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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Description of Me

I'm currently pausing from reading through the stories submitted for question three to put down some thoughts. I was struck by the person who said that people don't understand that the tears are not self-pity but rather an expression of pain. I'm reading Joan Didion's book at the moment--The Year of Magical Thinking--which chronicles the loss of her husband and daughter. She has a wonderful passage in the book about self-pity and the American contempt for anything construed as "self-pity." That people are complimented for holding it together (another person wrote us directly with a message straight out of the non-infertile world: you handle your infertility better than another couple because you can attend these events when they can't) rather than publically grieving. For getting on with their lives. For putting others first. She talks about the words used in conjunction with self-pity. Wallowing. Boo hoo poor me. Indulging.

There are some who would say that you can't compare the loss of the ability to reproduce to the loss of a spouse. Certainly the emptiness of someone who was there and is now not vs. something that was never there except in the form of hope is difficult to compare. But for me--and I think for many of us--that loss is so huge, so real, so tangible that we really do go through a mourning period. My cousin died close to when another cousin was getting married. The wedding couple offered to postpone the wedding for the sake of family. The parents of the child who died said the celebration must go on. When the time came for the wedding, the sister of the child who died asked her parents to dance. I remember her father rubbing her arm and saying in this soft, sad voice: "I can't dance right now, sweetie. My heart hurts too much."

You would never ask a mourner to dance or think they were engaging in self-pity if they declined to get down to "Brick House." But women who are going through IF are expected to muster the enthusiasm and happiness required at a baby shower. Or a bris. They are expected to traipse down the aisles at Buy Buy Baby picking out the cutest frilly dress for a newborn girl. We are expected to put our own experience and sadness on the back burner in order to celebrate with another person who is getting exactly what we want.

We did a mix: skipped some events and attended others based on where I was in my cycle and the closeness of the friend. But I don't think there was one event that we entered into light-hearted, with our own pain on the back burner. We cried getting ready for the party. I sometimes ducked into the bathroom while we were there to pull it together. And we cried on the way home.

At the same time, there were non-infertiles who thought they were saving my feelings by not inviting me to the first-birthday parties or other child-centered events. In the end, that just made me feel like a pariah--cast out of the community of womanhood because I couldn't reproduce like all the other women.

So how can the non-infertile world win? They're damned if they do invite this over-emotional self-pitying freak to their parties and they damned if they don't. I guess it's the fact that there is no way to win because there is nothing to win. You can't assuage the pain of a person going through IF by inviting them to a party or having them hold a child or even patting their back and being a good listener. If you start from that understanding--that you will not possibly be able to say the "right thing" and fix the problem, then you already are helping. Because lower expectations of how I should be handling things or when it's time to stop mourning or stop crying or extend happiness to another couple are needed because these things can't be forced.

And don't even get me started on the method I like used when told by pregnant people that they're expecting. THAT is for a different entry.

A loooooong entry.

Because, yes, I do have a method.

Does it make me a small, self-pitying person? Feel free to respond. In fact, please do--I think I'll hold off on posting another question until tomorrow since question three is still getting comments.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I love your writing and everything you are saying rings true. After 4yrs of ttc, I went through a depression and I eventually realized it was part of my grieving though there was an "actual" death...I first experienced shock and denial the first couple of years which eventually turned to anger...then the extreme sadness kicked in...

People don't realize the amount of emotional stress you go through when you want so badly to have a baby (the easiest thing in the world, right?) and it is such a private and personal matter. Every month you get your period you grieve and cry and scream...but you have to hold it together for the 'outside world' - it is hell but I have also learned so much from my IF experience...

- a former 'infertile' who has been forever scarred

serenity said...

I am struck most by your admission of how much you grieved before, during, and after those events - because it is exactly what I do.

I cannot count the number of times I've sought the bathroom as my refuge at an "event;" a place to talk myself into staying another hour, cry from the pain of holding a baby so precious yet so far away, and grieve with the thought that life seems to be passing me by. While we struggle to get pregnant the first time, there are people who are having their second, infants that have turned into toddlers, etc. Will this ever be us?

That said, I do not have the ability to grieve publicly - even with my husband the only time I've allowed tears is at night in bed with our lights turned out.

Still, it's hard to present to the world a facade - I feel oftentimes that it disrespects heartache I feel. I just am not sure how to resolve it.

Piccinigirl said...

I can only agree and tell you that it felt like I was writing that post. I never go anywhere (party, mall, church) without wondering how I will feel the first time I see a PG girl, or a baby (babies) or the child for whom we have been invited. I can tell you that we have not been to a christening in about 2 years and that will stay that way for a while. Church (We are Catholics) used to a place of peace for me growing up and now it is just a source of heartache every sunday. If I cannot reproduce where do I fit there, and every other family just makes me cry. I have cried in Church so many time I think people are starting to think I am extremely moved by scripture, but the truth is I cannot handle that hour of seeing all around me what I CANNOT have.
I also grieve "every 28 days' , it feels like my whole world is hopeful and then WHAM it isn't. I am reminded how I am not like other women, how my body which is shaped like a fertility goddess statue cannot do the one thing that it is SUPPOSSED to do. It shames me , it brings me to my knees and yet everyone does expect you to be "ok". Like my SIL said, there will always be PG I can't hide inside my house. Goodness know I wish I could.
I will say that many times I do not hide my emotions and have been very upfront about how I am reacting to things. I know that it might seem selfish of self involved or even crazy, but hey it's my way and it's the only thing, somedays, that keeps me sane. Plus maybe it is helping someone else to share their story, maybe it will help others understand what this disease is and maybe it will help restore my faith in "good things happening" in the process.

Brittanie said...

While I don't quite fit in like these other ladies do, as I had no trouble at all conceiving, I too have such experiences. I lost my baby girl after 38 weeks of pregnancy. My best friend just had her first child. We got pregnant 2 months apart from each other. Her baby was born healthy.

This Sunday I'm going to go visit her and see her baby for the first time. I asked her if I could after crying on her for an hour after she called me and told me she'd given birth. I'm crying right now thinking about it. I will probably cry when I see her baby. She said it would be okay if I couldn't bring myself to come. She is so sweet.

It's hard knowing that I make people nervous. It almost seems that they're embarrassed. Nobody knows how to react around me. Especially the ones that are pregnant/have new babies. So a lot of people that I talked to a lot at my church don't talk to me anymore. Maybe out of fear of offending me. How am I not supposed to feel alone when this happens?