There was a period of time in the beginning where it felt a bit ambiguous of when we were infertile. Yes, the medical community has an official 12 month marker but there are no physical markers or symptoms except the lack of the obvious. The lack of a successful pregnancy occurring.
There was a not so fun period where we had to learn how the other grieved and how to best support each other based on the other's preference, instead of our own. The Golden Rule does not always work since what helped me didn't always help him and vice versa.
Followed by the period of time where Xan and I had to figure out based upon our introverted preferences and tendencies of how long we work through this privately and at what point we felt ready to talk about it more publicly.
There were the mix of medical appointments where we had to sort through what was going on medically outside of infertility and how aggressive we wanted to look into medical treatments. Some appointments were not so pleasant. There was the time I went in to convenient care and they wanted to X-ray my leg. The nurse had me do a pregnancy test and said the doctor would come in with the results. A few minutes later, the doctor came in and said they would have to figure out another way to treat me since there was a pregnancy. My husband and I looked at each other in shock. I tentatively asked, "I'm pregnant?" The doctor looked startled, rechecked her notes, and said, "Oh, I see a test was done but I need to go check the results." When the door closed, Xan and I looked at each other and I remember how happy Xan looked. We talked about how funny this would be if we found out I was pregnant this way. It was the only 5 minute period I have where we basked in the possibility that I was pregnant. Well, the doctor returned cheerfully to report that "Tests went our way! You're not pregnant so the X-ray technician will be in soon." I cried for the rest of the appointment and it had nothing to do with my fractured leg...
Infertility diagnostic tests were longer than I expected. Maybe it is weird, but my favorite test was the hysterosalpingogram where they inject dye that fills the uterus to check for blocking of the tubes. The technician was super nice (as was the medical student observing... awkward...) and he turned the ultra-sound screen so I could watch what was happening. I snapped a shot of my potentially only cool uterus picture.
Once I did open up, I had to deal with a whole bag of various responses. Some helpful, some not so much. I began to read more about how others dealt with infertility and found that everyone is so very different. The same things that I found incredibly hurtful and/or unhelpful were often things that my friends or others were posting as things that help them!
There were those awful times whenever my weight was a bit up and I got the bigger stomach bulge and I would get asked how far along I was or when my baby was due. This is not an issue of being over weight. This is an issue of not being able to get pregnant.
Note on infertility etiquette: Only I get to say when this is funny. When I am the one initiating the post giant lunch - how many months do I look? - then it is okay. And this day, I was in a good place and it was pretty funny!
I know; the rules don't always make sense to me, either.
Something that I was not expecting was how hard it was at times to talk to other women who were infertile. There were so many wonderful conversations and connections! There were also many times I felt conversations were filled with defensiveness and justification. It made a lot of sense, once I thought about it. And I certainly am guilty of participating. So many of us are still figuring how we feel about things, what steps we want to take to move forward, seeking validation from others, and feeling defensive if someone is doing something else. It felt a lot like Mommy Wars.
I think what most surprised me about infertility was my own reaction. Prior to infertility, I was a pretty easy going person. I felt anger, sadness, grief, fear, and jealousy. But, I could always move past them given a few days. For the most part, optimism was easy for me.
But infertility was a different beast. It impacted every aspect of my life. It was... is... my plan A and life long dream to be a stay-at-home mom. I had... have... all these plans. I read about toilet training infants, infant led weaning, cloth diapering, Montessori bedrooms, made a baby carrier, began to buy baby books, and bought clothes that style could also be worn early to mid pregnancy. I applied and worked at jobs that were meant to be temporary. Jobs that I could quit as soon as the baby was born.
But, a baby never came. I was angry I still had to have a job. I resented that empty third bedroom that remained unused and waiting to be filled with a growing family. I felt guilt whenever I heard those classic optimistic Mormon quotes about having optimism and things are not as bad as they seem. I found a hiding place at church where no one could find me that I used as needed, such as Mother's Day or heavy on the wonders of having children lessons or those dreaded baby blessings. It wasn't necessarily even to cry. Often, it was just to escape to avoid crying. Xan graciously drove me home on the Sunday's I couldn't even make it through Sacrament Meeting. Infertility, particularly the first handful of years, is brutal...
There were also moments of healing, hope, and understanding.
➽ I learned that when I am grieving or feeling vulnerable, I do not find comfort in being told what I should believe or do. Being told it will all work out or to trust in God's timing was not helpful. What I learned I needed, and is so hard to do when I find myself in a comforters position, was to just have someone be with me in my grief.
A defining moment for me was when my sister called to tell me she was pregnant with baby number 5. She was so sweet to call and tell me personally. I appreciated her thoughtful gesture of recognizing that this information was very bitter sweet. After I got off the phone with her, I went into my friend's office which was next to my own. This friend and I had worked hard at our friendship. I had applied Brené Brown's advice to dare greatly by having the courage to be vulnerable, ask for what I needed, talk about how I felt, and have those hard conversations when something either one of us said hurt the other. I closed her office door, said, "My sister is having another baby," then broke down into sobs. She wrapped me in her arms and did the exact thing I needed. She told me she knew how happy I was to be getting another niece or nephew. That the tears were about my own grief for what I was missing. Then she, not a member of my same faith, proceeded to repeat to me my testimony that I had shared with her a number of times about Eternal Marriages, Families are Forever, if I am not blessed with children in this life, I would have them in the next. She didn't tell me how I should feel. She repeated what I had shared with her in the past that were comforting things for me when I am struggling with infertility. Her statements were based upon reaffirming what I already believe instead of reminding me what I should believe. Subtle, but apparently important to me.
➽ I also began to better accept it was okay I was not being perfect with this trial. At first it was hard. I felt like every time I had to get up and leave, every time I avoided a baby shower, every time I took a different route to avoid the couple with the new infant in their arms, every time I didn't handle myself how I felt I should be able to, I was not being enough. But, that just isn't true. I began to apply the Good, Better, Best talk in a whole new light when I read a talk by Ardeth G. Kapp, a former Young Women General President who remained childless with her husband their whole lives. It is entitled Just the Two of Us - for Now. She writes,
Brother Kapp and I understand and remember some of the pains and much of the suffering that you suffer. We remember the emotional highs and lows with every month, including the fast and testimony meetings when testimonies were borne by those who asked in faith and were blessed with children. We know how you return home and put two dinner plates on the table and recall the marriage covenant to multiply and replenish the earth and your desperate desire to qualify for that honor in righteousness. You can’t explain your feelings to each other, much less to your family and friends; and your whole soul cries out as did Job, “If I be righteous, … I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction.” (Job 10:15.)
[...]we grow from the time when everything hurts and offends us until, with faith in God, we are neither hurt nor offended. But I want you to know I understand if you feel hurt or offended now.
[...] I don’t know how long it will be for you. For us it was years. But one day you will gain an eternal perspective, and you will feel peace not pain, hope not despair. I would have liked so much to have received that insight years before, but I know that had that happened, I would have been deprived of the growth that comes from being comforted by the witness of the Spirit after the trial of my faith.Those words, "But I want you to know I understand if you feel hurt or offended now," and that it took years for them to achieve that peace and hope in an eternal perspective were the most validating thing I had ever heard.
It would be best if I could achieve that eternal perspective now - I think it would make life A LOT easier! But, holding onto my faith in the midst of my grief? It is still GOOD. That is the word used to describe the creation of the world! Good is good enough until I get better and eventually reach best.
➽ And lastly, I am learning to not expect everyone to feel as strongly about the same things that I do. My life is wrapped up in a number of causes to promote awareness: Infertility, Autism, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Invisible Illnesses. This is not an exhaustive list of causes. The reality is that there is no way to be completely educated and devoted to every cause that exists. Looking at my list I wrote on the spot, I have personal connection to each of these. I have all of them minus Autism - which advocacy come through my job of supporting both children and adults on the Autism Spectrum. Just as I say tactless and insensitive things out of ignorance about a number of other causes I am either partially, kind of, or not at all aware of, so too, will people say tactless and insensitive things to me. I really can't think of anyone who intentionally was being tactless or insensitive. I can still hurt. I might not seek those people out on a regular basis. But, I can still believe they are good people who meant the best.
Easier said then done but I am finding the road a little easier than those first few years.