There is a big damn difference, y’all
So yesterday I was reading a blog and it had me thinking all damn day, so much so that I told my husband, “well, guess this means I’m going to have to write about it on my blog.”
The blogger was a woman who had the good fortune to have her infertility treatments end up in a baby. It was making the attempt to say that her talking about her kid in her blog wasn’t meant to offend anyone (okay, fine, no problem, we get it), but then really focused on the term “life after infertility”, in a way that I read as an assumption that eventually we’ll all get pregnant, that we’ll all get past infertility and have a kiddo. She talked about her struggles as a new mom, her fears, her insecurities (all fine), but then wrote it from a perspective that because she went through infertility treatments, she was still in our club.
So, gently, I said that I understand what she was trying to say and in no mean wanted to diss her attempt to empathize with those still on the front lines, but that it’s important that she keep in mind that not all of us will join her club (my words, not hers) and that many will have to end their chapter without a child. Not everyone can afford to keep going, not everyone wants to keep going after the mental and physical strain of doing multiple treatments, and because of that, many of us will not have “life after infertility”. I explained to her that while it might seem unfair, someone who has now given birth is no longer looking at infertility with the same perspective as those of us who have never seen a positive pregnancy test or never brought a baby to term. It’s just not the same. She is on the other side of the fence now, and the level of empathy, while there, will never be the same as it was before she had her baby.
Two things were said by this blogger in response that I thought quite interesting:
1) “Have you considered adoption?”
You gotta be shitting me. I honestly had to laugh at the adoption question as it’s so textbook for a person who has NOT gone through infertility to say, so having someone who DID go through it and has a baby now? Whoa – don’t you know better? For me I don’t freak out because we are actually in the adoption process, but there still ultimately is an assumption that adoption is a guarantee of a child. What many people don’t realize is that when you sign contracts with the agencies, there is a specific line in there that you sign off on where they tell you that there is no guarantee you will end up with a child. This blogger was adopted so I let her off the hook, but still it was so eerily close to the phrases we all know and abhor during infertility. AND JUST BECAUSE WE ARE TRYING TO ADOPT DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE SOMEHOW ABSOLVED OF OUR INFERTILITY.
I am a huge proponent for adoption, from making it easier and more affordable for all, and firmly believe that if you are eligible and have the financial resources to adopt, that should considered because parenting is ultimately not about DNA but about love. Mind you I say “considered”, not “done”, because there is a lot of homework involved, a lot of hurdles, and a lot of time (similar to IVF) where you wait and wait and may not get a kiddo (not to mention countries like Australia who pretty much tell couples who want to adopt to go jump in the lake because the wait time is like 7-10 years!). And along with that? It takes a different sort of preparation, a different sort of openness, a different sort of leap, to adopt a child. I want everyone to have the excitement about adoption that we have, but know that’s not in everyone’s cards to have.
Adoption is not a cure for my uterus’s failure to accept an embryo. It is a wholly separate thing from my infertility. My body has given the middle finger to THREE donor egg blastocysts, the ones that were supposed to be practically a slam dunk compared to attempting to use my own.
2) “You are (on the other side of the fence) until you start struggling to get pregnant again.”
Oh no she didn’t. Secondary infertility is a condition, yes, but it is NOT the same. In no damn way is it the same.
You have a baby. You have a baby. YOU HAVE A BABY. WE DO NOT.
Yes, you want another. Very valid.
Yes, you are struggling. Very valid.
But you are in a different chapter in the book of infertility. You are not in our chapter.
YOU HAVE A BABY. WE DO NOT.
Yes, you want another. I totally get it. But guess what?
YOU HAVE A BABY. WE DO NOT.
So when you start trying again, you can come home after the ultrasound and hold your existing baby in your arms and kiss and hug your baby and dream of having an even bigger family.
But the rest of us are out walking our dogs or flipping on the TV because we don’t have a child. We don’t know what any of it is like. We have never looked into a child’s eyes that comes from our womb. We have never seen our partner’s tears as (s)he holds the baby for the first time. We have never changed its diapers or awoke in the middle of the night to feed it or put actual clothes on the baby because guess what? Ours are still in the empty room we’d created last year for the baby, in the dresser under the children’s books that have been purchased over the year, next to the stuffed animals.
Yes, secondary infertility is real, and devastating in its own way – but it’s a different reality, period. Please folks just admit that, accept it, and stop trying to act like it’s the exact same thing. It’s not.
Every blogger knows that when she’s going through these treatments, that if she gets pregnant, there’s a good chance that the followers who are still in the throes will probably stop reading many of their posts, and when the baby arrives, will probably unfollow. It’s just too hard…even when we know what they went through. I’ve talked a lot on my blog how I try to see pregnant bellies and babies as inspiration, and feed off the energy that I get from little ones. Whenever a toddler kisses my dog in excitement, I feel better. Whenever my first graders I read to snuggle up to me, enjoying the book we’re reading, I feel better. But afterwards my husband and I always hug, with that knowing sigh that these kids have parents…and we are still only imagining what that’s like.
My husband said it perfectly last night as he was thinking about it himself on his commute. He said “it’s like we’re in the ocean, flailing around in the water without a life preserver, trying not to drown, and so when we look up and see some of our fellow strugglers are now in the lifeboat and looking down at you saying “oh gosh I know exactly how you feel” – it kind of feels like a kick in the gut. Because we’re still desperately trying to keep our heads above water.
Again, this is not a discussion about who has the right to grieve, but rather drawing a line between the two that I think many are too afraid to say.
We sat in a RESOLVE support group meeting last year, surrounded by couples who, like us, had been struggling to conceive and carry a baby to term, whether it be through assistance via donor eggs (like us) or through IUI or IVF, like most others…and even a few who were openly considering adoption. I felt kindred spirits there in the room with us. And there was one woman who was about twenty times more vocal than the rest of us, wailing, and my husband squeezed my hand. She must really be in the darkness, we thought, she must really have tried and failed for so, so long, we thought. And then she mentioned her 7 year old daughter. My chin was not the only one that dropped in the room. All of these women telling their stories who had never been pregnant, had never seen a positive, were fighting with their bodies just to sustain life within them after multiple miscarriages, who came home to emptiness…and she was wailing, talking about how her daughter is suffering because of her secondary infertility, literally wailing as we all sat there and looked at our laps. It was incredibly uncomfortable to put it mildly and took all of our Northwestern passive-aggressive norms to STFU.
There has got to be a different group for the SF folks, so they have people who understand, and don’t want to punch them like those of us who haven’t been blessed like they have. There has got to be a separation, and it’s got to be admitted that it’s. just. different. Valid – but different. Again, it’s not a “whose pain is deeper” but saying out loud that THE EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT.
I guess I think of this question I’d ask myself when it comes to primary vs secondary infertility: if I was told by my RE that I’d be guaranteed to have a baby, yet never be able to have a second one, would I be okay with that?
Fuck yeah I would. Fuck yeah and never look back.
Perhaps that’s where much of the frustration lies is in that perceived lack of gratitude that we see in some of the posts out there, that their valid struggles are at times lumped with our primary infertility struggles in the most unfair of ways…with a constant reminder of what we do not have and a defensiveness towards their side of the fence that just because we on the primary side of it call it out, doesn’t mean we’re automatically invalidating the secondary, we are just not going to call them one in the same.
As one commenter (who by the way noted that she’s pregnant, with no infertility issues) said on a SF article I read, “I can guarantee you, despite the pain she feels, she wouldn’t trade places with other childless women.”
And as I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, I suppose with all of this is, like with the lifeboat example my husband gave, I think many of us would like to see people who, once they do get that winning lottery ticket, reach out and do something that advocates for those still struggling, paying it forward rather than constantly reminds us of what we don’t have. I’ve thought about what we can do should this work out for my husband and I on our 4th and final try. I want to do whatever I can to help others in the struggle, whether that be on a macro level by fighting for mandatory infertility insurance coverage or at a micro level by helping couples get the support, financially or emotionally, during this most shitty time of their lives.
If I get the gift, I’m going to be fucking grateful. And being actively grateful means paying it forward. As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world.