Tuesday, June 28, 2011

point(s) of clarification

I often feel that the anger makes me incisive, but it's possible it makes me overshoot my point. In this case, I had a number of points, so perhaps it's easier to muddle them than usual.

Point Number 1 is the simpler point. If a group of infertile women, most of whom have children, are trying to arrange a get-together, two things should happen. Number 1: the women should immediately and expressly recognize that some of the still-childless women may feel (at minimum) uncomfortable if the meeting ends up approximately eight women and six kids. Number 2: immediately upon that recognition, the goal should be set that, because of this possibility, the gathering should be organized so that the childless infertiles can attend without feeling uncomfortable - not so that the women with children can attend without having to make alternative arrangements for child care.

Some of you (not any childless infertiles, though!) will think this sounds selfish. It isn't. Why not? Well, we're all called to put up with logistical inconveniences in our lives all the time. Even me! And most of us cope fairly well. There's a difference between logistical inconvenience and real spiritual suffering. Especially when a gathering is being offered as a means of fellowship to lighten the burdens of that spiritual suffering, avoiding increasing someone else's serious suffering (not even comparable to inconvenience) should be a priority that dwarfs all others.

The thing is, I could never explain what I mean by "serious spiritual suffering" in this context to someone who doesn't already know. Unfortunately, that often seems to include a lot of women who are parenting after infertility. To anyone in that position who is reading this and thinking how unreasonable I sound (I am unreasonable all the time. This is not one of those times), I invite you to pick the three different months when you were childless that were the darkest in your life (post-marriage, during ttc), and read every blog post you wrote during each of those times. (If none of the posts discuss mothers, other people's children, and pregnant women, go through your sent email or your personal diary as well.) I am sure your words will convince you in a way that mine never could. And if you think those thoughts of yours don't matter because you've since recanted them - recantation doesn't count unless it happened before you had a child, before you were pregnant, and before you were matched. Anything else just gets you hypocrisy points...sorry.

Probably like all of you, I have seen firsthand how emotionally raw and sensitive infertile girls (not just me. Not even me; actually, I'm talking about other people) are when they're in an environment that's billed as nurturing, where they can let their guard down. And then someone - a well-meaning someone! - ambushes them with an unwittingly insensitive comment. I saw a room full of girls crying over what was intended to be encouragement at the first of the DC Catholic IF support group meetings (this one was an "open" format, not the infertile coffee). I'm not crazy, and it's not just me. There's the game face we wear to smile through coworkers' "When you decide to have children, you'll find it changes your life too," and, "But you wouldn't know, you don't have kids," and, "So how many kids do you have?" at parties and all the other unpleasantness that's just daily and we have to smile at. And then there's the face we wear when we don't have to pretend. They're just not the same.

At a gathering of mothers, any topic of conversation (if there ever can be one besides the kids) will constantly be punctuated by, "Oh, can he play with that?" "Now, Susie, it's his turn with the toy!" "Does Sammy need changing?" "My Billy was doing that exact thing while he was learning to walk!" And so on. Notthatthere'sanythingwrongwiththat except that when a childless woman is required to sit there as an audience to a whole group of other women who get to be insiders to that conversation - then, yes, there is something wrong with it. How would you like it if that were you?

And the real bottom-line problem with that is that an invitation like that, a social situation constructed like that, a set of assumptions like that, from other infertile women, who either do know better or did know better before they allowed themselves to forget, sends one very succinct message:

I don't care how much you suffer.

I don't think that's melodramatic or an exaggeration. Read it again; think about it. I don't believe that infertiles with children are composing their inconsiderate emails and whatever else with the thought consciously in mind, "I hope you suffer." No, it's, "I've got this priority, and that priority, and this would be convenient for me, and wouldn't that be nice, and - oh, the childless women might suffer. I could change all of...? No, you know, I wouldn't enjoy that so much. Maybe they won't suffer? Well, I don't know...but surely they can't expect me to...no, no, that would be too much. I don't have to do that...really, if they suffer, it's not my problem. If it's going to require me to do different things, well, that's not fair of them to ask, and if they expect me to put them first, really, I don't care how much they suffer."

This makes me angry, and, I think, justifiably so. If I were some sort of melancholic person, I suppose, I wouldn't write a blog post about how rotten and insensitive people are; I would cry and I would accept that none of them care about me and probably I would go to the stupid play group but I would experience that it offered not one iota of support or fellowship for me; on the contrary, I would cry all the way home, and I would spend a week depressed, and I would think, "If this is how the people who are supposed to love me and understand me treat me, then what little must I be worth?"

This segues beautifully into Point Number 2.

Infertility blogging is obviously an excellent resource for infertile women who carry a cross that no one around them seems to understand, and which it's generally taboo even to discuss. But it has one fatal flaw: me. No, really - me, and people like me. People who "graduate" to parenthood at around the average time for an infertile blogger get a lot of support from other childless infertiles while they are childless themselves, and then they have a substantial cohort of other recently-graduated infertiles with whom to giddily share milestones and baby pictures and new-mama thoughts. Maybe this insulation within a group of other people in the same stage at the same time is an enabler of the forgetting - the forgetting how they themselves felt just a few short months ago.

Those who graduate early don't have much of a cohort going through the same thing at the same time (and maybe they learn to be more sensitive as a result?), but they have a strong support structure while they are childless, and, since they are kind of an anomaly when they first become parents, they have tons of well-wishers from the still-childless, because they are a "sign of hope."

What about those who graduate late - or, God forbid, not at all? Well, as the "average" time passes and they're still childless, their support structure of those in the same boat dwindles down to zero. At the same time, they are confronted with more and more people with children - not only a constant reminder of the blessing they don't have, but a suggestion that there must be something wrong with them if everyone else (even other infertiles!) can achieve motherhood when they can't. And these aren't just any new mothers and children they're confronted with - these are their infertile friends and their kids. They're practically socially required to be consumers of information regarding these children, even if it hurts them. The "right" thing to do is to pretend that it doesn't hurt to have others' blessings thrust in your face, and that insofar as it does hurt, that's because you're a bad person. After all, that woman would never begrudge you a baby! But, of course, she'll never have to.

Since I'm more or less headed there already, I might as well tackle this analysis in economics terms. Infertility blogging offers effectively an exchange of valuable goods - receiving support and friendship in return for offering it yourself. It's a worthwhile bargain as long as what you receive is at least as valuable as what you give. As a general rule, mutual friendship is a good bargain - it's better to give away some of your affection and energy and receive that of others than it is to hoard all your resources and be alone. Man is a gregarious animal, as they say.

In the infertility equation, the analysis gets a little bit more complicated. First of all, fellowship is a bit more specific - it's support for a particular difficulty. People with the same difficulty are uniquely qualified to provide that support. If you didn't know that to be true, you wouldn't be reading an infertility blog right now. But there is no guarantee, once you start the project, that the people in whom you make an investment will be available to make an investment of similar magnitude in you!

Now, I'm not suggesting that we should all sign contracts to remain childless for some minimum period of time before we're, say, allowed to have blog followers. That would be funny, but it wouldn't be helpful. And of course I'm not suggesting that the people who had kids "earlier" in this adventure were pulling some sort of swindle on those of us who are left. Obviously in general we hope for ourselves that we'll get pregnant (or adopt, or both) as soon as may be; we generally hope for others to make it to the other side as well, but we are our own first priorities. (I'm not sure that's true in every case - I think it would upset me more if I got pregnant and left others behind than if they left me behind, which happens all the time as it is, and I may not be the only one who feels that way.) And some people's hopes pan out and others' don't; there's no way, really, to know whose number will come up first. Some people have won spectacularly. Some people have lost tragically. I don't think there's much rhyme or reason in it.

However, whether fault for the system's inequities can be assigned or not, the inequities persist. It's like what people don't understand about taxes: if Congress offers a refundable tax credit, the people who get the credit will pay less in taxes, no taxes, or possibly pay nothing and get money back. Where does that money come from? The federal government. Where does the federal government get its money? Principally from tax revenue. But it's not being paid by the guy who got the credit. That means that if you don't get a credit (and someone else does), it's not just that you don't get a credit - you also have to pay for someone else's.

One proposed solution for this is a flat tax rate; to extend this metaphor back to infertility blogging, it would mean that no blogger is ever allowed to have a child (so no one benefits, but no one has to pay through the nose for anyone else's benefit, either). I am, again, not proposing this as a good thing. For one thing, spiritual benefits are unlike financial benefits; even I would be unhappier if nobody among us had kids. We do benefit, at some level, from one another's blessings. (Which is not carte blanche for those who have the blessings personally to decide that they don't need to be sensitive to the fact that others don't have them. If you're totally convinced that it's just as good for me for you to have a baby as for me to have one, then maybe you should give me your baby and see whether that's as good for you as having the baby yourself. No? Okay.)

Okay, so, I've established that the simplistic solutions won't help and that I can't usually blame anyone (that always makes me feel better. You?). Now what? Well, first of all, I for one would find it at minimum refreshing if once in a while someone would acknowledge that it's not only rotten that a few of us still don't have kids (nota bene: this is not the same as saying that if I "really" wanted children, I would go to Omaha. Just in case you were confused about that), but especially rotten that we're now basically alone. There is, indeed, a new crop of childless infertile bloggers (thank God), but it's hard to lose the immediate support of friends in whom you've invested a lot of your heart and start over; and we can't expect people new to this experience and just getting their bearings to be ready to prop up those of us who have been taking a beating for years and have now been left behind by all of our fertile friends and now all of our infertile friends too. Good grief.

And what are the rest of us to do? I guess the answer is, very little. We could stop blogging, if it's gone from a source of support to mostly sadness, and I have thought about that a lot and probably will do that in the not-too-distant future. We could try to find a cohort of women who are just plain childless, and that's something else I've thought a lot about. I find those women so inspiring - not focused on treatments and pregnancies, but just on living their lives and being themselves, and being women, obviously and really and truly, even without motherhood. So refreshing.

But I've refrained from throwing my allegiance in there totally because I know that, while I am still in treatment, I don't really belong there. I haven't yet taken permanent childlessness really seriously, though I am getting closer and closer. And those women are offering a rock-solid bargain: I'll be childless. You'll be childless. God willing, we'll both live a long time. And we'll inspire and encourage and support one another. Right now, I can't fairly offer that bargain, because I am still rolling the dice with treatment that could (but probably won't) get me pregnant. If I pretended to be a member of the graduated-from-infertility, childless-not-by-choice crowd, I would risk betraying someone's trust in my fellowship, and that's something I don't want to do.

So this meandering reflection doesn't end with a solution. But it does end with a request: the next time a now mommy-blogger wants to dismiss a left-behind childless infertile blogger (maybe another blogger, but probably me) as depressing, unreasonably angry, faithless, unpleasant, or otherwise to be blamed for her own suffering and ignored, I'd like her to remember this: because I'm here, virtually alone, you'll never have to be. And because you are snug (maybe even smug) with your babies in your hoped-for mommydom, you never have to find out whether, if you had been in my situation, you'd have been as ugly and unpleasant as I am. Or maybe, God forbid, even more so.


  1. Hear, hear! I can relate so much to this post. Everyone (literally EVERYONE) that I started reading two years ago has crossed over. Sure, there are plenty of new fish in the sea, but someone trying for three or even four years has no idea what its like to try for nearly a decade. And I'm not quite ready to give up, either, though I've been forced to consider it as a very real possibility in the future. I hate, hate, hate that anyone is treating you insensitively, and am squashing the urge to do some serious bitchslapping on your behalf. In the meantime, you are not TOTALLY alone, though I know it feels that way more often than not. I am still treading the murky waters of ambiguity right along with you. Hugs, Jo. h

  2. Oh Misfit, I so understand! It isn't too much to ask, especially from those that were formerly infertile themselves!

    Too bad we don't live closer, I definitely don't have any babies to take along with me. :)

  3. Agreed.
    Infertility sucks.
    I know I don't comment much (mostly because I don't think I have anything more helpful to say than "I'm sorry."), but I do follow your blog often. You are a great writer and have introduced me to such wonderful things (how did I live before Catalog Living?).
    Hoping you are able to find the support that you need.

  4. Um....Misfit? Are you inside my head? Because this post is literally everything I'm thinking and feeling. So, I'm beginning to wonder if you can read my mind. You hit the nail on the head with the "I don't care how much you suffer" part especially. That is absolutely what it says, regardless of whether or not that's what people are trying to convey.

    These are EXCELLENT points, many of which I've been trying to articulate but couldn't find the words. Those of us in the still childless group but not yet in the "just plain childless" group you described are sort of in the middle, and often don't feel like we fit in anywhere.

    I hope you don't stop blogging but I would understand if you needed to.

  5. I am still at point 1 (will keep reading, but what I wanted to get a comment in) - It's what I should have said last time. I think the rule of thumb in life should be that you look out for the weakest (sorry) person, the person hurting the most, the "least of my brothers" so to speak. You try to accomodate those in difficult positions if you are trying to be considerate. In the normal world, that's often mothers because they are tied down in a way a lot of other people aren't. In the IF world, the people needing the most consideration are and should always be the gals still waiting. It just appears that people have gotten used to normal, God bless 'em. This group, however, even the alumns, should play by the IF rules.

  6. It is rotten to feel left behind, to not know for certain whether your future will hold children or not. I think the not knowing is one of the worst parts. If you could know for sure, you could stop trying and feeling disappointed, frustrated, etc. or you could continue trying and remain hopeful because you know you're time is coming. Then it would be easier to handle the news that someone else is graduating to the next level. You wouldn't have that standing-on-the-side-of-the-road-waving-as-the-bus-pulls-away feeling quite as badly.

  7. I totally get this. I think I would still be absolutely miserable/heartbroken if we were still waiting. I'm so sorry the support for you and others still waiting from the "original" group has dwindled.

    A long time ago when we first started TTC, I went on Babycenter.com and was commenting on a message board. I ended up getting into a really close knit group of about 11 girls all TTC at the same time. One by one they all got pregnant except for me and one other girl. Several girls ended up stopping all communication (as time went on, little by little) and yet there is still a core group of 8 of us. It was just me and the one other infertile girl for a long time (a couple years) without kids.

    Now just my one friend has no kids and I feel so sad for "leaving her behind." She is the last one. She is currently waiting to adopt internationally and it's probably going to be a few more years even. Thank you for reminding me to be more sensitive to her and others still waiting. I try to be but like some have said in comments on your last post, sometimes you just want to forget the pain that was infertility once you are past it. But I would never want to forget so much that I ended up hurting my friends in the process.

  8. Very well done!!! This is me, over in my corner of the blogosphere, standing up and clapping! Very well written, and I love the points you have made!

  9. Ugh. (that ugh is directed at myself, not you!) Some good points. And what Expatbarreness said about how we should be looking out for the "least of my brothers...." well, that is what we should be doing in every interaction we ever have, right? Infertility related or not. There is a big lesson there...one I need to learn a little better.

    Misfit, I have always followed you and read every one of your posts. I rarely comment. I rarely comment on any blog. In fact my own blog is just some random, often neglected, place in the blogosphere, and I certainly don't expect any to comment on my blog even if I comment on theirs. I am like the weird person on the early "Real World" seasons...the person who got little screen time, and you mostly saw eating cereal in the background.

    I guess I just wanted to say that I do get your points, though I don't agree with your assessment of other people's motives. I guess I just don't think it is safe to ruminate on other people conscious or unconscious motives most of the time. Maybe you think that is cowardly, or something, which is fine...I just know it has gotten me into big trouble in the past.

    But when you are talking about the actions people take, you make some amazing suggestions on how they could have made better actions.

    And I for one what deeply moved by this...you said things I needed to hear...I am going to try to remember your pain and in every situation I am in with other people (fertility related or not) I am going to try single out those who are most hurting, and accommodate them over myself.

    (I will probably totally screw this up though...but at least you've put it more clearly in my mind...that is a start. Thanks).

  10. Dear Misfit...thank you for the comment you left on my post. I appreciated it more than you know.

    About your post, I know that I have found myself in this place where many of the ladies I've read have adopted or gotten pregnant, or in some cases, BOTH. And while their life has changed dramatically, mine has not. Mine is the same as it has been for two years. And while I don't blame them for writing about what they want to share (the adorable things their babies are doing) they shouldn't wonder "where did Sissy go?" Maybe I don't want to read about that in a moment where I'm feeling depressed or feeling the weight of being childless.

    And I don't know if a get together has been talked about, but yes, I would agree, that there should be time without babies/kids. There needs to be time for the conversations of the heart, and that normally happens when women are alone and not tending to children.

    And yes, people do tend to think about themselves and what's convenient, and I've been there myself. A balance on both sides is what friendship is about, right?

  11. Love your post! You are always first on my bookmark list for a reason! Thanks for voicing your thoughts - you have great points as always - and they sync with mine (you are a much better expresser than me!)

  12. I read you all the time, but don't often comment. It just seems weird to be the super-fertile one chiming in.

    That said, I agree with your points here. The only thing I might quibble with you on are other people's motives. I find that often people are so full of their own joy that it blinds them to the pain right next to them, or it is completely unconscious. For example, I often read on IF blogs complaints about pregnant women "smugly" rubbing their bellies. I don't know about smug, but often it hurts and rubbing that spot makes it feel better. So, no, I don't think about it hurting the feelings of the woman next to me because I'm in pain. I don't think that makes me unfeeling or uncaring, just human.

    The other things you point out (such as bringing babies to an infertility meeting) are just inexcusable. I know my opinion carries no weight there, but I completely agree.

  13. You're right about many things in this post. Most concretely: bringing kids to an IF hang-out chin-wag? Come on, gals!