A lady on one of my fertility treatment message boards posted this link to a beautiful essay about infertility, aimed at helping friends and family understand. Click here to read the essay.
I've had many a conversation, online, about how to discuss infertility with friends and family. Note, all these conversations were online. Why? Because we didn't tell people we were trying to have another child. Like so many, we just assumed it would happen and then we could tell them when one was on the way. I told exactly one friend. We were trying at the same time, both for number 2. Then she succeeded. Month after month she would ask how it was going, if I was pregnant yet. If I felt up to talking about it, and certainly in the early months I did, back when I was stepping up the game, she'd tell me I was trying too hard. Tell me to relax. Kiss my dusty old womb! It's a good thing I wasn't relaxed, that I was charting and knew my cycle inside and out and knew exactly when I ovulated and when to consider myself "late" and knew when something was wrong. I was mad. How dare you tell me to relax. What do you know about it? There is no such thing as trying too hard. You can drive yourself crazy, but you can't try too hard. Knowledge is power. So this is what it was like trying to discuss my failing month after month, with one of my best friends. I'm a pretty patient person, but if I had to listen to such painfully unhelpful crap from people I don't love quite as much, I might have snapped. At least I'm an atheist. I feel so sad for the ladies who think God is punishing them or doesn't think they are worthy of parenting. Or worse, they get that from so-called loved ones. So that's why I don't talk openly about the struggle. I think that is one of the reason so many don't talk about it. Or hide in online forums.
But we need to talk about it. We need an open dialogue about infertility. It's not just about age. There are many many causes, some more treatable than others. When I was young and wanted children but wanted to accomplish other things first, I was painfully aware of the age factor but had some misconceptions. I thought IVF was something "old" ladies did because they waited too long. I didn't know at the time that it's the age of the eggs that matters more than the age of the womb, and that IVF with 40+ year old eggs doesn't have a very good success rate. In general, fertility really doesn't take a nose dive until 42-43. In my late 30s, I still have a reasonably good chance with IVF if the only problem is my tubes being blocked, since my hormone tests all came back great. According to the stats published by my clinic, the IVF success rate for women under 35 was 47%, for 35-39 year olds it was 40%, and for women over 39 it was 18% (2009-2010 data). As I read it, those were success rates per fresh cycle. Very encouraging, although clearly I've got very little time left. But what is also clear is that the vast majority of IVF was among women under 35, nearly 2:1. There are so many causes of infertility, I don't think I could do it justice. My point is that we need to open the dialogue, the public dialogue, about the diverse causes of infertility, and the pain that couples experience. Fertility is sometimes tied so strongly into our sense of what it means to be a women (or a man). When I couldn't breastfeed, it was a huge blow to my sense of what it meant to be a woman. I felt so deficient, and I had such a profound sense of failure as a mother. This is what distinguishes a woman from a man and I failed. Infertility is the same, once again I feel broken, and like less of a woman. It's a devastating feeling. I imagine men with infertility feel the same way, it's why they don't want to get vasectomies even though it's so much easier and safer a procedure than getting one's tubes tied. Nature tied up my tubes without my permission. I'm angry. I cry a lot. I don't know what to do. Because it's secondary infertility, I have a basement full of maternity clothes and baby things that I don't want to give away but I have such a deep fear that they are going to waste. I loved pregnancy. I want that again. I want to be able to talk openly about my struggles. But I can't. I'm afraid. It's intensely private because it's also about your sex life with your partner. And don't get me started on how it can ruin your sex life (I'll save that for another post).
I need a few more people to lead me out of my closet. I'm not brave enough yet.