Talking About Infertility: A Friend’s Guide

It’s getting easier to interact with my friends with kids, and with their kids. I spent the weekend visiting with a friend i’ve known since high school, her husband, and their two adorable daughters (2.5 years and 10 weeks). It was an awesome weekend, we went hiking, caught up, hung out with the kids, and gave her some much needed adult time while her husband looked after the kids.

Something that has come up a couple of times with my family/friends who have children is their uncertainty as to how uncomfortable it is going to make me if they talk about/interact with/gush over their children. And I do understand that. I get that there is a distinct level of awkwardness surrounding the conversation of infertility. Since it remains such a taboo subject of discussion, people have their own ideas and expectations for how they expect the infertile individual to feel and what their comfort level would be if they were in that situation.

I can’t speak to anyone else’s feelings on the subject, but here are mine: I like to hear about how happy people are to have their children. I think the fact that they enjoy their progeny, that they are excited to be parents, and that they love the experience is a good thing. Yes, of course it makes me think about what i’m missing. Of course there is a part of me that is sad.

What is exponentially worse is the people who have children and apparently hate or resent the whole experience. It is one thing when someone has the thing I want most in the world and treasures it… It is a whole other thing when they have it and they treat it like an inconvenience.

I know that having children is stressful, and draining, and a huge sacrifice. I know that it is hard, and that there are moments where any parent is likely to regret how much of themselves they’ve had to give up in order to support their progeny. I don’t think there is any such thing as a perfect parent, and perish any thought that I consider that I would be anything close to that if given the opportunity. But at least here in Canada, we have access to birth control, family planning options, and worst case scenario, abortion, all subsidized by our health care system. There is no excuse to bring an unwanted child into this part of the world. I don’t expect anyone to take the concept of terminating an unwanted pregnancy lightly. Unfortunately, I do think too many people take the concept of parenting lightly, which seems to have a whole other set of consequences.

As someone who has given parenting, childbearing, child rearing, and the sacrifices and work involved a lot of thought, not just in the last four+ years, but for the better part of a decade before that while my Husband and I were planning a life that centred around having a family… I honestly find it difficult to imagine how anyone can go into it without a basic grasp of what they will be giving up in order to support the little life they create. However, I am often confronted with evidence that exactly that happens all the time, and it drives me a little crazy.

So, talking to a friend who is dealing with infertility. Things to consider:

If you are curious about someone’s interest in having children, should you ask? The blanket answer to me is no. It’s none of your business what they want, and chances are if they want you to know they will choose to tell you. However, I think it can come up organically in conversations, and depending on how open they are about their fertility status, and how close the two of you are, they may choose to bring it up. If you are not comfortable having that conversation (and maybe hearing about some of the baggage behind it) don’t ask. My closest friends all know the basics, and varying levels of details about what my Husband and I have been going through. I personally chose to brush off the question or ignore pointed comments that can hang on the air if I don’t feel like talking about it. I will either full on lie, make a joke, or just say that we are not having kids without qualifying information. The basic point is: It’s none of your business, I don’t care who you are, my fertility is mine, and I will choose when and with whom I discuss the details.

You are aware that someone cannot have children. Should you invite them to child-centred events (baby showers, children’s birthdays, etc.). Yes. But don’t be offended if they chose not to attend. Really, I think that should be true of all events – an invitation is not a directive, it’s presenting the option. I think it’s weird when people nag you to show up to something once you’ve told them you won’t, regardless of the event details – weddings, parties, trips… an invitation shouldn’t be considered an order. But I digress…

Should you discuss your children/child details with/around your infertile friend? Yes. If they are not comfortable, they can choose to remove themselves from the conversation. As I said, I love to hear about my friends children, and my nieces and nephews. The little munchkins’ existence has no bearing on my own lack of children, and knowing that there are kids around who I can lavash with whatever maternal urges/attention/care I have (Plus getting to hand them back at the end of the day) is a good thing. I personally also have no issues with my friends discussing the more challenging realities of their child rearing experiences. As I said above, I know that is a part of it, and constant sunshine sugar and roses just makes my teeth hurt. I’m cool hearing all of it, and if I were not, I would say something or absent myself.

Asking questions about their situation, should you? Sure. Again, I think it’s up to each individual to determine their boundaries and what they wish to disclose. As with invitations, questions don’t automatically deserve a response. With those friends who I have chosen to disclose my experience, I have no problem discussing it in more depth, as long as the circumstances are appropriate. I am not going to have a heart to heart in the middle of a party with a bunch of other people listening in. But if I have already determined that I trust someone enough to have told them what is going on in my life on that level, I have no problem going into more detail. In fact, for me, I frequently have trouble talking about it unless someone chooses to ask. I tend to feel like I am over burdening my friends with my issues, so I generally avoid bringing it up. Sometimes someone choosing to ask about it is a welcome opportunity to vent/discuss/elaborate/communicate on an issue that I find intensely difficult to address. There is an aspect of buyer beware in this: If you ask, you may get far more of an answer than you expected and possibly more than you wanted. This is an emotionally charged issue, and it can come out in a whole huge ball of everything that can be overwhelming. Or maybe it just feels massively overwhelming to me. Whatever. Let that be on the asker, if you’re willing to ask an incredibly personal question, you should probably be prepared for the answer.

Random other things:

I don’t care that you don’t feel like you can understand what it feels like. I don’t want you to, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone I care about.

I don’t need your suggestions for other options for potentially getting pregnant – thank you, I know you’re trying to help, but I am a pretty phenomenal researcher in my own right – you are not going to suggest something that I have not already considered.

I don’t want to be told about the friend/acquaintance/your dog’s uncles owner who got pregnant after years of trying just when they had given up all hope. We all know that person (or at least know of them), and they are the exception, not the rule. People talk about that type of event, they talk a whole lot less about the absence of it.

Don’t bitch to me about the person in your life who got knocked up by accident, chose to have the baby, and is being a totally irresponsible parent. I know they exist, I work with the progeny of some of them, I am aware it’s a thing… but if you want to trigger a meltdown in me, that is your fastest route. Don’t do it, if you do, and you know you’re doing it, you’re just being an ass hole. If you are the irresponsible parent, chances are we are not friends, because I saw you coming from a mile away and removed myself from the situation. You didn’t have to feel my wrath, you’re welcome.

I have other things in my life that fulfil me, I am not broken. Yes, I think about my lack of ability to have children constantly. Yes it feels like a giant gaping hole in my life. However keenly I feel that loss, it does not mean that anything else I chose to do with my life is somehow done to compensate. It’s not. I’ve had a few people talk as if my masters degree, career, sport, etc. are all just ways to fill the void… they are not. I do these things because I think they have value. Yes, they are also valuable in terms of their ability to distract me and as coping mechanisms, but they would be equally valuable if I were able to have children – just ask all the fertile people who have also chosen to participate in those things!

I don’t expect to “get over it”. I choose to avoid talking about my infertility in part because I don’t feel like dealing with any backlash from people who, as with the loss of a loved one, think that grief has an expiration date. It does not. Time helps. It makes things less raw, less immediate, and improves coping skills, as well as offering perspective. But nothing stops this from being present, and I won’t simply wake up one morning and not care. So if, when i’m in my 60’s and long past child bearing potential, I mention the sense of loss… It’s still present, it’s still real, and if you can’t understand that… Either you are lucky and have never lost something you truly loved, or you’re a sociopath and you don’t actually feel that deeply about anything. Either way, I don’t really want to hear about it in that moment.

These are my honest, if cheeky, thoughts. They are likely only relevant to me and my situation. However, if you are reading this and wondering what to do in terms of your friend, the best thing you can do is just ask them what they need. Gently, calmly, and respectfully… and then respect their answer.

Cheers,

-Me

 

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A Weird Conundrum

So, something I am noticing that I am struggling with: I am starting to get on with my life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am getting over not being able to get pregnant – that remains a nice little black cloud in my psyche, but I am starting to see it more as a distant storm instead of an ever present shadow. As I am able to actually focus on the good things in my life, I have a weird sensation like i’m cheating on my unconceived, unborn child. Like somehow being able to build other positive things in my life is doing a disservice to the dream of having a biological child. I think it’s associated with the general grief experience, but it’s an interesting aspect. It’s like somehow if I can move on, if I can build a positive and fulfilling life without having imprinted my DNA on the next generation, I never really wanted it that badly.

I know that’s a load of crap. If I woke up tomorrow, or next week, or next year, and took a pregnancy test and it were positive, I…. I don’t have the words to express how happy I would be. I have dreams where it happens, and the disappointment I feel on waking and finding out it isn’t real is almost heartbreaking.

So as I actually feel like I am building a different life, and a good one… I find the feeling of being unfaithful to my original plan very interesting.

I think my Husband and I will take a very serious look at adoption sometime in the next three years. I think we will look at children who are in the foster system, not infants… and I think we will be parents. We will have a child, or children, and we will parent together. But in the meantime, I need to not feel guilty for trying to build a good life without my dream baby.

-Me

Apparently it’s time for a change?

Soooooooo, its been an eventful few weeks – on top of quitting my job last week, I got a call that my surgery date is much, much sooner than I expected. Initially they called me Monday to tell me that it would be June 27th. I rearranged my entire schedule around that with less than 6 hours notice, and tried to come to terms with the idea of being slightly incapacitated starting a new job.

Then on Tuesday I got a call from the bookings people that they had neglected to check the surgeons availability, and that the 27th wasn’t actually an option. So instead it’s been postponed to July 25th. Six weeks seems like a reasonable amount of time to prepare…

I will still need to take some time off quite early in my new job, but I will at least have a month to settle in.

In some ways having a breast reduction is another step in my acceptance of not being fertile. I had been waiting to see about the surgery until I had children, since breast feeding is apparently more difficult post surgery. Choosing to do so now is again admitting that it isn’t going to happen. I waffle back and forth between weird last minute hope and being accepting of the reality.

The limbo is waning. It won’t go away, it won’t be gone, and I will grieve on some level… but I am starting to concretely move on.

-Me

All of the things, and yet still the same.

You never know exactly when the next wave will hit. The moment that you are reminded, yet again, that you won’t ever hear a munchkin call out for Mum and be calling for you.

In other news, I quit my job on Friday. I’ve been frustrated by working for an internationally publicly traded company whose focus is the bottom line… For three and a half years. However much I love WHAT I do, the company for which I do it has been nothing short of disappointing. There is a significant amount of lip service paid to the value of teamwork, collaboration, supporting their employees, yadayadayada, but the reality differs. I have been repeatedly informed that I am not worth paying more than the minimum, and that I am replaceable. So it is slightly satisfying to see the look of panic on my managers face when he now has to try to replace me. I do have another job to go to. I’ll be working for the municipality where I live, and it will be much more community focused, which I think will be a good fit for me. What is terrifying is the fact that I will be taking a huge risk in terms of hours – this new job is based entirely on my ability to build and maintain a client base. And I think I can – I have done so before. But it is venturing out into unknown territory without a safety net, and I am unsettled.

I will also have significantly more free time than I am used to, and that is also unsettling. I am used to being so busy I don’t have time to think, and that is at least in part by design – if I’m busy, I can’t focus on the things that upset me, because there is no time. Now I will have time. my first impulse is to try to fill it – with anything: work, school, choir auditions, exercise, etc. I know I need time to slow down and regroup, and that it will be good, but my crocodile brain doesn’t want to give anything the opportunity to catch up.

Since quitting I have felt lighter than I have in a very long time. I know I made the right decision, I know that this will be the best in the long run, and the more time since I sent in my resignation the more sure I am that it was a good idea. I feel alive in a way I have not for a few years.

I need to believe in myself and my own professional abilities, I need to remember that I can, and have, in fact done this before. But the self doubt creeps in, and its insidious tendrils wrap around my heart and drag…

It will be ok. I will make this work. And worse case scenario, I can always find another job….

And in the meantime, I will continue to avoid thinking about that voice that will never call for me in the night.

-Me.

Birth

A beautiful baby boy came into the world this morning. Very good friends of ours, they were best man and maid of honour at our wedding, welcomed their first child this morning. A few weeks earlier than planned, but he and his mother and healthy, and his father is overjoyed. Their joy is wonderful, and I believe that they will do everything in their power to be amazing and caring parents, and to raise a happy and well rounded child.

And I feel joy for them. I feel it as strongly as I feel my own sadness. The four of us have been friends for over a decade, planned our lives together, joked about how we as mothers would sit in the shade with glasses of wine and get the fathers to run around after the little heel raisers we were bound to produce. So I feel joy that my friends are experiencing parenthood. And profound loss that we won’t be there with them. We can still drink wine in the shade, but no little melange of my Husbands and my genetics will be there to run around with their son. Somehow this birth is harder, largely because we had planned a life together with them, and they are inevitably leaving us behind. I will be a fabulous aunty. I will dote on that little monkey and be there for his milestones. And although I feel the grief that sits behind me every day, I will not allow it to darken every interaction.

The guilt I feel in not having been able to provide my Husband with progeny is huge – not because he’s put it on me, he emphatically hasn’t. But because children were always in our life plan, the one we agreed to in the years before we got married, and the one we planned on after. As we approach a decade and a half together, I appreciate that he has been, and continues to be a loving and supportive partner, and that he does not seem to resent my inability to conceive.

Infertility makes me feel lonely. That is, to some degree, my own fault – I hide my personal details from most of the people who see me often. Those who know all of them live far away, and we only discuss things occasionally, but then in detail. I want to reach out for support, but those who might offer what I want are either unavailable or unable to respond. And what could they possibly say? There really isn’t anything to say.

-Me.

In Reference to Mental Health

I think, through my adolescence and 20s, I had seen my bouts of anxiety and depression as a passing phase. I saw the flux as the result of hormone shifts and the stressors of school, work, relationships, whatever. I remember vividly my sister in law, who also deals with depression, telling me that she thought I was depressed, and brushing it off. I was 24. I think I had bought into a significant portion of the societal bias against mental illness, a stigma that continues to cause me to be very careful of who I discuss my mental health with, and under what parameters.

I’m not proud of bowing to social norms. I don’t lie about my mental health, but I definitely hide it under a shroud of bravado and easy smiles. I will answer direct questions honestly, but I learned a long time ago that when you seem like your life is an open book, no one bothers to flip the page. I have spent years carefully constructing a facade, one that is just quirky and odd enough that most people assume that I can’t possibly be hiding anything, because wouldn’t the foul mouth, dirty sense of humour and tendency to do a happy dance randomly in public be the obvious things to hide? It’s not that those things are lies. They are just emphatically not the whole truth.

Interestingly, within the safety of that shroud I have learned to watch other people and their behaviours more carefully. Because I am painfully aware of my own disguise, I am more inclined to see through those that other people use. From a professional perspective, it’s extremely valuable: I am adept at seeing past the walls and learning about people – and I find their whole self interesting, which leads to better therapeutic relationships and I think ultimately better care.

As my 30s are well and truly underway, I am more aware of the reality that comes with dealing with depression, at least for me: It isn’t transient, or a passing phase. That doesn’t mean it won’t pass, and it doesn’t mean I can’t work on it, build up my coping skills, and improve my outlook. In fact, even as I sit and write, I’ve been pretty stable for the better part of a month despite significant upheaval in my professional life. I feel like a whole person most of the hours of the day. I recognize that I have a tendency to over-extend my resources, and I work to make sure that I allow for that, and the recovery time that needs to follow. So I work on balance, and self care, and try to practice what I preach.

But I am starting to realize that it is important for me to own my mental health. Because it is mine. It’s not going away, it will be ever changing, and sometimes hard… But sometimes it will be glorious, and I will get to experience true and utter joy – and that is worth everything, every single time. I have chosen thus far not to seek medication. The talk therapy has been effective, and all my understanding of the medications are that they dull your senses at both ends of the spectrum: no huge lows, but also no highs, and I live for those (none external chemically induced) highs.

I am blessed with a strong cohort of very good friends, who have been available to me in ways I could never have imagined, even when I didn’t know how to ask. I am lucky to have married a man who has weathered my storms with grace, and been willing to work on our relationship even when I was ready to give up. I have strong biological family bonds, and stronger logical family bonds, and I treasure them.

But on mental health: Its mine, good, bad, or otherwise. I am happy that this most recent depressive episode seems to be passing. With each successive experience I am more certain that there will, eventually, be a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

I will mourn my ability to conceive for the rest of my life. I am starting to accept that, and the daily hurt is slowly ebbing away. There are sharp pangs, and there is a very good chance that I will never attend another baby shower as long as I live. And I will let myself grieve that loss as often and as deeply as I need to, because that too is mine. Mine to decide how much it hurts, mine to determine what the appropriate response is, and mine to share only if and when I choose. I don’t know if I will ever parent in any conventional sense, or if any doctor will ever be able to tell me definitively why my body doesn’t seem capable of conception. And it’s not ok. But it is something I can acknowledge and build into my life foundation, not use to tear myself down.

Someday I want to share my story and struggle with mental health with the people I care about, and maybe beyond. Partially because I think there are too few stories about the people who don’t conceive (how many times has my saying I can’t get pregnant been met with “i’m sure you will!” or “I know a woman who said that and then…”), but mostly because I would like to face my fear of sharing these little secrets I’ve been so carefully hiding for so long. But for now, this is Me.

-Me.

Happy New Year!

My blog name is suddenly antiquated…

But really, for me, 2016 was the year of infertility – not because its where it started, but because it’s where it ended for me.

This last year has been a very… It’s been a hard year. I have spiralled in and out of some level of depressive symptoms since adolescence, but admitting that I can’t procreate has brought out a whole new level of self loathing I was not in any way prepared for. I am lucky in that I have not failed at many things I have tried to accomplish in my life – I can quite literally count the things I feel I utterly failed at on one hand (my grade 9 royal conservatory piano exam (I fell apart playing the raindrop prelude and couldn’t pull it back – I failed by 2%, I got 58% when I needed 60% to pass…), the 1 high retrieval when working at a zip line (seriously, what freak of nature can pull themselves back up a 150 meter zip line? Not this girl… Seriously, those freaks of nature are kinda awesome… but I digress) I didn’t get into physio school (3.64/4 not a good enough GPA – 3.81 was the minimum I would have needed. FML) aaaaaaand getting pregnant – 3.5 years of unprotected sex and counting). Don’t get me wrong, there have been things I didn’t do well at. I only count my first race in a single scull at an international regatta not a fail because I didn’t tip the boat – I still came in last place, I’m just happy I stayed upright. For me I only feel like I failed when I don’t meet a basic level of function or achievement/reasonable expectation. I don’t think that it was an unreasonable expectation to have achieved any of my major failings: The piano exam I was prepared for, I knew, and know, that piece of music well, and even recognizing that I messed up, I still could have brought it back. The 1 high retrieval -well, that was a full body muscle failure, I was exhausted, but still, I think I could have done better. The GPA – i’m smart, I just like to multitask a lot, and i’m terrible with details… you know, those basic details like studying for exams thoroughly…..

Pregnancy, or the lack thereof, has been a whole other thing. I think it’s a basic mammalian expectation to be able to procreate. So not being privy to that arena has been a failure on a very basic and disturbing level. I have several friends who feel no drive to procreate, and they feel no such failure. But I think that that lack of sensation comes because they made a choice – one that I did not. I did not choose this for myself, and neither did my Husband. We planned a life with children, our own, our genetic weirdos, and despite our efforts, that has not been possible. I don’t think he resents me – he’s made it quite clear that our relationship matters more than our hypothetical children, and I hope he continues to feel that way. We have had open discussions on adoption, and I think that that will ultimately be the direction we go for. At least we will try. I’d like to adopt a child, or siblings, out of the foster care system. I have no drive to look after an infant.

But on failure: I think that’s the hardest part. It is for me. I don’t know if that is the same sensation that other women who are confronting infertility face – I suspect if I had a concrete answer as to WHY we can’t conceive I would have an easier time of it. But there isn’t an answer except that we can’t, and at this point we statistically won’t.  I don’t handle failure well. Years have passed since most of what I mentioned above, and they still bother me. In true character, I haven’t handled this one well. Well, I don’t think I have. I’ve been a withdrawn, shrivelled, miserable version of myself. And apparently my self flagellantism knows no bounds. I recognize that I have been grieving, and will probably continue to need to grieve. I am trying very hard to hide my grief from everyone who cares about me, because I don’t want them to know how much it is still bothering me. I think there is the outside perception that this is something to get over – something that will pass. And I let people think that. The very few people I have confided in, I allow to think that it is a passing thing, and i’m over it. They don’t need to know that each fresh menstrual cycle is a fresh indication of failure, or how hard it is for me to congratulate my friends on their progeny. Sorrow is hard – it’s hard to experience, but somehow it’s doubly hard to inflict on the people who care. I think my Husband is aware – he’s around me enough that he sees through my public persona and sees me hide and regroup. I think one or two of my closest friends have a whisper of an idea that I may not be as upbeat as I profess, but they respect me too much to push the issue. Because the funny thing about grief is that it has an expressed shelf life. Then those around you want it to be over with, and it’s time to move on. Public expression becomes insufferable, and you have to internalize to not put out those around you. So instead I push it down, and away, and make up stories to myself about how I’m ok with this, how I have grown in ways that I never would have had I had children, and how I can be so much more than I would have been professionally, personally, athletically, academically. All of which is true, to some extent – I would not be who I am now without the experiences wrought by this one small quirk of my physiology. And much of what and who I am I value. But the very honest truth is I would still go back and trade it all just to get pregnant. But thats a secret I can’t tell, and a grief I can’t share.

So this last year has been hard, because I’ve had to be honest with myself on a level I haven’t been able to be, and probably won’t be, with anyone else.

2017 is starting bright – we have possession of the town house we bought, we started painting it today. It has two bedrooms, one will be a shared office, one will be ours – no room for a hypothetical child, we are letting that space go, at least physically. 2017 holds promise professionally, academically, and athletically. I plan to continue racing a rowing scull, I think I can push my fitness to a new level I have never gotten to before, and that excites me. I have five courses left to finish my masters, and I am building and running a falls prevention program for adults in my community who are at high risk of injury. My husband and I work well as a team, and I think that having our new home to work on will be good for us.

So let 2017 be bright

-Me