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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Infertility--The Gift That Keeps on Giving

This comparison and subsequent question came to mind after a recent email exchange with Tertia at So Close ( As a side note, Tertia recently published a book about her journey with infertility. She's working on getting it distributed internationally, but for the time being, you can go to her website and purchase it through a supplier in South Africa. Great work and I can't wait to read it.

There are many comparisons between waiting for a baby and waiting to get married. The uncertainty (though everyone tells you to relax and it will happen. Or, even worse, they insist that it will happen for you even though you know enough about life to know that sometimes it doesn't). The lack of control: you can't force someone to be your soul mate, and it's out of your hands when you meet them. The happy couples around you that remind you of what you don't have.

But here's the question--when singlehood ends, you're married and unless you're longing for the single-life again, you never look back. I don't call myself formerly single. I don't identify with that life anymore though I can certainly empathize because I went through the dating, the longing, the waiting. People who get married at 40 are not considered in a different category from people who married at 20. They're just...married. You may still carry your own personal baggage or insecurities or unhappiness about the journey, but for the most part, people don't still check the singles boards or feel stung by comments about being single. They leave it at the door when they step over the threshold on their honeymoon.

So why do people who went through infertility continue to identify as infertile even after they've had children? Why is there a division (however subtle) in motherhood between those who have used A.R.T./adoption/surrogacy and those who have had their children without assistance? It's not a division that exists amongst good friends, but one that rears its head in the casual talks on the playground. And sometimes it's a division you feel when you are speaking to a mother who stands on the opposite side of the chasm. When you feel like the motherhood bond should be enough, but at the same time, you know that while she says she understands, she really doesn't. Even close sisters, like Tertia and her sister, experience this when the other one truly can't understand why things didn't bounce immediately onto a different plane once they were both ensconced in motherhood.

Is it because everyone is single until they're married? And once you're married, you're just...married. There isn't a heirarchy of marriage. Someone who eloped to Vegas and someone who had the big, white wedding are both still just married. Our ways of getting to marriage are different, but in the end, are we all on the same playing field? But journeys to parenthood lead us to stand on different platforms when we emerge on the other side? At least in the eyes of general society vs. the people who love us. I'm making generalizations.

I'm not sure. I'd love to hear other opinions. Am I totally off--is there a heirarchy of marriage? People who carry their scars of singlehood over into marriage?


Tara said...

Good question.

I've been through both--the difficulties of being single when I didn't want to be (and when most of my friends got married young and I had to wait until the ripe old age of 28) and am currently heading into my 5th year of infertility.

I don't think there is a hierarchy of marriage. I think your title really says it all. Infertility just keeps on giving, whereas singleness doesn't.

When you get married, there still may be times you look back on your singleness (if it was difficult for you) and have feelings of sadness remembering the difficult times. But I can't really think of a way that those feelings of sadness continue to haunt you after you're married.

Infertility goes with you into motherhood because there will ALWAYS be things you have lost and continue to lose. For example, an adoptive mother will never be able to share personal labor stories; a couple who conceives using ART will never be able to talk abou the "surprise" factor of finding out they're pregnant. But a woman who married later than her friends has just as much of a wedding story as her friends that married young--it just doesn't continue to creep up here and there like infertility does and will continue to do.

Victoria said...

I don't think there is hierarchy of marriage either. As far as infertility and achieving a biological child through ART has benefits in and of itself. For those who are fortunate enough to have a child, they have an even better story or appreciation of the blessings of motherhood. A couple may not be able to talk about a "surprise." But it's more interesting to hear about a journey and newfound appreciation for something than it is to listen to a one in a million "oops" story.

Adoptive mothers have the opportunity to give to a child who otherwise may not have a loving home. For me, these are the lasting stories.

Infertility does keep on giving. The difficulty is for those who never experience motherhood.

aah0424 said...

I think people continue to identify themselves as infertile even after having children because of the pain and the struggle. When you deal with heartache and pain on a daily basis you just can't forget about it. You can push it down and go on with your life, but it will come out at some point. For example, my husband is a cancer survivor. He's been cancer free for 12 years, but the emotional scars of that phase of his life are with him everyday. He may not have it anymore, but part of his identity and what makes him who he is today is because he is a cancer survivor.

When you are single, yeah you may long for the companionship of another person and it sucks to think you may wind up alone, but I think we long for marriage as a societal desire rather than a biological one. Being infertile touches one of our basic needs as human beings. If you can't reproduce are you somehow lesser of a person?

I remember how anxious I felt when I wasn't married and all my friends were getting married. I had been dating my now husband since high school and because of him starting a business before he finished college, getting married was going to have to wait (9 long years). I was jealous that it wasn't me, but it never reached into the deep dark places of my soul that infertility has. Because of that pain, infertility will never leave me.

Victoria said...

I forgot to mention, that people still identify as being infertilie, because they can not achieve a child without ART. They can not just plan to have a baby without going through the process over and over again. Infertility is a condition that sticks and having a child does not cure the condition.

Piccinigirl said...

I think there are things that I carry into being married now and single for so long. I got married when I was 33 and because I went back to college at 24 and finsihed when I was 28, I had a LOT of friends that were much younger than me, yet of all those friends, I was the LAST to get married. I remember those days like I remember these days of infertility. I remember wondering: "AM I ever going to get married?", "did I do something in my life to not deserve to find someone to love me enough to marry me?" and to this day as happy as I am to hear about wedding plans and two people finding each other, a part of me longs to hear how hard it might have been to find each other, what obstacles had to be overcome to get to this blissful day .

I also feel like somedays I am afraid to be single again. I love, love , love being married but I know that the stats say taht of all of us 50% might divorce and I do think of it, I am also the child of a mother who was a young widow and my grandmother was also a young widow , so I know that I might be single again someday through no fault of my own and as it is with any personal story, it scares the hell out of me (rational or not) .

I think that the thing that keeps me grounded in this battle with IF? I have a friend at work who is in her 30's and still looking for "him", she dates, has an active social life, etc but is still sad when she is invited to a wedding, or a bridal shower. She and I have often talked about how her situation and mine are similar.

And I do believe that after marrying I still carry the scars of being single into my 30's , the stigma of "Is she EVER going to find a man" (because there is one!!!), and I know that even in my happy state , I don't let myself forget what it was like not to have HIM. No I don't consider myself "single" anymore but I also don't forget what it took to get here to HIM.

Ellen K. said...

I think the experiences of waiting and hoping, and also the pain of rejection and feeling left behind, and all the cultural stigmas, are applicable to both marriage after being single for a long time and parenting after infertility.

It's very painful to me to talk to friends/acquaintances who have experienced fertility problems but seem to have forgotten all about that, now that they have children. When they tell me some platitudes as "Just relax; it will happen" or "It's all worth it!" I can't excuse them the way I would a person who didn't have fertility problems. Coming from them, these trite comments make me feel less validated than anything -- almost as though this is all in my head. It's something like a betrayal.

Emilie said...

This is an interesting question. I did not marry until I was 35, and by that time, most of my friends were married (and some were divorced). I think I still carry around a slight amount of ... what? residual pain? feeling of being "different" ... when I see people get married in their 20s and recall how far I was from that point at that age. I think: What was it about me that made me so unprepared for marriage, so susceptible to rejection, so unaware of the qualities of a relationship that make it a good marriage match? I felt "different." Even as I know I had different priorities and life values at the time, I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have been more mature and savvy about relationships earlier on.

Just as I retain an awareness of having married later than average (and I am SO happy with my marriage), I also retain an awareness of how difficult it was for us to conceive this much-loved baby (who is due to be born in less than two weeks). Both awarenesses stay in the back of my mind, occasionally rearing their heads, although not the central focus anymore.

I think that same sense of feeling "different" comes into play with my infertility, and sometimes I link my late marriage with my late age at starting TTC, wondering if I would have had an easier time conceiving if I'd started earlier. Of course, I also have PCOS, so that might have posed a difficulty even back then. I haven't had my baby yet, so I don't know the experience of trading stories with other mothers on the playground or experiencing any hierarchy of parenthood.

I do think I will continue to identify myself as infertile, though, because I sense that it will come back to haunt me when and if we try for another child. I see infertility as a medical condition, whereas singlehood is a societal condition. Infertility tugs at my biological heartstrings — my definition of my identity as a woman — probably more than being single did, although I admit that being single also made me have to face my identity in a societal sense. Infertility will be with me in spite of how well the doctors do their job of getting me pregnant. (Of course, who knows? Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised the second time around!)

As far as feelings of loss in singlehood versus infertility ... I think it exists in both situations. I will never be able to talk about marrying my high school or college sweetheart, or my "first love," just as I'll never be able to talk about the "happy surprise" of an unexpected pregnancy. In both marriage and fertility, I will always be aware that it took longer and was more difficult to achieve than for many other people. Yet ... in some ways, I feel wiser and more compassionate for the struggles I've had than if everything had come easily to me.

Well, those are my ramblings, and I hope they do something to address your original question! :)

Tina said...

We TTC'd 19 months, and today I have two kids now, one ART and one surprise. Nineteen months is not a long time in the grand scheme of things -- there are people here who have been TTC much, much, longer. But every day of those 19 months was a struggle, and when you're in the middle of it, you don't know if it will ever end. The experience is scarring. Being IF, for me, struck at the core of what it means to be a woman, and gave me a feeling of helplessness that I was not accustomed to -- I can't compare anything else in my life to it. After my first was born, I healed, but I never forgot. I don't look at anything the same way anymore.