warning...slightly heavy post below...
a few weeks ago, it was national infertility awareness week -- april 25-may 1. an organization that i subscribe to, RESOLVE, the national infertility awareness association, sent out an e-newsletter with the following closing line: "We need your help to continue to educate the public, change perceptions about infertility, and provide the best possible support and resources to those in their family building journey right now."
so here i go.
i've gone back and forth on whether or not i should write this post for a while now...i hesitated because i didn't want to offend anyone or make anyone feel like i was pointing fingers. for the record, i'm not -- really and truly. but i have to share this because it is real and it is what's on my heart and has been for the last 3 years. please understand that the place where a lot of this came from was one of the darkest, if not the darkest, times in my life. and though i don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, i need to share the many hurts that i struggled with along the way. these are also the same hurts i have heard again and again from other women who are struggling with or have struggled with infertility...
here are a few things i've learned along our journey:
1. "so, when are you having kids?" is not the innocent question i once thought it was.
i admit that before we struggled with infertility, i used to ask this question all the time. i never thought anything of it, as i'm sure most people don't. it seems like it's the natural progression of things. you know, "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ______ with the baby carriage!" harmless stuff, right? not always. when you are in the thick of infertility, this question is so hurtful and an extra, public reminder of your circumstances. often, women who are faced with infertility think about it every day on their own, so to be reminded of it by someone else can be quite painful. a friend recently equated it to asking a blind person, "so, when are you going to start seeing again?" that comparison might seem silly because you would never ask a blind person that because you would obviously know that person was blind. well, infertility is not as obvious, but it is also a medical condition that you just can't "get better" from and when someone asks about having kids, it is a reminder of that. i've vowed to never, ever, ever ask that question again because you just never know what people are going through. plus, it reminds me of this terrible case of foot-in-mouth syndrome :) (sorry couldn't find the isolated clip but it's from 2:05-2:35 -- love this cheesey movie!):
2. advice and suggestions, as well-meaning and loving as they are, are not always helpful.
a lot of times, people don't realize that infertility is usually caused by a medical diagnosis. this means, that old wives' tales and herbal remedies and other advice of the like, won't work. "suggestions" (and i'm going to leave it at that because this blog is rated PG) are also not helpful and kind of awkward to hear. i know this advice usually comes from sincere care and thoughtfulness, but it can be sometimes frustrating because it makes one feel even more misunderstood.
3. hearing others complain about or even talk excessively about their pregnancy or their children can be hard to take.
i was sharing about this with one of my dear friends and she told me she knew exactly how i felt, that just days after her mother passed away, a co-worker, who knew full well of the situation, made a remark like, "ugh! my mother is so ridiculous! she just showed up at my house unannounced!" my friend said she walked away, thinking, "don't you know what i would give for my mother to show up at my door???" this is a lot like what it felt like when i would hear people complain about their children or about being pregnant. i am sure morning sickness and being bloated and uncomfortable for 40 weeks stinks big time...but, what i would give to feel that way if it meant i was carrying a child in my womb! hearing these complaints were just more reminders of what i could not have.
4. infertility is often a lonely journey.
you never walk up to someone and say, "what's up? i'm going through infertility!" although, one of my friends, who was in a mood of sorts, responded to a co-worker's "when are you having kids?" with "i can't, i'm barren!"...this remains to be a running joke between us...in a kind of twisted way. :)
because it's rarely talked about openly, it's hard to know who is also on this same journey, making it really isolating. it's also hard when all around you people seem to be popping out babies and they naturally gravitate towards each other, unintentionally leaving the childless out on the sidelines. suddenly, friends you once had so much in common with seem to drift away because of the different life stages you are in. thankfully, i had a great community of sisters through the hannah's hope ministry at our church. the hannah's prayer community forums are also a great place to find support, albeit it over the internet. it's a safe place to share and walk alongside others who are on a similar journey, making your own feel a little less isolating.
i share all this to give a glimpse into my experience...i truly, truly hope i didn't offend anyone, but rather, i hope it gave an eye-opening perspective that you may not have considered. i'm sure there'll be days when i need these reminders myself, and undoubtedly, i'll make blunders that will hurt others whose stories i don't quite understand. but, if anything, this journey has taught me that you cannot assume anything about anyone and there is so much lying under the surface that others just don't know about. since starting this blog, i've gotten many emails saying, "i had no idea you were going through this..." and i hope this post has given you an idea of what was going on under that surface...
i found this quote on a blog of sister who i "met" on the hannah's prayer forums. it's from former first lady laura bush. i didn't know this, but she and george w. struggled with infertility for many years before the twins were born. this quote beautifully expresses what couples often feel throughout their experience with infertility...
"But each milestone came and went. The calendar advanced, and there was no baby. The English language lacks the words "to mourn an absence". For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, or friend we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful, some not. Still, we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only "I am sorry for your loss". But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent, ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?"
- Laura Bush
i couldn't have said it better.