It was the end of a busy school day and I was standing near my classroom door flipping through the schedule cards for the next day. A knock interrupted and I noticed a parent from a previous year standing there with her daughter.
“Mrs. S, it’s so nice to see you,” she reached out to shake my hand, “My daughter said you had to take time off because you had a baby?”
My smile froze and I blinked confused.
I had taken the start of the school year off to do a round of IVF and while we’re fairly open about it, I didn’t think the general school population knew about our treatments.
“Oh,” I felt my cheeks heating up, “No, no baby, but…well,” and I hesitated letting an awkward pause fill the air, “We’re in treatments trying…” The mom immediately turned away and guided her daughter out of the room while her words rushed together, “Oh so sorry, we’ll be praying for you,” before dissolving back into the crowded hallway.
Her hasty departure stung a little.
But I understood she was likely taken off guard and realized she had stumbled into a more private issue. I stood, knowing this fact in my head, but watching all the parents hurrying past my door with their children clumping behind them made it feel like a wall was slamming down between me and everyone else.
We live in a very family-centric culture; a fact I was not fully cognizant of until we forcibly found ourselves on the outside desperate to return inside the bubble. I find myself reminded in an extra sharp manner every day working closely with families and young children at school. There is a suffocating loneliness that is knit into the fabric of infertility. It is a traumatic event for many, yet it’s often kept from friends and family for a variety of reasons, or when it is mentioned, a hesitation hangs in the air in a culture not accustomed to openly discussing matters of the bedroom. My new superpower is abruptly bringing up something related to our treatments. It can cause a conversation to falter, or shut down (as the story above) in thirty seconds flat.
My other superpower? It’s my invisibility cloak of infertility.
It is no secret to my friends and family that I’m a bit, uh, enthusiastic about the magical world of a certain wizard (yes I own a wand). In the series, Harry Potter has an amazing cloak left in his possession that renders the wearer invisible. A neat trick if you’re sneaking around a castle with your friends, not so impressive when the cloak feels involuntary and claustrophobic! This is how I feel about our infertility: standing captive and invisible watching everyone carry on in life without even glancing our way. Friends reach an important milestone like a new house, new pet, then (surprise!) they’re now pregnant and their Facebook reads like nuclear family bliss. I understand, of course, that this isn’t a true reflection of reality and many people are battling their own invisible crises, but it feels like we are the only ones stuck, helpless and left so very far behind.
Sometimes, my invisibility cloak feels wrapped around me because on the surface I appear fine, but the infertility is there hidden away. I show up for work and social events. I force a smile across my face, wear loose clothes so you can’t see the IVF weight, and long shirts to hide the fact my pants won’t do up across my swollen abdomen. These are not facts easily brought up in conversation and so the infertility lurks like an invisible leech under my cloak. I am constantly aware of it at every moment. It drains my emotions and taints a little of my day even when I’m enjoying myself. This impact of infertility is usually invisible to everyone else and it can make me feel quite disjointed from what’s happening around me.
I am torn between being present in the moment and having the niggling feeling that the world is slightly out of alignment.
I have a small group of amazing friends who have walked every step of this journey with us. Words will never express our gratitude; however, there are still many times when I feel distant and isolated from them too. I have some fears tucked away that I don’t mention to them. I worry they will resent how much support we have needed. I put pressure on myself that I should be feeling better, not worse, as years roll by and fret people will grow weary of our constant setbacks. We frequently have people share success stories with us like a friend of a friend who had their miracle babies on their fifth attempt at IVF. I appreciate the sentiment to comfort and encouragement to persevere. On the flip side, I sometimes feel discouraged from these stories because I feel like maybe I haven’t hoped hard enough, or prayed hard enough, or eaten (insert green vegetable here) enough. I don’t know if I could make it through five rounds of IVF and so I feel weak and embarrassed and like I need to hide this under my cloak from the rest of the world.
I hope if you have been feeling a bit isolated recently that you know you aren’t alone!
I think it is powerful to share our stories and all the feelings, good, bad and really weird, because chances are someone else has felt it too. I have kind of lurked on the edges of the infertility social media world the last few years. I have found so many inspiring stories and wept over words written by a stranger that have felt ripped from my own heart. It has helped soothe the loneliness and isolation. I think there are people all around us suffering quietly with all sorts of invisible battles. I hope that infertility helps me to be more sensitive to seeing through their invisibility cloaks too and that, maybe, I can help to create a world that is a little less lonely.