Accepting my infertility

When I was in the first few years of TTC struggle, like many infertile folk I had a difficult time dealing with things like baby showers, pregnant women, and families with small children.  It hurt to see other people have the things that I wanted so badly but seemed impossible to achieve.  For example, a dear friend of mine has her refrigerator plastered with pictures of her friends and family.  In one corner are three birth announcements from the same family, each perfectly timed two years apart, and each with a line about how a child is a blessing.  Every time I saw them lined up there it would send an arrow through my heart, as I wondered why we couldn’t be similarly blessed.

At the time I didn’t really know when or how I would be able to move past that kind of pain.  Now, I do.  Because after a few years, that kind of thing didn’t bother me any more.  While we were waiting for our last embryo transfer, Mr. Nishkanu and I went to visit a local aquarium.  It was  packed with young families holding babies and kids running around, and the sight of all these young families didn’t bother me in the least.  My goal in this post is to share what got me from feeling the constant pain of infertility to recognizing that infertility is simply a part of my life, in the hopes that this might be useful to someone else who is stuck in the horrible pain part.

To some degree what I tell you here won’t really matter, since I think the most essential fact is that what you’re doing when you feel that pain is grieving, and there are no shortcuts in grief. The thing that makes infertility grieving particularly challenging for many of us is that infertility is often not very clear cut – you start by suspecting there might be a problem, then you know that there is a problem but that there are also solutions, and eventually – if you aren’t lucky – you start to realize that maybe for your problem there is no solution, or at least none that you can afford, whether monetarily or in units of emotional pain.   The grieving over your infertility takes place in small steps, in every cycle, but you rarely know how much you need to grieve, how much pain you need to take on and work through, because you never know – the next cycle could work, hope keeps springing back up again.   In a way the grief of infertility reminds me of the grief that people feel when they have a loved one who is missing – you don’t know whether you should mourn their passing or look forward to the joy of reunion.  You are stuck in a grief limbo.  The difficulty of such a limbo is clear from a recent study which showed that women who have to wait for a cancer biopsy result have as high a stress level as women who have gotten the news that they do, indeed have cancer.  And knowing the situation means you can start coping and doing something about it.  In infertility the situation is often not so clear.

Note: I have not been in the situation of learning in one fell swoop that you are definitely, 100% infertile.  I am not trying here to say “that would hurt less”, just trying to explain the special characteristics that make grieving infertility in an incremental way difficult.

Still, there were two things that I realized along my infertility journey that helped me to move to more of a sense of peace with my infertility.

One thing that helped me a lot with the pain that I felt when other people had what I wanted was to recognize that babies are not a zero-sum game, i.e. the fact that someone else has a baby did not cause me to be infertile or take away my baby.   I began to play a game with myself, where when I would see or experience something that made me jealous, I would ask myself, “If she was not pregnant / did not have that child, would that help my situation any?”  And obviously the answer was no, even I could see that.  If that couple walking down the street happily holding hands with their laughing child were instead walking down the street alone – or even walking down the street sadly, coping with the sadness of infertility – would that make me feel better?  No, it really wouldn’t, it would just mean there were more sad people.   Playing this game helped me to not take other people’s fortune as a stab to my heart.

But this was a relatively minor shift.  There was a much bigger shift that came in my thinking which took much of the sting of infertility away.  Even in the depth of my pain I could recognize that, as bad as my situation was, there were plenty of people who were in the same situation.  And as bad as the pain of infertility is, there are other situations in life that would be even worse.  There are awful things that happen to people every day – terrible diseases, accidents, violence, hate, war, loss of loved ones – compared to which my infertility was like a little dip in the road.  I slowly began to realize that what was driving the pain I felt about the unfairness of infertility was the belief that somehow I was special in that I should be spared suffering.  I thought that I had been unfairly picked out for suffering, but I realized that actually, until then, I had been unfairly picked out not to suffer.  As trite as it may sound, suffering is a part of human life.   Nearly everyone will have some kind of cross to bear – true, some more than others, but then again, me far less than some.   Those jealous eyes, looking at someone else who has something I want, don’t see what they are struggling with and suffering through, or what trials they will have to bear in the future.  Around us, everywhere, are people who have suffered through one trial or another, and I am simply one of them.  Infertility just happens to be the trial I am bearing right now.  It is nothing special.

Note: again, I recognize that I was lucky not to have had really terrible suffering until I hit the bump in the road that is infertility.  You may have suffered more than I have before getting to infertility, which would make it seem that much more unfair.   If that’s the case, I don’t pretend to know to how helpful this would be for you.

This realization has had both positive and negative ramifications for me.  On the negative side, it really makes me feel old.  I remember when I was a young girl, and someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up,  I would say something like “a princess astronaut ballerina.”  I believed  anything was possible, I could achieve greatness, my dreams could all come true, life was exciting and full of possibilities.  Now, not so much any more.  Many wonderful things happen in life, but also many bad things, and there is nothing special that will save me from the bad stuff.

On the positive side, though, the insight that suffering is a natural human state has made me much more empathetic.  I understand better what it is to be someone in pain, suffering through something that makes you feel like you live in a different world from all those around you.  I met someone a few months ago who upon being introduced immediately told me that his adult son had unexpectedly died a few years before.  The naive, the-world-is-a-beautiful-place me would not have known what to say, and would have wondered at the strange intimacy.  This me, though, just said, “That’s terrible; it must have been such a shock.”  And listened as he told me about it, asked him questions about his experiences, and enjoyed a wonderful, warm, and very human conversation.

Don’t get me wrong.  Some people talk about the gifts that infertility has brought them.  While I respect that attitude and agree with it to a certain extent, I would happily give up these insights to have had the life that I wanted to live.   You don’t have to be happy you are infertile.  But it is possible, when you are ready, to get to a place of general peace with it.

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2 Comments »

  1. clare said

    I really liked this post and think it was a post I really needed to read.. I think I am slowly coming out of the darker and more intense side of my grief and am stating to enjoy bits of joy at living life. Today I had lunch with my coworker who is on mat leave now… and we had a blast.

    Very well put post – thanks!

  2. sazzasarah said

    This is a lovely post. I just found it now. Thank you for writing this. I think I am coming to this place too. We’re in the middle of IVF number 6, but the whole process of life has become a lot easier in the last few months. I have come to a more peaceful place with infertility. I’m more able to enjoy the company of my nephews and nieces and friends with babies, which has brought its own special pleasure that I couldn’t have accepted before. I also totally relate to the idea that you can understand other people’s suffering better when you have gone through something yourself. Like the writer, I had a very lucky and charmed life until infertility struck – then in the last 5 years my husband and I both lost a parent, plus have been wrestling with all the IVF, and life seems very different now. Nowadays I look around, at work ,and marvel at how brave people are – there must be many people struggling along with secret pressures and difficulties, and still managing to get it together to get up, come to work, laugh and talk. I am more sympathetic than I was when I was younger. I hope that others can read the post and also gradually come to a point where the grief is manageable. Like the writer and me, I hope everyone can finally feel that while infertility takes, and takes, and takes- it has given us a small something as well.

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