Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What No One Tells You About Infertility

Five years ago, I walked into a fertility clinic for the first time. My sister-in-law wanted to have a baby as a single mother, and I wanted to be a sort of fertility doula. Her story ended happily, with the gorgeous little shrieking banshee I call my niece. But it was an uphill battle, and the experience stuck with me.

I never wanted to be one of those women who obsesses over her fertility. The fertility clinic smelled of desperation. The nurses were patronizing; the clinic oozed paternalism. It all reeked of buying a baby at any price. Endless rounds of cancer-causing hormones? Fine. Renting someone else's womb without regard for their feelings or how economic hardship led them to this point? Par for the course. Scrolling through catalogs of semen and trying to find the "best?" Normal.

I had a lot of judgment and very little compassion for women struggling with infertility until it happened to me. I still think the fertility industry is disgusting and exploitative. I also understand why women are willing to put themselves through literally anything, consequences be damned, to get pregnant. If you don't understand this, it's because you have not been there.

My husband and I started trying for a baby in 2013. We thought it sounded romantic to avoid timing sex or tracking my cycles, but by the end of the first month, I was compulsively googling pregnancy symptoms and spending hours of each day on Two Week Wait (do not click; the site will drive you to a nervous breakdown). 

I quickly learned that it's actually fairly difficult to get pregnant if you don't time intercourse. This isn't because of my fertility issues. It's simple biology. Sure, people get accidentally pregnant all the time, but it's often after years of unprotected sex. If you want a baby soon, you have to learn at least a bit about your cycle. The first thing you need to know is that counting-based methods don't work, since 28 days is a mere average, not a promise. The second thing you should know is that you need to have sex before ovulation, not after. Few people actually know how babies are made until they start trying to have one, but that's another post for another time.

By the second month, I had begun daily taking and charting my basal body temperature, using an ovulation monitor, tracking symptoms of ovulation, and compulsively learning all I could about pregnancy. My friends thought I had lost it; I couldn't get over my anxiety. I had a bad feeling. I just knew it was going to take a long time.

What I did not anticipate is that it would take three years, that I would have a miscarriage, that I would have to gain 20 pounds and change my entire lifestyle, and that fertility screening tests would come up inconclusive. It was maddening.

I wish I could promise readers struggling with infertility that it gets better. It did for me, but it doesn't for everyone. The overwhelming majority of women eventually get pregnant, but it is often a costly journey, and an unlucky few have no success. Your fertility doctors will try to sell you on their success rates, but they are acting as salespeople, not doctors. Before you agree to try anything, you need to ask yourself: "Will this have been worth the time, money, and pain if it does not work?" Some women feel they need to try everything; others would rather expend their energy elsewhere.

I could write a novel about infertility. Every woman's story is different, but in my conversations with other women who struggle with this infuriating and frustrating issue, I've discovered a few common themes.

You Are Going to Lose Your Shit 
There is a hole in my armoire from when I had my miscarriage. I have burned negative pregnancy tests, screamed in the bathroom, and repeatedly punched my bed. I have never done anything like this before. My husband and I are both well-adjusted, psychologically healthy people.

Infertility broke us. 

It crept in slowly. We were excited at first, then in denial, then obsessed with regaining control. When hopelessness and rage finally overwhelmed us, it infected everything about our lives. I started having chronic pain in every muscle of my body; my doctors could find nothing wrong with me. I was so sad that I literally tensed my whole body, and kept it that way. It was a form of self-mutilation.

If you are dealing with infertility, you are dealing with broken dreams and loss of control. You are also confronting a thwarted evolutionary imperative to procreate. That shit is powerful. Don't discount it. Don't deny yourself the right to feel what you feel. Get therapy if you need it. Get a massage. Find a distraction. And remember that your baby is yours for a short time. Your spouse is with you forever. Don't sacrifice your relationship on the altar of procreation. Take a break if you need to. Love one another. Your relationship is more important than anything else, and it is the only guarantee you have. Do whatever it takes to protect it, even when all you can think about is having a baby.

Insensitive People Will Be Louder and More Intrusive Than Ever 

Alongside instructions to show gratitude, not hit others, and always say "please," children should be taught not to ask other people about their procreative plans. Most people seem to intuitively know this is a private matter, but "most" is not enough.

A small number of intrusive, unkind, insensitive people will ask you when you're having kids. They will not accept deflection or delay. They will hound you until they know how frequently you have sex. If you tell them you struggle with infertility, they will hound you even more. If you refuse to answer questions, they will use guilt and shame, telling you what good parents you would be, how selfish you are for not yet procreating. Some people simply do not understand how painful it is to be unable to get pregnant.

These people are toxic, and you should limit your contact with them as much as possible. If they are close friends or family members, plan your response ahead of time. It should be something direct that shuts conversation down; you should not feel guilty for not wanting to discuss your fertility issues. "I don't want to discuss this painful topic, and if you ask me about it again, I will ignore you" always worked for me.

You Will Fantasize About Murdering at Least One Pregnant Person 
Lots of wonderful people get pregnant every day. You won't notice them. Instead, you'll notice the pregnant teenager or drug addict, the pregnant woman who's bound to abuse her children, or the couple who keeps having unplanned or unwanted kids.

Intellectually, I know that anyone can get pregnant, no matter who else is. I know that other women's pregnancies did not interfere with my ability to get pregnant. But every time I saw someone whom I deemed "unqualified" get pregnant, I fantasized about choking them to death. It's not something I'm proud of, but it is something I am convinced is unavoidable.

Unfollow these people on Facebook. Leave social media. Do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. You are not the problem, but neither are they. Your infertility is not the fault of the jerk next door who got pregnant because her alcoholic husband sniffed in her general direction.

Pregnancy Jokes Will Become Really, Really Unfunny
Some people think it's hilarious to pretend to be pregnant on social media. Maybe it is. I certainly didn't give this issue any thought until I began struggling with fertility issues. The month after I had my miscarriage, though, my brother's girlfriend posted a fake positive pregnancy test to Facebook. It almost destroyed me. Please don't make April Fool's jokes about pregnancy. They are never funny, and you might even subject yourself to hurtful comments when bystanders tell you how relieved they are that you're not really pregnant (I've seen this happen to two people who did this, and no, it wasn't me expressing my relief).

You Will Be Subjected to Lots of Useless Advice 
Stop telling women they will get pregnant if they just relax. That is not true. If someone is infertile, relaxing and doing nothing might mean she never gets to have a baby.

I don't know what it is about fertility issues, but suddenly people begin treating you like you're really, really stupid. Do you have sex around ovulation? Does he ejaculate inside of you? Are you sure you quit using birth control? Are you sure the tests are actually negative? Well-meaning bystanders will pepper you with stupid questions and obvious information.

And then the crackpots will make their way into your life. Your best friend's sister's boyfriend's ex-girlfriend will suddenly message you on Facebook telling you about the Voodoo spell she once heard of. Friends will tell you to try categorically ridiculous strategies. And in your desperation, you might find yourself going along with those strategies.

It's not pregnancy that makes women nuts; it's infertility.

1 comment

  1. Something else to add to the list: You will lose friends. I think I've shared this on my FB, but 3 of my VERY VERY closest sorority sisters are well.... I'm not even friends with them anymore. No on FB, not in real life. I havent talked to any of them in nearly 2 years. Apparently, not having a baby means you don't get invited to birthday parties (even though you were good enough to be a bridesmaid, and good enough to come to the baby shower, but birthday parties, forget it.) And even when I tried to address it as "Hey, don't assume that just because I dont have kids that i dont want to come to their birthday party, because I do." But it continued to happen. No invites. And then, the "ringleader" of the 3 of them decided that I was too dramatic and making something out of nothing and the next thing I knew these girls were no longer in my life. Me and another friend refer to them as the MGMC now: Mean Girls Mommy Club (yes, just like the movie.)

    I wish I could say I didn't miss them, but there's a stupid part of me that misses the girls they used to be.... not the b*tches they are now.

    SO yeah.... infertility breaks friendships when you're that weird person that doesn't have kids when everyone else does, so you couldn't possibly understand their life or what they are going through.


I moderate comments. Don't waste your time leaving a comment that I won't publish. All comments are subject to my comments policy. I welcome open discussion and differing opinions, but not abuse.