Monday, February 2, 2015

infertility conversations

The "blather" will return when I finish making sense of reality.  (Insert uncontrollable, slightly maniacal laughter.) 

In the meantime, I've had a couple of interesting conversations.  The most recent one was very short (so far).  I've met some lovely new people through volunteering at my church lately.  One is an employee of the parish, a delightful person, and she has been married three years.  No kids.  Very Catholic.  I think I add up all these little things unconsciously (the same way I notice abdomen-adjacent gestures and slight weight gains before other people - this is my brain, knowing life is still difficult, and that I need to be forewarned about stressful conversations and calm myself down and practice my "That's so nice for you!" face so that I don't have an unfortunate episode in front of a stranger on a particularly bad day).  But that doesn't mean I say anything. 

Because...well, I find it hard to say why.  Because occasionally I've known that someone was DEFINITELY A MEMBER OF MY TRIBE and been all excited to have someone to share the knowing comments with, and decided not to assault her with my bitterness-enthusiasm (yes that's a thing.  In my life, anyway), and instead made some casual reference that brought me out of the IF closet, so she could say, "Oh, you too?" and then she didn' maybe I was too I tried again...nothing...and eventually I realized: this person does not want to talk to me about this.  Maybe I called it wrong and they're not infertile, they're just...married and celibate?  Or, maybe she doesn't experience it the same way I do.  Maybe this woman has not gone through the "infertility journey," she was just born without a uterus, and she is not picking up on my wee hints because they don't resonate with her (though surely she, too, has been asked when she's planning to have kids seventy million times?).  Maybe she doesn't like to talk about difficult and unpleasant things AT ALL, so she's not looking for an ally, she's looking to be left alone.  Or maybe I brought it up at a time when, if she talks about it, she will cry, and she doesn't want to have to deal with her messed-up mascara at work.  Or maybe she likes to have allies, but she is not interested in one of those people being ME.  (It's a free country.  And don't I envy any woman who has so many options in that arena that she can be picky!) 

And after a few rounds of that, I stopped.  I don't assume that I'm wrong about whether a couple is having trouble conceiving; I figure I'm right 90% of the time.  (And that has been borne out by eventual confirmation, after the fact.)  But that 10% could be dangerous territory; some people are TTA because of other health or life issues, and those are not my business, not from a new acquaintance.  Some people experience the passage of time differently; they might start noticing the lack of a pregnancy at about 18 months married, where I noticed it in the first month, and the second month, and the third month, and the fourth month...but then, I had my first surgery for endometriosis before I was even engaged, and I knew I had reason to worry.  Other people may not have reason to worry.  Or they may have reason, but not worry, anyway.  Some people whom I am sizing up are already (newly) pregnant; I just don't know yet.  Some may be less on the Catholic bandwagon than I've guessed, and I will learn this when they tentatively begin a conversation about embracing the Church's teaching on openness to life.  (Mystery solved.)  Some have miscarried four times already and that is none of my business, and I am no more entitled to pry it out of them by launching into "Don't you just hate people asking you when you're going to get pregnant already?" than some idiot stranger is entitled to pry "I can't, thank you," out of me by asking, "When are you planning to have kids?" 

With this litany (all of it true), I am reassuring myself that I did the right thing, with my new acquaintance.  I figured that at three years married and childless, and very Catholic, she is one of my tribe.  But I didn't say anything.  And as blunt as I may think I am, I do not actually introduce myself (even to other folks at Church), "Hi, I'm the misfit!  I volunteer with the youth group, and I can't have children.  What's your name?"  Even I would be alarmed by a woman who introduced herself that way.  (OK, let's be honest: I would be alarmed, and then the next time I saw her I would ask her out for drinks and stay up all night comparing stories about the best awful comments we've received.) 

But three years in is a very hard patch of the IF journey (as I've only to look back at my own blog to remember).  And though I am not the picture of serenity on this topic (and probably never will be), I've crossed over into a place of far less misery about it.  I genuinely believe it's my job to help those who are coming after; after all, I owe a great deal to those already-graduated ladies who helped me keep the last shreds of sanity.  And I said - nothing.  (In my defense - sort of - she's never seemed particularly sad or upset.) 

But when she and another friend and I went jogging yesterday, I did share a story (which I am just about to share with you) about some nitwit asking when I was going to have a baby.  And then I stepped out of the room, and she asked our other friend whether I'd likely be OK with discussing IF.  Friend #2 said yes, of course, and then let me know.  So all of that went well - but I immediately felt bad for making her reach out to me.  People shouldn't have to do the work to find support when they are suffering.  I should be there offering it.  To people in general - let alone to infertile women.  Let alone to infertile women I have already spotted.  But, hey, maybe I was right to say just a little.  Maybe people don't want a mountain of IF sharing dumped on them by a new friend.  Maybe. 

So I figured I would send her an email (to start with) so that we don't have to have the "hey I heard that you wanted to talk about..." conversation with other people around.  (I think that's right.  I often prefer email for serious topics, so I can pretend to be normal, and delete my initial, crazy message.)  But I haven't done it yet.  This morning I was doing my itty bit of daily prayer (that I was supposed to finish last night) and I stopped to ponder: in the ten million words I have stored up to throw at unwise people who broach this topic with me, what does she actually need to hear?  What did I need to hear?  The list I came up with was surprisingly short.  You tell me if I've missed anything. 

(1) Tell me all about it.  Where have you been so far?  How has that been for you? 
(2) This is awful.  No one should have to deal with it, neither the small indignities nor the grand spiritual crisis.  Everyone else who has to go through it feels terrible about it, too, and it's not something you can just shrug off and do gracefully; it's painful and it will burden the healthiest person very heavily.  And I'm sorry. 
(3) You're not crazy.  We've all had those thoughts, too.  Stealing babies?  Forcibly sterilizing women who take their blessings for granted?  Setting fire to the baby showers of women who proclaim their impending delivery with explanations of how God has favored them?  Throwing her glass of wine in the face of the friend in her second trimester who says she "just cannot go on without at least half a glass of wine, I mean, the baby will obviously be fine, right?"?  Tearing your husband's face off if he accuses you of overthinking TTC?  Beating a cashier to death with the 20 pregnancy tests you're buying if he has the audacity to look at you cross-eyed?  These are images engraved in my mind.  You are not the first.  You are not the millionth.  You're not the ten millionth...welcome to the club. 
(4) God has not willed this suffering for you; He is not punishing you and He does not hate you.  Sickness and suffering are the result of sin in the world, which He allows, but never wanted.  But these things don't catch Him by surprise, either.  He did not have a beautiful plan for your life that this privation has thwarted.  Defects of nature cannot thwart His plans; your life will be beautiful and meaningful and precious the way that it is to be, not the way that you imagined it would be.  You are irreplaceable and the world needs you to show up for life, scars and all. 
(5) Statistics (and my observation) say you will probably conceive or adopt (or both) given time and if it's what you really want.  But I can say from experience (and observing better people) that even if you never have a baby, life can still be good.  To the degree possible - namely, not very much - don't let the pursuit of the baby take over. 
(6) Call me and tell me when people are driving you crazy.  You cannot bore me.  Go ahead and try. 
(7) Do you need anything concretely?  Such as...have you selected a doctor?  Do you know what you want to do and not do treatment-wise?  Are you looking for a therapist?  Other women to talk to?  Want to learn more about the adoption process?  I have forgotten more about IF than I ever wanted to know.  Tell me if you need information.  But that's usually the least of what people need. 
(8) You don't have to do any treatment just because someone else did.  Or skip it because someone else (including me) skipped it.  You don't have to do anything at all, or you can do everything.  But take care of yourself, because none of the professionals "helping" you are going to make that a priority. 

I have fifty million stories, but she does not need them.  And I have to concentrate, really hard, to try to remember what helped me.  (Very very few of the things I heard, as it turns out.  Unfortunate, but true.  So now, I have a chance to make the next turn of the wheel better.  God willing!) 

And here's the story I told yesterday, that apparently inspired this new friend to ask our other friend whether she should ask me about IF.  My husband's work "holiday" party was just a few weekends ago.  There I met the wife of one of his coworkers for the first time.  She is very sweet.  English is not her first language (and I think that doesn't matter to what comes next, but maybe somehow a language barrier explains this).  She said something about not getting to visit his office so often now that she has a baby, and I congratulated her (like a non-bitter person!  Points for me!).  And she asked, "Do you have a baby?"  I think asking that question in those words is Not a Thing, but here, perhaps - language barrier.  Reminding myself not to add unnecessary words to the answer (as I am wont to do), I said, "No, I don't." 

At this point I think the language barrier stops being relevant.  She asked, "Do you want a baby?"  I decided avoidance of oversharing was a better goal than accuracy, and I said, "Well, we'll see."  And here I erred; the correct answer is, OF COURSE, "I beg your pardon!"  I pride myself for being fast on my feet, but truly, that's when my personal life is not in question.  And since I had not adequately discouraged her, she rejoined: "Oh, you really should have one.  Babies are wonderful..."  I think more details followed, but at this point I excused myself to find a beverage (or another person to talk to), a skill I finally have practiced enough to remember to use it. 

I had two more encounters with her that evening, in which (of course) she took the opportunity to follow up on her earlier comments, lest I should have missed her wisdom the first time(s).  I know this story is one of a thousand thousand stories so many other women could tell (and top).  But in my retellings of it, I have been focusing on the point that really galled me: I missed the precious, precious opportunity to respond, "No, actually.  I was born a man."  If I could do accents, I would throw in Robin Williams: "I don't work with the boys.  I used to be one."  People deserve - really, they have a right to have us provide this gift to them! - lessons that they will remember.  I let her down. 

I'll do better next time. 


  1. " People deserve - really, they have a right to have us provide this gift to them! - lessons that they will remember." I really really love that!

    As for the email to your friend - I'd just reach out at this stage and say something along the lines of "I hear you might want to talk to me about infertility. Is there anything you'd like to know in particular? Other than it sucks, which you no doubt know already. I'm a good listener, if you want to talk, but I've also learned a lot over the last few years."

    And then it leaves it up to her - rather than bombarding her with other details at this stage. I've reached out offering empathy before, when it hasn't really been appreciated - I think the person just wanted to know there was someone else out there going through it all. So I'm a bit more cautious now.

  2. I loved everything about this post. I'm (slowly) starting to get IF-dar as well. It really is a mix of sadness and joy to meet a new member of the "club". I'm already starting to feel like a sophomore in this realm.

  3. Hello. I know this is kind of weird but here goes. I found your blog through a post for your kitchen. I ended up on most recent post and it really struck a chord. I am one of three girls in our thirties now. We all struggled with ovarian cysts or endometriosis. My middle sister was the worst. I remember her missing days of school because the pain was so bad and she ended up dropping out of college because she was failing from missing so many classes. She had been told that she would not be able to have children. They were even at the point of scheduling to have one of her ovaries taken out. She ended up getting pregnant (doctors still dont know how). Unfortunately her mate did not share her enthusiasm and she has been a single mom for 8 years. She had horrible horrible side effects from depo. It took a while to figure out what it was from. You are so young. I can feel your pain when you write. Your whole life is in front of you. I have read your blog and I will be back. Thank you for being honest and sharing your feelings.

    1. Thank you for visiting. I actually feel like an old lady - with any luck the wisdom aspect of that will catch up with me eventually. But it sounds like we're both in our 30s, so maybe we have that in common :).

    2. 30's and infertile here too. We get told we're young a lot... Definitely feel like an old lady in terms of babies though. We've battled endo, cysts, ovulation issues, hormone issues, thyroid problems, the works. Not something you want to have in common with anyone. <3

  4. I just need to say how refreshing I find your blog! I think this woman would be lucky to have you in her life to confide in about this. I think your questions and topics are appropriate conversation starters.

  5. I found your blog through some round-a-bout way, and it really hit home. I've reached the point (1 year of marriage) where when people ask me CONSTANTLY "when will you be starting a family?" I started responding with "We are having some trouble in that area...." it's led to some frustrating conversations and having to explain to people it's beyond "try this position" or "You should figure out when you're ovulating to try..."

    I'm in the 30s and trying category now. Putting deployment in the mix now also isn't helping. I have found great comfort in the blogs I've come across and actually started blogging on my own. Maybe someday I will look back on my posts and be where you are, down the road....for now the road sure sucks!

  6. Wow, that is great that you are willing to share and talk with this other woman. It is not a boat anyone really wants to be on but it is helpful to connect with someone else who knows how difficult this journey really is.

    I used to be told I was young as one says that to me anymore.

  7. I love your (unsaid) response, "No, actually. I was born a man." LOVE IT!!!
    Your list is spot on - I agree and identify with every point on it.