still read your blog all the time and I love your honesty. I rarely comment since I don't have much time to comment anymore (actually mainly due to taking an online class).

    I don't think it was at all rude to suggest that people not bring their babies to an IF support group. Some people may not be able to attend since they can't leave their children for that long (if they are exclusively breastfed for example), but they have no good reason to be offended or whatever.

    I pray that you can find peace in whatever path your life takes and I hope the projects that you recently blogged about go well and you continue to have the motivation to complete them.

  3. Wow - there is so much TRUTH to this email. I am a facilitator of a local infertility support group and would never even THINK of allowing children to be present at the meetings!

    I admire your truth, your honesty and your overall desire to support those of us that are childless!

  4. um, someone actually responded to the effect of "she could never possibly swing any event to which she did not bring a child"?!?!!?!??! that is CRAZY when the "event" in question is a stinkin infertility group!!!! i am dying to know who exhibit A is, i hope you know!!! and she really complained about other IF bloggers on her blog? give me a break.

  5. My best friend Maggie and I started a Catholic Married Women's group back in early 2008 and have been meeting monthly since then. Well, I should say they have been meeting monthly since thenmy attendence has been sporadic. The group was NOT an IF support group, but just a "hey, we are Catholic wives (or fiances') and we are trying our best to live out our vocation in holiness and love and it would be great to support each other, don't you think?". So of course it was not surprising that a lot of the woman in very short order started having children and many of these children were brought to the meetings because of nursing demands, or just the fact that they wanted to bring them, etc. Again, totally fine because of the purpose of the group. I didn't have a problem with this in the beginning and would not have suggested we curtail this practice even though I was the only one that was in the midst of an ongoing IF struggle, but it did become too hard (and given the fact that I lived 45 minutes - 1 hour away from the usual meeting spots that occurred on weekday nights, the travel became a bit cumbersome). So I stopped attending about 6-9 months back and I hope someday to get back there. And these are amazing women, women full of hope, encouragement, support and never made me feel out of place (on purpose) just because I didn't have children. But my point is - sometimes when your heart is in such a fragile place, it is no use putting yourself (and I am talking about me here in particular) in situations that will induce extreme emotional distress, no matter how nice people are. I am not a martyr and I have a very low pain tolerance, so for me it was best to stay away in regards to this particular group.

    I know we were in 2 very completely different situations (e.g., the goals of the 2 groups), but I just wanted to let you know that I agree, there is a BIG difference between the two and I am sorry that your pain was compounded, when it was in fact intended to be an IF support group.

    I won't claim to be as sensitive as I should be, but I just wanted to let you know that I treasure your comments and friendship as well. I am praying that you are able to find the IRL support and help you need.

  6. You're right. There's "handling with grace" (which by the way I stink at) and then there's sugarcoating.

    Infertility's not "nice nice nice" and nobody should be penalized for saying so.

    Nor should babies be allowed at an IF gathering. You wouldn't go to a support group for cancer patients and proclaim, "oh look how healthy and cancer-free I am!!" It's kinda the same thing.

    And I can't imagine, even with the joy that babies will (God willing) hopefully someday bring me, that I'd EVER forget how painful this is. Maybe I'll someday think it was worth it, but forget?? Never.

  7. I think you should also take some satisfaction in being a terrific writer ... this post does a stellar job in getting the emotion and the logic out there.

    I wonder if sometimes ex-IF'ers, now with children, kind of want to delete that part of their lives from their minds altogether, and thus immerse themselves in mommyhood.

    I completely agree that a group meeting to provide support for IF should be an adults only scene.


  8. Seriously?! Bringing your child to an infertility meetup?! Do these women even remember the pain associated with other people's children?! I am sorry for the sad truth that is what we with children tend to become after they are born. It is so easy to get caught up in the moment, but, in my opinion, it is also easy to still feel like an impostor, like someone will come and take them, like you're going to wake up to an alarm to check your bbt and it will all have been a dream. I don't know why God gives women this cross to bear, or especially why He chooses not to take it from some. It just isn't fair.

  9. I love your perception on the comment about "all the pain being worth it since I now have my child." Seizing the opportunity to suffer in a redemptive way when you are faced with infertility is very difficult. Some people could get it wrong and see it only as a private suffering (that is not related to the universal Church and the web of humanity and eternity) because their own need/desire for a child is not fulfilled. And they grasp and grasp until it is fulfilled. They've learned nothing in the meantime.

  10. ". . . if you haven't commented here since before your child was born and you return to comment just on this post to defend women with children, I'm deleting your comment. This is my blog, as you should be able to tell by the total lack of baby pictures." I don't know why but that made me laugh. :) I don't blame you for being upset about a formerly infertile forgetting what life was like pre-baby or even that such a life existed. It hurts. I had such an experience with my coworker and hated every moment of it.

    My blog has become very baby-focused lately. She's a big, big part of my life which I can't ignore. At the same time, I try to balance that with the knowledge of IF life before she arrived and with the needs of other bloggers who might still be reading my posts. It's hard. I don't know how well I do. Not very well, I suspect. I try not to post too often. I try come across that I really appreciate the sleepless nights and the demands for attention I have now while still being able to vent. It's a hard - probably impossible - balance to strike.

  11. I just have to say, I think the intent of Jeremiah's email was to invite everyone to a get-together to meet the babies and catch up. I don't think she intended to "call a meeting of the support group" as it were...
    Of course, it would be inappropriate to hold any "support group" meeting with babies present. She included you in the email, knowing how little you'd be interested, because you are in fact the current leader of the group and because she was sending the invite out to everyone, not just the moms of the group (who, yes, do outnumber the childless IF'ers at this point). I remember here email last year - I actually went to visit her and Tommy, along with one other still-childess member of the group. I was totally okay with meeting another IF'er's baby, but that was me, and I think we all understood if someone else wasn't interested.
    I'm sorry you were hurt by the email, because I know that was not the intent of those involved. Being on the other side of the fence now, I know my words don't hold too much weight...
    I hope you are able recruit a few more women to meet regularly - I know how much the meetings helped to lift my spirits before we adopted. The truth is that most of the original group is now parenting after pregnancy or adoption, so you definitely need some new ladies in the group!


  12. maybe that was her way of subtly backing out of the infertile support group. after all, it doesn't serve her needs anymore, right? i have friends that tell me "oh, you don't sound upset at all about not having kids!" and i think "Was there really time to even address that topic of conversation with your kids laughing in the background and vying for your attention?" Babies totally change the conversation's dynamic and would completely shatter any ability to speak freely about the pains of infertility. And while maybe I'm a weird one in that I sometimes welcome the relief from the constant gloom of IF, they have no place at a meeting that is solely to address the issue of IF that gets pushed out of every other conversation.

    On another note, you totally sold me on wanting to attend this event! ha! For real though, I am 90% sure I'm going to be in the DC area around the mid two weeks in July. If this exchange didn't totally shatter the group and there is any chance there would be a meeting around that time - preferably at a metro accessible location so I don't have to bring my fertile sister and her kids - ha! - feel free to let me know...

  13. I always hated the "it was all worth it comment." I remember writing a whole post on my frustration with that phrase. Babies don't make IF "worth it." What an impoverished view of that cross! I agree, too, that it should be a no-brainer about children at an IF support group. Sort of like that time a while back when there was going to be some IF retreat and a woman who struggled with IF but who was pregnant was going to be leading it (I can tell you right now I wouldn't have attended).

    I remember a while back when I had the distinct realization that infertility was taking over my entire life and that I was becoming, "Meg the Infertile." That bothered me in and of itself but what troubled me more was that I would get so frustrated with women who would ONLY talk about motherhood and nursing and their babies (literally, that is all they could discuss on a given day.) It troubled me more because I realized that if I was becoming "Meg the Infertile", then if I ever did become a mother, perhaps the pendulum would swing the other way and I would become, "Meg the Mother" and I would be one of those people that would drive me crazy. And so that motivation of potentially avoiding being someone who I myself would despise, (even though I never really believed I would conceive) became even more of a motivation to pursue temperance than a disordered self-identification as "infertile one."

    I think it may be a common occurrence among women with IF struggles. Of course, it's well and good to take joy in a child if you're blessed with one, but as people, we are more than just one "thing," whether it's infertile or fertile. Neither of those determines who we are.

    PS I know I don't comment much, but I'm always reading. Your blog is one of my favorites.

  14. In response to a couple of comments - if there is another meeting of this group(s) of people, I doubt I'm going to hear about it, which is fine. (If you want to meet with the DC infertiles and their babies, I suggest contacting Jeremiah.)

    I respectfully disagree with Sarah (callmemama) on the intent of Jeremiah's email. I'm not suggesting she was trying to usurp my "authority" as most recent leader of the now-defunct support group (and, no, I was so pissed off at reading emails every month to the effect that "I'd love to come some day" from people who apparently did not understand that if they could not clear a single Saturday morning in the foreseeable future the group would not exist "some day" - et voila! - that I will not be exerting any energy whatsoever to resurrect the group or recruit new people). But that email was phrased as "I'd love to see you ladies again I miss our meetings" and responded to as "when can we all meet during business hours with our babies." Others may interpret it differently, but that's how I saw it. And I am royally pissed off that childless infertile women are treated as invisible by (possibly formerly) infertile women with children, who OF ALL PEOPLE should know better, and that the only apparent value of any of these women is AS the mother of a child whom she will bring to (or discuss at) whatever gathering occurs. If there's going to be a post-motherhood graduated-infertile meetup (and they are the only kinds of blogger meetings that seem to happen lately, BTW, so this sort of thing is hardly being repressed), then fine, and if people want to include a few childless gals and say they're welcome to come and glare at the babies, that's fine too, but I don't appreciate seeing it phrased as a meeting of the WOMEN when everything about it revolves around BRINGING THEIR KIDS.

  15. I love your honesty and your knack for writing. An Infertililty Support group absolutely should be without kids and some of the comments in those emails were insensitive. Of course, they were unknowingly insensitive which is why it's so great you are bringing to light the elephant in the room. You are saying what needs to be said. Thank you for your courage.

  16. I think you had a great post with some comments that really hit close to home for me. I've been infertile for almost 5 years, while other infertile people aren't "infertile" for quite so long. That is a blessing for them, but I agree that it makes women (like me) who have been IF for so much longer a little bitter (no, its not the best attitude, but its the truth).
    Also, I cannot believe people would bring babies to an IF support group. Really?!?!?

  17. I am in a position at the moment where I can't go anywhere without the baby due to the nursing schedule and the fact that she is so ummm "vocal". My child is likely too much for a sitter to handle, so there are a lot of things I haven't been going to recently. Perhaps a sitter is beyond what some people can afford at the moment. But there is a difference between begging off - "I am sorry, but right now I am not able to attend (perhaps in another 3 months?)" - and insisting the format be altered to suit one's own situation. [Well, at least THERE was a woman clearly stating what she wanted ;).] I agree that some thought should have gone into planning an event that took into consideration the feelings of those still without children, what with that having been the reason you all met eachother in the first place. Anything else would best be described as an alumnae meeting with an open invite to those still in the trenches and feeling up to it, not as a generic meet-up. You might as well invite all the pregnant/nursing ladies to a cocktail party and announce in advance that you aren't planning to offer any virgin options.
    Praying for Hope already pointed out how funny that "my blog" line was. Pfew. Now I don't need to feel guilty for laughing out loud.

  18. Apropos of nothing...those who think that "Nebraska" is a cure-all for infertility may perhaps have inadvertently got themselves into a false religion?

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

  19. I've been lurking, but I had to emerge for this post. It was perfect from start to finish. You are an absolute relief from the nicey nicers reading their same tired scripts. Sometimes I feel like I'll go crazy if I have to hear one more platitude - it's almost worse than the IF.

  20. Hi. Sorry I didn't comment last week but we were in the throes of packing for our move. I tend to not say the right thing (prayers and hugs I can do, thoughtful words, not so much) but do think it is all very unfortunate. Your pain is palpable in your words and it also sucks to witness the "have/have-not" divide in this situation (amongst others).