Absence

So…It’s been two weeks. And before you sit there with bated breath, wondering if this is a happy or not so happy news post – it’s neither. At least not for me personally. I’m not pregnant, I still have never been – so I guess the silver lining is that I’ve also not had a miscarriage. At least not so far.

But that’s sort of what caused my absence: miscarriage. Not mine, obviously – but that of someone I don’t even really know. A woman I’m “friends” with on an infertility site – and I use the word loosely because I don’t want to overstate the relationship since, again, I obviously don’t really know her – had recently finally gotten a well-deserved BFP (for you newbies that means Big Fat Positive, aka PREGNANT. Yeah, I know – the lingo is overwhelming at first – but trust me when I tell you that you’ll be throwing it around like a well-roped lasso before your next-door neighbor can say “Yeehaw!”).

Of course I was kind of jealous. OF COURSE! I mean, we still haven’t made any real progress in finding a new RE – partly because we have other issues that we’re trying to deal with – so OF COURSE I’m frustrated, annoyed, anxious…wondering if DOR as already turned into POF and I’m just not aware of it, asking for a punch in the face the next time someone does lab work and I’ll be begging someone for a Costco size vat of Valium to bring me down from the meltdown that would ensue.

But I digress.

The truth is that while I’m not really a “community” type of person as such – and yes, I know, it’s not a pc thing to say but I’m just more comfortable one on one than I am with a ton of people – this has become very different in the face of infertilty. I think it’s because, when you get to my age, my situation, when you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you sit there feeling just slightly desperate. Pathetic, even. You want to slink away, your proverbial tail tucked between your legs because you feel like less of a (wo)man. You want to scream, cry, punch someone, punch the wall, race down the highway just because, you know what, if the universe isn’t going to give you a baby, then why should you care about anything else in the world?

It has been hard for me not to scream at people who procreate like bunnies and then do ridiculously stupid things like, oh, I don’t know – teeter totter around in mile-high heels because, oh that’s not stupid at all; or strap themselves into the maternity version of Spanx so that they can constrictor-boa the crap out their unborn child in the name of whatever ill-conceived notion of “fashion” they have (and I won’t even say anything about priorities because, hey, someone who’s concerned about looking fat because they’re pregnant is clearly a grade A moron). Or people who exclaim that pregnancy is sooooo boring (so please stop showing me pregnant teenagers on tv – because, really? I don’t need to convulse with projectile vomit). Or that their baby number ten thousand isn’t the right gender (no problemo – fork it on over!). I’ll spare you the apoplectic maelstrom of profanity that this creates in my head. Let’s just say that if and when I have a child – or, miracle of miracles, more than one healthy baby – I’ll be converting to a new religion: eternal gratitude. Shiny happy people indeed.

Anyway. The exception to my poorly veiled disdain – bordering on hate at times – for people who have ZERO concept for how blessed they are by never having to experience the raw, excruciating pain of primary IF sometimes falls away in the most unexpected ways – and this was the case when R. got pregnant. Even though we’ve never met, I was incredibly happy for her – I wanted to give her a hug and say, YOU DID IT! She deserved a slice of cake, her feet put up on cushy pillows while we – including the rest of her IF sisters – took in a chick flick marathon during which she smiled calmly and refused a glass of wine for the first time. (Yes, I have an active imagination – and yes, in another life I probably would’ve been a screenwriter for chick flicks. But that’s neither here nor there.)

I periodically checked in, not wanting to be to pushy because – again, we’re not friends in real life and I thought, maybe it’s a little lame to be living vicariously this way. But it was kind of like a beacon of hope for me. You see – R. and I are pretty much in the same boat. We’re more or less the same age, have the same problems with infertility. So her success? It made me think that I, too, had a chance to be successful. It made me feel less frustrated with our current situation because I thought, ok – it can still happen for me. It happened for R.! THERE IS HOPE! And let me tell you something: for a woman dealing with primary infertility in her mid to late 30s, hope is like Pringles – once you get a taste of it, you can’t get enough. (I was going to say it’s like crack but – well, I don’t know anything about drugs and it seems somewhat inappropriate to reference crack in the presence of baby dreams. Ahem.)

So when I saw her post that the second ultrasound had been silent – no heartbeat – I felt my own heart almost stop. I choked up as I read her post. I tried not to cry. I was angry. I was FURIOUS. As I read, I felt my heart breaking for her – through the words, it was as though she was telling me what had happened to my face…and somehow, I almost felt like it was me, like I was the one. I know. I know it sounds stupid, crazy – maybe even selfish or self-absorbed. I wouldn’t blame you at all for shaking your head or thinking I’m an idiot for feeling this way. But I was absolutely devastated for R. – not just because of what she was going to lose, what she was going to have to go through (which is absolutely unimaginable to me) – but also because it was like, in that moment, the tiny little flicker of hope was extinguished. The success story that I was pinning my own hopes on…gone.

And then, of course, I felt like a horrible person. I was angry at myself because I thought, why am I making this about myself? I wrote her a heartfelt message, telling her how sorry I was – and my words felt so hollow. Not because I didn’t mean them, which I did of course. They felt hollow because I thought – it doesn’t mean anything; it doesn’t help. It doesn’t change the situation. It doesn’t make her wake up the next day with this nightmare behind her any sooner; or, better yet, having woken up and this actually having been just a nightmare – her being able to shake it off with a shudder and think, thank God it was just a dream. It made me realize that, as much as I’ve always relied on words to express myself – and I do, believe me – there are times when no words can be enough.

After that, I just felt so empty and deflated. I was sad, tired – I’ve been having a hard time sleeping for a month or so anyway, and nothing seems to be getting me back to a normal pattern. I tried reading. I tried getting some fresh air. I tried re-organizing things. I did 4 loads of laundry one day. I spent two days virtually attached to the couch, watching tv. Constantly having this dull ache in my heart and a tug of war in my head: the paralyzing fear of never having been pregnant and what my already-low AMH from a year ago might mean for me pitted against the guilt I felt for taking someone else’s tragedy so personally.

Eventually, these past few days, I’ve been feeling a little better. I thought about how I’ve spent so much of my life feeling bad about myself. Always questioning how other people perceived me thanks to certain somebodies I won’t mention; never feeling good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. And in dealing with infertility, it seems like just another way that life is telling me that I’m a failure. But I thought to myself: I’m an adult. It’s MY job to rephrase the crap in my head. Who gives a fig about what someone else said? What someone else thinks? I’m not a bad person. I’m considerate. I go out of my way to try to be nice to others, to be empathetic, kind and polite. I’m not perfect, I’m HUMAN. At what point did I accept that external values should define me?

So you know what – here’s the truth. I HATE that I have to deal with infertility. It feels like it’s just another way that I suck at life. But I also know that there are tons of women who deal with this – women who are young and healthy, women who are in worse shape than I am, women who are single, divorced etc. In the grand scheme of things, I have to believe that I’m going to get through this and that infertility is not meant to define me. I’m not going to be one of those people who call themselves an “infertile” – to me that doesn’t even make sense. It’s something I struggle with, not something that’s part of my character!

Anyways. That’s it for today’s offering. I know it’s not especially original or poetic – but it’s from the heart. Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t.

In The Trenches

For the past week, I’ve been fighting a head cold that has been leaving me feeling really awful – depleted of both physical energy and mental acuity. Nothing I tried would make it better: not chicken soup, not orange juice, not Benadryl or the rest of the medicine cabinet. It’s a miracle that any one of my desperate concoctions didn’t kill me – because, honestly, if I’d thought arsenic or rat poison would’ve made me feel better, I probably would’ve tried it.

The upside of feeling really crappy physically is that it took my mind off a lot of the mental anguish for a while – at least to some extent. AF with her perfect timing chimed in to make it all a big mess of aches and pains – a nice preview of old age, if I ever make it that far. And while I’m still trying desperately not to freak out about how my period has suddenly taken a dramatic change since my single Clomid cycle in early summer – going from its usual 7-8 days to 4, which I would normally find a great cause for celebration, were it not that I’m one of those hapless women dealt the dastardly card of DOR (diminished ovarian reserve) – all of these things coinciding together made me feel sick as a dog.

But! Great excuse to lounge on the couch and watch crappy tv – which is really all that Netflix has to offer (I won’t even elaborate on that, since anyone who also has a Netflix subscription will undoubtedly have noticed all the bizarre crap on there that NO ONE in their right mind would give a fig about, never mind want to watch).

Mostly, though, I pretty much just schlepped myself between the couch and the bed, possible moaning like an octogenarian as I shuffled between resting places with a variously stuffed up and dripping nose, my head feeling like an over-sized, overripe watermelon begging to take first prize at a county fair. I slept A LOT. I hurt even more. I wanted chocolate, but there wasn’t any at home – and I was in no condition to leave the house, and DH has been working way too much for me to ask him to make a detour on his way home. He would have, if I had asked him – but, c’mon. I’m not that self-indulgent. I figured if I was THAT desperate, I could always eat the baking chocolate. (FYI: I didn’t. I’ve tried that before – and it basically tastes like what I imagine licking an ashtray would taste like.)

Tonight, I finally got a chance to catch up on some reading – and came across a post on someone else’s blog about friendship. Or, rather, the ending of it.

It’s a pretty raw subject for me. In the past few years, DH and I have lost almost everyone in our lives to either death, estrangement or some version of IF-related “amnesia” – which is what happens when people learn of your predicament and suddenly lose your phone number, address, and/or other identifying characteristics. To say that we’re operating without a support system would be a huge understatement because we basically don’t have one anymore.

In the past few months, as I’ve read more stories from others – I’ve been shocked to see that the amount of people whose experiences mirror ours largely outweigh the stories of people who have warm, caring and supportive friends & family. In most cases, people try to be open about their struggle – and find themselves suddenly bumped off the invite list, excluded from parties or other social events.

Some stories I’ve read have been much, much worse than what we’ve been through. I won’t repeat them here to respect the privacy of others, but let’s just say that there have been times where I’ve cried for someone else that I haven’t even met – and times where reading what someone else had been put through at the hands of a family member made ME want to slap the crap out of the person in question.

But those are the extremes. Far more common, it seems, are the friendships that fray at the edges as the friend struggling with IF continues to do so over an extended period of time. It seems that – as I’ve experienced first-hand with grief – people expect there to be a time-limit on how much they’re expected to give or invest on a particular “problem”. As though your struggle is a sort of community service – and after X amount of hours spent listening and/or discussing the topic, it’s dealt with and moved “off the docket”. NEXT!

Of course it’s not like that for us – for those who continue to struggle through the first, second, third pregnancies of friends, family members, coworkers. Years go by, and we are like waylaid passengers on a platform, watching as the trains pull into the station, people getting on and off, trains pulling away again…but we remain the same, rooted in place, unable to move forward.

I imagine that dealing with infertility is somewhat similar to a street urchin from the days of yore peeking in through the windows of a fancy restaurant or butcher’s shop – tantalized by the smells of rich foods…so close within reach, and yet still denied access to it. I think it’s quite the same for us – surrounded by women who are pregnant, who have babies, multiple children, and it’s all right there in front of us, taunting us, mocking us – from the pages of magazines, tv commercials, the back of a catalog. Everywhere you look, companies are turning to The Mother and Child images to sell us on everything from band-aids to pencils, shoes to breakfast items.

So what do you do, when you struggle with infertility? You keep your chin up, you smile, you trudge on. You’re a warrior! You’re a woman of the 21st century – you’ve got this! You confide in your friends, help them plan their baby showers, ooh and aah over their baby pictures, attend kids birthday parties, sign up dutifully as the doting aunt, godmother, best friend in attendance etc.

But time doesn’t stand still for you – it goes by. Slowly, at first, it seems. I’ve got plenty of time, there’s no rush, you tell yourself. Little by little, your friends start dropping off – they now have new “mommy” friends, and they now go on play dates with their mommy friends and all their kids. They’d invite you, they say, but they don’t want you to feel weird, awkward, left out. You smile, say thank you for considering your feelings. Soon, they stop trying to make excuses – they just stop calling. And you stop calling too – because you know you feel it too: you’ve reached the end of the road. There are no sad good-byes here. There is no acknowledgment of the hurt, the pain, the sorrow of the one left behind without a baby of her own – because how could there be? It would require everyone else to stop thinking about themselves, to interrupt the happiness in their lives to allow the sadness in your life to affect them in any way, shape or form.

This is the part where you find yourself feeling as though you unwittingly contracted a highly contagious disease, or like you just stepped into a dog turd and walked all over someone’s antique Persian rug with it: you’ve become persona non grata.

Not all relationships are like that though. Some people you meet later in life – when they already have children. It wasn’t so weird, you told yourself, because it’s not like you were going to have to worry about which one of you would get pregnant first. But then there’s a surprise or unplanned pregnancy – and you’re devastated. Or one of you moves away, and has an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.

Friendships are hard to maintain, under the best of circumstances. When we’re young, we’re thrown together with others all the time – it’s easy to make friends, even if you’re not the most popular, the prettiest, the smartest: there’s still someone out there for you. Whether it’s in school, church, at camp, after-school activities, in college…you’re constantly around tons of people. How could you not make friends? But as we get older, move, get jobs, move again, get married, move yet again etc…you lose contact with people. Sure, some people think they have lots of friends. See how many of those friends they’ll still be in touch with after 6 months if they got rid of their FB and/or Twitter accounts.

The trials of infertility are many – but the first casualty is the belief that your “friendships” will last forever. For a lucky few, they will have friends and family who will be there for them for as long as it takes. They will go to appointments with them, be a shoulder to cry on, hug them when they’re in despair, take them out when they don’t want to face the world.

But for most of us, it becomes like a war that’s fought in the trenches – and you find out who your REAL friends are.