Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Letting It Out: Expressing Your Frustrations with Infertility

Loud screams are echoing through my house these days. My 18- month-old son seems to have reached his terrible-twos ahead of schedule (no surprise of course!). He will throw himself on the floor, kick and scream if he doesn't get his way... While I watch him in disbelief (is taking away the now almost empty tube of toothpaste worthy of a rage so great?) I do envy his pure freedom of expression. There’s no second guessing yourself, no second thoughts about societal norms – what you feel is what you show. Frustrated that things didn’t go your way? Let out a loud “Noooo!!!” and throw yourself on the floor. Someone take your toy away? Hit them and snatch it back. Can you imagine if we as adults could be so unfettered with our emotions? 

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat across from a friend who complained about pregnancy being so hard while I silently grinned and beard it. What I really wanted to do was to give them a piece of my mind; tell them how good they have it; that a little morning sickness is nothing next to the heartache of infertility.

I have always found it baffling that us infertiles will bottle up our sadness in order to make “happy fertile people” feel more at ease, rather than them trying to comfort us. Babyshower to be organized for the office secretary? Sure, I’ll get the “It’s a boy!” balloons. Ultrasound pictures shared with the world on Facebook? Well, what good is a friend unless she gives the picture a big “thumbs up”? 

Why do we fear expressing our true emotions to the world, when we have every right to be angry, sad and frustrated? The only place we seem to be allowed to truly FEEL is behind closed doors. I can vividly recall the many times I have ran to the bathroom after a public “we’re pregnant!” announcement or burst into tears the moment I got into the safety of my car after a visit to the OBGYN's office. At the very least, maybe there should be areas in public where you can go into a sound proof room, let out a big scream and go back to your table as though nothing had happened.

All I know is that for now, I’m really starting to think I could learn something from my toddler. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to run around naked because who wants to wear clothes in this heat anyway?!


Doogie said...

Thanks for posting this. It makes me feel like being a parent can coexist with being an infertile and I don't have to feel guilty for still feeling bitter.

Anonymous said...

Because, in the end, the rest of the word -- the fertile world -- is NOT RESPONSIBLE for what you're going through. Anymore than you are responsible for the discomforts of a gravid woman in a coffee shop, the woman in your yoga class who is undergoing chemo for breast cancer, the elderly neighbor who is dying before your very eyes, or the co-worker whose child was killed in an automobile accident when her seat broke loose from the floor. All of these things have happened around me, but the circumstances has been changed to protect the innocent. Watching these things happen, but not to me, has caused me some serious reflection on how we handle the tribulations of others. To be short, as a society, we have completely lost all sense of grace, serenity, wisdom and strength to not only help others bear their burdens, but to bear up.

I have infertile friends. I have fertile friends who have chosen to not procreate. All of them have burnt out our friendships by making me feel as if my problems aren't problems, because I had children. This is not how friends treat friends.

It might be worth your while to spend some time reading women's history starting about 150 years ago and going back to the dawn of written word. Children died of disease, malnutrition, trauma and circumstance... more than survived. Women died in childbirth, or they bled to death shortly after. This was the norm for most of human history, rather than the exception. But now we are spoiled. We want what we want, when we wanted and we feel entitled to wail about it, just as your son flies into a rage over an object that you think is meaningless.

To me, you are intensely focused on only one of life's many experiences -- one that is not always as romantic as you likely believe. Giving birth nearly killed me and my firstborn child. Having children robbed me of a decade of my life and career, something that I can never recover. But I am a religious woman, and sometimes I joke that G*d tricked me into this life because it was His plan for me. Only I'm never really joking.

My heart goes out to you. I ache to comfort you, offer what support I can. But you're so wrapped up in being bitter and feeling sorry for yourself that there is just no room for me.

Jenny said...

"I have always found it baffling that us infertiles will bottle up our sadness in order to make “happy fertile people” feel more at ease, rather than them trying to comfort us."

-you took the words right out of my mouth. Especially the fb photos...I'm sure I'm the only person who sits there and debates whether or not I should write anything (usually I go for the simple "congrats" because even spelling out "congratulations" seems like too much effort!)

The Infertility Doula said...

Dear Anonymous, I'm sorry that my entry brought up such negative feelings for you. I think you are right, there are terrible things happening to good people around us all the time (losing a child being probably the worst), and we walk around oblivious to others' pains. Unfortunately, there aren't as many people like yourself who wish to show understanding and compassion to others. If you've had a chance to read through my blog, you'll see how isolated we feel when going through infertility.

All I ever wanted was to become a mother and when I couldn't, I didn't know how to cope with it. The community of fellow infertile women is in part what got me through it. Sure we might sound bitter, but perhaps it's because we have no one else to talk to. If we say anything, we're faced with the usual "just relax" type of insensitivities.

It's sad that your experience with motherhood hasn't been one that fills you with happiness. I was lucky to finally become a mother. I live every day the exhaustion of parenting a toddler. But in my case, it was infertility that robbed me of a career, b/c this disease consumed me.

I hope your compassion will make you reach out to others, but hopefully with a little more understanding for the frustrations that infertiles live with every day.

Doogie said...

I think there's a difference here that might be getting lost. People who have cancer, who lose a child, who are dying, are ALLOWED to grieve. Infertile women are not.

People with cancer are given space to talk about what they're going through. No one is surprised when a woman who has lost a child or a husband bursts into tears. Even more than that, people who have joint custody are permitted to mourn the time they don't have with their children; their girlfriends will listen with sympathy and love.

Infertile women; they don't have that. Most people are stunned by the idea that in this day and age women can be infertile. When we express ourselves, even to our own families and best beloved, we're told we're bitter, unhappy people who "just can't stand to be other people being happy." And by the way, that's a quote from my own husband after I complained about having to spend an afternoon with his 17 year old pregnant cousin.) Now you can say he's a bad husband, or not especially supportive, which isn't really true; but the truth is, as my mother in law told me, she just doesn't understand what I'm going through at all. It's completely beyond the realm of her experience. (She followed it up with assurances of support and a willingness to listen even without the ability to understand, which makes her a very good MIL and should prove that husband comes from good stock, even if the quote doesn't reflect that.) That's reality. People don't tend to understand infertility. They don't recognize the cost as equally damaging on a physical, emotional, and monetary level. Tell someone you're going broke paying for your mother's nursing home care as her dementia gets worse and there's sympathy. Tell them you're going broke paying for infertility treatments and they think you're stupid for persisting.

Tragedy is tragic, there's no disputing that. And it's possible that people tell dying women, to count their blessings and focus on the positive things they have, rather than the negative. And, in fairness, I wouldn't like myself much if I spent ALL my time ranting about the unfairity of infertility, so I wouldn't expect others too; but I'm tired of being silent. For the first 5 years of my infertility I was silent and supportive. Now I want the opportunity to be fair and balanced, to express joy at my friend's joys, but to express my own disappointments as well. said...

I think there is a valid point somewhere in what Anonymous has written. When I try to focus on the positives of infertility, no matter how few and far between they are, I tend to think of the fact that I have learned the importance of burdening with someone. Regardless of how I feel or what I think about their situation, sometimes people just need someone to burden with them and say, that really sucks. I learned the importance of this because I have been so blessed with a mother and friends that have offered me that same kind of support (not "helpful" suggestions) during the past three years of struggling with infertility. I want to share that gift my family has given me of having someone to burden with. Who am I to decide whose burdens are valid or not? Now I'm not saying I'm capable of offering that kind of support everyday to my pregnant friends. There are days when I have to be honest with them and tell them that that I'm having a hard day too.

I totally have the same reaction about the facebook posts, baby showers, birth announcements. But I allow myself a good,long cry and push on because I refuse to let infertility steal these once in a lifetime moments I get to share with my friends and family. But it is difficult.Infertility is really tough and you do what you have to do to persevere.

Lastly, thank you for writing this informative blog. I've actually passed it along to my mom and aunt to help them become better understand what I'm going through.

DH said...

To Anonymous,

I will be significantly less diplomatic than the Doula with my response to your incredible lack of understanding and compassion, but there is so much to cover and I’m not exactly sure where to begin, so, I guess I’ll start from the top. Yes, you are correct, shit happens. How astute of you to notice that there are lots of horrible things that happen in life all around the world. So, does that then mean that the plight of one person is not worthy of notice because others suffer from a different and even greater plight? Should we ignore people with cancer because the genocide in Darfur is far worse? Should we belittle a family’s loss of a child in a car accident because the earthquake in Haiti killed far more children? And then where do you draw the line from there? Is dying from a brain aneurism worse than drowning at sea? And who decides this? Who is so full of themselves that they feel mighty enough to judge on such a scoreboard? In short, no one, because this argument is baseless.

And speaking of bullshit arguments, the crap about taking women into historical context is almost worse. So basically what you are saying is that because women and children used to die quite often while giving birth, women today should now be thankful that they are infertile?! Then by that logic, you must think that an African American man who is being discriminated against for years in his law firm, never getting promoted, should be thankful, because in light of historical context, at least he’s not getting lynched?!?!

And as for calling the infertile community “bitter,” I would try looking in a mirror sometime. Sounds like if anyone is bitter, it’s you, having had to “give up your career” for your child.

But you are right about one thing, there is “no room for you here,” because you obviously lack one of the most vital tenets of your own, self-proclaimed religion, tolerance.

Honey B. said...

I was going to comment, but the conversation here was intense. Wow. Good words. I'm a follower now, and looking forward to more!

lady pumpkin said...

Doula, is it okay if I pretend that the whooaa comments above aren't there, and comment as I was going to after reading your post? Cool, thanks. What I wanted to say was: word. And also, thanks for your comment on my blog. In answer to your question, Dr. L was willing to go with my thought that I had lpd, and has "treated" me accordingly (I've been out of the country since I first saw him, and so it's mostly been e-mails and faxed scripts). And yeah, without going back to my records, +opk on cd 20 and period 10 days later is generous. Was hoping the Clomid would bring it back to cd 14 or sumpin', but no dice.

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