I was blessed to be having a catch up date with one of my longest serving friends this afternoon. With the loss of my work life balance I am really quite lucky to still have people in my life who want to catch up with me. Our conversation, I guess inevitably, turned to failed IVF cycles. I don’t often talk about it, write about it frequently, but not talk about it much at all, not enough really.
And I had a bit of an epiphany. I’ve been playing with this thought thread for a while but today I gave it oxygen. I said, “With every failed cycle a part of me has died, and I will never be the same person I was before I started on my ‘infertility’ path” (words to that effect and not as a whole sentence – the sentence is for your benefit). My friend recalled something that another friend of hers has said (after many more failed cycles than my five, and some of those in a very short period of time – respect); people expect that the laughing person she was will be back and they ask when.
The answer is never.
Infertility changes you in the core of who you are.
I survived a dysfunctional and abusive childhood, that has left its scars, but I was still free inside. Part of me will forever be shackled now, and I am okay with that because I am resilient and I am still very happy. I am fully aware of how blessed my life is. But this infertility, it has changed me inside. A part of me is wounded beyond repair and beyond time, and I think that that is mostly because I have constant reminders of my failure around me all of the time.
I get my period each month. I ovulate every month (a healthy four days this past month; irony). Months when I thought I would be watching a growing belly (well, I have still been watching a growing belly but for all of the wrong reasons and today I am feeling this morning’s gym session lol). My friends still have kids that they talk about. My sisters have children that I love and spend time with. My friends fall pregnant. Other women, anonymous to me, fall pregnant. There are ads with babies for baby supplies or just to sell products. I teach. Yep. More children. I never have a chance to shut off from my barren-ness (I often think of Goneril and how she used to be my favourite; was it a sign – jokes). It surrounds me, sometimes suffocatingly so. It is only when infertility exists in your life that you realise how often babies and children are mentioned in the every day world.
As a result, I am not very social anymore. I struggle badly in social situations. As an introvert I always have but it is significantly worse now. I used to make myself socialise. I don’t anymore. And I think this is for a multitude of reasons; not every reason attached to my infertility.
Part of it is that no-one wants to talk about it. I understand that no-one knows what to say, especially if this has not been part of their life experience (and I wish it on no-one). No-one ever really asks me how I am. Like really how I am. Actually, except one.
I said months ago I would offer pointers on how to support your friend, family member, etc. I never did give the pointers. This is a big one though, probably the most important, better done face to face.
“How are you? … Really?”
And then listen to the answer. If there are tears, touch the person gently. If they have nothing to say – probe, push, make them talk but be prepared to be sworn at. If they are important to you, keep trying. And it doesn’t matter how long it’s been.
No-one asks me about my miscarriage. That child would be about four months old now. It was an early miscarriage but for a little while it was going to be my child. No-one asks me what my plans are now. Am I over it? Have I stopped? Am I considering fostering and/or adoption and/or theft. It’s like it hasn’t happened – none of it. But I am changed forever. And I know, even if no-one asks or talks about it, in my core, I know and I remember. It’s not something most people feel safe to talk about.
And as much as you may not know how to react or what to say, I also don’t want to burden anyone with my stuff. Yes, it is difficult to know what to say, what to do, twenty seconds of courage though and you say, “I have no idea what to say or what to do. Are you okay? Can we talk about what’s happened?” and you could be making a huge difference to that person and securing your friendship with them.
Infertility is different to someone dying (two completely different things) in the sense that there is no acknowledgement of the loss. We discussed today, in light of not knowing what to say, how when people pass away we are expected to just move on in time and no-one talks about it (maybe we need to though) and so she thought this might be similar to that.
Maybe we just don’t talk enough in our society about the things that really do matter. Maybe we should be talking more, blogging and face booking and texting less.
At any rate, I live with my infertility daily. I am still happy, blessed and free. I am not a victim. But I am changed … and that change is permanent. I am not who I was. I will never be that person again. Sometimes I wish I could be …
Then I would be able to attend social events like weddings, engagements, baby showers, housewarmings, birthday parties, christmas celebrations, without getting sick either before or after, without the tears and loneliness that invariably ensue. Without feeling that I always wear my “tina” mask, in part, to get through. Because I am concerned that I can’t be me wholly or because if I am me wholly, and it’s a negative or emotional moment, other people’s fun will be compromised.
Because we don’t talk deeply often enough.
Because we don’t ask how we really are.
Because there is no acknowledgement of early miscarriage or infertility in our society.
Because we live in fear of being found out.
PS. I am really okay. I do not want or desire everyone in my life who cares about me to now knock on my door. This blog is for other people and helping those people; the future people.