Confession: my body and I aren’t exactly what you’d call BFFs. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say there’s not much love lost between us.
I wish I could say this was a recent development; that struggling with infertility had soured me on the one steadfast companion we’re all stuck with throughout our lives. Alas, that’s not the case. My body and I, we’re more war than peace – and it’s only recently, as I’ve been subjected to all the ignominy of a rather nasty and still-ongoing cold (and the ensuing dripping, sneezing, coughing, snorting etc) that I’ve really thought about all this in more detail.
Specifically, it dawned on me somewhere between the umptienth crumpled tissue, refilled hot water bottle and yet another dose of something that promises to deliver me back to a semblance of human rather than zombie, that I’m not sure I can even grasp the idea of motherhood at this point. Or, at least, as it applies to me, personally.
Let me try to explain what I’m so clumsily trying to get across. (And if I fail to make any sense, let’s just say a combination of sleep deprivation, epic sinus congestion that makes the mere attempt of drinking a sip of water a battle of the wills – as in, will I be able to swallow before the air in my lungs expires since I can’t actually breathe through my nose at this point in time – and a candy assortment of OTCs, perhaps, are not the most conducive recipe for a well-written blog post. Sigh.)
As I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere, I wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed of weddings and babies. No, sirree! I don’t know if this was more due to my lofty ambitions towards what I perceived to be greater and more significant goals; or whether it was chiefly due to an unerring, unwavering belief that marriage and motherhood would come, naturally, when it was time.
It never occurred to me that I should’ve had my plumbing checked before I made such assumptions.
Maybe it has something to do with a distinct lack of awareness – a lifelong discomfort with my own body. My first memory of being consciously aware of my body was when I was found wanting, faulty, somewhere around age 9. Since then, I’ve continually abused my body – my “success” measured in abstracts such as size, form, likeness – and denigrated it to where I am ashamed to say that, even at this point in my life, I can only remember rare glimpses of fleeting moments when I didn’t hate what I saw in the mirror. There was always something to criticize. I was taller than the other girls, long before the boys caught up. I developed a little later – but when I did, it was as though someone had decided that I had to catch up, post-haste, and threw the whole shebang at me in one fell swoop. I was awkward, uncomfortable, meandering – and never quite sure how I was supposed to act. My body, it seemed, and I were not of one mind.
So it should come as no surprise that the whole reproductive portion of my body was purposefully ignored by yours truly – mostly it was just a huge, painful inconvenience. And since motherhood wasn’t something I ever questioned or envisioned as having to set as a goal, those two aspects of my truancy in regards to most (if not all) matters relating to my body’s ability – or, perhaps more apropos, inability – to reproduce resulted in me basically having another reason to ignore the body that had already been deemed sub-par early on in my life.
In hindsight, all of this makes me angry. Looking back, someone should’ve taken me to a doctor – because when a teenager has such ridiculously bad periods that she has to keep running to the bathroom in between classes, has to miss school, has to be picked up halfway through the day etc, you would think that someone would’ve thought this might have been worth checking out. You know, just in case. Instead, it was not really mentioned, not talked about, just tolerated as the monthly abuse one had to subject oneself to as the “weaker” sex – in this case, clearly, weakened from the monthly dispensation of what, to me, always felt like being drained of every ounce of energy. (Dare I mention, at this point, that it probably would’ve been a good idea also to check for any mineral deficiencies when someone is prone to – ahem – iron depletion?)
Of course there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. And I didn’t I say I was going to try to avoid being negative all the time – which really isn’t the point I’m trying to make here at all anyway. What I’m trying to say – and struggling to find the appropriate words – is that I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve become so disillusioned that I can’t actually picture myself becoming a mother. It’s not that I’m giving in or giving up – but I suddenly thought to myself, how many women are on the wrong side of their (late) thirties and have never gotten pregnant – like me? I convince myself that I must be the exception; that anyone my age who struggles with infertility is either a secondary IFer or dealing with recurrent pregnancy loss. Either way, I end up feeling like an alien.
In dealing with IF, I think we all – to a lesser or greater extent – play the “what’s worse” game. Whether we’re honest, unabashed or secretive about it, we stack ourselves – and our black-on-white stats – up against other IFers. Oh, she’s younger – she’s got way more time left. Ah, she’s gotten pregnant naturally in the past – so they can probably fix whatever her problem is. Her AMH is higher than mine, lucky girl. Mmm, sure wish I lived in that state with IVF coverage. Wow, she has a nice RE – wish I could find one like that without having to hop across a time zone or three.
Inevitably, it all comes back to the veracity of what Theodore Roosevelt stated so succinctly:
COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY.
Hah, I can imagine I’m not the only one snorting derisively here. Joy? What joy could there be when you’re struggling with infertility for any significant amount of time? Joy because you dissolved all your financial assets to scrape together enough for a single cycle of IVF – knowing that the statistics aren’t just not in your favor, they’re basically telling you that cycles 1 and 2 are just a “trial run” for most? Joy because you finally found an RE, finally got an appointment, finally got a BFP – none of which you can actually enjoy because, deep down, you’re freaking out because you know just how many of your fellow IFers went down that road and ultimately ended up in tears.
I want to be hopeful, I really do. But I feel so incredibly old. I’m already much older than I ever thought I’d be without ever having gotten pregnant even once. It doesn’t help that I feel so self-conscious about all these issues that I can’t even be honest or upfront about it outside of the IF community – because it feels embarrassing.
And then, the other day, somewhere in the middle of a coughing fit and trying not to blow my brains into the tissues right along with whatever crappy bacteria is currently staging an occupation in my sinuses, I got angry at my husband. You know, the same guy who gave me whatever virus has been making me miserable; who suffered before me and still went to work, still managed to bring home an amazing bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day even though I was in no condition to enjoy them. The same guy who drove half and hour just to get me some ice cream because my throat was so sore I couldn’t swallow anything solid.
But, sometimes, I feel like my husband just doesn’t get it – like he wants to just “get it over and done with”, choose the path of least resistance. Because he seems resigned to the idea that we have to do IVF, that there’s no point in trying to do anything homeopathic, eastern medicine etc. Which made me absolutely furious because I thought, well, easy for you – YOU are not the one who has to be subjected to (and, literally, injected with) the ensuing treatments. YOU are not the one who has to continually be poked and prodded, who has to try desperately not to freak out and worry about how anything you do, say, eat, see, drink or whatever could jeopardize that oh-so-expensive treatment that no one is giving you a damn guarantee (or refund) for. YOU are not the one who’s going to be in physical pain, battered and bruised emotionally and trying to figure out, desperately, how to get the necessary nutrients, sleep, etc. while wishing you could just click your heels and go home.
When a cycle fails, the perception always seems to be that it’s the woman’s fault – I mean, after all, once the stuff is all inside you it’s YOUR job to make it work, right?? (Yes, I realize this is a gross oversimplification and not at all a correct perspective, it just kind of seems that way. My view of this might be colored by the horrible treatment received at the hands of Dr. McGreedy, who basically made me feel like I was an embalmed mummy asking for a miracle.)
What makes the situation even more difficult – from a purely logistic point of view – is that my husband has an extremely demanding job. It makes international adoption completely impossible because of the travel requirements; it makes even trying to find an RE out of state and make an appointment a complete nightmare because he basically works nonstop. Ok, so obviously that’s a mild exaggeration – but let’s just say that his boss doesn’t exactly brook him taking time off well. So I keep sitting there thinking, how is this supposed work? Am I supposed to just travel to a different state where I don’t know a soul, all by myself, and deal with the rigors of all these issues by myself? Never mind if I ended up with another Dr. McGreedy like the one we’ve already dealt with in the past – only this time, by my lonesome self? Unthinkable.
And don’t even get me started on the abysmal stats for IVF cycles in the over 35 category. I mean, the average live birth rate I’ve seen is below 20% – or, in laymen’s terms, time to start drinking, NOW.
Inevitably, I end up blaming myself: for being too stupid or too arrogant to realize, to think, that I could have problems conceiving when no one else in our extended family (on both sides) ever had; for not treating my body better and feeling like IF is what I deserve for not “playing nice”; for waiting too long, doing this, that and the other wrong wrong wrong WRONG. Everything is just WRONG.
I can’t change yesterday. I can’t just decide to wake up a different person, with no issues. But I figure that maybe, just maybe, this can be one of those times when admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards…well, I’m not sure what exactly. Maybe declaring a truce? Maybe deciding that the peaceniks were right and that we really should make love, not war?
And maybe, just maybe, I can stop viewing my body as the enemy – the enemy who’s holding my unconceived child(ren) hostage, the enemy who won’t fit into the size I want or look the polished, photoshopped way I’m supposed to think “real” women my age actually look like thanks to an arsenal of cosmetic enhancements (you know, unless you’re actually Christie Brinkley – because, I mean let’s face it, 60 has never looked that good before). Maybe if I stop “abusing” myself and subjecting my body to feelings of inadequacy – most predominantly the constant IF guilt trip – I can learn to embrace Coco Chanel’s enduring words of wisdom:
“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.”
Because I sure don’t want to keep trudging through life with a grumpy face…
Here’s hoping that the end of this dastardly cold is nigh, and that with it a renewed sense of purpose will drive me forward, upward, onward…towards acceptance of whatever comes my way this year, and resilience to keep afloat in the storm.