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About my Infertility

on November 12, 2010

As I deal with my infertility I’m amazed about how little there is out there for others to understand the process, the feelings and what we truly go through. I have a feeling it has something to do with the face that it’s a taboo discussion topic that brings up a lot of emotion. I think we need to be more open and be more educated on this topic. One in six couples deal with infertility. I even read somewhere that people going through infertility go through the same stages of grief as those suffering from HIV/AIDS and Cancer. As well, couples going through infertility will do whatever it takes to find a ‘cure’ – only second to those suffering of Cancer. I found this letter here and wanted to share it with all of you. It doesn’t address everything, but it’s a start. This is a journey I’m taking right now, and I, like a few other women out there, need my story to be heard. Maybe one day no one will feel as alone as we do now dealing with this.

I know that you love me and want me to be happy, to be my “old self” again. But lately, I seems isolated, depressed and obsessed with the idea of having a baby.

You probably have difficulty understanding why getting pregnant has coloured virtually every aspect of my daily life. I hope that by the pain I am feeling, this letter also will tell you how you can help me.

SOME FACTS ABOUT INFERTILITY

It may surprise you to know that one out of six women who wants to have a baby cannot conceive. There are many possible reasons for this dismal statistic: blocked fallopian tubes, ovarian failure, hormonal imbalances, toxic exposure, husband’s low sperm count, to name just a few. Moreover, after a woman turns 35, it becomes difficult to have a baby primarily because many of the eggs she has left are defective.

All these barriers to pregnancy are physical or physiological, not psychological. Tubes don’t become blocked because a woman is “trying too hard” to get pregnant. Antibodies that kill sperm will not disappear if a woman simply relaxes. And a man cannot make his sperm swim faster by developing a more optimistic outlook.

WELL-MEANING ADVICE

When someone we care about has a problem, it is natural to try to help. If there’s nothing specific that we can do, we try to give helpful advice. Often, we draw on our personal experiences or on anecdotes involving other people we know. Perhaps you recall a friend who had trouble getting pregnant until she and her husband went to a tropical island. So you suggest that my husband and I take a vacation, too.

I appreciate your advice, but I cannot use it because of the physical nature of my problem. Not only can’t I use your advice, the
sound of it upsets me greatly. Indeed, I’m probably inundated with this sort of advice at every turn. Imagine how frustrating it must be for me to hear about other couples who “magically” become pregnant during a vacation simply by making love. To me, who is undergoing infertility treatment, making love and conceiving a child have very little to do with one another, now. You can’t imagine how hard I’ve been trying to have this baby and how crushed I feel every month I learn that I’ve failed again. Your well-meaning advice is an attempt to transform an extremely complicated predicament into a simplistic little problem. By simplifying my
problem in this manner, you’ve diminished the validity of my emotions, making me feel psychologically undervalued. Naturally, I will feel angry and upset with you under these circumstances.

The truth is: There’s practically nothing concrete you can do to help me. The best help you can provide is to be understanding
and supportive. It’s easier to be supportive if you can appreciate how being unable to have a baby can be such a devastating blow.

WHY NOT HAVING A BABY IS SO UPSETTING

Women are reared with the expectation that they will have a baby someday. They’ve thought about themselves in a motherhood role ever since they played with dolls. A woman may not even consider herself part of the adult world unless she is a parent. When I think I cannot have a baby, I feel like “defective merchandise.” Not having a baby is literally a matter of life and death. In the Bible, Rachel was barren. She said to Jacob “Give me children or I die …” (Genesis 30:1). Commenting on this, some sages said, “One who is childless is considered dead.” So powerful are the feelings connected with barrenness that the person feels dead or wants to die.

Worse, I am not even certain that I will ever have a baby. One of the cruellest things you can do to a person is give them hope and then not come through. Modern medicine has created this double-edged sword. It offers hope where there previously was none — but at the price of slim odds.

WHAT MODERN MEDICINE HAS TO OFFER THE INFERTILE WOMAN.

In the past decade, reproductive medicine has made major breakthroughs that enable women, who in the past were unable to have children, to now conceive. The use of drugs such as Pergonal can increase the number and size of eggs that a woman produces thereby increasing her chances of fertilization. In vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques extract a woman’s eggs and mix them with sperm in a “test tube” and allow them to fertilize in a laboratory. The embryo can then be transferred back to the woman’s uterus. There are many other options, as well.

Despite the hope these technologies offer, they are a hard row to hoe. Some high-tech procedures are offered only at a few places, which may force me to travel great distances. Even if the treatment is available locally, the patient must endure repeated doctor’s visits, take daily injections, shuffle work and social schedules to accommodate various procedures, and lay out considerable sums of money — money that may or may not be reimbursed by insurance. All of this is preceded by a battery of diagnostic tests that can be both embarrassing and extremely painful.

Infertility is a highly personal medical condition, one that I may feel uncomfortable discussing with my employer. So, I am faced with coming up with excuses whenever my treatment interferes with my job. Meanwhile, I am devoting considerable time and energy to managing a mountain of claims forms and other paperwork required by insurers.

After every medical attempt at making me pregnant, I must play a waiting game that is peppered with spurts of optimism and pessimism. It is an emotional roller coaster. I don’t know if my swollen breasts are a sign of pregnancy or a side effect of the fertility drugs. If I see a spot of blood on my underwear, I don’t know if an embryo is trying to implant or my period is about to begin. If I am not pregnant after an IVF procedure, I may feel as though my baby died. How can a person grieve for a life that existed only in her mind?

While trying to cope with this emotional turmoil, I get invited to a baby shower or Christening, learn that a friend or colleague is pregnant, or I read about a one-day-old infant found abandoned in a Dumpster. Can you try to imagine my envy, my rage over the inequities in life? Given that infertility permeates practically every facet of my existence, is it any wonder why I am obsessed with my quest?

Every month, I wonder whether this will finally be my month. If is isn’t, I wonder if I can she muster the energy to try again. Will I be able to afford another procedure? How much longer will  my husband continue to be supportive? Will I be forced to give up my
dream?

So when you speak with me, try to empathize with the burdens on my mind and on my heart. I know you care about me, and I may need to talk with you about her ordeal. But I know that there is nothing you can say or do to make me pregnant. And I fear that you will offer a suggestion that will trigger even more despair.

WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR ME?

You can give me support, and don’t criticize me for any steps I may be taking — such as not attending a nephew’s birthday — to protect myself from emotional trauma. You can say something like this:

I care about you. After reading this letter, I have a better idea about how hard this must be for you. I wish I could help. I’m here to listen to you and cry with you, if you feel like crying. I’m here to cheer you on when you feel as though there is no hope. You can talk to me. I care.

The most important thing to remember is that I am distraught and very worried. Listen to what I have to say, but do not judge. Do
not belittle my feelings. Don’t try to pretend that everything will be OK. Don’t sell me on fatalism with statements like, “What will be will be.” If that were truly the case, what’s the point of using medical technology to try to accomplish what nature cannot?

Your willingness to listen can be of great help. Infertile women feel cut off from other people. Your ability to listen and support me will help me handle the stress I’m experiencing. My infertility is one of the most difficult situations I will ever have to deal with.

PROBLEM SITUATIONS

Just as an ordinary room can be an obstacle course to a blind person, so can the everyday world be full of hazards for an infertile woman — hazards which do not exist for women with children.

I go to her sister-in-law’s house for Christmas. My cousin is breast-feeding. The men are watching the football game while the women
talk about the problems with their kids. I  feel left out, to say the least.

Christmas is an example of the many holidays that are particularly difficult for me. They mark the passage of time. I remember what came to mind last Christmas — that the next year, I would have a new son or daughter to show off to my family.

Each holiday presents its own unique burden to the infertile woman. Valentine’s day reminds her of her romance, love, marriage — and the family she may never be able to create. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Their difficulties are obvious.

Mundane activities like a walk down the street or going to the shopping mall are packed with land mines. Seeing women pushing baby carriages and strollers strikes a raw nerve. While watching TV, I am bombarded by commercials for diapers, baby food, and early pregnancy tests.

At a party, someone asks how long she’s been married and whether she has any kids. She feels like running out of the room, but she can’t. If she talks about being infertile, she’s likely to get well-intentioned advice — just the thing she doesn’t need: “Just relax. Don’t worry. It will happen soon,” or “You’re lucky. I’ve had it with my kids. I wish I had your freedom.” These are the kinds of comments that make her want to crawl under the
nearest sofa and die.

Escape into work and career can be impossible. Watching her dream shatter on a monthly basis, she can have difficulty investing energy in advancing her career. All around, her co-workers are getting pregnant. Going to a baby shower is painful — but so is distancing herself from social occasions celebrated by her colleagues.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Because I am infertile, life is extremely stressful for me. I’m doing my best to cope. Please be understanding. Sometimes I will be depressed. Sometimes I will be angry. Sometimes I will be physically and emotionally exhausted. I’m not going to be “the
same old Jen” I used to be. I won’t want to do many of the things I used to do.

I have no idea when, or if, my problem will be solved. I’m engaged in an emotionally and financially taxing venture with a low probability of success. Overall, only about 11 percent of those people using special fertility treatments succeed in having a baby. The odds are even lower for women over 40. The longer I persevere, however, the greater my chances of pregnancy become.

Maybe someday I will be successful. Maybe someday I will give up and turn to adoption, or come to terms with living a childless life. At present, though, I have no idea what will happen. It’s all I can do to keep going from one day to the next. I do not know why this is my lot. Nobody does. All I know is the horrible anguish that I live with every day.

Please care about me. Please be sensitive to my situation. Give me your support, I need it and want it.

I also just want to mention that this does not just affect the woman in a relationship. Infertility is a couple’s battle, and, although more silent, men go through this, too. So please take time to to care about the entire family going through this ordeal, because it is a couple’s fight.

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2 responses to “About my Infertility

  1. Leanne Hooper says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been thinking/saying over the last couple of weeks how much I don’t understand your difficult and painful struggle with infertility and this was definitely helpful and enlightening. Also, regarding the male part of this struggle, I’m so sure that a couple of months ago Jonathan mentioned a book about infertility that was written entirely from the male perspective. Perhaps I should try to track down the name and author?

  2. marieta says:

    Oh Honey I had no idea just how difficult this journey has been. Thank you for sharing so honestly what you are going through and for having the strength and courage to ask for what you need. I will always be supportive of your efforts and shall never judge you or your road. Now that you have given an inside look, I can be more sensitive and understanding to where you are. I love you oh so very much honey, and I can hold your hand or send you a hug when it gets to be too much. I have no words of wisdom to share with you except that it is alright to keep your dream alive and to take whatever roads necessary to get there. And regardless of where you end up or who you become, We are always here for you 🙂

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