The War on Negativity

I’ve decided to issue a moratorium on bitterness, resentment and fear.

I know I’m far from alone in having been subjected to these terrorizing emotions for so long, it seems they’ve taken over every waking second of our lives. I know we’ve been struggling, grappling, trying to make sense of it all and desperate to regain some sense of our former, happier, selves. Like a wounded animal, we retreat to solitary confinement as it feels like our hearts become blacker and shrink with every month, every year, that goes by without our most fervent dream becoming reality: motherhood.

I feel like I keep slipping and sliding around in the muck that my emotional, mental and physical “well-being” has become – a misnomer, at this point, because I obviously DON’T feel well. I haven’t felt well in a really long time. I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat well, I’m angry all the time. I’m jealous, bitter, resentful, sad, scared – all the time. I don’t do anything I used to enjoy doing. I don’t go anywhere. I avoid people. I avoid leaving the confines of my little cocoon of self-imposed isolation because it’s too scary “out there”. I feel trapped in a prison of my own making.

And I’m so sick and tired of feeling this way.

It’s easy for me to blame it on my circumstances, on infertility, on my ensuing isolation, on the words and actions (or lack thereof) of others. I’ve been stewing in a sense of failure, of self-loathing, for so long that I apparently stopped fighting back. At some point, it felt like everything got to be too much; my world caved in and I got buried under all the rubble. I lost my sense of self, I lost the belief that I have skills, talents, and that I’m a good person. I let the actions and words of others define who I was, who I became, because I felt like I was fighting a war on so many fronts that I just got too damn tired to swim against the stream. We have no support, no one to turn to – so I convinced myself that it was all our fault: our fault that we couldn’t get pregnant; our fault that people we put our trust in deceived us; our fault that we’re hurting, angry, sad and alone.

The truth is that I’m at a crossroads, and I have a choice to make. I can keep feeling like crap, I can keep beating myself up, I can let my inner critic convince me that it’s my fault we don’t have any children yet, it’s my fault that we might not be able to, it’s my fault this, that and the other. I can get angry at the world, angry at everyone else’s fecundity, IVF coverage, supportive relationships. I can throw in the towel and just exist in a vacuum of misery that will become a never-ending pity party. I can wait for my marriage to disintegrate because I can’t snap out of it, I can drag my husband down with me as every ounce of love is drained from my heart because everything is dark, angry and bitter – and watch him blame himself for not being able to help me, to make me feel better. I can keep beating myself up about my shortcomings and comparing myself to others with the end result that I feel bad. I can let things I have no control over make me feel like I’m weak. I can despair to the point where I stop getting out of bed altogether.

OR…

I can stop fighting with myself. I can stop pretending. I can stop lying to myself. I can stop comparing myself to others, berating myself for the choices I’ve made. I can stop thinking, and feeling, like not being perfect or not having the same way of doing something as someone else makes me worthless. I can stop hating myself for the fact that my life isn’t exactly the way I thought it would turn out. I can stop judging others just because they’re not having to walk a mile or three million in my shoes, because they haven’t had the same experiences, because they don’t care, because they don’t get it, because they’re doing/saying things that hurt me.  I can stop blaming myself for the things others say and do because, really, it’s not my fault and it’s not something I can change. At the end of the day:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”

Some days, I feel like I’m dying – both emotionally and physically. I feel raw, I feel beaten down to the point that I don’t even want to try to get up anymore. I just want to tap out. I know those feelings won’t just go away. I know I’m not suddenly going to wake up tomorrow, a reformed pessimist suddenly chipper like I’ve had a lobotomy or a Walt Disney makeover. But I realized, with strange clarity, that I’ve been playing the victim – instead of actually remembering that I’m not weak; I’m not pathetic; I’m not hopeless, hapless, stupid, or a failure.

I’m human.

A few days ago, I got really worked up about a site that I felt had a bunch of posts by women who’ve clearly never had their reproductive abilities called into question. I was so angry at what I felt was a set of completely insensitive, selfish posts that showed absolutely ZERO consideration for women who struggle to conceive. But then I thought – hold on a minute. Why am I getting so angry? This site is clearly run by women who don’t have these problems. Why should they think about infertility when it obviously hasn’t touched their lives? I mean, you don’t see me writing posts about Asperger’s, to throw out some random medical condition. It’s my choice whether or not I read these types of things – so getting angry about something that, technically, I’m not the target audience for is just plain ridiculous. It’s also pointless, because the end result is inevitably detrimental to ME.

I feel like having a family should be considered an inalienable, constitutional right – and that, consequently, all 50 states should be required to carry mandatory IVF insurance. However, the fact that this isn’t actually the case and that the current state of affairs makes me angry does absolutely nothing to change MY situation. I don’t live in a state that has IVF insurance, nor is IVF covered by our medical insurance – not even a portion of it, no cap, nada. But this doesn’t make my situation unique at all – I know there are many others who are in exactly the same boat. It also doesn’t mean that I should get angry at other IFers who do have IVF coverage – it’s not their fault that, apparently, our society considers it more important for a guy to be able to have a boner than for a woman to be able to get pregnant. 

I realized, these past couple of days, that I am so incredibly lucky to have had some wonderful experiences in my life, to have choices and freedoms, to have a roof over my head. I have a husband who loves me to the end of the earth. My life is far from perfect, and I myself am definitely a work in progress. But I know I’m not alone – even if it feels like it. I know that there’s hope, somewhere, out there, for all of us. We can’t know which bend in the road will lead to the next chapter in our lives, but I’m tired of feeling consumed with negativity. I’m tired of getting worked up, seething silently and letting all this crap fester as it chips away at my very soul.

So I’m just going to keep working on ME and try to change my perception of the world around me. I’m going to try to remind myself that I have a choice of how I’m going to receive information and how I’m going to deal with it. Instead of focusing on all the things that make me unhappy, I’m going to focus on the things that make me happy – and work on finding more positive ways to deal with the things I struggle with. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t want to end up being a mother who can’t find the good in small things, the sunshine in spite of the rain, the proverbial silver lining.

Carpe Diem, my friends!!

PS: It goes without saying that reserve the right to occasionally think that someone is a total a$$hat and deserves to be poked in the eye with a really hot french fry rolled in ghost peppers. I’m not bucking for sainthood.

The Box of Denial

On Sunday, I finally did something I kept meaning to do but couldn’t bring myself to: I unearthed The Box. The pretty patterned one I’ve been hiding for an inordinate amount of time given our predicament; the one I’d started filling with my “battle gear” several years ago. Filled with shiny covers and brimming with the promise of delivering the ultimate goal: a healthy, sustained pregnancy. When I first started buying some of these books, about 5 years ago, I told myself that it was just “in case” – I didn’t really need them because I wasn’t really that serious about getting pregnant just then (newsflash: that’s totally not true – I was just kidding myself. Flat-out D-E-N-I-A-L. Unsurprisingly enough, I’m sure.).

I was embarrassed to admit that I wanted to have a baby – or just how badly – and that the “magic” wasn’t happening. It would’ve been easy to glow with happiness if I’d gotten pregnant – then, only then, was it “safe” to admit how much I’d wanted it. But no such happy event for us. While everyone, it seemed, around us was getting pregnant again and again, I pretended that it wasn’t even on my radar – filled with the growing pain that only receded when it was punctuated by even greater heartache as people around me started dying (five in the space of two years, in case you’re wondering).

As time went on and all the other crap in my life came to a head, the unspoken issues that continued to keep us in our childless state became buried for a while – and so did the box of books. Periodically, I stealthily added another title – maybe something I picked up at a discount store or a used book store. Always when I was alone. Why? Because the books – just as the deceptively beautiful box they’ve been housed in – were something that needed to be hidden. Almost as if, just by being out in the open, it was a jinx – or inviting the prying eyes of others who wouldn’t possible understand in the boon of their own fecundity.

The truth, I finally realized this weekend – in one of those panicky-painful moments that make you get so choked up that even tears freeze before they can fall, so despairing and raw is the emotion – is that I was ashamed and in denial. I kept thinking that if I ignored the box and all the problems inside it, then like the mental trick for putting something out of your mind, it would just disappear.

Ridiculous, right?

But then, if like me, you’ve never been pregnant and are in the Mojave Desert of fertility (the cringe-worthy age bracket of 35-44), it’s hard not to panic. And I mean full-on, ripping-out-your-hair-biting-your-fingernails-to-the-quick-screaming-crying-sleep-depriving PANIC.

On Sunday, right before I went in search of the Box of Denial, I had a no kidding panic attack. I started sweating, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer, and I felt like I was either going to throw up or faint. I wrote in my journal. I tried to watch a bit of tv to distract myself. I tried to talk myself off the ledge. For what seemed like an eternity, I felt like I was going to let out a guttural, animal-like scream just to relieve the tension that made me feel like I was having a heart attack.

I’ve read – or half-read – a couple of infertility books in the last couple of years. One of them was so dysjuncted that I found myself having a hard time following the chronology of events. Another one – that I’m still trying to work my way through – keeps making me feel like gasping in exasperation and rolling my eyes.

The one that I’m actually responding to, though, is a book called Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility; co-authored by Sami S. David and Jill Blakeway. To say that it makes me want to pick up the phone, book two respective appointments and get on the next flight to NYC would be an understatement. I started reading this book Sunday evening – and it’s definitely been eye-opening. It made me feel so, so incredibly vindicated about not sticking with Dr. Greedy McMoneybags (the RE we didn’t like but that, in the last couple of months, I was almost tempted to make a new appointment with – how’s that for despair??). As I continue reading, I feel both reassured AND freaked out: we waited too long; we don’t have convenient, easy, or even reliable access to the type of medical care (both Western and Eastern) of the kind that the authors favor: medical detective work.

I know from a lot of blogs and/or IF community forums that many women are frustrated by doctors who are proceeding too slowly for their liking – and if such delays are caused by greed (hey, let’s run a few thousand dollars worth of unnecessary tests, k?) or trying to disguise what is really actually a lack of knowledge, then I agree. However, so far I have found that the approach these two authors believe in is so much more in keeping with what I need and want (but am, honestly, petrified to consider because of my “advanced” age and previous DOR diagnosis): investigating the root of the problem(s) and looking for the least invasive way to fix them.

I found myself thinking back to the RE who never even suggested an IUI (even though I’d never taken Clomid in my life or had a previous IUI) and wanted to go in, guns blazing, telling me the only way we’d conceive was with IVF + ICSI (most expensive treatment outside of external issues such as egg donor or surrogacy – quel surprise!) and that he was planning to use the most aggressive protocol. Meanwhile, my anxious questions about side effects were met with something between a disinterested shrug and dismissive snort – answered as “just some minor bloating”. (Yeah, I didn’t really buy that, either.)

So now I’m in a bit of a weird, uncomfortable situation: on the one hand, I’m enjoying this book – as much as you can while feeling a metaphorical gun being held to your head – and learning about things I, quite frankly, didn’t have the faintest clue about; on the other hand, there’s that nagging voice inside my head saying you don’t have time to mess around anymore; should’ve thought about that years ago. I’m trying to calm myself down and think that investing in their suggestions may take time, but without doing so, I may not only be subjecting myself to repeated treatments in the future that may or may not succeed (to say nothing of the financial, physical and emotional trauma that IVF really represents) but also setting myself up for a lower chance of success than if I actually make the commitment I was starting to make at the end of 2012 before another part of my personal life went to hell in a hand basket last year.

Is it crazy to press the pause button at this point in my life? Is it insane to think, let’s take 3 months to really focus on our health, to consider Eastern medicine (acupuncture, Chinese herbs etc)? Do I want to do this for the right reasons or because I’m scared: scared of the uncertainty, scared of not knowing where to turn at this point, scared of the whole impact of IVF?

The two warring halves of my brain keep being locked in what feels like a deadly tug-o-war: between the “do it, DO IT NOW!” panic side and the peacenik that wants to try and approach this with a modicum of conservatism, meaning in this case to not overlook less invasive treatment options. Did I mention, previously, that no one has actually bothered – at all – to explain any of my labs to me, except to inform me that as a DOR “candidate” for IVF, I’d probably need donor eggs in the foreseeable future? That no one asked me about my cycles, about whether I’ve ever done a BBT chart (I haven’t), that no one bothered to actually do more than 1 set of labs to see if the values were consistently the same; that no one actually checked whether my pituitary gland was/is functioning properly at all, whether my progesterone levels are “normal” in the different phases of my cycle? Initially, I was told I didn’t actually ovulate, ever, at all – based on a single, solitary blood test. So is it really surprising that what I want, what I’m looking for, is an RE who’s going to put all the cards on the table – not just the ones with the highest dollar amount?

And…with that I also realize that I’m driving myself crazy. Last week was a bit of a haze – I was under the weather, feeling emotional even though I’m not yet anywhere close to my next period (which I no longer dread so much as I resent and pretty much hate it). Wrapped up in sweaters and blankets, feverish, I threw myself a pity party by watching Sex and the City. I cried when Charlotte had a miscarriage; I cried when she tried to put on a brave face at Miranda’s son’s first birthday party…until she came face to face with the silver Tiffany’s rattle her first husband had bought before she found out about her fertility issues. Got angry at the scene where this one woman swears by an acupuncturist and highly recommends him in between saying something about how all the IUIs and IVFs had driven her crazy – which made me think: really, how nice it must be to (a) not have to worry about the money part of ARTs (which, let’s face it, is a HUGE consideration) and/or (b) living in a big city where you’re not only spoiled for choice, whatever the type of medicine, but also nowadays in the case of New York City in particular, actually have IVF coverage if I’m not mistaken.

(Gremlin. Ugh. Still working on that…)

Needless to mention, I’m trying to stave off another pity party to coincide with the PMS that, I believe, has RSVPd for sometime next week. I’ve been feeling cranky all day, but I know that’s due to the mute terror I feel without knowing, really, how to find the kind of doctor (and I’d settle for a general one to start out with) who can actually be bothered to look at the person, not the dollar signs. Old-fashioned, you say? I know time is of the essence – believe me, I never thought I’d be one of those “biological clock” women, but there’s nothing like someone putting a question mark on your ability to have biological children that’ll not just make that clock tick but turn it into a dinner gong. Yet, personally, I’d rather have someone who isn’t all about turning you into a pin-pricked receptacle for toxic medications that may or may not turn you into Godzilla, Attila the Hun, Jack(ie) the Ripper etc. from the ensuing renegade hormone spin cycle.

Translation: I don’t want someone to waste my time but also not recommend a course of action before or without investigating other less invasive/costly options. I’m not saying that there’s a chance in hell we could conceive without the previous RE’s “recommendation” for IVF with ICSI (and I use that term lightly, since he might as well have been holding a gun for the amount of choice his “recommendation” left room for). But that book made me so glad, despite our continued struggle, that I didn’t agree to put my life, my body, my health, into the hands of someone who probably wouldn’t have had time to fit me into his busy schedule if I’d thought I was having symptoms of OHSS or some other serious side effect with the treatment.

So here’s my question: how far are YOU willing to go to have a baby?

Is it just about experiencing pregnancy for you? How important is the biological connection to your child(ren) to you/your spouse? And how far would you travel, how much would you be willing to spend, how many different doctors, supplements, medications, procedures would you be willing to endure to get to the sought-after goal?

I’m not being facetious – I really want to know. Because I’m thinking, is it really any crazier to travel out of state – or, even, the country – in the quest of motherhood than it is to contemplate being held ransom to the tune of $25-50K if you have to contemplate domestic infant adoption?

Fostering an Idea: The Sign

Anyone who was a teenager in the 90s will be very familiar with this song – and it’s the first thing that popped into my head after what just happened.

But let me back-track for a moment so you can understand – once I get to the point (eventually) – why this moved me to write a second blog post today.

It may surprise you to learn that my husband and I were not the kind of people who talked about babies before we got married. Or as newlyweds even. I mention this only in passing because I recently read a story somewhere about someone who basically started her TTC journey either on her honeymoon or as soon as they got back – and I honestly couldn’t have imagined doing that, even in hindsight. In my family, we don’t marry early, and we don’t procreate early – everything is done in stages, none of which is even contemplated before you graduate from college. Alternative choices are not an option – and, quite frankly, it would never have occurred to me to choose a different path.

Of course I had no idea that, apparently, somewhere along the lines my connect-the-dots was missing some very crucial ink blots…

Ahem.

When people ask me how long we’ve been trying, I find myself laughing mirthlessly (confession: it’s out of a combination of panic and embarrassment because I don’t have a good answer) since I can’t really pinpoint when we really started – and we haven’t done so consistently. The reasons are many – peppered with family strife, death, moves, etc – so that if our “attempts to conceive” were mapped on a graph, they’d probably look a lot like someone who’s having some minor heart problems. Erratic may be a slight understatement.

But here’s what I can tell you: I’ve been ready to become a mother for almost 8 years now. I always assumed – stupidly, naively – that like for everyone else around me, things would just sort of “happen”. I mean, we did everything “right” – neither one of us is a raging alcoholic, we don’t smoke, gamble or use intravenous drugs; we’re upstanding, tax-paying people with a nice house. In other words? We’re parents without babies. SIGH.

If I had a dime for the many, many times that I’ve drive down a road and caught myself listening to music, thinking – what would it be like to have children in the backseat? Would they sing along? Would be laugh, would they fight like siblings do, would my heart swell each time I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror? I’d be halfway to paying for a cycle of IVF.

I try to quell those thoughts because, well. You know – it’s painful. It feels like you keep picking at a scab, not letting it heal. And while we’ve still not made any progress with really making a decision in regards to IVF – partly because finding a new RE will involve going out of town, and the logistics of coordinating that are daunting to say the least – I’ve also told my husband that I wanted to make time to sit down and talk about alternative family building options. (Of course, finding the time to actually sit down and have an in-depth conversation with him is kind of hard when he works all the time – and I how can I give him a hard time about it when the truth is that I love him for being a diligent, hard-working man that I adore and respect?)

When I was younger, I always thought I’d want to adopt. Now, I feel bruised and battered – partly because, as someone dealing with DOR and facing the very real possibility that biological children may not even be an option for us (and I can’t even put into words the raw pain that this is causing me on a daily basis), it suddenly feels like it’s not a choice, not an option – but something you’re forced to consider because you may not be able to have a child any other way. Unsurprisingly, I have a hard time coming to terms with my conflicting emotions on this subject.

Worse, though, is I know now that adoption isn’t as straight-forward as I’d believed in the past. If, as I’d naively assumed long before we got to this point, it was just a matter of saying “yes, please!” and being open to adoption – I’d have no problems with it. As long as I can have a healthy baby, I could cope with one that’s not biologically ours – regardless of gender or race. But I was in for a rude awakening. Adoption can be far more expensive than IVF – which, in itself, boggles the mind – and seems poised as a sort of popularity contest of sorts, almost like a cattle auction. The other day I was reading a brief paragraph about how domestic infant adoptions usually run between $20-40K (yes, thousand – as in, five figures) – but can be even more expensive. I’ve seen numbers quoted that were closer to $50,000 – which is more than both of our cars, brand new fridge, washer & dryer etc. cost when we bought them. It’s years worth of mortgage payments – money that is then no longer available for college tuition or other more immediate family concerns.

(Did I mention that this is for domestic adoption? As in, right here in the good old US of A? We’re not even talking about international adoptions, at which point you obviously have to factor in travel and accommodation – so that, at least, I understand why the bottom line would be augmented by things that aren’t strictly related to the adoption itself.)

At the risk of putting my foot in it, I think that’s preposterous. I don’t agree with it, and I think there’s absolutely no justification for it whatsoever when you’re dealing with domestic adoptions. I know some people are willing to do whatever it takes to get a baby, any baby, by any means necessary – but for me, that’s just not something I don’t think I’m even willing to consider, especially in this day and age when you see adoption agencies vying for prospective birth mothers by promising them free iPads and/or iPhones (unreal!) – unsurprising, really, when you think about how much money they (the agencies) are making off of the whole transaction.

But I don’t want to get into that too much because I’m so angry that, in dealing with IF, you’re constantly penalized for a medical condition (that isn’t even recognized as such – which is why only 12 out of the 50 states even have IVF coverage, and most insurance companies also don’t cover ARTs) for which you are not responsible. Suffice it to say that, unless we magically find someone who wants to give us their baby, this avenue is closed to us – because we definitely will NOT be going through an agency and mortgaging ourselves up to our eyeballs for this.

The alternative, then, is to adopt from foster care. Which, if you’ve ever watched anything on tv at all or read anything online, you’ll probably know two things (a) there are far too many kids in foster care, which is nothing short of tragic; (b) adopting from foster care can be extremely difficult and traumatic for both the child and the adoptive parents. Again, I don’t really want to get into details here – mostly because I’m not an expert and I don’t know much of anything about it – but it’s something that’s been on my mind lately. I thought about whether I could see myself adopting a child that wasn’t a baby, perhaps not even a toddler. Could I see myself “mothering” an 8 year-old? What about a 10-year old? Because the reality is, of course, that everyone who is forced to consider adoption wants a baby – so the sad reality is that the children who remain in foster care the longest are always the ones who are already older. It’s heartbreaking – but I struggle between what I think about the situation and asking myself what I can realistically take on. And, of course, what my husband is willing and able to deal with.

So two nights ago, I started doing a little bit of reading online – wondering whether maybe we should at least talk to someone about the whole process so we can find out exactly what’s involved and so on. I figured that since the likelihood of getting a match even by being amendable to adopt through foster care within less than a year (and most probably 2 years or more) is slim to none, we might as well “hedge our bets” even before we start IVF.

What prompted this whole blog post is a pamphlet that came in the mail yesterday – not 24 hours after all these issues weighed heavily on my mind. We’re not even supposed to get it – it’s a residual from the previous owners of our house from a local hospital that I assume they were patients at. Normally I just put it in the recycling bin because there’s nothing relevant for us – but I decided to flip through it…and on the second page, there was a story about foster care in relation, specifically, to teenagers. If I were religious, I might ascribe this to a whack on the head from a higher power – but even without ascribing to such a philosophy, I still thought…coincidence? Or a sign? Not a sign that I should open my home to a teenager – which I honestly don’t think either one of us would be prepared to do as first-time “parents” – but I thought, what a coincidence that this showed up in mailbox the very day after I was just looking into this subject.

I’d be lying if I said that this was something I can just gloss over and say – sure, no problem. I’ll do it! I know that part of the reason I’m reading up on these things is because, deep down, I’m steeling myself against the fact that I don’t actually know what’s going on with my body – and that, a year after my last AMH test, I’m not even sure if I’m still dealing with DOR or if it’s already much worse…I shudder to think of all the people who completely fail to grasp how the mere thought of not being able to have biological children is absolutely devastating; and how, consequently, the reality would – and is – so horrific that just contemplating it makes me feel like I’m going to throw up.

Sometimes I tell myself – this isn’t the end of our story. We’re not meant to be childless. We’re such loving people, we’re caring, we’re funny, we’re empathetic and compassionate. We have so much to offer. Sometimes I imagine having a conversation with someone who is giving up her child for adoption. I imagine what I would say to her – but part of me always wonders how difficult it would be to “sell” yourself while trying to remain calm and not freak out at the possibility that this person who has what you want most in life can just change her mind at a whim. But when I can disregard the scary bits, I imagine what I would say about us – to a birth mother or to a child we’d consider adopting. I would talk about our travels, our love of music, our pets and our belief in bringing out the best in each other. Would it be enough?

Sometimes I think I could – I want to – give a child what I’m good at. I’m the person who blends into other families as the aunt – the one who helps with homework, chimes in (when appropriate and obviously never overstepping the parents’ authority/boundaries), helps you navigate through the minefield of tween and teen conversations around emotionally charged but important issues. So I think to myself, if we can provide a safe, loving home for a child that hasn’t had one – a child who deserves to be loved, cherished, helped to grow into whoever they’re meant to become…how can I not consider that?

But of course I know that I’m idealizing the situation. Even with as little as I know, I’m aware of how much emotional baggage children in foster care come with. As time goes by and I ask more questions, I find out things that make an already daunting prospect even scarier – conditions like RAD (reactive attachment disorder). I wonder if I can deal with trying my hardest to love a child…and accepting that, sometimes, no amount of effort and love is going to turn the tide. I think my biggest fear would be dealing with a “psychotic” child – and by that I mean seriously deranged to the point of being homicidal etc. – or a child that lies, steals or has serious aggression problems. Because dealing with a child that really, genuinely WANTS to be loved – a child that wants to have a home, a family, wants to learn, wants to have a good life? THAT is something I can give – even if I know, of course, that it would be a journey filled with many, many lessons and a need to learn how to deal with things I’ve never had to deal with before. But I know it’s just not that easy.

I’m still scared – of all of it. Mostly, I’m scared of the mere thought of being – or, rather, remaining – childless. I admire people who choose to be childless because I think it’s so much better to make that choice than to have children if you don’t really, really want them. But that’s just not for us – at least not at this point. I can’t imagine a life without children. So I have to continue to believe that somewhere, at some point, our child will find us – whether through assisted reproduction or adoption. All I can say is that, whenever he or she comes into our lives, our arms will be wide open…

A Crack in the Glass

This weekend has been one of reflection for me. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the struggles of other women who, like me, face the uncertainty of what life has in store for them as they muddle their way through, trying desperately to cling to a sense of themselves instead of letting infertility redefine them in a new, hollow sense of “normal”.

I wanted to wallow in self-pity. I wanted to go and buy myself a self-indulgent cinnamon roll (or three), scarf it down while fat tears rolled down my face, burning in my eyes as I pretended, for a second, that processed sugar could melt away my pain. But I didn’t. Not because I suddenly had a great proclivity towards nutritious food (I’m still working on that), but because I thought to myself, this is what I’ve always done, what I’ve BEEN doing: feeding the pain. Stuffing food on top of it until I’ve shoved it so far down that it’s been replaced by guilt or self-loathing – at times, unbelievably, a preferable choice over the constant screaming in my head that reminds me of the very real possibility that I may end up being one of the unfortunate ones, the ones who never make it across the finish line. No baby. Not now, not ever. Too painful to contemplate – especially when I realize that I miss my husband when he’s at work but am secretly glad for the time alone, when I can cry without seeing the pain in his eyes as he sees my misery, unable to do anything to help me. Sometimes I look at my husband and I think, why does he stay? Why does he still want to be here? I’m broken. There’s no 24-hour repair shop, no super glue, for this.

I took a stroll down memory lane as I sat in an arm chair and opened a journal I kept in 2008 – a burst of color, full of vibrant life, appointments and parties, social events, names I don’t even recognize anymore. I sat there and let my eyes rove over the pages, slowly going through the first few months of the year – the year that I know we wanted to get more serious about “trying” but that eventually started a cascade of personal tragedies in our lives. I stopped when I got to April – having wandered past entries for cards sent and received, birthdays celebrated, pictures glued in haphazardly because it didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect. My life was messy, and I loved every minute of it.

I closed the journal and felt like I was in an empty hall, hearing the echoes of my past. The deaths that came, without warning. The people I thought were friends who turned away – too busy with their own lives, it turned out. Or maybe it was because I stopped being who I had once been. Maybe it was because they saw death reflected in my eyes. First, I felt nothing. Then I was hurt, angry, and felt betrayed. Where were the people whose children I’d comforted, whose birthdays I’d celebrated, whose pregnancies I’d cheered for?

Now, looking back, I think it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I couldn’t function, couldn’t cope – too many lossses in such quick succession. I couldn’t talk about it – still can’t – because I thought, who wants to hear about it anyway? Who would understand? Just like a woman who’s had a miscarriage talking to a young girl in college, or a women in her 80s whose friends have all died trying to explain the passing of time to a child. We can’t understand the experiences of others, and empathy – I’ve learned – isn’t something that comes easily to many.

I tried to fake my way through it. I tried to smile, “get back out there”. But I felt nothing. Surrounded by people, I felt as alone as on a deserted island. As someone who’s not religious, I found myself struggling to such an extent that I contemplated, not once, but several times whether I should talk to a minister. I needed…something. I knew, deep down, that God, religion, wasn’t the answer for me – but there was nothing else, either. I had no child to keep me connected to the cycle of life. All I saw, all I see, is death.

I’m supposed to reach out to others. I’m supposed to try to make new friends, to connect with other people. But I don’t know if I still have it in me. I feel like I’ve been trying to climb the same mountain forever, the end nowhere in sight, and every little progress I made the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back”. You’re not supposed to admit defeat. You’re not supposed to ask for help. You’re supposed to smile, take medication if necessary – but, as a woman, you must function at all cost. You must keep smiling, through the tears, through the pain, no matter what. It’s what you’re expected to do. We’re daughters, sisters, wives, friends if we’re lucky – and we’re expected to shoulder the burdens passed onto us as well as our own. Where others feel no empathy, no sympathy, no guilt or remorse, we pick up their lot and carry it too. We question our place in the world, our lives, our relationships – are we good enough? Are we worthy? Maybe if we just try harder. Smile just a little wider.

But after a while, there are signs of strain. I remember reading something about how continued, long-term stress actually frays the muscles of the heart – or something to that effect – and I had a mental image of electrical cables being severed, sparks flying, injuries ensuing. My heart is hurting. It has been hurting for so, so long. I’m not doing enough to heal it because I don’t know how anymore, I don’t know how to make it better. We retreat into ourselves when we hurt, and eventually, it seems, people just forget that it was ever any different. They forget that we were once vibrant, engaging people – interesting, loving, funny. I was funny! I was hilarious! I laughed all the time – unabashedly, unreservedly, without apology. I was open to meeting new people because it was my favorite part of being alive: the promise of new ideas, new friends, new adventures.Now all I see are strangers all around me.

Tonight, I thought I’d have some iced coffee. I had already poured the dry contents into my very favorite glass and was boiling water, which I use a little bit of to dissolve everything first before adding milk. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular as I poured just enough into the glass…and heard a loud, unmistakable crack. I held up the glass, and sure enough, the boiling water had obviously caused it to crack. Now, this isn’t an ordinary glass – it’s a pretty hefty, thick glass, so I was shocked that it had cracked in the first place. But as I turned the glass in my hands and saw the extensive crack – splitting the bottom and running clean upwards diagonally about 2/3 to the top – I had another epiphany. The water was like a metaphor for all the crap that’s been happening in my life – all the drama, the ups and downs – and the closer it got to the boiling point, the more I was getting to my wit’s end. And when I poured the boiling water into the glass, it was like all the things that have happened in the last 5 years came together in a visual display of my broken heart. 

But then I realized something else. This is my favorite glass. Obviously, I’m mad that there’s a huge crack in it now – but as I ran my hands over the crack, over and over again, I marveled at the fact that the glass remained intact. In fact, no liquid spilled out at all.

And I realized that there may be a crack in the glass, but if it’s strong enough to hold together – so am I.