I know exactly when it happened. When I turned the corner and stood face to face with the fact:
I had spent years skirting around the issue, the word, the stigma. Years justifying it with:
“I get pregnant literally all the time, so we’re obviously fertile.”
“We’ve become parents once before, it will surely happen again. We don’t need extra help.”
“I’m not the infertile one with the *thing* causing the problems, it’s my partner.”
I want to explain something here that I have never dealt with – I don’t think?? – on either of my blogs [aside: I had a different blog for two years before Sunny Side Up and it is this first blog that I intend to dissect and repost here over time]. It speaks to that need to belong. That feeling of wondering “where do I fit?” in the world of infertility and pregnancy loss. I thought infertility was one and the same. I thought it was something you either had… or you didn’t.
Here’s what happened to me:
One day several years ago, I sat with my growing folder of assisted conception paperwork all on IVF Clinic letterhead, browsing the information while I waited for my latest blood test with my nurse. Suddenly, I sat bolt upright. There, staring me in the face were the words “Infertile Couple” on some referral letter or another. After the initial feelings of shock and indignation wore me down and I sat with the label for the rest of the day, I supposed that if this was how the medical system viewed me and Steve then it simply had to be. If we had to be considered on paper as “infertile” in order to receive treatment to hopefully skirt our genetic factor, then so be it. At least it was feeling like it was getting us somewhere further in our seemingly never-ending journey to bring home a child. I made nothing much more of it.
A few months later. I was served a lesson that smacked me once and for all between the eyes.
Reading on a forum I used to frequent in my “trying for another baby” days/months/years, the deflection and denial turned into reflection and acceptance. I saw an exchange between two women – and I can’t tell you with any great accuracy how much IVF drugs may or may not have played a part in how hotly this got debated and weighed in on – that basically went like this:
“Oh, it’s not me with the problem. It’s my husband.” I began to nod along with what the woman was expressing, until I read the response…
“Honey, you’re in a relationship with this man? And he is the infertile one? Then sorry, you are both infertile.”
It was so harsh. My cheeks flushed instantly and I felt so indignant that I rose a little off my seat, so ready was I to bash out a retort on my overworked keyboard. The cursor blinked back at me in its sea of white. I sat there staring at the other member’s words. And then, as the realisation finished all its connections I raised my eyes from the screen and focused somewhere off into the middle distance in front of me.
Holy shit. That’s me.
I wanted to recoil. To cringe. To shy away from all that I had been merrily labelling my own husband with before tripping off into some fanciful “Get out of jail free” type card. I realised with a start that I had been absolutely fooling myself all along and it had taken a virtual stranger’s words to stun me out of my oblivion.
Ever since the test results had come back, in 2002.
Ever since we had been given a Russian Roulette-style run-down by a geneticist with more statistics than a statistician.
Ever since we were told we were “lucky” we could “get pregnant easily” by the geneticists.
Ever since we discovered our choices were, if we wanted a child, to either keep conceiving and hoping for a “normal one” or we saved up for IVF. Very expensive pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) – biopsy of embryos after ICSI (Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection) - kind of IVF.
We had already welcomed our first child in to the world. Against ALL odds. We had also farewelled her just 31 days later. My realisation came many long months in to our continuing, angst-filled journey to conceive again. When I attempted to join in to online groups, I entered with the added confusing twist that I was already a mother. But technically, not “mothering”. Mostly, I was invited in with welcome arms by fascinating, insightful and supportive women all going through the IVF mill and sharing the process and the journey with each other.
I had experienced the wonder of pregnancy and birth. I felt somewhat set apart from people who had not experienced either of those things. “Set apart” in that I felt guilty, somewhat of an imposter. Should I be chatting with these women, many of whom were yet to even fall pregnant, when I had experienced it time and again? How much knowledge should I impart to them? What was too much information? What was not enough sharing of my vast experience with pregnancy (to not share what I knew was equally irresponsible of me, in my books)?
It was a brilliant – absolutely invaluable – learning ground. I learned how and where and what to pitch about myself. I honed a sense of tact and diplomacy. I learned to recognise how exhausted I felt after I put too much of myself out for others to voyeuristically take from – a truly useful thing, given that the birth of my blog was just around the corner.
But I still wasn’t entirely sure I shouldn’t be in with the “secondary infertility mums” – those who were experiencing infertility but who already had at least one child. I’d go in there and they would be discussing the trials of IVF cycles around play dates and kinder meetings. I couldn’t possibly do that, it gutted me. So I stayed with the first-timers. Those yet to become parents. And I cried countless times, privately, at how much I couldn’t share about my daughter. It was well known on the forum that I had lost a child. I spoke about it in different areas of the board. But remained respectful on the IVF forum.
Once I had our second daughter, the LGBB, I was well and truly ousted. The “trying to get pregnant” crowd naturally booted me from the nest I was so safe in. I don’t blame them, I would have done the same thing. I didn’t know where to fit in after that. I was not someone who had come to motherhood in a relatively straightforward way, so I felt quite set apart from other new mothers – “normal” mothers, I considered them, in my hazy newborn-mind state. And I found I could not really handle reading about the change in some of the people who had struggled through the tedious nature of infertility (or otherwise just an unexplained “long time to conceive”), now mothers and complaining about it all the way. That was really hard. I floundered for a while, but left the community within the year.
I stayed with the one thing that accepted me how it found me: my blog. I made the rules there. I didn’t need a label there. Eventually, I felt compelled to find and embrace my voice as a mother, a fully-fledged mother (regardless of my shattered journey to getting there eventually) and I began to flex my muscles – on the blog – about the hard parts of motherhood. I agonised for the first year of Lolly’s life and it literally almost sent me mad. Oh the guilt at complaining! So I felt like I had well and truly alienated myself from any of my “IF sisters” from the online community I had joined. I struggled to join in with mothers who didn’t have a deceased child anywhere in their brood. I straddled both worlds and felt accepted in neither.
But I digress. Back to the subject of embracing infertility.
I came to realise that Steve and I were in this together. That simply because my body was not the “issue”, my reluctance to get on board and properly partner him – embrace the fact together – sent him a really awful, lonely, unintentional message on my part.
I embraced our infertility then. In fact, I took it on so much that an exasperated friend at one point asked me when I was going to “stop allowing” infertility (and loss) to define me. The truth is, it has defined me. If nothing else, I have grown my compassionate self, have championed the cause alongside others, have really discovered the depth and breadth of who I am because of our conception history, not in spite of it.
And as for Steve, well, I could not be more proud of him flying the flag. Hell, the guy has even had his sperm talked about on national radio (more than once)! You’ve gotta be okay within yourself to be down with that, don’t you? When I stand back and have a look at our learning curve, together as a couple, it’s a wonder we haven’t run away and hidden under adjacent very big rocks. As facetious as it might sound, I am proud of my partner. Deeply respectful of the processing he has done, all on his own, to reach a point of acceptance in himself to be okay with our situation being discussed in public. In a book. And, of course, in depth in my book about our journey.
It’s a very deeply personal and subjective, er, subject. So I would never rush to encourage anyone else to do anything other than what feels right for them. But if nothing else, above all, I feel more comfortable saying now that “we” are infertile – despite the fact that I am about to go and do the kinder run to collect our only surviving child – and I will never again look on infertility as being the issue of either the male or female. To me, it is a couple thing. At least, that’s what worked for us.
If you would like to chat privately about this post, please feel free to email me. My contact information should be up there ^^^ in my profile.