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In a lot of ways, infertility is unexplainable. The whole thing is too complicated, too confusing, too personal. Your emotions are too dramatic, the whole thing too unrelatable. It’s like when people don’t laugh when you tell a funny story; for some things you had to be there. Infertility is the same way; to get the cruel joke you had to be there.
Or it’s like when I make some naive comment about kids to some friends who actually have kids, and I see them exchange a glance with their husband as if to say, “You wouldn’t understand. Just wait until you have kids.” Having kids, apparently, unlocks all sorts of secrets. I wish I could tell them that infertility is the same way, that they wouldn’t understand either. That they’ll never know the secrets I know.
If I thought I could make people understand what being infertile is really like, here is what I would tell them:
There are too many questions and too many possible answers. I used to know the answers to every question only because I’d never actually been asked the questions before. Is IVF morally acceptable? Would you consider adoption? Are you okay with never having kids? Those questions have simple answers when those questions are not relevant to you.
There are no clear answers for anything. Every website says something different; every doctor you go to gives a different opinion. Not knowing your diagnosis becomes a diagnosis in and of itself: unexplained. And that’s as far as doctors are willing to go to diagnose you. Tell me, with what other problem you go to the doctor for, will they be content to just not figure it out?
I remember going to the hospital to visit a friend’s newborn baby a year or so ago. I’ve never been super comfortable around babies, to be honest. Especially newborns. Give me a toddler and I’m good. But a baby? I feel like they are going to break while I’m holding them if I so much as move a pinky finger. So, as I awkwardly shift the day-old baby in my arms to try to figure out how to get comfortable, the husband jokes, “Do you even know how to hold a baby?”
No, maybe THAT’S why I can’t have one.
That poor husband probably had no idea how I took his little joke. But with infertility comes the shame that you don’t even know how to have babies, let alone anything about raising them. It’s painful; it makes you take offhand, casual comments in a way they were never meant to be taken.
I have a lot of friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family friends who are pregnant. (Heck, isn’t everyone pregnant these days?) Not too long ago, I stood in the hallway at school, face-to-face with a coworker who was 9 months pregnant at the time. Another teacher came up, in the middle of our conversation, and began to rub her belly and talk to the unborn baby in a loud, cooing voice. Literally in my face while we were still having a conversation a day after I found out I wasn’t pregnant again. You can’t make this stuff up.
I laughed. Sometimes some things are just that unbelievable that they’re comical. I mean, really?
Speaking of comical, I once convinced my husband to go to an infertility support group with me. (We stayed in the car long enough to watch people going in to make sure they looked “normal” enough before we headed in.) Turns out people in the group were pursuing IUI, IVF, embryo adoption, surrogates, sperm donation, and other things I hadn’t even heard of before. (Here we thought they looked normal!)
Here were normal people going through infertility and pursuing all kinds of infertility treatments. I legitimately had no idea. I have no idea what a lot of people are going through.
One week — I kid you not — I had three baby showers. Three. In one week. Two of which I hosted. Need I say more?
Being THRILLED and PUMPED and OVER-THE-TOP EXCITED about BABIES and BABY STUFF for that many days in a row is DRAINING. It eventually came to the point where I had to ask my husband, “Did I sound excited enough?” after a friend’s pregnancy announcement that came days after all of these showers.
Being in a perpetual state of excitement for friends who are getting the very thing you want is honestly just exhausting sometimes.
I don’t care about all of the statistics out there saying 1 in 8 people struggle to get pregnant. Or those people who say infertility is so common these days. Or the support groups we tried (okay, just the one, one time, but still).
1 in 8 people is a lot, but it’s not a lot. If I’m 1, then my other 7 friends do NOT struggle with this, which makes it just plain isolating. (Do I really have to have 15 other close friends to find someone else who is infertile? How many friends do people expect you to have, anyway?) Despite my friends’ best attempts to include me in their conversations (because they really do their best), I just can’t relate anymore to so many of the things they talk about, like diaper rash cures and six-month sleep regressions and 3am feedings. It’s isolating.
Not only because I was inevitably shocked that I had become the 1 in 8 statistic, but infertility is surprising because I never realized how conceited, envious, guilty, and judgmental I really was until all of this happened. I never counted on infertility to point out all of my flaws.
And what’s more, infertility is surprising because it’s strengthening, and it strengthens your marriage and your faith if you let it. And now, even in the middle of all of this confusion, shame, and isolation, I somehow feel more grateful for the things in my life than I ever have before. My perspective on things has changed, and the honest truth is that whether I have kids or not in the end, I am now more grateful for what I do have. It took me a long time to get here, and I still have my days. Unfortunately, gratitude doesn’t always take away my other — ahem, shall I say less noble — qualities (if you didn’t catch them earlier…self-centeredness, envy, guilt, and judgment). I never said I was perfect. But I am choosing to be grateful.
Like I said, infertility is hard to explain.
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