I didn’t write about my infertility while it was happening and I wish I had because I know many of you could have helped me. Over the years, I’ve tried to go back and write about it, but that’s been difficult for me. Writing about it after the fact feels a bit disingenuous since I’m no longer immersed in it. While I was going through it, I was a totally different person. I’m not trying to be dramatic here. I was simply different. I’m not entirely sure what that person would have written and I’ve often wondered if I’ll do a decent job.
Toby and I refer to that time as “The Lost Years” because our life together became about one thing, and everything else was put on hold. Our attempt at having another child became our main focus. Well, it became my main focus; I merely brought him into it with me. And I have long since realized that had I married a less understanding man, a less caring person, I’d probably be divorced right now. Infertility puts a massive strain on even the best relationship.
So today, for the umpth time, I’m going to try and write a little about The Lost Years. And maybe if I start, I will find it in me to continue. Because there are so many stories, some of which are even humorous. I sat in that doctor’s office every day for two weeks during every month for a year. I watched countless stories unfold before me. Sometimes they were horribly sad. But on a few occasions I found myself texting Toby Joe and laughing about something I’d witnessed. And many times I’d text him as a way of keeping notes, because I regularly thought, “One day, when you feel better, you need to share this because, bad or good, it’s important stuff.”
I think, if nothing else, it will help me to write it down. And I hope that one day it might help someone else as well.
And so! If you’re reading this, and any of what I’m about to write sounds familiar, please know you’re not alone.
I remember the endless testing, the Clomid, the injections, the daily blood draws, the sonograms; I remember the catheters, the weird headaches, the expense of time and funds, the pregnancy tests, the HCG shots in my ass (administered by a nurse in a line of cubicles filled with other nurses administering shots into other asses).
I remember feeling guilty we had the money to go through it at all, and then feeling pissed off I had to.
I peed on hundreds of sticks, some of which would be a clear negative so I’d throw it out. Then, 30 minutes later, I’d return to the bathroom, dig it out of the trash (even though instructions EXPLICITLY say not to!) and imagine seeing a faint line. And on a few occasions, I would see a faint line—an evaporation line! Oh how I hated those lines.
I would hold sticks under sunlight, in front of TV light, beneath candlelight—any light that MIGHT show me a positive.
I took them apart, believing that maybe the window wasn’t clear enough, that the clear plastic might not actually be clear?
There were the times I would get my period and STILL come up with reasons as to why I could still be pregnant. Implantation bleeding! (On day 28?) I had to hold onto hope somehow even if it meant entering some type of fantasy land.
Hope was my most necessary friend and my worst goddamn enemy.
(Perhaps you’ve met her? She gets around.)
I remember changing my diet based on something I’d read, then doing the exact opposite based on something else I’d read. I remember eating a LOT of pineapple and flax.
And, oh my goodness, the records I kept! You should see my iCal from 2009 and 2010. It looks like the work of an insane person. I thought about posting a screenshot, but I went all out. If you haven’t witnessed the diary of woman furiously charting her cycles, all the while going through fertility treatments, you will not like what you see. Let’s put it this way: on top of the concise (driven by desperation) information involved, there are many, many creative ways a woman can describe cervical mucus. (Too much? My apologies but be thankful I didn’t post an image of my iCal.)
I used to pass pregnant women on the street and feel anger toward them, complete strangers. I’d see women pregnant with their third child and sometimes, on a bad day, curse them for overpopulating the world. How dare they have THREE! Yet, I’d have had three if I could. But when you’re having trouble getting pregnant, you don’t think rationally all the time.
I held onto so much sorrow and that turned into anger pretty quickly. Maybe it was a survival mechanism. I don’t know. But if I let the sorrow consume me, like it did directly after the miscarriage, I don’t think I would have made it out alive. (Not to sound dramatic again, but that sorrow is inexplicable.)
The constant googling in the middle of the night, searching new terms, finding new ways to blame myself for failing at the ONE basic thing I was SUPPOSED to be able to do as a woman. The thing I ironically worked so hard trying to avoid in my 20s. I locked myself away and went temporarily mad.
After the miscarriage, in a fit of despair, I broke down in front of my primary care physician who immediately gave me the name of a shrink as well as some medication to help me feel a little better, just until I got back up again. I took the meds for a while, which made matters worse because I started to blame them for my inability to get pregnant. I went off the meds immediately.
I spent months hating myself, loathing myself for failing. I hated myself even more when I dealt with my emotions in such a childish manner. Each time I had a less than positive thought about another friend getting pregnant, I would add it to the pile of self-loathing.
I pushed away an entire group of friends because of my infertility. My inner turmoil took over completely. My inability to talk to people candidly about what I was going through was new to me as, up until that point, I’d been very open.
Who was I becoming? Why was I so full of anger? Was I a horrible person on top of being broken?
Thing is, had I just told them the truth, had I simply said, “You know something? I am REALLY fucked up right now. I am sad and sometimes very angry. Please try and understand and help me. It’s really not about you at all.” maybe we’d still be friends. Instead, I avoided them like my dog does when she gets beat up at the dog park. But the only person beating me up was me.
Not that any of that matters now. I torched the living shit out of that bridge.
If you can relate to any of this, you’re not alone. You may feel alone, but I sat in that waiting room for countless hours, watching hundreds of couples come and go through those fancy elevator doors. There are so many of us, too many of us. So why are we often too ashamed to admit we’re having trouble getting pregnant? Why don’t we talk about it more often?
Unexplained Secondary Infertility
I have some regrets. Both Toby and I do. Since we already had one healthy baby, we have since wondered if we spent too much time trying for number two at the expense of our first child. Was I too selfish? I can’t get that time back with him. And we have some sorrow linked to that. It wasn’t just OUR life I put on hold. And that thought gives me chills sometimes.
Thing is, I only wanted to have another child for Em. I wanted him to have a sibling. So I’m hoping one day when they’re older and thankful for having one another, I can forgive myself.
There’s another level to all of this, one I still feel uncomfortable writing about. With secondary infertility, you don’t often know where you fit in. Your inability to get pregnant and/or successfully carry a baby to term is very real, it’s painful and horrible and tragic and awful. But! We DO have one child already. So we often feel unfair discussing it at all as there are others with none. So, many of us keep even quieter. That silence is why secondary infertility is often misrepresented. They don’t actually know how many couples suffer from it as many feel bad discussing it at all.
The clarity I have now because of what I went through during that time is pretty great. I am different. I have changed in many ways. Some good, some bad. But I do like myself a great deal more now than I did before. And I know so much about the female reproductive cycle! I could go on and on about hormones and sometimes I do when talking to girlfriends (and someone should probably just tell me to shut up at that point). I’m no longer afraid of needles! So, there’s that as well.
But more importantly, I am not nearly as cynical as I used to be. I try and forgive easily, and I realize that many people are suffering one way or another, fighting a difficult and personal battle. I try and remember that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt (and maybe an unsolicited hug or two).
Lastly (for today!), I want to reassure you that when you’re in it, there is no such thing as a “wrong” thought. You are not a horrible person for having even the ugliest thought imaginable. You are a human being, one going through something very difficult. You are a woman. You are not broken. You are not alone. Find your people. Ask questions. Know you’re not alone—and that you’ll be OK.
Don’t be silent. Because the loneliness you experience from infertility can be all-consuming. Please speak up. I really wish I had sooner.
One last thing, and forgive me for the language: If someone should ask you why you’re going through all this trouble when there are SO MANY unwanted children in the world, and that you should just adopt instead; OR, if someone suggests that since you can’t get pregnant “naturally” there’s probably a reason for that, tell them Michele said, “Fuck Off.” (Sorry for the language, dad. But I held that one in too many times before now.)