Thursday, November 13, 2014

Infertility: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Please note that comments on these posts on infertility will be heavily screened; derogatory, offensive, or inflammatory comments will be removed.  If you truly aren't sure whether your comment could be read as such, but you feel like you could add constructively to the conversation, please send a private message through TACN's Facebook page. For this particular post: keep in mind that this isn't a forum in which to discuss birth control, and any comment making it about that will also be removed.  Also, this post talks about my faith and infertility. When talking about my own journey, the two are inextricably linked.  Everyone's experience with faith is different; please be respectful.
Infertility is a medical condition: failure to get pregnant within one year while having frequent, unprotected intercourse (upwards of 90% of women will conceive within that year).  This doesn't mean that women diagnosed with it will never get pregnant; most women who want to get pregnant will eventually go on to conceive, though usually with a doctor's help.  Others will of course go on to adopt or take a break from trying to recoup their energy. Infertility can happen at any point in a woman's life after she starts ovulating, even though statistics often include only ages 25-44. It doesn't just affect women who are 35 and older, or women who have other health problems, or women who have been on birth control.   It doesn't even affect only women without children.  Infertility looks different for everyone. 

While I do have "Female Infertility" on my doctor's chart, and I do require treatment due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, my journey hasn't been as long or arduous as some.  I don't claim to know the heartbreak of miscarriages or failed in vitro attempts.  I haven't been actively trying for two or more years.  I haven't had an adoption fall through.  I haven't had ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or needed an operation to fix or remove an organ.  To all of you who have: you are stronger than anyone could imagine.  It has, of course, still been a frustrating experience. I've done unsuccessful rounds of Clomid and Femara and Follistim.  I've been disappointed by who knows how many negative pregnancy tests, even when I knew I probably hadn't even ovulated. I finally found a medication and dosage that gives me a chance, and I do have hope.  I also believe that I've been going through this for a reason. Even if I get pregnant this cycle or next, I think it's important to normalize the emotions that women feel and the choices they make when they don't get pregnant within that one year window of time.  


In the back of my mind, I anticipated having some trouble conceiving; I went on the pill in my teens, because slightly elevated androgen levels pointed to PCOS, though I wasn't "officially" diagnosed until I came off it to try to conceive.  I nonetheless held out hope that perhaps I was wrong and would come off the pill and bam!, pregnant.  One day after the first six months, when I hadn't yet even ovulated, I went to the bank to deposit a holiday present that was about to go straight into our fertility treatment fund.  I pulled into the parking lot, and suddenly the flood gates opened.  (PS, I apologize to anyone who witnessed me breaking down and seemingly yelling at my windshield and thought they might need to fear for their safety.)

Is this even going to work?  Because I've been waiting for the opportunity to be a mother for a long time now.  I can't reconcile a God who would instill such a desire in me with one who would then keep it from me.  There are people who get pregnant without trying at all.  What's wrong with me that I can't do that?  Am I not meant to have children?  Am I supposed to adopt?  Can I at least get an "Amen" somewhere? Is the fact that I'm not even ovulating my dry wool on the ground, as it were? Can there be words in the sky?  A sign at the side of the road?  A text?  Can't you just tell me if this is what I'm supposed to be doing?  I need some confirmation, because  I don't understand, and I'm floundering here.  Why must I make these decisions?  

I was upset, crying, angry.  I didn't think I'd get an answer, because at that moment God felt cold and distant to me.  In fact, I doubted that even if He existed, He actually listened.  Then unexpected words rang clearly in my mind.

Who ever said that this was your struggle?  This is our struggle.  

And as suddenly as I had started railing against God's silence, my body, and the injustices of life, my perspective changed.  This wasn't going to be God's punishment, or the universe's way of telling me that I shouldn't be a mom, or a sign that I wasn't as prepared for parenthood as the people who so easily got pregnant. This was just the trailhead of a meandering, more challenging hike up the mountain to the breathtaking view from the top.  It might be hard, and I might grumble when I faltered along the way; I might slide backward occasionally. But the blessing at the end was worth striving for, and I realized something important about myself; I was willing to fight for it, to endure for it. And God had said He would be there with me, my guide, picking me back up and dusting me off and giving me water whenever I sat down and thought about giving up.  Rejoicing in my progress.  Crying with me when I stumbled and bruised myself, even as He healed those wounds and made me even stronger.

Yes, I might get to the top and find a different landscape than I expected-- God could say, "Now that I've led you here, you can better see that child over there who needs a home"; He's God, and He does that sometimes-- but I knew that outcome would be equally as beautiful, and whatever journey preceded it would still be worth it.  Because while faith, hope, and love always remain, the greatest of these isn't hope.  

And day by day, God is just building up the love I have to offer when our child arrives.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

11 Things Not to Say to Anyone Struggling with Infertility.

Please note that comments on these upcoming posts on infertility will be heavily screened; derogatory, offensive, or inflammatory comments will be removed.  If you truly aren't sure whether your comment could be read as such, but you feel like you could positively add to the conversation, please send a private message to TACN's Facebook page. 

Like with parenting, most everyone has an opinion about infertility that they feel the need to share, even if it isn't based on fact or experience.  So with Fit & Active October giving me a segue into other health issues for November, I've decided to do a short weekly "series" about struggling with infertility. Next week, I'll share some of my personal story.  This week, I decided to preemptively shut down some nonconstructive comments on future posts; I think most people know if their words are blatantly offensive, but I'd like to help people better understand how words spoken without thinking can be insidiously insensitive.  We all have different triggers.  This list might not include some, and the ones included might not apply to everyone, but I do know that these are prevalent.

EDIT: If I didn't make it clear in this post, if you say something that makes us feel bad, we will tell you and not just let you guess! This is mostly a compilation of things I've heard on forums, comments on other blogs, and what others struggling with infertility have said bothers them. There is also a huge difference between certain comments if you've been with us every step of the way and giving opinions or advice as an acquaintance or outside observer.

11 Things Not to Say to Anyone Struggling with Infertility.

-You should just adopt; there are so many kids who need good homes.
Always remember that most women struggling with infertility have weighed (and sometimes agonized over) all options.  Adoption should certainly be one of those options, and if you are absolutely sure that someone has dismissed it out of hand, perhaps a discussion about why is in order.  But saying this without knowing us or our thought processes implies the unkind assumption that we haven't thought or are incapable of thinking through our decisions for ourselves.  We do respect people who choose to adopt. For some people, it's the right choice; for others, it isn't. Adoption is often just as expensive as fertility treatments-- sometimes more expensive, depending on the treatment-- with the addition of other legal, family history, and attachment issues to consider.  No one "just" adopts a child. Also, when people say this to us, they imply that our bodies not functioning normally somehow makes us more responsible than others in solving a global problem, and that we ought to feel selfish for not "using" our bodies for a cause. That's a heck of a lot of psychological and societal pressure to put on such a small fraction of the human population.

-You need to stop trying./I went on vacation and got pregnant when I wasn't so worried about it.
We've all heard that stress can affect fertility.  However, we may not ovulate frequently enough to have regular cycles and therefore need monitoring, or due to past complications we're at a higher risk for miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies.  We might have high pressure jobs or be dealing with complicated family or friendship dynamics.  We're glad that you were able to take pressure off yourself and relax, but that might not be an option for us.  Paradoxically, reminding us that we're unable to lessen our own stress load can cause even more stress.

-When you do get pregnant... /When you have a baby...
This is a tricky one.  On the one hand, we'll clearly indicate to you whether we feel like talking about "what if"s.  Sometimes we'll be happy to discuss possible baby names, or pick out future nursery colors, or discuss our plans to dress up as Princess Leia and make a baby Yoda costume for his/her first Halloween.*  We might even like to talk frequently about future plans for children. But try to let us bring it up first, and if you want to bring it up, ask. We know that in many cases you're trying to be optimistic to compensate for our worry.  The truth is, you can't know if we'll ever get pregnant.  Even if you feel confident about it, the best, most helpful thing you can do is listen.

-This was our first month actively trying, and my period just arrived (or my pregnancy test came back negative), and I'm SO disappointed and upset.
OK, so you can say this to us; sometimes we might initially bristle at it, thinking, "Really? Only one month? Bah! You don't know what real disappointment feels like," but then... we'll remember that we felt similarly to you when just starting out.  We know this is a horrible feeling at any point in the process, first cycle or thirtieth.  Just don't be surprised or think us unsympathetic when we remind you to be patient and give it some time.  One month truly isn't much time; neither is four, really.  The majority of you will conceive within the first six months of trying, and the majority of the remainder within a year. The emotions you're feeling right now are valid, and they suck, but keep in mind the reason we can identify with them so well.

-It isn't God's plan for you./It's not meant to be./You can do other things with your life besides being a parent.
The short answer is that we considered this ourselves and concluded that it still might be in the cards for us.  Isn't it pretty arrogant of anyone to assume they know "the plan" for another person's life?  (While the first particular phrasing isn't overtly offensive to me, I still believe it should never, ever be said to anyone, and as for it not being God's plan if someone doesn't conceive easily, see: Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth.)

-It was such a surprise./We weren't even trying./We never planned on having more than one./We were shocked because it was our first month trying./& similar
This does not mean "Don't tell us that you're pregnant."  And if you don't know we've been having trouble, we don't expect telepathy.  We certainly don't expect everyone around us to never ever talk about having babies.  We will be ecstatic when/if it happens for us, and we are happy for someone to get pregnant if they're happy about it. We might have additional feelings of jealousy and frustration; we likely even feel guilt (sometimes extreme guilt) over the jealousy, because we want to share fully in your joy and excitement and sometimes feel like we can't.  But it is difficult hearing people talk about it as if it is just that easy. If you find yourself saying one of these things without thinking, don't beat yourself up; simply understand why we might not share your enthusiasm at that moment.  (Also, if we're close enough to you that you'd tell us about your pregnancy in the first place, we can probably tell if it was a "happy accident" or similar situation.)

-I don't understand why some women make such a big deal out of being pregnant.  People get pregnant every day.
Yes, they do.  We don't.  Acting like pregnancy is no big deal can feel like you're trivializing our struggles and bring deep-seated insecurities to the forefront. Think it silently if you wish, but if it's a big deal to a person, just let it be a big deal.  Let other people be happy about something important or exciting to them.  It doesn't hurt you to allow that.

-I hate(d) being pregnant./I never want to experience pregnancy again./You'll wonder why you wanted it so much when you're actually pregnant (or have a baby)/& similar
Hopefully this one doesn't have to be explained in detail.  It sounds ungrateful and dismissive to us. We know some people don't enjoy the experience of pregnancy while others love it.  We know that caring for a child is hard.  But the fact that you got pregnant in the first place is a miracle to us.  If you don't like the fact that you're always running to the bathroom or throwing up, we understand complaining about the symptoms.  No one actively enjoys those (we'd give a lot to experience them right now, even so).  But acting like pregnancy or a child's infancy is some horrible trial you're forced to endure? Leave that discussion for other women you know to be like-minded.

-Well, there's always next month.
This is another phrase that people often use to try to comfort us.  And while we sincerely appreciate the thought, sympathy might be a better option.  A simple, "I'm so sorry.  What can I do to help?" never goes amiss.  Because we might have "always had next month" for a long time now.  We might not even have regular monthly cycles or be forced to go back on birth control for a while to help regulate our hormones; sometimes for us, there isn't next month.

-You should try [acupunture/diet/weight loss/weight gain/supplement].
If we ask for advice (and most of us will ask if it's needed/wanted!), or if we're friends and having a conversation about ways to enhance fertility, then there's no reason not to mention these things. If we don't ask or don't even know you, then please don't give us advice.  We probably already have a plan based on our individual needs and particular health problems. We've probably been to various doctors and started a new routine of self-care.  If you know we're trying to conceive, and you know we regularly drink heavily or smoke cigarettes, then unsolicited advice might be warranted.

-If you don't want opinions, don't publicly share your struggles.
One of the problems with the Internet is that everyone assumes if you share a story, you're doing it for validation or vindication.  Or that even if you say you don't want opinions, they're entitled to give them to you because... Internet?  Right to Free Speech? (Because it's far too inconvenient to demonstrate respect for others when you have a point to make?)  But women going through this don't share for opinions.  We share in the hope that other women with similar struggles might gain hope, peace, comfort, or even just a sense of community.  We share as catharsis, because our emotions are so numerous and varied that holding them all in becomes unhealthy. We share because we feel like our bodies are traitors to our hearts, and we're using the tools we have to navigate and make sense of our situations.  We don't need your opinions. We need your support and encouragement.  And if you can't offer that, it's easy enough not to say anything at all.

*If/when, this is happening.