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 Stuffing food on top of it until I’ve shoved it so far down that it’s been replaced by guilt or self-loathing – at times, unbelievably, a preferable choice over the constant screaming in my head that reminds me of the very real possibility that I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.

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.