~ from Ask Polly
Another IVF’er I’ve sent a good luck charm to is now pregnant. And I am now to the point where, with another announcement this week from a blog friend I adore, I am now riddled with nausea and can’t see straight.
It’s different when you’re cycling through a round of IVF, because you still have hope and sisterhood as you all are out there, with two inch needles being stuck in your ass with hormones that are supposed to make all the emotional and physical pain worthwhile. That time is over for me. I had to save my own life and stop the addiction of cycling when it was clear, 9 embryos later, that in order to live I needed to get off the rollercoaster.
So, now, when I hear about the positive tests, I feel myself begin to drown again, gasping for air, sputtering and paddling wildly just to stay afloat.
I’m at the age where, unlike a lot of cyclers out there, I’m not surrounded by young, fertile friends. I have one friend in real life who never had kids not because she wasn’t open to it, but the decision was made early based on certain circumstances and timing that it wasn’t going to be realistic to start trying. She is the most even keeled woman I know and I admire her so much. I have who I’d call an Auntie of sorts who is in her 60s and while she has never talked about it directly with me, did let it slide that they couldn’t have kids and that’s why they have focused on their dogs and their land and their travels instead. Other than that, there aren’t any friends in my life here in Portland who get this particular age, and how it feels to know that you are headed down the road to menopause. I don’t have younger 20-something friends, so I don’t run the risk of hearing where we’d have to hear people go on and on about their kids and, if I am careful to stay away from directly engaging with people on the topic of children, I am usually pretty safe.
I slip in and check the IVF tags in blog-land less and less, as it’s more masochistic voyeurism for me – all these women on their first or second tries, full of optimism and 99% of them more worried about making too many eggs than wishing they had even one to contribute to the game, or the occasional ones turning to donor eggs as the Solution with, again, a twinkle in their eyes. I had that twinkle too…so much so we were worried about transferring more than one for fear of multiples. And then the first three rounds failed, so we did a fourth and (then) final with two and we finally saw our second pink line and the tiny flashing heart on screen. And then weeks later he was dead inside my belly and twelve hours of intense pain later and two weeks straight of what seemed like a lifetime of blood coming out of my body, it was over. By then we had no fear of multiples, and we tried twice more, including post-ERA. We had a doctor attributing all six failures to “bad luck” and by then, Ethiopia had closed and our wallets were empty. We charged $11,000 to our credit card to kick off domestic adoption but, to be honest, it’s not something that we have any kind of confidence in. I don’t even feel that it’s healthy to be focused on it, as we have seen so much heartbreak on all types of attempts to build a family.
We don’t sit around hoping for miracles anymore. And really, fuck rainbows.
The Chinese print of the woman with child in our bathroom that my husband gave me for my birthday when we decided to get serious about having a baby is coming down. The Tamara Adams fertility goddess painting on wood has been packed away. The pink quartz heart that my Reiki gal gave me is in the donation bag, and my vision board with a happy, big-bellied expectant mama sitting cross legged with a smile? It’s no longer on the wall of my home office that would be doubling as a nursery. Yesterday we took the wooden changing tray that Dan had built with the pad inside of it that I had crafted, and set it off to the side to use that sunny space for plants. The Paris cartoon postcards I’d mounted on wood and the alphabet blocks I had cut, sanded and etched with a wood burner are stored away along with the two onesies I’d made from old t-shirts of my husband’s and mine. They are there, but they are no longer allowed to overtly taunt us.
We have to focus elsewhere if we are to heal. I have to save myself.
Healing is a strange thing – it’s that two-steps-forward, three-steps-back type of feeling where you wonder, am I ever going to feel true joy again? I lean deeply into my husband now and he does a tremendous job of protecting me, in his arms, in his openness and honesty, in his deep and abiding love for me. I told him last night, I feel like a hamster on a wheel with this grief – not really going anywhere.
So I do more things around the house to plot our escape. Touch up paint. Potting up more plants that we want to take with us and wishing the weather would get colder so I could do more. Wishing it would be spring so we could see more properties on the market. I also found out my therapist now accepts insurance, so I’ve scheduled her in biweekly, because this heart needs more saving and healing than I can do on my own.
When I was 16 I started having pregnancy dreams. Whenever I’d have one, it was that I was suddenly, inexplicably pregnant and wake up. Then, within a few days, I would find out that someone I knew was pregnant. It’s been happening on and off for decades, and they stopped when I started fertility treatments, as if the universe was saying “ha, did you think I would fucking give you a dream that would manifest in your OWN body?! you stupid fool.”
You see, I will admit, I don’t know how to maintain friendships anymore. My trust is low in human beings and that’s been my normal for the past year since we lost our baby and our adoption program was tanked and nothing else we tried worked and we sit here just treading water. I cannot take any more reminders of the love that was torn out of my womb, of the little girl in Ethiopia who never came home to be Ruby’s little sis, to the ache in my body that says you, Aimee, are fucking useless.
I’m going to be 44 in just over three months and I am beyond comfort at this point in time. It’s the textbook this is not how my life was supposed to look. It’s the anger that I married my husband at 40 and will never know if my ovaries worked at an earlier age because I was surrounded by women who easily got pregnant, who got pregnant while on birth control pills, who got pregnant at 40 no problem…so unlike most, I never actually stressed about getting older. I was married to someone the first time around who I left because I didn’t want his narcissistic, lying, alcoholic ass to be the father of my children. And then I spent time, all this time doing other things and finally, finally my true love shows up and my body is an abject failure.
Maybe it was all too much
Too much for a man to take
Everything’s bound to break
Sooner or later, sooner or later
I hear those Ghost Town words in my mind and they came on louder and stronger than they have in a long time when my friend announced that she got her BFP following her transfer. My scabs were all peeled off in that instant because I knew before I opened her email that she was pregnant. I knew months ago that this would be the one that worked and that it would be on me to figure out how to handle it. My intuition is a powerful thing and I always had a low-lying level of disbelief that DEIVF could work for me, even when intellectually I planned for success. But I knew she’d gotten all of her stuff sorted out and after having been to the same doctor, she went to a new doctor and the lights turned on for her. Naturally, the thought is for someone in my situation is, what if we had gone there? Would that have made a difference? Should we have stopped earlier and gone somewhere else sooner? But you can’t do that. You finally get pregnant at the fourth try and you think, okay, maybe these embryos are okay, and then simultaneously you see people who did get to have PGS/PGD testing who find out only one of their ten embryos is actually viable…and you think, maybe that was the case. The “IF” of infertility and IVF is the powerful drug that can slaughter even the strongest of us, leaving us puddles on the floor of loneliness or desperation or instability, or often, all of the above.
And the guilt. The motherfucking guilt that comes with the heartbreak of your emotions when someone you adore gets their dream after some crazy fucking shit they’ve gone through while you and your love, who also went through hell, remain on the sidelines. I knew it would happen and I prepared by telling her in the last moments that I could not promise anything when she got her positive, that I would be happy for her but would probably drop off the radar for a while. She was understanding, she got it. And so when, as anticipated, she said she got her positive at her beta, I said congratulations and that was all I could muster. I have seen 75% of the women I’d been following in blog-land and all of those I’d mailed good luck charms to get pregnant, and so now, facing childlessness, I don’t know how to be happy for anyone – even the ones who have been through multiple rounds of IVF. My guard is way, way up and I cringe at the optimism of others.
I cringe when I look at the “infertility” tag blogs only to find it’s some woman bitching about secondary infertility after having her first baby “no problem” like she’s fucking entitled when it’s an immense GIFT and BLESSING to have had a child. Yeah dammit, this could be seen as the Pain Olympics, and while what I’m about to say is not to discount their feelings, it is a reality, like it or not, that those in that type of situation are not on par with the severity that those of us who’ve never been able to get and stay pregnant and give birth despite multiple treatments are feeling.
You do not get a medal for pain if you conceived a child without medical intervention. And having been through both, IUI does not get you the same medal as IVF, and one round of IVF doesn’t get you the same medal as multiple rounds, or DEIVF when you’re suddenly putting another woman’s DNA in your body, or multiple rounds of (DE)IVF *and* miscarriage on top of it, or if your baby was stillborn or you had to go in for a D&C because your baby was not going to be viable at birth, that’s also different.
Yes, shitty as it may sound, there is a bit of a fucking hierarchy, probably a damn excel spreadsheet out there somewhere, and while many like to say that “pain is pain” and “all infertility is painful” and “we’re all in the same boat”, we’re not.
- If it took you a year to get pregnant but you never went through IVF, you don’t get to say “I understand”. You don’t.
- If you’ve never gone through miscarriage (not a chemical pregnancy, but actual miscarriage where you’ve gotten your positive test result(s)), you can’t say you understand what it’s like. It’s not the same feeling as a failed transfer, I promise.
- If you’ve never watched your baby change the shape of your body, feel it move around inside, then deliver it stillborn or be told there’s no way this kid’s going to survive and have to agree to let someone in a doctor’s office end your pregnancy, you can’t say you get it.
My miscarriage ravaged me, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have it later on in the process, or have a second one. The fear of another miscarriage was one of the reasons I also didn’t feel capable of continuing. I have respect for the hierarchy and the complexity, and of who I am and what I am capable of…for the most part. When I was cycling I found myself hopeful when other multiple cyclers announced their BFPs, but when you step off the train and are watching it go by, there is a new type of pain indescribable until you’ve been there.
Many people love to talk about how we all have to empathize, making sympathy sound like a lesser form of concern or care for another, when actually to say you “empathize” when you’ve not been through a similar experience can be quite insulting.
- I SYMPATHIZE with the blogger whose husband died during their IVF cycle, but I certainly cannot empathize. I can empathize with death of a family member and the grief process, but I certainly cannot say I understand the pain of losing a partner, I can only sympathize and show my care and concern for my friend.
- I SYMPATHIZE with the women I’ve encountered here in blogland who have suffered through stillbirth or who have experienced multiple miscarriages, but I cannot empathize as I’ve never been there. I’ve had one miscarriage, and the empathy for the experience of miscarriage is enough to drive my sympathy into high gear, and respect that their path has been marked by greater tragedy than my own. When someone who’s never had a baby die inside of them act like its no big deal to go to an event where children will be present, it’s certainly not empathy…or sympathy for that matter. With either, you honor the person hurting, you don’t discount it or think you know better.
- I EMPATHIZE with my husband who lost his father three weeks after we were married, a man I never had the opportunity to meet. My empathy comes from losing a father who I, like my husband, had a difficult and complex relationship over the years and having not been in contact when things happened. My sympathy comes into play when he talks about memories of growing up with his father and the horrific lies his mother told him as an adult after the divorce, crushing his belief that his father loved him. No matter how fucked up things were, I got to hold my father’s hand and be the only daughter with him when he took his last breath. It doesn’t mean my heartache isn’t there, it’s just unique. Neither of us went into fertility treatments with an excited man to be called Gramps.
I’m not afraid to say that all loss does NOT look the same. Once you’ve had varying levels of loss/tragedy in your life, you know that there were things that very much were deeper and more intense – it’s not that you did not hurt, it’s that you know that there are others who have suffered far, far excruciating pain. It does not diminish your own pain, but respects that you can’t oversimplify pain into a nice neat box where we all have the same feelings and the person who stubs their toe is the same as the person whose leg is amputated.
I spent an hour with my therapist on Friday and talked to her about how shitty I felt and how I’m emotionally all over the fucking map (she agreed with that descriptor) and how I feel like I should get over my own feelings and buck up and be thrilled and participatory in her joy and her chapter that is beginning. I made the decision to stop treatments, after all, so I should put my own feelings aside and I should get on the supportive friend train and I should be a bigger person than I feel like I am right now…right?
She stopped me right there and simply said this: “You should not do anything.” Huh? She explained that I didn’t need to do anything that I was not ready for, and putting pressure on myself after what I’d been through would not be healthy for me. I had to do what was right for ME first and foremost. When I was ready, I would reach out, be the friend I want to be, but right now, I have to take care of me. I HAVE TO. No excuses, no exceptions.
So with that, I started thinking about this “should” thing that had been commandeering my mind all weekend and talking with my husband about all the “shoulds” that the world puts on us.
- For those of us not close with our parents, like my husband and I (our fathers are dead and both of our mothers are massive narcissists), the people who think they know better telling you that you SHOULD never give up on them – no matter what your mental health is around them, around their cruelty, their verbal abuse, their disdain, their narcissism, their lies?
- Those people who are planning weddings and inviting people they don’t care for and getting into massive debt and doing whatever else because they’ve been told they SHOULD do it even though they don’t really want to and it risks sacrificing the one day that should just be about the two of them?
- Those who tell women that they SHOULD never give up if they “really” want a child, meaning that if they end the journey they are just admitting they didn’t want it bad enough to let physical and emotional trauma suffocate and destroy them?
- Those who say people SHOULD stick with their spouses “for better or for worse” and make judgments that ‘people just give up way too early’ without actually having been in a relationship that may have been a bad idea from the start, or have been irreparably harmed by one person’s addiction or infidelity or other cruelty, and push their ‘you made your bed, so lie in it’ mentality, no matter how much it is ruining you?
For those thousands upon thousands of SHOULD statements out there? Fuck that. Fuck those people telling you what you should or should not do. The only thing we “should” do is listen to our hearts, and try our best to gentle on ourselves as we go forward in our lives and try to both deal with and learn from the struggles that arise.
With that, I wanted to share some excerpts from this article I found this morning entitled Why You Should Stop Saying “Should”:
“We all sometimes succumb to ‘should’ thinking sometimes. It’s when you tell yourself that you should or shouldn’t do something. Even if you think doing this thing would be good for you, all that ‘should’ thinking may actually be a detriment to your health and happiness.
It doesn’t necessarily have roots in what we want for ourselves. Often, the idea comes from societal pressure or others’ judgments. Sometimes it comes from when we judge ourselves in comparison to others…Women often do this to themselves in striving to be the perfect woman, mother, wife, friend, or leader. Trying to do it all is a good strategy for spreading yourself too thin and burning yourself out. It creates guilt, worry, and anxiety because it reinforces the idea that we’re not enough just being ourselves. It creates a sense of obligation, which can become a burden that drags you down every time you’re reminded of it. Then it creates disappointment and frustration when your goals do not come to fruition. It keeps you from being present. Instead you focus on what you did or didn’t do in the past and on what you should or shouldn’t do in the future. It puts the focus on what you’re not doing instead of all the things you are doing. Not recognizing your successes and achievements keeps you on quest to fulfill impossible standards. It doesn’t recognize the gap between where you are and where you want to be. So you don’t consider challenges or barriers and how to overcome them, which ultimately sets you up to fail.”
So what next?
Focusing on what I *can* do rather than what I *should* do. I can do one healthy thing for myself each day. I can see my therapist every two weeks and work on the massive task of healing and finding out who I am as a woman after having survived this all. And yes, I have to remind myself I have survived, and am continuing to survive. That’s one thing she reminded me of in our session as well, as my eyes widened in disbelief when she first said it. I’m still here. I’m still standing. A bit less flexible and with less endurance and a whole lot less visual acuity than I had before, but I’m still breathing.
Nine years ago when I started this blog, ten days after my father died with my hand in his, I wrote “sometimes it feels like everything will be looked upon later as who I was before and after my father died”. I think perhaps this is another one of those pivotal points where my life can be described as who I was before and after these two and a half infertility struggles began. And in that same post, I quoted Madonna’s song, Jump…
Life’s gonna drop you down like the limbs from a tree
It sways and it swings and it bends until it makes you see
I’ll work and I’ll fight till I find a place of my own
It sways and it swings and it bends until you make it your own
So I can promise you this: I will keep breathing, I will just be, and I will make it my own. And who knows, maybe I’ll look at those other pictures on the vision board and go after those. I will shift.