This has been a great year for infertility awareness. More and more people are openly sharing their stories, and I am grateful to live in a time and place where I am encouraged to speak and connect with others.
I have a dirty little secret, though. While I am very open about my experience, and I hope that this openness has helped others feel understood, I have largely stopped reading articles about other people’s infertility journeys. This is because every time I read a story about infertility that ends with a baby in arms, I feel cheated. All through the infertility portion of the article, the awful cycles of ups and downs and waiting and disappointment and loss, I feel understood and validated, and then, when the writer reveals that she now has a beautiful bouncing baby or three, my barely mending heart breaks a little all over again.
Logically, I understand that the suffering of infertility doesn’t magically go away if that baby finally arrives and I should appreciate every person who is willing to tell their story, but emotionally, I need to know that I am not the only one who didn’t get her happy ending.
My husband and I had two beautiful weddings in 2010 surrounded by the love and support of friends and family in two provinces. Because I was already 34, and we knew we wanted children, we immediately ‘removed the goalie’ and began setting our lives up for the inevitable growth of our family. After a year or so of ‘not not trying’, we began to suspect that there might be a problem, and we were encouraged by medical professionals to do some investigation. We were fortunate enough to be referred to a large fertility clinic almost immediately, and we went through all the routine tests, and despite having said that we would never want to do any fertility treatments, our “unexplained infertility” diagnosis was so frustrating that we ended up jumping on that conveyor belt of escalating treatments. We did Clomid, then IUIs with Clomid, and finally, a heartbreaking cycle of IVF. After four years of this, we had had enough, and we decided we could no longer live this lifestyle of infertility.
I remember feeling relieved when I first saw the pursuit of pregnancy described as an infertile lifestyle because I realized that it meant I was not the only one who felt consumed by it. It turns out that it’s normal to feel outside of normal when doing seemingly unnatural things to stimulate what should be the most natural process in life. I truly am amazed by the women and couples who are able to persevere and continue dedicating all their emotional and financial resources to their fertility treatments, and perhaps, if we had had more to invest, our story might have a different ending. Somehow, though, I knew deep inside that I could not keep gambling my emotions and life away on this quest. My husband had also had quite enough of the hope and despair cycle, and together, we decided to start investing ourselves in ourselves.
It has not been easy. I was truly shocked by the intensity of the grief I experienced. Within a few months of our final failed treatment, I was encouraged to take sick leave from work so I could take some time to heal. Until this point, I hadn’t realized how much my perception of my identity and my purpose in life had been linked to my expectation of becoming a mother and my love for children. Drowning in this unexpected identity crisis, I felt lost in so many ways, and I could not see hope in any direction.
My friends and family did not know how to help me, and I am not even sure they knew just how deep my sadness was. I felt like a broken person, like someone who could never truly be happy again. I stopped going to children’s birthday parties, and I started saying no to family gatherings that might include more than three children, both because I knew it would be so painful for me and because I knew my sadness would unintentionally put a damper on the event.
We lived in a city where all our close friends had small children, so social outings were rare and difficult, and we felt we needed a fresh start where we could figure out what we wanted. Moving was a great distraction, and for a while, I thought I felt better. I had started learning to play fiddle, and we embarked on a health transformation where we both lost weight and felt physically great. We found a wonderful little community and an interesting house, and we thought we were moving forward. In many ways, we were.
Grief is a tricky bugger, though, and the darkness I had brought across the country crept up on me, and I gradually realized that I was not really OK. I had begun to fantasize about finding an institution where I could live without having to make any decisions and where I would not be a burden on any family or friends. A distant part of my brain considered what kind of car accident would land me in the hospital for enough time to just be taken care of for a while. I was so deeply sad, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t even really want to feel better. I was angry at the world and on some level, my sadness was my way of expressing that anger.
My husband and I had developed an alternating routine of taking care of each other, and our relationship was stronger than ever, but I was so deeply tired that I just didn’t know how I could continue to cope with everyday life. Finally, a year and a half after a doctor first suggested it, I decided it might be time to try some medical intervention, and I started antidepressants.
After the medication took effect, I realized I was able to think more clearly, and I began to think that it was time to really consider pursuing adoption. Adoption is not a replacement for fertility, and while we had never ruled it out, we had set that decision aside while we dealt with our grief. With the help of the medication though, I was able to examine my motivation behind wanting to be a mother. Up until then, a part of me had felt guilty about my deep desire to have genetic children and experience that miracle bond of pregnancy, and I needed to come to terms with that before I could consider adoption.
I have come to a place now where I accept that it is OK for me to grieve that loss, and in fact, having gone through the foster parent training and seeing how valued that genetic bond is by our society, I know that this is a loss I will always feel, and accepting that it is a loss does not make me a bad person. I can grieve that loss, and I can love the children that come into our lives.
Not every person who goes through this will choose adoption, and that is OK. Some people will choose to fill their lives with all the exciting things that their friends with kids can’t do, and some will choose to contribute to their families’ growth by being incredible aunts and uncles. Some will take years to find a path back to happiness, and some will seem to move on right away. Some people will find comfort in their spiritual beliefs and practices, and some will experience crises of faith that may even lead them away from their communities. Some will lock their grief away and focus on moving on. Some, like me, will need to feel completely broken for a while. No one journey is the right one, and many of us need to take a few different paths before we find one that feels a little better than the others.
My life is incredibly full, and I am so grateful for my amazing people and the opportunities I have. I share my infertility openly not because it defines me, but because it has become a large part of who I am. I do not pretend to be at ease with this loss, and my eyes still flash daggers when I hear well-meant platitudes suggesting that maybe I wasn’t meant to have my own children for whatever reason. I admit that there is also a tiny part of me that still nourishes a tiny hope that I will one day get that wondrous plus sign on a stick covered in urine, but I no longer track my cycle or cry every time it arrives. I know that one day that hope will go, too, and the grief that will never fully go away may get stronger for a time again, but I also know that that I can find light again.
I do not believe that I am ever going to be OK with my infertility, but I know now that that is OK. I do not tell my story in order to prescribe any particular path for anyone else; I tell it so that you know that not everyone gets that happy ending. If you are one of us, or are afraid that you might be, then I am sorry for your loss. It really sucks. Know that as alone and broken as you feel right now, you are not alone. Your experience is yours, and no one else can truly understand it, but there are a bunch of us who at least have an inkling of what you are going through. It does get easier.
It’s not OK, but I sort of am, and you will be, too.
You can read more on infertility from our guest Blogger by Cindy Durrant at veggiesanddirt.wordpress.com