Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Lengthy Thoughts on Infertility

I started to think this afternoon that I was maybe going a little bit crazy. I spent most of yesterday and all day today crying. It got the point when someone would ask me if something was wrong, I would say, "No, I think my eyes are leaking" and then I'd go hide.

So tonight, I got home and I googled "The pain of infertility" and read a bunch of stuff. And I realized that nothing I'm going through is new.

Some of the more interesting pieces I read:

An article from Glamour Magazine which made the following points:

I know. I should not care about Katie or Angelina or Gwyneth. I should concentrate on my own wellness and nurture hope for the future. Should, yes. The problem is, the frenzy over pregnant celebrities is only one symptom of a larger phenomenon that—for fertile and infertile women alike—is nearly impossible to ignore: The world has become baby obsessed. “What we’re witnessing in our culture is a rampaging, almost hysterical fixation on pregnancy and babies and how having them will transform your life and allow you to reach nirvana,” says Susan J. Douglas, Ph.D., professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and coauthor of The Mommy Myth. “For infertile women, it’s like a giant megaphone of guilt and shame.”

“You cannot escape the pressure to have a baby, not anywhere you look. The barrage is suffocating,” says Sabrina Paradis, 36, of New York City, who once cried when she opened her mailbox to find an unsolicited catalog for Pottery Barn Kids. “If you’re infertile,” she says, “the ideal would be to disappear off the face of the earth for a while and then come back pregnant.”

To Sabrina, to me, to anyone who’s dealt with infertility, baby mania appears magnified. “Women going through infertility are in so much pain, they’re sensitive to any reminder of what they want and can’t have,” says Alice Domar, Ph.D., author of Conquering Infertility and founder of the Domar Center for Complementary Healthcare in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Infertility is very, very lonely. Every woman in my close circle of friends has children, and none struggled to get pregnant. I’ve actually put myself into infertility quarantine, distancing myself from some friends—bless them for understanding—and asking a couple of them (nicely, I hope) to take me off their seemingly near-daily dispatches of baby photos. I have trained myself to look away from pregnant bellies and speed by the local smarty-pants kids’ bookstore and hip-yet-crunchy children’s clothing shops in my neighborhood.

The heartbreak that infertile women deal with is not a new phenomenon, I know. Surely my great-aunt Bessie felt, as I often do, that she’d failed as a woman or let her husband down as a wife (mine is quick to reassure me otherwise). But what’s new now is the strength, and number, of forces that can make the hurt worse.

For infertile women, the obsession with pregnant celebrities is excruciating on many levels. “I get frustrated and angry with all the stars who I feel are ‘unfit,’ or at least questionable, parents,” admits Ashley White, 28, of Durham, New Hampshire, “Britney Spears driving around with a baby on her lap? Not fair! I would never endanger a baby like that! I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember, I can’t get pregnant—and she gets two?!”

For the entire article, visit http://www.glamour.com/health/feature/articles/2006/07/31/infertility06sep?currentPage=6

I hadn't meant to c/p that much of it, but so much of it fits with how I'm feeling.

A snippet from The Adoption Guide really, really put it into words for me:

Infertility is a prolonged shriek of pain that makes no sound. It is the woman who averts her eyes each time she passes a baby in a stroller, wells up at the sight of a diaper ad, goes numb when a friend announces that she’s pregnant.

An article in the UK's Observer states:

It is weirdly easy for people with children to write rather blithely about childlessness. It is oddly common for men and women, whose own lives have been changed by becoming parents, to think that infertility doesn't matter that much; it's just one of those things. Life's unfair.

When I raised the question of costs with Professor Winston, infertility guru and New Labour peer, he responded furiously, saying it was 'stupid, fatuous'. 'Infertility,' he says, 'is like a pain in the chest. It is a symptom of something wrong. It covers a range of problems; it might be genetic; it might cause a miscarriage; it might be something serious or trivial.'

'Do you have any idea at all,' he asks, 'of the pain that infertility causes? What cruelty leads us to label it a lifestyle choice?'

And for those of us who've managed - been randomly lucky - a certain complacency sets in. I think that many women, even those who conceive naturally and swiftly, feel the little shudder of doubt and dread as they wait for the period they don't want. But we forget it - just as we later manage to forget the pain of giving birth - and the thought of infertility quickly blows away, a little ripple of cold wind. For whereas cancer (or strokes or heart attacks or BSE or a bolt of lightning out of a blue sky) might always be waiting round the next corner, waiting to ambush us, infertility only matters during a certain passage of our life, and after we give birth becomes something that we do not need to fear or think about.

Yet for men and women trying to have a baby, the clock ticks like a time bomb. It ticks away their hopes. The year is divided brutally into periods. The mood swings between hope and despair, hope and despair. Around them, they see pregnant women, babies in prams. They see the birth of the future. They feel they are outcasts from the only life that they really wanted and that other people so easily have. They deserve to be listened to.

Some words from a pastor who struggled infertility with his wife:

Grief is a real part of infertility. It may be heightened in miscarriages or stillbirths, but it is just as real when a couple cannot conceive. The sorrow Kerrie and I experienced the day we received our lab results was as deep as the grief we would have felt if she had called to tell me her parents had passed away.

Scripture confirms the close connection between the two losses. Proverbs 30:15-16 tells us the grave and the barren woman are two things that are never satisfied. The sense of loss from infertility will frequently resurface whenever life situations – such as a menstrual cycle or the birth of a child to another couple – trigger painful feelings of the opportunities lost.

Ehow.com has an excellent list of things to think about and do to help yourself with the grieving process of infertility. For more information please visit this informative article: http://www.ehow.com/how_2205394_grieve-infertility-losses.html

What really got me about the article was the part which read:

Identify your losses. Take some time to think about the infertility losses that you have experienced. Some of those losses include the loss of experiencing pregnancy, the loss of connection with friends who have experienced pregnancy and the loss of a child with your eyes and your husband's nose.

What I feel sad about is that even if my husband and I adopt, we will miss our child's first breath, the first time he/she opens his/her eyes, their first cry, their first blanket, their first article of clothing. We may miss their first smile or their first word or the first time they roll over or the first time they crawl. We will not pass down our superior genes. When people say, "Well, you can always adopt" they don't think of these things. I crave that experience of feeling my child kicking me from the inside out, and I will never have it. And I do feel myself distancing myself from friends who have become pregnant. It's too painful. I shut down in their presence. I don't want to look at ultrasound pictures and listen to the names you've picked out. I don't want to hear your pet names for your fetus. I most definitely do not want to hear you complaining about being pregnant. I would endure years of morning sickness if it meant at the end of the day I would have a baby of my own in my arms.

A woman shared a few thoughts on her own experience with infertility:

Grief - now that’s interesting - I find not many people give me credit for experiencing grief. How can you grieve for something you’ve never had? I am grieving for something I’ve never had; for lost hopes and dreams.

I find that my grief is cyclical on a monthly basis - not surprisingly! Calendars and counting become a way of life, making sure you make love during the critical time - very romantic!

Shower parties - I’ve been to a few. Pre-infertility I didn’t have much fun there - too many mothers telling you their horrific birth stories with relish - seeking out the uninitiated! Post-infertility? Well, I only went to one for a very close friend who knows my situation. She was filled with incredulity at what I had to experience there, putting herself in my shoes for a moment. I don’t blame those who don’t know about me, as they wax lyrical about all things pre- and post-partum, but the silence of those who do know is hard to bear.

At times it is difficult for me to feel excited at future plans for things happening at work or church - it just doesn’t seem as important as having a child.

Anyway, that's about all I'm going to say here on this blog about all this. This is intensely personal and I want to respect my husband's feelings as well as my own. I know so many people are only trying to help, but the worst things you can say to me at this point are, "The doctors are often wrong..." (yes, because I've been through all this for all this time and I want to keep believing in something that is obviously not going to work so I can keep on driving myself crazy) and "You're going to make a great aunt" (I don't want to be an aunt, I want to be a mother, thank you very much!), and "Well, you can look for other experiences in life besides having children" (this one has me in tears just writing it, I don't even know how to respond to this one) and "Well, there are other options" (yes, I am aware of that, and yes, we will look into it, but wouldn't it be nice not to have to pay some bureaucrat 20,000 dollars for the privilege of a child? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to worry how my husband's disabilities or our crappy carpet affect our chances?). Oh, and my personal favorite, "I'm so sorry, I don't know what I'd do without my children." (Yes, rub it in my face, thanks.)

Anyway, that's all from here.

6 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Jasper John R. said...

My wife and I couldn't have children. She is a diabetic and that was that. It was the Seventies. We didn't qualify to adopt. Diabetics die early. Or at least that's what we were told.

So, one must accept one's role in life. As the childless aunt, she can spoil all the kids rotten. She's their favorite aunt who can give them 100% attention when they want to play cards, rough house, or just be held. She's now working on her second generation of grand nieces and nephews. Even our friend's kids call her Auntie.

I know it's tough, but when handed lemons, make lemonade. You have been give a 'gift'. You don't see it that way. But, you have been given the time, the freedom of attention, and extra love to spread around that 'real' Moms can't.

In elephant herds, aunts provide for and protect calves regardless of who is the mom. Are they smarter than we are?

nettiemac said...

Hun, I don't know what to say. I wish I knew what to tell you, some encouraging words to share. But nothing I could will ever lessen the pain and sadness you feel. So know that I keep you & the General in my thoughts.

And don't rule out that adoption automatically means you don't get to experience some of those incredible "firsts" -- I know a couple who did open adoptions with both their kids. They were in the delivery room with the birth mom and caught a lot of those moments. That's an option to consider.....

Love you much!

Beth Johnson said...

I feel your pain.


manda said...

I hesitate, but only for a moment. I went through infertility in my first marriage. It was intensely painful. Having had been through both, it's amazingly close to the grief of losing a child. Please don't anyone belittle your pain. I'd even convince myself that this time I was pregnant, so much so, that I'd throw my cycle off, pee on a stick, and discover the real truth. I'm very sorry. I know of the jealousy you speak of, I felt the same way. I still do to a certain extent when I find out someone has just found out that they're pregnant with twins. That mother gets to have what was taken from me. Many of my friends didn't have children, but my SIL's did, and I hated them for it. I'd get emails telling me that we should only buy for the kids, when I had none. So what, I spend money on your spawn and I get an email telling me that you aren't going to buy for me? The article you copied are true. So much is wrapped up in having children, I've done it, I'm there. Guilty as charged. People say and do stupid things. They try to make right of what can't be righted. I'm often told I can have "more". Of course I can, but I had her, I want her. I hope nothing I've said has added to your pain.

bolivar said...

I don't know what to say on this subject that hasn't already been said, so I will share my experience. When I got married in 1996, my wife and I talked about having kids, but we wanted to wait for a little while and enjoy the two of us. My wife told me that she wanted to become a mother by the time she turned 30. That would have made me 32, and I thought that was perfect. In 2000, we started trying, and every month we would have the same disappointing results.

Time moves on, I get a promotion and a relocation to Hot Springs, and we were blessed in March 2002 when my wife woke up one morning, went to the restroom, and came back to bed to wake me up with the news: she was pregnant. I was all smiles. After two years of trying, it was all happening. I could not have been happier.

However, two months later, everything came crashing down. My wife had an ultrasound done - the pregnancy sac had formed very nicely. But there was nothing in it. She had a miscarriage. I tried to be as supportive as I could during this tragic time. But I also had a feeling that this was a sign of things to come.

If you have kept up with either Talmadge's blog or my blog, you probably have a good idea of where this is going. My wife told me in October 2002 that she is not happy & wants a divorce. About 2 weeks later we reconciled, and she admitted sorrow for ever hurting me. Everything seemed to be back on track. And we were expecting our first child.

I felt that I was a wonderful source of support during the time that my wife was pregnant. Anyone who says otherwise doesn't know the facts. June 13, 2003, my son was born, and I was right there when my wife was giving birth, supporting and encouraging her.

Of course, we all know the ending to this story. Nearly two years and two paternity tests later, the news made itself known: I was not the father of either of my kids (second child was born Dec. 27, 2004 - nearly three months after my wife had walked out). I had hit rock bottom. October 2004 - March 2006 was, by far, the worst time of my life. I would not wish what I went through on my worst enemy.

But all of this makes me wonder about my own role as (for want of a better term) the planter of the seed. I hear about men who have very low sperm counts and everything. I did not know this until my separation, but my stepmother told me that my wife talked to her about setting up an appointment for me with a fertility clinic. I should be insulted, but I also think that this would have been a good idea at that moment in time. Who knows what could have happened.

In response to "jasper john r's" comment, I agree 100% that "one must accept one's role in life". You have been dealt a bad hand, now it's time to come to acceptance with the cards that you have been dealt. I know, it's easier said than done. But I fail to see where you have been handed a gift. From a male standpoint, I love being an uncle - it has been a joy seeing my two nephews grow from infants to young boys, and I am looking forward to seeing them grow into young men. But being an uncle and being a father is as different as night and day. The time, the attention, the "extra love" - isn't that the role an aunt/uncle plays anyway? No disrespect, but I would take being a father anyday.

I just want you to know that I can totally identify with what you are going through. You and the General are in my thoughts and prayers.

As a final note, in my life, I never envisioned the possibility of facing first-time fatherhood in my forties.

Well, here I am.

Jasper John R. said...

>But I fail to see where you
>have been handed a gift.

Well, I guess it's like one of those optical illusions, glass half full half empty, which way does the ballerina turn, you'll see it when you see it.

I haven't been a Father; but I've been uncle-in-law to boys who's own Dads' wimped out. I've been fortunate to help strong women make good homes that sheltered them and nurtured them.

I see that as "gift" given to me to substitute for a "loss". You can focus on the picture and never see the old woman emerge from the picture of the young girl.

So to, you can be so focused on the lemons, that you can't see the lemonade that the lemons made possible.

Maybe I should have been a Buddhist? They always have kool ways to say the obvious.

"If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are." -- Zen proverb