But, it's National Infertility Awareness Week. And while it's easy to have an aversion to "National 'Let's Focus on Something Else Sad' Weeks," I do think it's helpful when people take the time to be honest about how they want others to to interact with them when it comes to what they're dealing with; their thing.
Before adoption was my thing, infertility was my thing. And when infertility is your thing you have a bigger chip on your shoulder and feel a lot snappier (as in meaner--not as in perky) talking about it with people. It's not like this flag that you want to wave because you're so proud of it and you want to be its new poster child. Generally you're aware that people get weary of hearing about it, you assume they must be trying to guess what's wrong with you and why it's so hard to get pregnant--because let's be honest--you probably did the same thing with other people in your shoes before they were your shoes too, and a lot of stuff annoys you about babies and pregnant people and baby showers and Gap Kids, and older well-intentioned (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt) women.
Infertility is that thing that you never truly believe will happen to you. You know someone who couldn't get pregnant but they'd always had horribly irregular periods growing up so it's no shock--that's not you. You know someone who got really sick in college and had to have surgery and treatment and were told they might never get pregnant--that's not you. You know someone who took birth control for a hundred years and had a hard time getting pregnant--that's not you. And there are a million "that's not you" scenarios.
And all of a sudden it is you. For NO reason. No medical reason. Doctors are baffled. Every test shows you should be getting pregnant. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Specialists deliver the news that you are in that 20% of infertile couples where there is no reason that you're not conceiving naturally or with treatment. Idiopathic is what they call it. Which is a good word because at the end of infertility treatments it all feels idiotic and you want to scratch your eyes out.
I can remember a handful of occasions while going through infertility treatments when I really had a meltdown--like really cried.
When my husband and I went to see United 91 we had to leave the theater because I started having a panic attack. I'd never had one before so didn't really know what was happening. I couldn't breath, I was crying, I felt like screaming, I was scared of the movie, I literally felt like an alien was going to erupt out of my body and I couldn't do anything about it. I was on drugs at the time and then when I figured out what had brought on the attack I was so angry that I even had to be taking these drugs to try and get pregnant that I got more upset.
Another time my husband was out of town and I took a pregnancy test before work; negative as usual. I hadn't really had a firm inclination that I was pregnant to begin with so I don't know why I got so upset. I called my friend Liz at 6:00 in the morning sobbing and told her to tell our boss I'd be late to work--I just needed to pull it together.
And then another time one of my middle school students talked back to me in class. Imagine. A middle school student talking back to their teacher. I fell apart. Huge, ridiculous, insane, I should be committed sobs. Again--the drugs. They totally dictate all normal functioning of your body and turn you into a robot. And that made me mad.
One time I walked into work and someone was waving their strip of ultrasound pictures around like a ribbon dancer and I pulled them out of her hand, ripped them into a hundred pieces, and stomped on them. That's not true. But I wanted to. Kind of.
And that's the hard part of going through infertility. I never begrudged the fact that someone else was pregnant. I really didn't. I didn't want everyone else to be infertile too. I just wanted to not be. I went to baby showers and was happy for my friends. I wished that I could have one too, but I truly was happy for them. Once or twice I turned down an invitation for one because I just didn't feel up to to it, but it had nothing to do with my friends. It just doesn't feel good to feel jealous so I needed a reprieve. The other hard thing is that you can't always predict who can talk to you about your infertility and who can't. Some people are just better sounding boards than others and you can't even put your finger on why--they just are. You just gel with some people. Their advice doesn't annoy you, seem cliche, or make you want to kick them.
So here's the thing--if you have a friend or child struggling with infertility you need to try and figure out how much space they need; ask them how they'd like you to talk about their infertility, do they want to talk about it at all, do they want you to wait to talk about it until they bring it up, do they want you to ignore it completely? Maybe even tell them that if you're not someone they feel like they can talk to about it, you understand, no big deal, but you'd still love to go shopping with them, have coffee, and see a movie. Give them that freedom. And don't take it personally if they don't want to attend a baby shower or two, decorate your baby room with you, or help you find maternity jeans. They're probably as sad about not being pregnant as you are excited about being pregnant.
Additionally, if you have a friend struggling with infertility please don't tell them things like,
"I bet when you're least expecting it, you'll get pregnant." PLEASE STOP SAYING THIS. PLEASE.
"Have you tried_______________________ (and you could fill in the blank with anything here)?"
"Just be thankful you don't have to deal with ___________________________ (fill in the blank with any pregnancy related malady)." You think I'm kidding that people don't say this to those of us trying to get pregnant? Ask ANY of your friends dealing with infertility if this has happened to them and they'll confirm it with a resounding yes.
"How much longer do you think you'll try until..............?" Until what? I was asked this so many times and I never really knew what the other person was getting at.
On the flip side, if you're struggling with infertility you need to figure out how much space you need and communicate that to people you love--they're not mind-readers--just like you aren't. Chances are they've known someone else dealing with infertility that has handled it very different from you. And that's not wrong, it's just different. You also can't assume that just because your good friend asks you to flip through a baby name book with her she's being insensitive. She's just excited--and that's a good thing. If it's really too uncomfortable or sad for you, tell her. Tell her you're happy for her but you just can't do it right now--it's too hard and you hope she'll understand.
This whole living with and understanding infertility is a two way street. It takes sensitivity, common sense, and grace on both sides. Let's all give it to each other.