This has been a hard thing to admit. And while I don't always believe in the pop-psychology, shout-it-from-the-rooftops approach to dealing with one's internal struggles, it's important for me to say this out loud. To say, "I am infertile," without choking up with unwanted tears, wanting to hide under a rock, or immediately trying to reassure people "but I'm OKAY, really."
I was inspired by a woman I saw on a local tv show, Studio 5, the day after my sister-in-law Becky and I appeared on a breast-cancer panel as part of their "Finding Strength through Hard Times" series. I didn't want to identify with Kerstin Daynes, or be inspired by her. But I was. She said:
Talk about it. One of my mottoes is "talking about infertility is much better than not talking about infertility." Sure, it is hard and uncomfortable—it is an intimate part of life, after all. But, as you talk about it, it becomes more normal and you find a voice for what you are dealing with. Additionally, you will likely find others who are dealing with the same thing you are! You might also find that once you start talking about infertility, it is sometimes difficult to stop. Don't be ashamed of infertility. Say it…"I am infertile. I don't like it, but I am not afraid to talk about it." Louder…"I am infertile. I don't like it, but I am not afraid to talk about it." Doesn't that feel good?
It's not like it was a huge secret, anyway. If you're a Mormon woman who's been married for going on 7 years and you haven't produced one, two, or possibly three offspring in that amount of time, people around you will assume that you're infertile before they ever assume that you're choosing a child-free lifestyle. And in my case, they're right.
I mean, it's not like people with cancer can always hide it. They may not like it, but hiding from it doesn't solve anything. By being open, as Becky was, you give the people who love you a chance to share in your sorrow, and to help you if they can. And, as in Becky's case, you can also inspire and strengthen others by facing your struggles with courage and conviction.
So this is me, saying it:
I Am Infertile
Thank you for being here as part of my self-help therapy session.
Part of the reason I never wanted to admit this out loud is that I didn't want to encourage all the unwanted advice. "You know, if you'll just relax and calm down about it, you'll get pregnant." (Oh really, so it's my fault then?) "You should adopt. I know ten people who adopted babies and then found out they were pregnant the next month." (Yes, this does happen, but I never wanted to pursue adoption as a means to an end. I wanted to adopt when it felt like the best choice for me, which it finally does.)
And the thing is, after all these years, it's not precisely clear what's wrong with me/us. I've been told I'm "borderline PCOS," which means I have a few of the symptoms of PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome, but not all of them (e.g., the blood test came back negative). This was not welcome news. Women with PCOS can deal with hair loss, unwanted facial hair, acne, difficulty losing weight, extremely painful menstrual cramping, and increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer. "Great," I thought. "I'm going to grow up to be a fat, pimply, balding, bearded, dead woman."
The fertility specialist I met with said that, based on the amount of time we've been trying, it looks like we only have a 2-3 percent chance of getting pregnant unassisted. Great odds, right?
While I was in the midst of my infertility treatments a couple of years ago, I created a layout that I needed to keep to myself for a while. It was incredibly therapeutic to honor my struggle in this way. I put words to it, and pictures. I made it a visual, tangible thing. This layout says that my grief is and was real, and that it's a part of my life.
A few more thoughts:
- As strange as it sounds, and as much as I've always longed to be a mother, I've known in my heart that the time hasn't been right before now. This is out of my hands, and I've relied on my faith to see me through it. And I'm seeking joy in my life in the meantime. I was recently called to be the Primary President in my church congregation. This means that, every Sunday, I am in charge of the spiritual education of 48 children between the ages of 18 months and 11 years. I am doing what I can to influence and bless the lives of children.
- I'm grateful to be a stepmother. I know that children are unbelievably adorable at 6 months, and 2 years, and 5 years old. But Jeremy is living proof that 7-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, and, yes, even 16-year-olds are delightful too. I met Jeremy when he was 7, and I felt very bonded to him very early on. Children bring a fresh perspective and youthful energy to life, and I'm grateful he's been here to make every Mother's Day a happy one, not to mention the days in between.
- I'm grateful that I've never been pregnant. In other words, I thank my lucky stars that I haven't had to endure miscarriage after miscarriage. That's a silver lining for sure. As hard as my situation can be sometimes, it could definitely be worse. (I can just hear myself channeling my Grandma Neva: "If you can't have the things you want, be grateful for the things you don't have that you don't want.")
- I have not exhausted all medical possibilities with regard to infertility (no need to go into the gory details). But at a certain point, it stopped feeling like the right path for us. And you have to trust what feels right. No one else but you knows what's right for you. These days, there is literally no limit to the amount of time and money a person could spend trying to become pregnant. No limit. I've learned to let go of the guilt of supposedly "not wanting it badly enough" to keep pushing beyond where I felt comfortable.
- I am not unhappy. I am not unfulfilled. I do not wallow in misery every day of my life. About every three months or so, I throw myself a pity party, and I roll around in my sorrow and disappointment until I'm just plain sick of feeling sorry for myself. I call my mom or a sister or a friend and talk, talk, talk. Then I pick myself up and soldier on.
- I have been able to survive baby showers unscathed, and I welcome the news of family and friend pregnancies with true happiness for them (eventually, if not right away). I've had six nieces and nephews join the family during the time I've been trying to have a baby, and I love them all dearly. The initial news is always hard to hear, but by the time the timer goes off, I'm just as thrilled as anyone could be. Just because it hasn't worked out for me does NOT mean I hope it doesn't work out for others.
- That said, the initial news can be a shock, depending on my mental state. My advice (from my personal experience) is to break pregnancy news to your infertile friends personally, rather than at a big party or gathering or via Facebook. Especially if she's a close friend, let her feel special by entrusting her with your news before it goes public. All you have to say is, "I wanted to tell you first. You have no idea how much I also want this for you, and how happy I'll be when it's your turn to share your news with me." If she cries (which she likely will, either there or later), give her a hug and tell her that you love her. Please don't begrudge the fact that she may not be thrilled for you right away. She'll get there.
- On the flip side, if you're infertile, do your best to "get there" and be happy for others. Try to be thrilled for your pregnant friends, just like you'd want them to be thrilled for you. Pregnancy can be very hard, for some more than others. Allow your pregnant friends to complain a little if they need to. Your friend may be going through something profoundly difficult for her, just like you are. (If the complaining seems excessive, insensitive, or unnecessary, you can gently say, "Believe it or not, I very much look forward to being nauseated for 9 straight months." I think most women would respect that.)
- Please don't feel too sorry for me. For those of you who have kids, remember that just because you cannot imagine living one day of your life without your kids (because you know them and love them beyond words), that does not mean you'd be a quivering heap of misery every day of your life if you had never met them in the first place. You wouldn't quite know what you were missing.
- A huge step in my journey has been the ability (only recently) for me to say and truly believe (at least sometimes), "I can imagine living a happy and fulfilled life, even if I never have children." I can be the best stepmom, aunt, and future step-grandmother on the planet. And Travis and I have a darn good time together, so I can be grateful for that. As a sweet new friend quoted to me just last night, "Come what may, and love it." For me, this means being open to every eventuality, while maintaining hope for the one thing you want most.
- For the first time in five years (and I've been praying about this all along the way), adoption feels like the right path to pursue. I'm 90 percent excited and 10 percent terrified, and I can't wait to see how things work out for us. At the moment, we're in the middle of massive amounts of paperwork and red tape. We are officially "applicants for parenthood," auditioning for the role that other people fall into naturally and even sometimes accidentally. We have to be "chosen," and there's no small amount of pressure involved in that thought.
Wish us luck.