Things about infertility I have learned
1. Men experience it differently than women. This is pretty much a well-duh kind of statement, but what this means in terms of your everyday life is more complicated than people realize. The experience of trying, and failing, to have children is felt by women on a physical and emotional level, and thus becomes a very total, all-encompassing experience that they feel like they can never escape. Men, on the other hand, struggle to express their feelings or to even feel that they have the right to them. They also have to watch their partners going through excruciating experiences – that is a different, but no less intense, source of stress. Couples fight because they’re not going through the same thing at the same time, so they have to figure out a whole new language to be there for each other. People might not be on the same page – a man might not be ready to get tested himself while a woman is already gung-ho to start IVF – and that can cause enormous tension. I think also there’s a feeling, deep down in a dark place we don’t even want to admit we have, where we’re thinking, “I should not have married this person because I can’t give him/her children” or vice versa, “I shouldn’t have married him/her because she/he can’t have children.” That’s a dark, awful place to go, but you do it sometimes, and the best marriages/partnerships are ones where you can say admit your insecurities out loud and receive comfort.
2. Very few people understand what this is like unless it happens to them. I know this because I was one of those people who didn’t understand, but thought she did. People say the WORST things out of ignorance, because intellectually they get the idea but they have no idea that the experience is so much deeper and so much harder than it looks.
3. All your money – seriously, ALL your money – gets tied up in this. Insurance doesn’t always cover IF treatment (ours covers SQUAT) and the costs of testing, drugs, procedures, etc. can add up FAST. There are also a lot of what I call “secondary costs” – things you do to cope with the stress or to increase your fertility – marriage counseling (not covered by my insurance either!), acupuncture (cheap but I have to do it every week so it builds up), special foods/medications, and investing in hobbies or activities that temporarily take our minds off how we’re feeling. We’ve tried to keep costs down as much as possible, but we still have no idea how much this is going to cost us long-term. We’re reluctant to make any big purchases or make any promises that we’ll travel in case we suddenly need money for something. People are always telling me things like, “Oh come visit me so you can take your mind off things” but they don’t realize this is $500-$1000 of travel money that I just can’t do right now. Also, for every dollar I spend now on trying to have my own child, that’s taking away a dollar from an adoption fund that I might need later, if all these attempts fail. So, there’s the constant agony of “what should I spend my money on – IF treatments or adoption savings?” and never knowing which is the best use of funds.
4. When you are upset about not being able to get (or stay) pregnant, it feels like everyone around you is pregnant and that hurts like you wouldn’t believe. Every female celebrity of child-bearing age seems to be either pregnant or sporting a baby on her hip. Drunk reality television stars who can barely stay out of jail get pregnant accidentally. Surly teenage girls at the grocery store with swollen bellies. Smug pregnant women who have two toddlers already in tow cut in front of me in line. Women I’ve known going through infertility at the same time as me all seem to be getting pregnant, or closer to getting pregnant, than I am. My next-door neighbor’s unmarried 23 year old daughter is pregnant and, of course, living at home with them, so I won’t even be able to go out my front door without seeing a baby soon. Just about every female cousin I have is either pregnant right now, or had a baby in the last few years. There’s a baby picture at the top of the Facebook status feed just about every time I log on. People even send me their baby pictures in online albums without even asking me if I want to see them. I have even tried to avoid all this by reading a book on my Kindle – selecting something sci-fi that I feel sure won’t involve pregnancy – and then one of the characters gets pregnant. I went to see “Prometheus” recently (I’m a huge Alien fan) and even in that movie, a woman gets impregnated by an alien. Seriously, I can’t escape it, not ever.
5. The clock is ticking – I’m not being a drama queen here, the clock is REALLY TICKING. I’ll be 37 in a month. Every year, every month, every day, my fertility declines. People who tell me to take a nice long break right now, or wait a while, they don’t really seem to understand that I don’t have the luxury of time. And there’s an emotional cost with that too – I feel so much sadness and regret that I waited this long, even though I never had a really good partner with whom to have children until now. But I always beat myself up about how long I waited and how much I might pay for it now, that it might even be too late.
6. There are fortunately a few things that do help. Taking classes and learning new skills has been a huge source of relief. Having friends who just let me talk about it, and don’t try to manage me or silence me. Just letting myself cry sometimes. Having a therapist who acknowledges all we’re doing and all we’ve been through (sooooo worth the money). Distracting myself with movies, TV shows, books, walks, time with my husband and my dog. And finally, knowing that I’m one of millions – a silent group of women and men out there who know just what I’m talking about – has been therapeutic. I know they’re out there, and even if I don’t get to talk to them every day, it helps just to know it isn’t just me.
7. And finally here’s one hard, true thing I don’t often say: easily fertile people don’t appreciate what they have, or they’re so distracted by self-congratulations that they have a child that they don’t realize biology does not make you special. We over-prioritize biology in child-rearing. Just because you had a kid does not make you qualified to raise that child well. I see so many people who flash the baby pictures, but won’t consider moving out of that one-bedroom urban apartment so their kid can have some room and a decent education. Or they won’t deal with their addictions, their self-absorption, or their maturity level before they have a baby. But I’m the one who has to endure comments like “Maybe you’re not cut out to be a parent.” People like me, who go through so much hell, one of the few luxuries we get is a lot of time to sit around and prepare ourselves emotionally for having children. And I’ve already had to do one of the worst things a parent might have to do – say goodbye when my child dies. People who go through adoption or fostering have to be screened on so many different levels – in short, they have to prove they’re capable of good parenting. I’m also preparing myself for having a child that isn’t mine biologically – which means, basically, I need to get over myself. My genes aren’t that special (and neither are yours) – what matters is the health and well-being of whatever child is entrusted to me, either my biological child or my adopted one. I wish more biological parents had to go through this process, because I see a lot of people who really, really need to get over themselves.
I’m sure there are a LOT more things I could say about this, but there are seven that spring to mind today.