I don’t think anyone knows the isolation that infertility brings with it unless they’ve lived it. Sure, we have several friends that we share all this with. Or rather, I do. I don’t know that my husband, Brian, has really told anyone what we’re going through. If you know him in real life, you know that he is silent about things that bother him. If you don’t know him, I cannot stress how quiet and private he is. But most of my friends know what we’re going through, and a few of our family members. Most people are unfailingly supportive, even if they don’t understand a bit of what’s going on.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less lonely, and doesn’t make me feel like less of a freak. Save your breath — rationally I know I’m not a freak. But that doesn’t keep me from feeling that way. And no amount of support from my very fertile friends makes it less lonely. Infertile friends — we are blessed with a few of those, too, though I wish they didn’t have to go through it either — make it even easier.
But when I’m in that exam room, having my lady bits poked and mishandled by the doctor and his ultrasound wand of pain, I am alone. When the Clomid headache sets in and I can’t even think straight, no one else is going to deal with that pain for me. When we schedule our love life, it’s just the two of us. When my cycle abruptly ends with the inevitable period, it’s just me.
But what really shocks me is the unexpected ways that infertility continually separates us from our family and friends. While it colors how I look at the world, it also colors how people look at me.
Between daycare and lessons, I come into contact with about 11 or 12 families each week. I have at least one doctor’s appointment each month and sometimes more, since I’m always having blood work and such, I need to let the affected parties know that either Brian will be here with the Munchkin Coalition, or that I’ll be late for lessons. None of them get too nosy or pry into my personal life, and all of them offer their support quietly, discreetly, and in a very sincere manner.
Except for one person. Who feels the need to tell me (again and again and again) the three stories she knows about other people suffering through IF, and how easy it was for her to get pregnant with her multiple children, and how she just can’t imagine how horrible it must be. And then, she says it…. “I am SO glad I didn’t have to do any of that! I just got pregnant so easily!” And laughs.
I’m not kidding you. She laughs at the misery of others and her amazing good fortune. One of these days I’m either going to punch her, or tell her what I’m thinking. Which is “Me, too. I’m glad you never had to go through any of this, because you couldn’t take it.” Nothing says “You’re a Freak” like that kind of statement.
My next example is a conversation I had with a family member who has expressed absolutely zero interest in our fertility situation until a recent phone call. Which, I have to say, was lovely and all that, but also really strange after two years of completely ignoring the situation.
It’s hard to catch someone up after two years of constant flux and ordeal. She then said “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to talk about it or not.” Um…yeah. I have a blog about this, ya’ll. It’s pretty much all I do talk about, it seems. Asking how it’s going makes me feel like you care, like you’re interested, like I’m not alone. The only reason I don’t talk about it 24/7/365 is because I know how that would annoy people.
So instead I wait to be asked, and feel separated from my family.
Finally, a very sweet friend recently made a comment that showed me just how much people must view me through what I’ve come to think of as The Infertility Filter. After all, it doesn’t just color how I see the world, but also how the world sees me.
We were talking about her family, and her new niece. She related an adorable story about her nephews as well. We rarely get to see them, so it was neat to catch up and think of them as little people and not as the babies we last saw. We parted ways and about 10 minutes later my phone beeped. She texted to apologize for her story, because she thought the content might have been inconsiderate and hurtful given our infertile state.
Granted, after I spent the next ten minutes really thinking about it I was able to see how someone could have taken offense or been hurt, given the actual content of the story she shared. If they were seriously sensitive and felt the world revolved around them. I, however, love to hear stories about other people’s kids — I spend 5 days a week caring for other people’s children, right?
Even though I was completely un-offended and hadn’t spared it a second thought until she texted, I appreciated her concern.
But I also had to wonder — who else is censoring what they say because I can’t get pregnant? Are we the topic of conversation when we’re not there? Are we your dinner conversation? How often are we referred to as “Brian and Andrea. They can’t get pregnant.” Or “this couple we know who can’t have a baby”.
I hate being pigeon-holed anyway, but to be ostracized by perfectly well-meaning people is kind of a bummer in and of itself. How many stories are we not hearing because someone is worried about our reaction or our feelings? Sure, it’s thoughtful. But it’s also terribly isolating.
A lot of the time, people with infertility isolate themselves. We really don’t want to make people uncomfortable or uneasy. We don’t want to be seen as abnormal, so we keep our problems hidden away. We don’t put our needs and concerns on the prayer list at church. We don’t ask friends to accompany us to the doctor for moral support (at least not after the first time you turn us down).
We don’t offer information, and we are crushed when you don’t ask. Quietly crushed. It’s so terribly easy to believe that we are all alone in our struggles, especially for couples who don’t know any other infertile couples. The longer we’re infertile, the more it builds up, and the lonelier we become.
That’s one reason I blog. Granted, I started blogging before we were “trying”, and I’ll hopefully still be blogging long after we have children, so it’s not technically an “infertility blog”. And yet it is.
I found that when we really started having trouble getting pregnant a lot of my information, ideas, inspiration, and encouragement came from the blogging world. I learned more from other infertile people than from doctors or journal articles. I want to give back to that. I want to be a source of information and encouragement to other infertiles out there who have just received a diagnosis, or just finished their fifth failed IUI, or who have discovered that Clomid doesn’t get everybody pregnant right off the bat.
So I make it a point to live our story out loud and proud. I won’t act ashamed of my infertility, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t exist to make someone else comfortable. I won’t be silent about something that affects so many people, and I won’t make anyone else feel embarrassed either by their fertility or their ability to pop out kids like it’s easier than breathing.
If you got here through a search, you are not alone. Pull up a seat, pop open a bottle of water (no booze in the infertile zone except CD 1-4), and share your stories. Ask questions.
If I can’t answer, maybe someone else can. Let’s learn from each other, and lift each other up. Need prayer? You got it. Need to gripe about how much this sucks, how cold your doctor’s hands are, or how much you really hate scheduled nookie? Go for it — we’re listening.
You are not alone, you don’t have to be isolated, and you are okay.
If we are all determined to do this right out loud, infertility does not have to separate us from them.