Being infertile is sometimes like living in a sub-world or alternate reality. I worry about that feeling not going away with time, that the rest of my life will be this weird, second class citizen experience. I’m 2 months from 38, and coming to terms with the fact that 3 years, countless doctors, 4 IUIs, surgery for endometriosis, a million supplements, and acupuncture haven’t done a thing. It’s time to start accepting the fact that it’s likely I won’t have a child. It’s such an isolated place to be in our society, especially Vermont society. So I wrote down a few things that exemplify my infertility experience in an attempt to both dig through them internally and to let other people know what it’s like.
1. My friends worrying about telling me they’re pregnant.
I was talking to a friend and she mentioned (paraphrasing here) that she worries that her infertile friends might not be able to relate to her, or that the relationship might be strained because she has a child and her infertile friends don’t. I practically fell over myself trying to explain that when nice, intelligent, respectful-to-the-world-and-their-fellow-humans people have babies or announce pregnancy, it genuinely makes me happy. I love when my friends get pregnant. It means I get to hang out with babies, and especially shop for babies (usually at Emily’s shop), which is basically my favorite thing ever. Have you seen my friend Kate’s baby? She’s the cutest baby of all time. Keep having loads of babies, friends, but please don’t stop inviting me to hang out because I can’t have babies.
2. The assumption that I clearly can’t do a job relating to kids / moms, because I don’t have children.
There is such a culture of parenthood where I work – and not just parenthood, because I think dads get the fuzzy end of the lollipop too – but a culture of motherhood. At work and in the wild, getting to 38 without having children is incredibly unusual here. Talk usually turns to children, it’s the common ground that people use to relate to each other. My team writes a lot of content targeted at parents/caregivers, I often get the following from fellow co-workers: “Did anyone who’s actually a mom write it?”
I recently read a blog post lampooning Restoration Hardware for not understanding children. “I also was struck by how painfully obvious it was that whomever was in charge of styling these rooms for the website and catalog clearly doesn’t have kids of his or her own” the blogger wrote. First of all, blogger lady, what’s painfully obvious is that Restoration Hardware has zero interest in relating to your peasant life or your peasant children. But more importantly, the stylist did his/her job perfectly, which is to translate the brand story into images. If the RH brand story was “make this room look like average kids live in it” then that’s how it would have been styled.
The idea that someone without children is incapable of knowing what the average child’s lived in room looks like is ludicrous. If one’s job is to make a room look lived in by children, or to write articles of interest to mothers, or to design toys for children, or anything relating to parents and children, one puts in the effort to make sure the job is done correctly. Because that’s what you do if you want to do your job well. Research, surveys, observation, personal experience, asking friends & family, reading blogs, stalking your parent friends on twitter, etc – there are a million ways to approach a task like this, and will probably deliver a more universally appealing end result than if one parent drew only on personal experience alone.
We’ve all been children, and childless people do not live in a secret world without children. In the course of my (nearly) 38 years, I’ve changed diapers, rocked babies to sleep, read bedtime stories (over and over and over), gone back-to-school shopping, cooked special meals for picky eaters, cleaned up after toy-box-explosions, made up one million road trip games, raked the biggest leaf pile for jumping in, picked out the coolest school supplies, drawn endless pictures on demand, held bellies up as they learned to swim, navigated grocery shopping with grabby hands, and in general have made my family a priority in my life. Our experiences are vast and varied, and family units take many, many shapes. But even if I wasn’t often around children, I’d still be able to do my job, because I’m not an idiot.
3. Being told I’m being crazy.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Wow, you seem like you’re making yourself really crazy over this.” For some reason there’s a real lack of understanding that this is a medical condition, a disease, with the associated traumas and stress that a disease brings. Research shows that the stress levels of infertility are equal to having a terminal illness. Taking the needed steps to try to medically address infertility (and in my case, the endometriosis that caused it) is not “making yourself crazy.” Stress takes a toll, the treatments jack your hormones, it’s a medical condition – a failure of a biological mechanism – that’s not covered by insurance. So while I may seem upset by my lot in life, in pain from the endometriosis, addled by the hormone treatments, or worn down by chasing doctors; I’m not MAKING myself anything. I’m being proactive about a medical condition and could use some support.
4. Really shitty people being pregnant.
Ok, this one doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes one of the worst people I know will be like “Whee, knocked up!” and I’ll be like “Didn’t I block you ages ago? FML.” I do get pretty dang grumpy about the pregnant smokers / Red Bull drinkers wandering the streets of Vermont. But it works in reverse, too – sometimes people I follow online but aren’t invested in announce a pregnancy and I get really happy for them because they seem really GOOD. I’m a simple person, as it turns out.
5. Going to the lady doctor.
As I was writing all this (and debating about posting it at all), Sharon posted a similar experience. Shared experiences, they make blogging seem worth it! But, yes. Going to the OB/Gyn is such a terrifying thing now that my blood pressure was through the roof on my last visit, to the point where they called the next week to make sure I got it checked again and was ok. Swarms of super young, hugely pregnant women, with babies in tow already. Doctors who either don’t think anything is wrong, or who think I should have a $20K procedure (hint: I don’t have $20K!) with a 12% success rate (age + endo puts me in the low-success category) immediately, or doctors who just don’t know -anything- and waste my time and money. Vermont is not the place to be infertile, the average age people start having kids is very young. Starting to try a month after turning 35 (when my husband had just turned a whopping 28, and we’d been married all of 3 months) is sheer madness here – but in San Francisco, 35 was considered just fine. In addition to the land-mine waiting room, I have to call and fight with the billing department because having INFERTILE stamped on my chart means that regular checkups often don’t get covered.
I’ve noticed some posts lately about getting the run around at a doctors office. I’m still having to ask my friends who have access to better health care for supplement lists or recommendations from their doctors. I had to demand a routine progesterone test during my last IUI. I know these are not unique experiences. Part of me wants to go to medical school to start researching / getting some dang answers for all of us. Deeply unlikely, so here are some good resources: hormone levels & fertility bloodwork charts, fertility neighborhood, resolve.org
6. Not having a baby.
It still feels like some weird nightmare. Tiny steps to acceptance.